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Jan 07, 2018

Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

Passage: John 13:15

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Sermon Delivered at Central Christian Church  January 7, 2018 Michael E. Karunas


It’s the night before Jesus’ death.  And it’s a time for “lasts.”  He’s just eaten the last supper.  It’s his last evening before the crucifixion.  He’s having his last conversation with his closest friends;  with the disciples – the 12 – who had spent more time with him over the past three years than anyone else.  What to say to them in this last conversation with them?  Wouldn’t there be “so much” to say Jesus wouldn’t know where to begin?  And had it been three years already?  Where had the time gone?  It seemed like only yesterday that Jesus called them to follow him and they answered that call.  Why hadn’t they paid better attention to what he had taught them?  Why hadn’t they taken better notes?  These disciples must have been kicking themselves. 

It may seem strange that, just two weeks after Christmas and the birth of Jesus, we’re talking about his death (or the night before it) – that, at the beginning of a new year, we’d be thinking about the end of his life.  Yet, Jesus said something very important on that last night in the upper room.  “Remember,” he said, “I have set you an example that you also should do as I have done for you.” 

Actions, for Jesus, speak louder than words, which is something my grandfather helped me understand nearly 30 years ago.  Grandpa Mike – my dad’s dad – was a devout Catholic.  When he was in his 20s, something happened to him and he believed the Catholic church changed his life.  And from then on, the earth revolved around the Catholic church.  Though he understood it when my dad left Catholicism and joined the Disciples of Christ church when he married my mom – and though he supported our church over the years by attending with us now and then – ours wasn’t a “real” church or a “real” faith.  Because we weren’t Catholic.  Yet, when his wife had a heart-attack in 1989 and spent a week in the hospital before ultimately passing away… who came by to visit nearly every day; who stood with him and prayed at the bedside?  Not his Catholic priest, but our pastor – Mr. Fuller.  And from that day forward, until Grandpa Mike died, he had the utmost respect for our pastor and our church.  Actions speak louder than words. 

Which is why Jesus - in his last words to his disciples – chose to point to his actions.  “Remember,” he said, “that I have set you an example with my actions.”  And what was that example, exactly?  Washing their feet.  Right before he spoke these words, he got up from the dinner they’d just finished.  He took off his outer robe and tied it around his waist as a towel.  Then he poured water into a basin and he washed their feet and dried them with his robe.

Footwashing was not unique to Jesus.  Everyone did it at that time.  When guests arrived at your house, you would have a basin of water by the door and they would wash their own feet.  Or… if you had the means, your servant would wash their feet.  The host wouldn’t do it.  But this footwashing Jesus did was different.  It was after the meal and not as the guests came in the door.  And… he did it for them, which tells us that he washed their feet not to clean them as much to prove a point.  In one moment, three years’ of teaching culminated in a single action.  And it reinforced the entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry – “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.”  That is why he voluntarily took the role of a servant that night and washed their feet.  He wanted them to know that to be his follower meant never thinking oneself above the simple acts of service that reveal the love of God greatest; that sometimes the best way we lead others to faith is by the setting an example of serving the needs of those around us. 

In fact, his whole ministry was based on a Servant Leadership model.  First, he called others to follow him.  And when he called them, he said, “Come and see…”  (come and watch the example that I’ll be setting for you).  Those he called had no previous experience doing what Jesus was asking them to do.  The first 4 were fisherman and the next one, Levi, was a tax collector.  But that didn’t matter.  Because Jesus showed them how to do what he wanted them to do.  They watched the example he sat of preaching and teaching and healing.  Then… he sent them out to do what he did.  He empowered them.  He gave them the authority to do what he was doing.  And they did.  And after they’d done that for awhile they came back and reported to Jesus what they’d done.  They had a debriefing session with Jesus.  Sometimes they struggled to do what he did.  Sometimes they failed.  And sometimes Jesus grew frustrated with them.  Nothing came easy to those first disciples.  But none of that prevented Jesus from setting more examples for them and sending them out to serve others on his behalf.  To be a follower is to lead people to faith by the example of service we undertake. 

This week we begin a new year, which is a time of resolutions and new beginnings.  Each new year is a blank canvas and we imagine what it will be filled with as the year unfolds.  We want the canvas of our lives to be filled with things that please God; that serve the will of God.  So for the next month, our focus in worship will be Servant Leadership.  We will look at 5 ways we can follow the example set by Jesus by serving one another.  In particular, serving in worship on Sunday mornings – as Deacon, Elder, Greeter/Usher/Hospitality, Liturgist, and Musician.  Each week we’ll look at the biblical basis for each of these 5 serving opportunities.  We’ll also provide sign up sheets where you can let us know if you’re interested in serving in these ways.  And we’ll offer an evening of training (in early February) to help equip and empower those interested in serve in these ways.  On the back of the sermon insert, you’ll see a schedule for the sermon themes between now and February 11.

Don, Tina and I feel that this is something that can be helpful for us at this point in our church’s history.  Not only will it give us a good educational framework for what we do what we do (as Deacons, Liturgists, etc…), our 9:00 service is growing and whereas we started that service with a small group of worship leaders, that leadership was always meant to be shared and now is a good time to begin doing that.  And in the last few years, we’ve had many new members join the church through all of our services and it’s time for the church to be more intentional in inviting all of us to join in the serving leadership at Central.

So our focus in worship over the next month will be Servant Leadership.  Because the Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas came to us setting an example for us to follow.  He came us to humbly, as a baby in a manger.  And he left us humbly, as a servant washing feet the night before his death.  And all throughout he showed us that the best way to lead others to faith is often by the example we set of humbly serving them.