Sunday Night Live Sermons
THE END OF WORSHIP; THE BEGINNING OF SERVICE
My Favourite Scripture Passages
I have newspaper cuttings of 70 years ago concerning my hero, Don Bradman. I read about the 1931–32 Cricket Tests against South Africa. Bradman averaged 201 for the entire series! In that same year in a second-class match he made 100 not out in only 3 overs of 24 balls! In the Third Test, Australia hit 752 with the newspapers declaring “Bradman played one of the greatest knocks in his career and the Australian Captain, Bill Woodfull, was solid as a rock.” Twenty years later Bradman was still my hero and Bill Woodfull was my school Principal!
Bill Woodfull played in 35 test matches and captained Australia in those infamous “bodyline” tests when England bowled at the bodies and heads of our batsmen, especially Bill Woodfull and Don Bradman, to prevent them making runs. Bill Woodfull was respected by our students at Box Hill Boys High School. He was a great sportsman, scholar and educator. I respected him greatly. I told him in 1955 that I was planning to study for the ministry, and that during the summer holidays, I would be helping in the little inner suburban churches of Ascot Vale and Newmarket. He said to me, “I lived in the Manse there at the Flemington Methodist church where my father was minister.” I have told you before that he then told me the greatest illustration of tonight’s scripture passage that I have ever heard, and possibly I am today the only person alive to have actually heard it from his lips. He said, “When I was in England with the 1930 test team, playing for the Ashes, we were sitting on a lawn at Bournemouth when a wealthy gentleman came up and said, “Australians eh? What are you doing here?” “Well, come on. Have a bite to eat.” The man took them to a large house where the staff prepared tea.
The stranger asked them their names, and when he came to Woodfull, he repeated it: “Woodfull. Did you say Woodfull? Do you know if your family is related to a Methodist minister in Melbourne?” Mr Woodfull replied, “Why yes, Sir, he’s my father.” The man was so excited: “Boys! Had it not been for that young Methodist minister, father of Bill here, neither you nor me would be at this table today.” He told them his story. He had gone to Australia, fallen upon bad days, and lost everything including his self-respect. Grim despair had overtaken him. He told how one day, in misery, he was trudging along Mount Alexandra Road thinking perhaps to end it all, when a horse and buggy stopped by him. It was the Rev T.S.B. Woodfull who was driving. He gave the man a lift until they came to the Flemington Methodist Church and the Manse. Rev. Woodfull invited him into his home for a meal, but before the meal the minister asked him if he would like to have a bath. Rev. Woodfull led the man upstairs and ran a hot bath and gave him a clean towel. “Boys, to think that young parson should offer me a bath and hand me a clean towel. Yes, it was the towel that did it. I came out of that bathroom a new man. From that moment on, new hope revived, courage, resolve, something in me lived again. I made good. See this house, this table, all the things about you? By the grace of God I owe it all to that young parson Woodfull. Yes it was the towel that did it!”
Mr Woodfull looked at me as he let the meaning of the significance of humble service sink in. He wanted me to become a minister like his father, a man willing to humbly serve the needs of people. For humble service is 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.
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. 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 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 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. 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 self awareness. Having just said that Jesus knew, John now says “so He rose…took off…tied…poured…began to wash…and dry them.”
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. 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.
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. They 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. They can be willing to humbly serve.
2. SELF PRIDE HINDERS DISCIPLESHIP v6-11
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 rebuked Peter: “If I do not wash your feet, you will no longer be my disciple.” Here was 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.
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.”
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. Take up the towel and basin of water, and be willing to humbly serve. Renounce 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. Then you can realise that it was for people like you that Christ died. He identified Himself with you and now you can identify yourself with Him.
Like Peter you will say: “Lord, do not only wash my feet then! Wash my hands and head too!” 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. For many years, at the bottom of our orders of service, we printed the words, “The end of worship is the beginning of service.” We were saying, 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.