“In Jesus, You Get to Serve!” by Pastor Steve Sommerer

17th Sunday after Pentecost Sept. 27, 2020

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            May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you always!  Amen.

            The sermon text is from Philippians 2:1-4,14-18 previously read.

I don’t want to.  Do I have to? I’m sure you’ve felt that way too – maybe every time the alarm goes off you ask that question: Do I have to?  Can you remember the fear in school when your teacher started telling you what she expected, and the list seemed endless?  I have to do all that?  Parents, do you remember some of your child’s really severe diaper blowouts?  Do I have to? Maybe your Sunday morning starts out by the devil trying to talk you out of church?  Do I have to?  Or it’s time to write your tithe check to support God’s church, but there are so many things you could use it for.  Do I have to?

Our Philippians text gives a beautiful picture of how God wants us to be. “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy… be in full accord and one mind.”  Good works before God don’t come from being whipped by the Law or crushed with guilt.  Truly Spirit-motivated works flow from our encouragement and comfort in Jesus. 

If you spend all your days asking, “Do I have to?  I don’t want to.”  If you selfishly horde your time and refuse to serve and volunteer for church or neighbor. If you are only and always about you and taking care of yourself, endlessly asking, “Do I have to?”  Do I have to pray?  Do I have to study the Word?  Do I have to go to church?  Do I have to be content with what’s mine?  The answer is clearly, “No, you don’t have to.”  You don’t have to be a child of God… no gun is held to your head. You can deny Christ and go to hell.  That is an option you have.  But that’s the real choice you make when you choose not to care about God and His Word… You don’t have to love Jesus you can be condemned to hell.

The truth is: as long as we’re in this sinful flesh.  Even we Christians have to wage war against our worthless, selfish sinful flesh, and it’s endless, “Do I have to?”  But don’t wage war by excusing or justifying that nasty lazy streak in you? Don’t side with the sinful flesh that hordes your time and won’t love or care for anyone else.  That lazy, selfish sinful nature can only be attacked in one way, pointing your finger at it and coming clean.  Dear God, forgive me for always asking “Do I have to?”; forgive my selfish, miserly heart that only cares about me; forgive me for not seeing service in church and Sunday school and community and family as things we get to do for Jesus’ sake.  Forgive me for asking “Do I have to?”

I think this is why so many institutions in our communities are crumbling. There are too few willing hands and giving hearts, and to the extent we are exposed, the answer is repentance. This dying world needs Christians and God’s Church to view our sanctified lives, not as, do I have to, but in Jesus I get to!

You know who didn’t have to?  Christ Jesus didn’t have to.  According to the will and plan of God the Father, Jesus stepped from eternity into time when He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  He didn’t have to, but He loved you and me and a world of lost sinners more than equality with God.  I’ll just read the verses immediately after our text: “Have this mind among yourselves which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  He didn’t have to do any of that, but He wants you to be His forgiven, loved, a redeemed child of God and to share His heavenly home. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep.  No one takes my life from Me; I lay it down of My own accord.  I have come that you may have life and have it more abundantly.”

What I’m describing is the difference between how a slave serves, without hope, with no love for the master versus how a son or daughter of the family serves in love.  You have been set free from slavery to sin, death and the devil – set free from the lazy, selfish sinful flesh – but set free to serve… and it’s not “Do I have to?” If God gives you life and the moments of your day, our prayer should be “Take my life and let it be, Consecrated Lord to Thee; Take my moments and my days; Let them flow in ceaseless praise.”

Look at our text from verse 14: “Do all things without grumbling or questioning

that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in a crooked and twisted generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the Word of Life!”

            I had the privilege of knowing a dear saint who served in her church Sunday School for nearly 60 years.  When she was young, the classes were overstuffed with energetic boys with clip on ties and girls with bonnets and dresses.  Over the years, her fellow teachers stepped aside – the younger ones need to do it.  But Louise prayed and studied over her lessons each week, lessons she had taught many times.  In the more recent years, she had small classes, often combined with a few grades, and sometimes only the student, neighbor that she invited and brought herself. She never considered letting go of the honor that was hers to tell many about Jesus, or just a few.  Louise taught future pastors and teachers of God’s Church. She taught future moms and dads, elders and council members of the congregation.  She taught students who saw her example and became blessings to her own congregation and to God’s Church at large.  She always said she got more out of it herself than anyone else. That’s joyful service to God, without grumbling or questioning, she shone like the stars in the universe, because she learned as a young girl what we should teach our children - not to ask “Do I have to?”  She knew her life was a gift from God and her eternal life was a gift of His grace.  She was unworthy of that love, and service was her way of saying thank you for God’s goodness. 

            Do you have to?  Most don’t anymore.  If you don’t, you won’t be any different than anyone else.  But think of it this way, it doesn’t matter how old you are, God has given you the breath in your body, the voice to sing His praise, the lips to speak for Him, the hands to serve Him.  He’s given you love and His full and free salvation, marking you as a redeemed son or daughter of the Living God.  You don’t have to do anything, but if you will let Jesus’ love have its way with you, there are many things you could be privileged and honored to do for the sake of Christ.

            Galatians 3 says, “As many of you who were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”  You know longer live, but Christ is alive in you.  Jesus who is the “light of the world” illuminates your today and tomorrow to “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”  “Shine like stars in the universe, holding fast the Word of life.” 

Don’t be a California, rolling blackout, darkened by sin, because you think church is the place to be a Christian, but nowhere else.  You miss opportunities not only by being lazy, but also when you forget your lives are extraordinary… there’s nothing dull about them. When you’re joined to Jesus in baptism and live with Him through faith, God would shine through you everywhere at all times.  Remember the old song that echoes Jesus’ words: “This little Gospel light of mine – I’m gonna let it shine!  Hide it under a bushel? NO! I’m gonna let it shine!”

So that’s your calling – to radiate the love of Christ – to shine in a dark world. Unlike some boring jobs – your Christian calling is new and fresh every morning – it’s new with every person God brings to you, from your grandchild to your customer at the store.  Some are joyful like singing with your grandchild, some are less joyful like picking up around the house to serve your husband or wife. Every new situation becomes an opportunity to let God use our hands and lips and feet in His service.  Think of the mailman who walks the same path day after day, month after month, year after year delivering mail.  He may think, “How can I serve God?  My life is so boring.”  Yet, each day he delivers checks that feed families.  He helps the elderly person with a heavy burden.  He keeps a child from running into the traffic. He feeds his own family as he uses his God-given strength.  You and I will never know all the ways God uses and reaches through us to touch others. 

Life isn’t always about doing the glamorous thing, but in humble ways we serve God by husbands and wives, parents and children serving one another, by church members not dismissing themselves because “someone else could do it better than I can”, but doing what God gives us to do.  God’s Law teaches us the shape of what a Christian life should be, but the Gospel of Christ brings it to life.  You are loved and redeemed, so shine like lights in the world.  Find joy in serving.  And look for opportunities; don’t avoid them.  “Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed,” 1 Corinthians says, “do it all to the glory of God.”  Amen.  

And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.