Read Part I here… or be very confused. Context is everything.
Now, all that said, when I look at the world around us, the idea of having the heart of a servant doesn’t seem to be one that’s heavily promoted. Quite the opposite, in fact. Our world seems to be fueled by ego and love of self. Ambition and fame and wealth are seen as far better things to cultivate than humility and a servant’s heart.
We see people of great ego and ambition build huge monuments to themselves with their names boldly displayed for everyone to see. For example, if a donation is made to a hospital or a university for a new building, it’s usually done so with the agreement that it will be named after whomever is giving the donation.
As much fun as I think it would be one day get rich and give money to a university to that they can open the “Shane Pennells Institute for Research into Outstanding Achievements in the Field of Important-Sounding Discoveries”, (it will be a very large building just so they can fit that name on the outside if it), there are better ways to use whatever I’ve been blessed with than making sure I’m commemorated by a building. And a statue.
Luke 12:48 says “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded”. The theme of today’s sermon is what does a world without love look like. To illustrate just what that world looks like, let me quote one of my favorite poems, called “Ozymandias”.
It was written in 1818 and is mostly likely about the pharaoh Ramses II, who was by all accounts the most powerful pharaoh Egypt ever had. He may have even been the pharaoh that Moses faced off against in Exodus.
“Ozymandias” is the tale of a “traveler from an antique land” who tells of finding a huge statue, of which the face has a stern scowl on it. The statue is broken in several pieces and has been mostly swallowed up by the desert sands, but on the pedestal, the traveler reads these words: “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings; Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”. The traveler looks around, but that broken statue is all that’s left. Nature and time have erased everything else. Ego and ambition and self-glorification didn’t leave anything that lasted.
Very simply put, a world without love is, ultimately, a world in ruin.
Isaiah 1:17 urges us “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow”. Galatians 6:9 says “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up”. We have, as Christians and as a Church, a God-appointed job in front of us. It’s fine to feel like you’ve done some good at the end of the day, but don’t make that feeling why you’re doing it in the first place. Again, it’s all about having the heart of a servant.
The Bible refers to Christians as “laborers in the field”, not the owners of the field itself. God has control over the world around us and we are then supposed to make sure that everyone discovers the love of Christ and the sacrifice He made for us. The world is not ours to save. It never was, it was never intended to be.
So… how can we serve the world around us? Turn with me to Matthew 25:31-40.
One thing that has genuinely surprised me over the years I’ve worked with at-risk youth is that, no matter the youth I work with, past, present, even if they’ve never met each other, they consistently use the exact same word when they talk about how they wish the world would view them. They always say they wish they could feel “worthy”. And it’s always that exact word, “worthy“. When I’ve asked them what they mean, they say worthy of being accepted for who they are, worthy despite their failures, worthy of being loved.
God is absolutely worthy of our praise and love, but remember that we are created by God in His image. Every single person who has ever walked on this planet was created by God in His image. This means we are, by the very fact we exist, worthy of His love. God Himself has deemed us so, so who can say otherwise?
I say this because that lack of feeling worthy is the ultimate root cause of a world without love. People who’ve been hurt, who’ve been made to feel unworthy in some fashion, hurt other people, even if they don’t realize it.
Jesus said He came to make all things new. This means that all of us are works in progress. In the verses we just read over, we saw examples of how to help others: offer some water or food, give some clothing, check in on someone when they’re having a rough time. None of that requires the need for a faith that can move mountains.
Let me give you an example of how easy it is to live out those verses we just read. It was probably 20 years ago, my dad picked up some international students at Pearson Airport who were here to go the Crossroad Centre’s School of Broadcasting. It was winter and one of the students who was from a much warmer climate didn’t have a coat when he arrived. Without hesitation my dad gave him literally the coat off his back to make sure that he would be able to stay warm during his time here.
For Dad, it wasn’t a big sacrifice. He had another coat at home, he had the money to go buy another one if he really wanted to, but to that student it made a world of difference. This person he had never met before made sure he’d be okay while he studied in a foreign country.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about one verse in particular: “when I was in prison you visited me”. Some of you know that Michelle and I had a friend who was in prison awaiting trial for murder. We felt compelled to visit them, and not just because we could see the prison literally from our bathroom window. It was simply something God put on our hearts to do.
What surprised me is that we had friends who knew about the situation telling us that we shouldn’t go to prison, that our friend was in there because of their own choices and deserves the consequences of their actions. Some went as far as to say that, as Christians, we shouldn’t be seen associating with them, or be seen going in and out of the prison itself.
As I said earlier, a servant’s heart is about leaving ego and vanity out of the situation. God’s love is so very often about helping where we are, and what He leads us to. I work with the youth, despite all the brokenness that comes with it, because God has decided that’s where I’m supposed to be at this moment, and He strengthens me to withstand that darkness.
“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded”. My parents raised me on a similar idea: if you have the ability to help, you have the responsibility to help.
The Bible says that the devil goes around prowling like a lion, seeking what he can to destroy. We have to be willing minister to the most vulnerable in our society because of this. The devil seeks division, often through distraction: “Don’t worry about those people over there, instead look at all the things in your own life that aren’t as good as they could be”. Divide and conquer.
I’ve noticed a subtle underlying message in sermons of late here at Crosswalk: we’re a small church, but we’re still called to minister to the community around us… and to each other.
As Pastor Mark put it, “It has always amazed me how the modern-day Christian church has individualized the Christian faith. Many feel that as long as they feel they have a love for God, our love for fellow believers and our love and concern for the lost is secondary. But that’s not at all what Scripture indicates. Christianity is a communal relationship. We have been joined to Christ, but there is another bond that takes place: one between believers. How can we say we are unified, how can we say we are one body, made one in Christ, and yet not have a deep, abiding love for one another? We can’t. In John 13, Jesus doesn’t say, “A new suggestion I give you: Love one another.” He says, it is a new command.” Pastor Mark was absolutely correct in writing that.
We have to love others because God first loved us. He freely gave us His gift of salvation and grace so that we can be reunited with Him. Here’s the thing that so many people, Christians included, can miss about God’s grace: there is nothing you can do to earn God’s grace because that’s the whole point in the first place… it’s freely given because God sees us as worthy of His love by the simple reason that He created us.
We read in the Bible that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not death nor life, angels nor demons, present, future, nothing in all creation. Therefore, we can not claim that this love and grace is just for us. It is meant to be shared. It is meant to be the foundation for building a world in which God’s love reigns supreme.
1 Corinthians 13 says “Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.” but three things will always remain: “faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love”.
Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it this way:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore, we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore, we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
Why forgiveness? Because forgiveness is about letting go of past hurts and letting God’s healing love take over and allowing God to make us into who He created us to be.
If a world without love is one in ruin, then a world focused on God’s love is one of grace and healing. If God has called us to be His messengers in the world, the loudest message we can give is comprised of three simple words: “Jesus loves you”, and they resound most when we let our everyday actions towards others be defined by those three simple words.
I’ve seen first-hand what a world without love is like. I can’t wait to see what a world full of God’s love could be like. How about you?
Let us pray.