Hands: Serving Hands
John 13:1-5, 12-13
Pastor Morris Brown
March 18, 2018
It was August 19, 1912. The Salvation Army, which is one of the world’s oldest and most trusted charitable organizations, was holding its annual convention in London, England. That night, William Booth, who was the founder of The Salvation Army, was scheduled to address to the convention’s 7,000 delegates.
Booth, however, was unable to attend the convention because he was gravely ill. Knowing he was about to die, Booth decided to send a telegraph to be read to the delegates. When the telegraph arrived, the secretary of the convention opened it and was surprised to find the telegram only contained two words. It said, “Serve Others.”
On the eve of his death, William Booth’s final instruction to those who would carry on his movement was “SERVE OTHERS.” Well, nearly two thousand years earlier, on the night before his death, Jesus of Nazareth gathered together with twelve of his closest friends in the upper room of a home in the city of Jerusalem.
After sharing one last meal with them, the scripture says “Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer garments, and wrapped a towel around his waist. Then, pouring some water into a basin, he took the towel into his hands, and kneeling down before each of his friends like a common slave, he washed the dirt from their feet!”
When he had finished, the scripture says, Jesus looked at them and said, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord.’ And you are right. For I am your Teacher and your Lord. So, if I, your Teacher and Lord have washed your feet, you must wash one another’s feet. I have given you an example. What I have done, you need to do as well! And if you do it, you will certainly be blessed!” On the night before his death, Jesus, like General William Booth, shared his final instructions to those who would carry on the movement he began. But instead of sending his disciples a telegraph, he used a towel, a basin of water, and his hands to simply say, “Serve others!”
Well, as you know we’ve been sharing a worship series this Lenten season called Hands. In this series, we’re talking about some things Jesus did with his hands as a way to learn what God wants us to do with our hands. We’ve learned that Jesus’ hands were praying hands, healing hands, angry hands, and forgiving hands!
In today’s scripture, we are reminded that Jesus’ hands were serving hands. And we’re reminded that if we’re going to help God transform the world for love our hands need to be serving hands, as well. So, how do we turn our hands into serving hands—not only in this Lenten season, but in every season of our lives?
Well, if our hands are going to be serving hands the first thing we need to do is realize serving is something we are all called to do. Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He washed the feet of ALL the disciples: Peter, James, John, and even Judas. Then he said, “What I have done for you, do for others.”
You see, serving others was not something Jesus called some of his followers to do. It was something he called all of his followers to do. For Jesus, serving others is not based on age, marital status, intelligence, financial resources, skills, or anything else. Serving is simply based on the fact that we are his disciples.
Jesus calls us all of us to serve. About 24 years ago I was the pastor of a church over in High Point. One of the members of my church was a 50-year old man named of Grey Bowman. Now, Grey was incredibly faithful member of the church. I mean he came to church every single Sunday of the year—rain or shine, sleet or snow.
When he arrived, he had an interesting routine. He’d go to the church sacristy where he’d put on a robe, grab a candle lighter, and light the candlewick. Then, when the organist chimed the hour, he’d solemnly walk down the center aisle of the Sanctuary where he would light altar candles to signal the start of worship.
Now, this may not seem like a big deal. But each Sunday when Grey did this, I would be touched. Why? Grey had Down Syndrome. A condition that caused Grey to have all kinds of challenges in life. And yet, Grey never allowed the challenges he faced because of Down Syndrome keep him from using his hands to serve.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree. You don’t have to know about Plato or Aristotle. You don’t have to understand Einstein’s theory of relativity or the law of thermodynamics. All you need to serve is a heart full of grace. And a soul generated by love.”
So, if we want our hands to be serving hands the first thing we need to realize is we don’t have to have certain qualifications to serve others. Instead we need to remember serving is something Jesus called all his followers—young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated—to do.
Second, if our hands are going to be serving hands to we must have a sense of humility. In other words, we must never let our status, our position, our pride keep us from serving. We see this very clearly in this morning’s scripture. You see, in first century Israel, people wore sandals instead of shoes. And so, when they entered the house for a meal, the first thing that people needed to do was to wash the dust and dirt off their feet. Now, in most households the task of foot washing was left to the lowliest servant or least important member of the family. But, in this morning’s scripture, who washes the disciple’s feet?
That’s right! Jesus! The scripture says, “Jesus, who was the disciple’s teacher and Lord, humbled himself, took the form of a servant, and washed their feet.” Jesus shows his disciples that no task was beneath him. And he teaches them, and us, that whatever our position may be in life we must never be too proud to serve.
It’s said that during the American Revolution, a stranger on a horse rode up on a group of soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log off the road. One soldier was shouting instructions to the others who looked exhausted. Seeing this, the stranger asked the soldier why he didn’t help the other soldiers with their work. With an arrogant tone the soldier said, “Help? Sir, I am a corporal! These men are privates! I will not stoop to do a private’s work.” To the corporal’s surprise, the stranger got off his horse, and began to help the privates move the log. Then, when the job was done, the stranger walked up to the arrogant corporal and said, “Corporal, the next time you have a job like this, and your men get weary, send out the word to your commander-in-chief. And I will come and help your men again.”
Who was the stranger that got down off his horse to help the soldiers move that heavy log out of the path? It was none other than General George Washington! If we want to have serving hands, we, like Jesus and George Washington, need to have a sense of humility. We need to understand that no matter what our status, no matter how high up the ladder we climb, no matter what our position in life, we need to be humble enough to get off our high horse and serve others.
Third, if our hands are going to be serving hands we must remember service can involve small acts. In his classic book The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster says, “One thing that keeps us from serving others is our tendency to make service too complicated. We think serving involves flashy actions. But,” Foster says “nothing could be farther from the truth. Serving others does not have to involve flamboyant acts. In fact, most of the time serving others often involves a series of seemingly mundane acts that comfort others, lift up their sprits, encourage them, and bring a smile their face in a thousand different ways.”
Jesus teaches us this in our story. Washing the feet of his disciples was not a flashy act of service. It was a mundane, ordinary act that simply needed to be done. So, he did it! In her book Kitchen Table Wisdom, doctor and author Rachel Remen says, “As a young doctor, I thought that service was about dramatic action.I thought it was a question of going without sleep, performing mind-boggling surgeries, outwitting the angel of death. I thought service had to be larger than ordinary life, and that those who served were larger than life as well. But now I know that’s not true. I have discovered that most of the time service is small and quiet. It is usually the ordinary things we do for others that affect them in the most profound ways. An unexpected phone call, a brief touch, the willingness to listen, a warm smile, or a kind word may be all it takes to restore someone’s trust in life.” For our hands to be serving hands we must realize it often involves small acts.
Fourth, if our hands are going to be serving hands we must realize we can serve the people right around us. You know, one of the interesting things about this morning’s scripture is that Jesus didn’t go anywhere to serve others. Instead, he served the people right around him, people he’d been with for 3 years.
I once read a story about a woman who met Mother Teresa when she visited New York City. When the woman met Mother Teresa she told her she wanted to go with her to Calcutta to serve the poor. According to the story, Mother Teresa looked at the woman and said, “Dear one, you do not have to go to Calcutta to serve.
You simply need to look around right where you are, find those who are hurting and begin to serve them as best you can.” Mother Teresa was absolutely right! While it is perfectly wonderful to travel to other places serve people, there are many opportunities to serve right where we are: in our church and in our city.
For example, we might serve by visiting folks who are sick or lonely as a peer visitor. We might serve by packing meals for Helping Hands for Hunger next Saturday. We might serve by helping to construct a home for someone by serving on our Habitat team. Or we might serve by helping repair one on our carpentry team.
We might serve as a volunteer in our children or youth ministries here at church. Or we might serve by being a lunch buddy or reading tutor at Hampton Elementary School. There are many opportunities to serve in our church and our city. And when open our Glenwood campus in July, there’ll be many, many more.
In the spiritual classic A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, William Law says, “Great opportunities to serve seldom come to us. But small opportunities to serve surround us every day!” So, to have serving hands we must take the words of William Law, and Jesus, to heart and look for ways to serve right where we are!
Finally, if our hands are going to be serving hands we must realize that serving others will have a significant impact on us. Jesus said, “I have washed your feet. I’ve given you an example. You must wash each other’s feet. What I have done, you need to do to each other!”
“If you do it” he said, “you’ll be blessed!”
Isn’t that interesting? Jesus reminds us that when we use our hands to serve it has a significant impact on the lives of the people we serve, but it also has a significant impact on our lives. In other words, when we serve others, it’s usually us that end up feeling blessed. I hear this every time I talk with someone who serves.
They will say, “I went on this mission trip or got involved in that service project to bless others, but in the end, I was the one who received the blessing.” Dr.Albert Schweitzer, who spent his life serving others in Africa once said, “The only people who are truly happy are those who seek and find a way to serve others.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “One of the most beautiful truths of this life that no person can help another without feeling blessed beyond his or her wildest expectations.” John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement said, “By serving others, especially those who are marginalized, we grow in our experience of God.”
However, you put it, serving others—especially those who are on the margins of society—ends up blessing us, deepening our experience of God’s presence in our lives. Serving others has a significantly positive impact on our lives. As Jesus said, “I have served you. You must serve others. And if you do, you will be blessed.”
Jesus’ hands were serving hands. He calls us to have serving hands as well. How can we do it? By understanding we’re all called to serve, by keeping a sense of humility, by remembering service involves small acts, by looking for opportunities to serve right where we are, and by remembering that when we serve, we get blessed.