Take Up Your Broom and Follow Me
January 2, 1994
“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
Begin with me in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 22. It is Thursday night in the Upper Room. Jesus and the disciples have just celebrated the Lord’s Supper. The shadow of the cross hangs over the room. In just minutes Jesus will be betrayed and arrested and tried. The road to the cross will be open. What do you think they were thinking about in the Upper Room at such a holy moment?
Luke 22:24 tells us, “Also, a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest.” That makes sense. You’re in the Upper Room with the Son of God and you’ve just had the Lord’s Supper. He’s giving you his final words, as he’s about to be crucified. The salvation of the world is about to be accomplished, and you’re arguing about who’s greater, James or John, Peter or Bartholomew, Matthew or James the Less.
At least it’s very human. It’s understandable. Jesus said to them,
“The kings of the gentiles lord it over them and those who exercise authority over them call themselves benefactors, but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you shall be like the youngest; the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”
This is 1994, The Year of the Servant at Calvary Memorial Church. Our theme verse is Luke 22:27 “I am among you as one who serves.” I want to call your attention to these two beautiful banners done by Soo Ai Kudo every year. On one, a hand with the cross is reaching out to another about to take it. And the other one gives our theme verse and the scene from John 13. The man with his hands up is Peter, and the man on his knees is Jesus. Looks like something’s wrong with that picture. Looks like it ought to be the other way around. But there is Jesus on his knees with the towel and the basin, about to wash Peter’s dirty feet.
Some of you may wonder how we come up with these things. It’s not just happenstance. We’ve been thinking for some time about what to do for this year and as I thought about it, the Lord laid this on my heart. As I thought about it, I had two or three things in mind for this year, but the Lord kept bringing me right back here. In fact, the Lord brought me back to this verse. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. This is the verse for this church this year, not chosen by committee, but chosen, I believe, by the Lord for this church at this time, at this place. “I am among you as one who serves.”
So as I thought about January and what to preach on, it seemed like we should take a few weeks to talk about servanthood. The title of this series is “Servants Unlimited” because that ought to be the subtitle of the Christian church.
When Soo Ai was designing these banners, I gave her the title and the text. I didn’t give her anything else. She asked me a question that is very interesting. She said, “Pastor Ray, I need to put something visual on there. What would be a universally accepted symbol for servanthood?” I scratched my head and told her I would get back to her on it. She is still waiting for my phone call. That’s a hard question. There are symbols for so many things. We know the hammer and the sickle is the symbol for communism and when we see the snake entwined around the pole it is the symbol of a medical doctor, when we see the barber pole it’s the sign of a barber, but what’s the sign of a servant? What would be a universal symbol that when you saw it, you would say, “Ah, a servant is in the area”?
What Soo Ai did was to choose the one symbol that has always been accepted throughout the history of the Christian church, the towel and the basin, and Jesus washing the disciples feet. What would be the modern equivalent? I was thinking about what to call this first sermon. I talked to my boys about it. My oldest son Joshua thought for a minute and blurted out, “Call it ‘Pick Up Your Broom’.” I meditated on that for a minute and remembered the words of Jesus, “Take up your cross and follow me.” Take up your broom and follow me.
That set me to studying the whole question of servanthood, what it is and what it means. So I looked at what the Bible had to say. Then I thought it would be interesting to see how the dictionary defines a servant. Here is the dictionary definition. “Someone privately employed to provide domestic services, like a maid; someone publicly employed to perform services, as for a government, e.g. public servant, civil servant.”
That didn’t help me very much, so I went to my shelf and pulled down Roger’s Thesaurus. I looked up the word servant to see what synonyms are listed in the English language for the word servant. It is very eye-opening to discover how Roger’s finds synonyms for servant. Here is what it says. “A servant is an assistant, an underling, a subordinate, a hireling, a waiter, an usher, an office boy, a page, a bell boy, a boot black, a lackey, a stooge, a maid, a hired girl, a bedmaker, a milkmaid, a serf, a vassal, a captive, a slave.”
I looked under adjectives and found “menial, low, lowly, abject, base, mean and servile.” Well no wonder nobody wants to be a servant! With a definition like that, it’s not much to put on your resume. I was a milkmaid. I was a servile bellboy. When you read words like that, you understand why that is so rare—because servant in our culture has a bad name.
Chuck Swindoll wrote a book about it. You have probably seen it. It is called “Improving Your Serve”. He wrote it 12 or 13 years ago. In fact, it came out of a sermon series in his church in California much like the one that I am preaching here. It is fascinating to read what Swindoll has to say in the introduction and first chapter of his book. He said that when he approached the whole question of servanthood, he was very negative about it. He said,
“I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to study it. It didn’t seem very interesting to me. The whole idea of being a servant sounded negative. In fact, to me, when I thought of the word servant, I thought of Roots, African slaves and migrant workers who aren’t paid very much and who are abused. In fact, when I thought of the word servant, I thought of a human mule.”
That’s a good word picture. Just some dumb animal that is abused and misused and you lay your burdens on and don’t take any care for. And he said, “Who wants to be a human mule?”
That made me think of the motto of the California Conservation Corps which I saw years ago. That’s an organization out in California to entice young people to come in and give a year or two to work for the state in the forest or building roads and bridges and things like that. Their motto was “Long hours, hard work, low pay.” You would see that on a billboard. That was their enticement. That is what we think when we think of being a servant. Long hours, hard work, low pay. It doesn’t sound like very much fun.
Swindoll makes the comment in his book that he went to the Christian book store and couldn’t find much on servanthood. He found a lot about self fulfillment and getting your needs met, and handling your problems, but not much on servanthood. That was 12 or 13 years ago. You still won’t find much in your average Christian bookstore about being a servant. It is just not a popular subject.
But I find it interesting how much the Bible has to say about this subject. In fact, let me just point out to you a couple of interesting Biblical facts.
1. Servant was Paul’s favorite title for himself. “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ.” In fact, in almost every one of his letters that’s how he introduces himself—in Romans, I Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Thessalonians. It’s not “Paul the big shot,” but “Paul the servant of Jesus Christ.”
2. Jesus Christ himself is presented to us as the model or ultimate servant. Consider these two points.
a. When Jesus came to the earth, he came in the form of a servant. Philippians 2 states “Who being in very nature God did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing.” What does it mean “made himself nothing?” Taking the very nature of a servant. The definition of being made nothing is becoming a servant. Being made in human likeness. Christmas is not only the birth of the King of kings and Lord of lords, it is the birth of God’s servant. That little baby in the manger was born to be a servant.
b. Not only that, but Jesus Christ came to show us how a servant lives and how a servant dies. I don’t know if you paid any attention to the passage in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He came to show us how a servant lives and how a servant dies.
Back to Luke 22. Who is the greatest? “The kings of the gentiles lord it over them.” What does that mean? We live in a world where greatness is measured by power, position, perks. In this world your position is measured by how much education you have, how many degrees you have after your name, what your title is, how much money you make, what your net worth is, how many people you can command, how many people you can pick up and call on the phone and know will have to return your call back.
In this world, your greatness is measured by the car you drive, the size of your office and all of those outward things. You know what, if we were to go out in the world and take a survey and ask who are the ten greatest people in America, you know who they would name? They’d name people in the White House, people in the Supreme Court, people in Congress, the entertainers with all the money; then they would name the leaders, the C.E.O.’s of the Fortune 500 companies, the powerful people of the world. They would call those the greatest. And Jesus said it may be that way out there, but it shall not be that way in here. In here among the people of God, greatness will be determined another way.
How, then, is greatness to be determined in the family of God? Read on. “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table?” It is obviously a true statement. In just a few moments, you may go out to eat. You may go up here to Nielsen‘s or to the Homestead. When you go to a restaurant to eat today, you’ll be a great person because the waiter or waitress will come and serve you, will give you a menu, will take your order, will do your bidding, will do exactly what you say. You will be in charge. You’ll be the great one. And when the meal is over, you’ll walk away and forget about that man or woman who served you. You will never even see the person who washed the dishes or prepared the meal. But you listen carefully. If Jesus were to go to Nielsen’s today, he wouldn’t be sitting at the head table like some almighty big shot. You wouldn’t even see Jesus, because he’d be back in the kitchen washing the dishes, preparing the food. That is what a servant does. He’d be the one to come out and give you the menu and take your order, then he’d disappear and you wouldn’t notice him.
A servant is that unseen person who just does what needs to be done.
The point ought to be made here that servants do whatever needs to be done. They don’t wait to be asked, they don’t wait to be told. They don’t have to be assigned anything. If you’re a servant, you don’t look on the list to see what you’re supposed to do today. You just find something to do and you do it. Servants serve voluntarily, on their own initiative.
That is what Jesus did. Wherever there was a need, that’s where Jesus was. If there was somebody sick, what did he do? He healed them. If there was somebody mourning, what did he do? He comforted them. If somebody was hungry, he fed them. Today the most likely place where you will find Jesus Christ is not necessarily in a church at 11:00 on Sunday morning. The most likely place is out there with the forgotten people, with the hurting people, with the homeless, with the people with A.I.D.S., with the migrant workers, with the people who are down and out, because that’s where you found Jesus 2,000 years ago and that’s where you’re likely to find him today.
It’s not easy. It is easier for me to talk about it or preach about it. Swindoll said that in his book. “As I have studied this, I have been very convicted, because I am not very much of a servant. It is easier to write this than it is to live it.” I confess to you that is exactly the way I feel today. It is much easier to preach this than to live this kind of life. You know why? As I stand here this morning, I’m looking up into those bright lights. I make my living looking into those bright lights. I come here on Sunday and talk to you, and all of you look and listen. There is a parking space reserved for me, a big office for me up on the second floor. I don’t say it comes easy to me. It doesn’t. But I’ll tell you something. Maybe that’s one reason why the Lord laid this on my heart, because it is where I need to be this year.
You can always tell what is on a Pastor’s heart by listening to what he preaches about.
We tend as pastors to preach about what we really need. We preach on prayer because we need to pray. We teach on giving because we need to give. We teach on love because we need more love. We teach on boldness because we need courage and we teach on servanthood because we need to become more like Jesus Christ.
I looked in the hymnbook to see how many hymns there were about servanthood. Not too many. I did find that little chorus by Kelly Willard
“Make me a servant, humble and meek, Lord, help me lift up those who are weak; and may the prayer of my heart always be, make me a servant, make me a servant, make me a servant today.”
I want us not only to sing that, but to pray it.
I am going to ask and answer a question.
What difference will it make in this church if we decide to take servanthood seriously?
How will we know if it is really happening here?
How will we see it?
Let me give you six quick answers to that question.
1. There will be a big increase in the volunteer spirit. Barna and all these other people are right on the church today. They say that this generation, my generation, the baby boomers, love to come to church as consumers. We love to come to get, to receive, to be consumer-oriented. We don’t come to give anything. I think there is a lot of truth to that, because I see it in my own life. A servant doesn’t say, “What do you want me to do?” A servant says “Where can I help?” Maybe a servant doesn’t say anything, he just grabs the basin and a towel and starts washing dirty feet.
Do you come to church to give or only to receive?
2. We‘ll see a decrease in the amount of criticism and backtalk and gossip that goes on. A servant doesn’t have time to criticize or gossip. If you’re going to be washing dirty feet, that’s going to take all day and you won’t have time to offer extraneous opinions on anything else.
You can be a critic or you can be a servant, but I don’t think that you can be both for very long.
3. There will be a new emphasis on the practical side of Christianity. You know I believe in Bible doctrine and in theology and I preach it to you all the time, but the Bible also says that faith without works is dead. If we’re really going to believe in servanthood, we’re going to talk more about the practical side of Christianity. We will see a new emphasis on caring and doing and getting out there to where the hurting people are. We will see people down at Circle Urban Ministries, Inner City Impact, Lawndale Community Church. We’ll see people out in our community caring for the hurting, for the dying, for the needy, for the lonely, for the homeless and for the helpless. We will see a big emphasis around here on the practical side of Christianity if we take servanthood seriously.
4. We will have a new standard for choosing our leaders. In any church there is always the temptation when it comes to choosing leaders that you’ll choose the rich people, the long time church members, the people who are successful from a business point of view, those who always speak out at the business meetings, who seem to know all the answers, the ins and outs of church politics. Wait a minute. I’m not saying that those qualities aren’t important. But too often we choose leaders according to those standards alone. If servanthood becomes important, do you know who we will start choosing as our leaders? We will find the servants.
5. There will be a deeper appreciation of those who labor behind the scenes. I feel this quite strongly because I realize that in my position I get a lot of perks. In my better moments it bothers me. Not that I am thanked and appreciated, but that so many people who do so much more than I do are forgotten. Somebody printed the bulletin and somebody made the slides, somebody swept up, but we don’t even think about that. Somebody works with your children in AWANA so they will learn the word of God. All I’m saying is that I’m not the important person around here. Don’t ever think that because I don’t think that. I could be taken off the scene and this church would go right on because the beauty of this church is that there are people behind the scenes who sacrifice everything for Jesus Christ. They are the real heroes and heroines of this body of Christ, not me. And if servanthood really becomes important, we’re going to start elevating those unseen heroes and heroines and start honoring them for their work.
6. We’re going to see lots of new people coming to Jesus Christ. Why is that? Because if you are following Jesus, you are following a servant. What do servants do? They make Jesus beautiful. People may not understand my sermons, they may not understand your theology and big words, they may not understand some passage of Scripture. When you wash their dirty feet, they will understand that, because the act carries with it its own explanation.
Here’s my application. Make me a servant, humble and meek; Lord let me lift up those who are weak. I want us to begin to pray that: make me a servant. And I have a special prayer that I want you to pray along with that.
This is an assignment for the first week of the new year, Servanthood 101. I want you at the beginning of each day, to pray “Lord, make me a servant.” Then at the end of each day this week, I want you to think back to everybody you’ve met, the person on the elevator, the guy who filled up your tank with gas, co-workers, the guy across the street you waved at, friends, people in class. Before you go to bed, think about everybody you met, everybody who makes up your little world each day. Then begin to pray for them.
The hardest part of being a servant is opening your eyes.
We’re all so self-centered. We’re all so locked in our own problems and needs that we don’t see the people around us. If you pray for those you’ve met every night before you go to bed this week, it will revolutionize your life. You will discover that there are more opportunities to be a servant this week than you have ever dreamed. Your problem is that those people are just passing you by, and you are so self-centered and so preoccupied, you’re not even seeing them.
God will open doors for you this week.
Who’s the greatest person at Calvary Memorial Church? I don’t know who it is, but I know who it isn’t. It’s not me. The greatest person at this church is the greatest servant, because he is the one most like Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “I am among you as one who serves.” Let’s take the first step this week in becoming like Jesus Christ.
Lord Jesus, you came to earth as a servant. We know you as Savior and Lord. Show us this year what it means to know you as a servant. Amen.