In the song, “Chain of Grace,” Disciple pastor and musician Randy Mark Miles tells the story about a time when he needed help early in his ministry. The years after seminary were difficult—the small church he served in Indiana didn’t offer a salary that met the denomination’s guidelines, he was paying back student loans, and he and his wife were starting their family. He was grateful that the call had come to serve a larger church in Texas, but when he looked at the old car and the trailer, well, he wondered if it would make the trip.
He was right to be concerned. Five miles outside of town the trailer broke down. At least the trailer broke down in front of a house, which Randy approached. Much to his amazement it was the home of a former Disciple of Christ pastor he had lost track of.
What was this Disciple pastor doing for fun in retirement? He and his son had started a trailer repair business. They fixed the trailer and told Randy a little story about how this very same thing had happened to him and his family years ago. “So the way to repay ME,” said the retired pastor to Randy, “Is to help someone else when you are able.”As Christians we understand that Jesus is in the helping business; the servant business. One of the stories we cherish is the story of Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet and drying them with his apron, found in John 13:1-17. Peter is alarmed! The Master serving the students? That’s unheard of and he didn’t want any part of it. “You’re not going to wash my feet—ever!” he says to Jesus.
Jesus responds to Peter, saying, “Do you understand what I have done to
you? You address me as ‘Teacher’ and ‘Master,’ and rightly so. That is what I am. So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious. A servant is not ranked above his master; an employee doesn’t give orders to the employer. If you understand what I’m telling you, act like it—and live a blessed life.”
The way Jesus models for how we are to be with each other in John’s gospel is the chain of grace Randy Mark Miles sings about—how we are all caught up in the REALITY of how things are with God—we all have abilities and inabilities—we all have something to GIVE—and we all need to be given UNTO.
But it’s not easy to see, or even accept. A lot of folk I know really prefer to be self-sufficient—the only person we plan on trusting is ME.
A blog post I ran across offers this definition of self-sufficiency, “But self-sufficiency is the (mistaken and self-destructive) belief that I am ultimately an island, that I can go my own way with little more than passing reference to others.”
If you think about it, self-sufficiency is the opposite of faith. The self-sufficient person is closed to the idea that he or she needs help from someone else, even God. There are no requests for help, and therefore no experience of love.
Jesus expands on this understanding in Luke Chapter 7. Jesus is eating at the home of a religious leader when a woman of the village came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet, drying his feet with her hair and anointing them with perfume. Jesus considers her actions to be impressive. Jesus’ dining companions are disgusted.
“Simon,” Jesus says to Peter, “I have a question for you. Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”
Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.” What Jesus is talking about is awareness—awareness of God, of God’s authority, of God as the source of all life, of God as PROVIDER. The woman is extravagant towards Jesus because she has reached BEYOND herself for help and discovered that Jesus is there ABLE TO HELP. She understands the power in the relationship—she doesn’t help Jesus—Jesus helps her. By allowing herself to be helped she has experienced just how wonderful Jesus is.
Because she asked, she saw. Another way to understand this is to say that the woman was open to the gift hopelessness wanted to give her, which was GOD.
“Help,” reminds Anne Lamott in her book HELP THANKS WOW, “is a wonderful prayer. We release ourselves from the absolute craziness of trying to be our own—or other people’s –higher powers.”
The men at the dinner table, on the other hand, have not asked God for help and experienced God’s grace. How does Jesus know? Because they are not extravagant towards Jesus…if they knew who he was and what he was already doing…they’d be on their knees as well. Their self-sufficiency was evident. It would be their undoing. How do you trust a God you’ve never met? How do you love a God whom you’ve never seen at work?
It’s all about the knees.
Faith is all about the knees. Real, honest to God I’m getting on YOUR TRAIN, GOD, FAITH.
Jesus is all about the knees.
Prayer—which is listening to God.
Service to others---for Jesus, feeding, healing, teaching, restoring people to community—for the retired Disciple of Christ pastor, fixing a trailer hitch and getting a young couple a little further down.
That takes us to Jesus’ story about the fat camel that can’t squeeze through the eye of the needle. When there’s a whole of ME, there’s little room for God and God’s kingdom. The only way to enter the relationship is through weight loss; getting tired of “ME.”
Peter writes a LOT about humility because it’s the one virtue that opens the door to our experience of God. But how do we understand humility? It’s not belittling ourselves, thinking we are nothing. Jesus’ life, his LIGHT, shows us the exact opposite—a human life has so much potential! Humility is all about authority, who we’re listening to.
As Jesus said we cannot serve two masters—and we have choices.
As much as we hate to admit it, a lot of the time who we are serving is our SELF. Who we trust is our SELF. How do we know we are there? I think there are several signs:
1. Our prayer life exists in telling God what to do.
2. Our prayer life is dead—there’s no time set aside to give God our undivided attention—there’s no cry for “help”.
3. We are more interested in creating an image that we want our neighbors to see than embracing ourselves as we really are—strong and weak, gifted and challenged—in need of many things that only God and community can give.
4. When we cannot connect with our neighbor’s needs and feelings—we prefer to find fault—to distance ourselves.
5. When our knees never hit the ground.
HUMILITY, WE SEE, IS THE ABILITY TO LAY OURSELF DOWN BY ASKING FOR HELP—AND WAIT IN THE QUIET ON GOD’S WATCH—AND LOOK FOR GOD TO PICK US UP. When we run out of our SELF we run into GOD.
HUMILITY IS also the ability to share liberally what we have been given to share by God because God is the source of our talents—and God is all about renewable energy.
My favorite verse in Peter’s lesson today is 5:7 “Live carefree before God; “(God) is most careful with you.”
Isn’t Peter’s invitation amazing? Keep God the main thing. No one is more tender with us than God. He can say this, because he has experienced this to be true.
Which is more difficult for you?
Sharing what you have been supplied with others…
… or asking for help?
Prayer: Amazing God, you have power to share. Inspire us to live lives of great faith and trust—may we never be too proud to ask for help, we might miss you. May we always be ready to help, we might see you! In Christ we pray, Amen.
(This sermon was preached by Reverend Dana Keener on June 1, 2014 at Central Christian Church in Billings, Montana.(