The following sermon was given in February before the meal liturgy.
Reading: Philippians 2:1-11
The notion of service, of servant hood, is very important in Scripture and and also as a metaphor that directs the Christian life.
The Israelites were held as slaves – or servants, the terms are often interchangeable – in Egypt and redeemed by God to live as his free people. As Christians, as we have read, we find a model for our attitudes and actions in the life of Christ who did not strive after equality with God but rather took the form of a servant.
We are to be like servants. We are made free by God, from slavery to sin, that we might use our freedom the service of God and others.
On this basis, you might be forgiven for assuming that self-sacrificial service is in every case an unalloyed good. Curiously enough, I have come to the conclusion of late that it is not.
It is possible to serve, to be a servant of others, out of a sense of duty, and yet not love.
It is possible to serve for the sake of pride and ego, because in the context of a church service can be much admired.
The notion of servant-hood and service is not enough. There is something that must precede it.
Let me point you again to our celebration of communion. It is in this act, given to us by Christ, that so much of who we are and how we are to live is laid out for us to see. If we think about servant-hood in the context of communion it appears differently to us, as if in a new light. It does so in two ways.
Firstly, here we are taught that before we ever serve, Christ must serve us. The matter is made so clear by Christ’s words recorded in John 13, where Christ washes the feet of the disciples. Simon Peter exclaimed:
John 13:6-9 “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
Christians must receive from Christ before ever they serve him or serve others. Without this we will speak without love, like a clanging cymbal. We will act without love and we will be and gain nothing.
Before ever we serve, Christ must serve us.
Secondly, Christ also teaches us here in communion that as we receive from him so do others. To participate in Christ is to be made one with others. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians. (10:17) 17 Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
Before ever we strike out to serve others, we must recognise that others are called to the same task, called to serve others and called to serve us.
Our community in Christ lies underneath and behind our servant-hood. We are members of this community, we belong, we participate in Christ and one another before we ever strike out to offer our gifts to others.
All must give, but all must also receive.
There is a blessing, not often recognized, that we can offer to others. It is to allow other people to serve us. There is a sin, not often recognized. It is to be so proud of our service, that we refuse to allow others to give to us.
Let us remember, that in Christ we are made a community where all must give and all must receive. The Church is therefore more important than service.