Sunday Night Live Sermons
Who He Really Is
We have a great tradition of caring service to the needy. Dr Frank Rayward was Superintendent of this Mission for the twenty years from 1938 to 1958. He was a great inspiration to me and I spent time listening to his experiences. He died a few years ago in his 102nd year. He was living at the time in our W.G. Taylor Village. But he never told me the story I learned from standing in a cafeteria line waiting for my lunch, one hot day in Queensland.
I had been addressing a group of missionaries recently returned to live in Australia. Speaking to the people standing next to me, I stumbled upon a great story. Rev Joe and Olive Penrose, former missionaries to the Sudan had returned and were serving as Chaplains to a Hobart Baptist Nursing Home. Olive’s family is a remarkable one. Her sister Lorraine is a missionary and Pastor’s wife in Fiji. Olive and Joe were missionaries in the Sudan. Her brother Rex and his wife Peg were missionaries in Papua New Guinea. Their father was a policeman who on retiring worked with homeless men at our Sydney Night Refuge for Men in Francis Street, our main centre before Edward Eagar Lodge was built and opened twenty five years ago this month.
I asked how the whole family became missionaries. Olive explained: “In the 1930s, we lived in Newcastle. My Dad, Mr Glasby, was a policeman. We were nominally Church of England where we occasionally went. One day my father dragged the body of a middle-aged man out of the water at a place called Nobby’s, where lots of homeless people lived. The man was unidentifiable to the Police, except for his very nice coat. On the coat my father found a label and a name — F.H. RAYWARD. My dad visited Mr. Rayward in his office at the Newcastle Central Methodist Mission. It was F.H. Rayward’s. So why was the derelict wearing it? It was then that my dad got an unusual reaction. Mr Rayward wept. Why? He told my father the day before a man had come asking for money. He was unemployed, cold and hungry. Mr Rayward was just leaving to carry out some duty. Mr Rayward took down his coat from behind the door and two shillings from his pocket gave them to the man and asked him to come back later.
Mr Rayward then added the reason for his distress. He hadn’t said a word about his Lord to the man. Not spoken to him about his spiritual need, just gave him the money and coat and rushed off. Now it was too late. My Dad asked: “Have you a Sunday School in this place?” “Yes”, said F.H. Rayward. “Then you’ll have four more kids on Sunday”. “Do you have ordinary church in this place?” “Yes!”. “Then you’ll have a family come to that too.” We had a family talk together that night and decided that if the Mission cared for a man enough to give a coat, and two bob and then shed tears over an old derelict, then that was the place for us! So we went for years to the Central Mission, both in Newcastle and then in Sydney.” While the family were members here, they offered for missionary service in different places.
Wesley Mission is still serving the needs of people with clothes and coats and hundreds of thousands of dollars to the poor in the spirit of Frank Rayward. But I am not sure we shed many tears these days. Humble service is still the means of remaking lives. Humble service and remaking lives have been the two pole stars of my life, and they are the focal points of Wesley Mission. I once heard from a missionary that some Chinese people on hearing the story of Jesus were asked for their impressions of Jesus. What impressed them most was the utter humility of Jesus in being willing to serve His followers, when He, their Master, washed their feet. Being willing to humbly serve was impressive. The disciples of Jesus were disputing “which one of them was the greatest.” The mother of James and John had requested that in heaven, her sons be given special prominence. Jesus told them that the standards of the world were not His standards: “This is not the way it is with you; rather the greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like the servant. I am among you are one who serves.” Luke 22:24-27 Then Jesus demonstrated His willingness to humbly serve, by washing and drying their feet. On the night when Jesus was betrayed, there were four emblems on the Table of the Last Supper: bread and wine, and a basin of water and a towel. Jesus took the water and towel before He took the bread and wine, and acted as a common servant. In the streets of Jerusalem, feet in sandals, quickly became soiled from the dust, dirt and dried manure from ten thousand donkeys.
Before a meal it was usual for a person to wash hands, and for a servant to wash their feet. Among the twelve disciples, no one moved to take the basin and towel. So Jesus affirmed to His disciples that He knew His own power and origins, then humbly washed His disciples feet. He did this as an unforgettable illustration of how his followers must be willing to humbly serve. The disciple who is willing to forget self in humbly serving others will discover incredible happiness.
1. SELF AWARENESS HUMBLY SERVES. v2–5
Only the person who is confidently aware of himself is free to serve others. Many are afraid to serve because of pride or fear of what others may think. They are so aware of self, that they are afraid to serve others lest their service be seen as a lowering of their personal status. John writes three times: “Jesus knew… Jesus knew… Jesus knew…” Jesus knew what?
Jesus knew His dynamic. “Jesus knew the Father had given Him complete power.” This dynamic within enabled miracles, healings and His capacity to save the world from sin. It was power given by God. Jesus knew His dynamic.
Jesus knew His divinity. “Jesus knew He had come from God.” There was no confusion about His divine origin. He had come from God and had God’s power. Jesus knew His divinity.
Jesus knew His destiny. “Jesus knew He was going to God.” He was not confused about what would happen to Him. He knew what lay ahead was within God’s plan for Him. He knew that He would be returning to the Father. He knew His destiny.
But how does this self awareness express itself? “So He rose from the table, took off His outer garment, and tied a towel round His waist. Then He poured some water into a washbasin and began to wash the disciples feet and dry them with the towel round His waist.” v5. It is not accidental. It is a consequence of His self awareness. Having just said that Jesus knew, John now says “so He rose… took off… tied… poured… began to wash… and dry them.”
His service was a consequence of his self awareness. Jesus did not fear people thinking Him a servant. He had no false humility wanting people to think Him better than He was, no concern that the others would rank Him lower than them because of what he was doing all of these concerns that prevents us from humbly serving another were completely absent in the actions of Jesus. He was completely aware of who He was, from whence He had come, and where He was going. So in full, confident self awareness He was free to serve. Only people who are aware of who they really are, are free to humbly serve others. People who are insecure, who try to impress others, who hide feelings of inferiority, seek to sit in important places, be seen with the right people, and carefully avoid anything that would look like service, lack confident self awareness. But they who know they are God’s children, who are followers of Jesus Christ, live in the security that they are right with God. So they can be willing to humbly serve.
“He took a towel; My Lord Christ took a towel,
To shame them from their sordid strife,
To lift them to a larger life,
He took a towel in His hand with hope that they might understand their sin, the greater need
of all disciples blind with greed.
How could they see the Cross
and all that goes with Calvary?
He might have flung a thunderbolt,
proclaimed the Law,
Denounced with flaming fire the things He saw,
Deep in their hearts; but no;
With movement patient, yearning, slow,
He washed their feet and wiped them with a towel.”
Like Jesus, Mother Teresa was totally self aware. She knew she was the world’s most famous nun, and was fêted by the press and the electronic media. But she also knew she was a humble disciple of Jesus. So in the mother house of her order in Calcutta, she would take her turn unobserved at cleaning the toilets. No pride prevented her and no false humility made a show of it. You do not have to earn points from God, nor do you have to prove yourself to anybody else. The self aware are free to humbly serve. But…
2. SELF PRIDE HINDERS DISCIPLESHIP. v6–11
The self aware are free to humbly serve but those concerned with self-pride are hindered in their discipleship. Do it yourself books tell you to make yourself different from the rest of the crowd, to be aware of your uniqueness, find yourself in your special self image. But that emphasis on self may hinder your discipleship! Peter wanted to be self reliant and strong. He was proud of his commitment. He said: “Never at any time will you wash my feet.” He was independent. He knew he was leadership material. He would tell Jesus what he would allow. He was humble enough not have Jesus wash his feet but proud enough to dictate to Jesus what He could and could not do.
But Jesus gently sat Peter back: “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple.” Here was a rebuke and an indication to Peter that discipleship demands humility both in serving and in being served. Many of us willingly help others but we find being served is humbling. Peter understood: “Lord, do not only wash my feet then! Wash my hands and head too!” Peter discovered the dignity of service and the greatness of humility. He found pride in self limited his discipleship and what was left he did not like. If you follow the advice about finding yourself you may find the real “you” and you may not like that! You will realise how alone you really are. Pride in Self hinders any attempt at humble service or discipleship. In trying to find yourself, you lose life, whereas those who lose their lives in serving others find life abundant. For…
3. SELF RENUNCIATION CREATES HAPPINESS. v12–17
Like any great teacher, Jesus having given an example then questioned his disciples if they understand what they had been experiencing. “Do you understand what I have just done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and it is right that you do so, because that is what I am. I, your Lord and teacher, have just washed your feet. You, then, should wash one another’s feet. I have set an example for you, so that you will do just what I have done for you. I am telling you the truth: no slave is greater than his master, and no messenger is greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know this truth, how happy you will be if you put it into practice.”
Jesus knew happiness was found in humble service.
“Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor;
for the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
Happy are those who are humble;
For they will receive what God has promised.
Happy are those who are merciful to others;
For God will be merciful to them.
Happy are the pure in heart;
For they will see God.” Matt 5:3-10
The whole emphasis of being happy lies in believing God and serving others. Only when you know God, can you be aware of who you are, where the power comes from and where you are going. That gives you full self awareness. You are free to serve others, and thus find personal fulfilment and happiness. Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget Himself, carry his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his own life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Jesus told his disciples to forget themselves, deny themselves, lose themselves for His sake and the Gospel. In forgetting themselves in serving others, they will find their lives and true happiness, the reward of humble service. You do not need to promote yourself. You do not need to paint yourself in glowing colours. All you need do is to forget yourself and be a mirror in which the reflection of Christ may be seen. Take up the towel and basin of water, and be willing to humbly serve. True freedom comes when you forget all the ways in which you try to be different from others, and instead realise that you are so alike others in your apartness from God, your sinfulness and disobedience. Your renewal begins when you realise “all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.” You are like others when it comes to standing before God. It was for people like you that Christ died. He identified Himself with you and now you can identify with Him. Like Peter you will say: “Lord, do not only wash my feet then! Wash my hands and head too!” You have renounced everything of self: pride in your achievements, independence in your attitudes, confidence in your strength, arrogance in your will you are ready to be reborn. You have lost your life and found it! Denied yourself and gained everything. Forgotten yourself into immortality. You have discovered the truth which has set you free, free to serve!
Without learning the truth of Christian service we want to cling to our prerogatives, our uniqueness, our achievements. But when we let go and let God take our lives into His service, we find that instead of losing everything we have lost nothing of worth and gained everything of value. Crazy as it seems, they who are happiest are they who do not seek their own happiness, but the happiness of others through being willing to humbly serve. As Jim Eliot, one of the martyred missionaries in Ecuador, wrote in his diary just before being speared to death with four other missionaries by the dreaded Auca Indians: “No man is a fool who gives up what he cannot keep in order to gain what He cannot lose.” When your self dominates your direction whatever you gain will ultimately be lost, but whatever you have given to Christ, becomes yours eternally.
As the Cross is the sign of salvation, so the basin and towel have become the symbol of service. Each Sunday, at the bottom of our orders of service, appear the words, “The end of worship is the beginning of service.” Having come together as a congregation to worship, we now scatter about this city to serve|
Jesus calls us who have met Him round His Table to be willing to take up the basin of water and towel and follow Him in humble service. He calls us to deny ourselves. He calls us to renounce self. He calls us to forget self, serve others and find true happiness. Being willing to humbly serve is the secret!
- William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible John