When I was a kid I had the opportunity to serve for a day as a page with our state representative in the Indiana General Assembly. Looking back on that day, I remember getting a picture taken alongside our state rep and another student from my school, in the Indiana House. I remember running errands, delivering messages, watching the House at work, and getting a tour of the state capitol. But my most vivid memory from the day is that our state representative, himself, picked us up in his car at school, drove us to the state house, went with us to lunch, and gave as a ride home. In other words, this busy, political leader spent a considerable amount of time with a couple of high school kids. He personally invested in our education that day. He repeatedly engaged us in conversation, and listened to what we had to say. He saw to our needs and comfort. He served us – two of his not yet able to vote constituents.
This elected official was respected in our community. He won re-election several times over. He was a public servant in the best understanding of that title. I think of him, and others like him, as our congregation moves into the week of the “Red Letter Challenge” devoted to service.
Service is part of what it means to know and follow Christ. Service is caught and taught from being with Jesus. Jesus was a servant leader. We see service in his actions and hear it in his words:
“I am among you as one who serves.” (John 13:15)
“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)
One of my favorite mission trip stories, relayed to me by a first hand participant, involved a group young people who had come together to form a short-term mission team. International mission work trips can be challenging even for groups that know one another well, and have shared thorough preparation for the experience. That was not the case with this group. They were not all well acquainted prior to the trip, and their preparation had been limited. The first day or two on site were rough. Young people were grumbling, hot, tired and minus the comforts of home. Things were at risk of going off the rails.
That evening, without advance notice, the team leader shared a devotion with his disgruntled group, using John 13 as his text. After reading the story of Jesus and his disciples, he proceeded to act it out as one by one he washed the feet of the young people and their adult leaders. A group that had been out of sorts grew quiet, even reflective, and from that time forward came together in a harmonious effort to complete the mission.
Sometimes, as Jesus knew, the best sermons are preached without the use of words. Wouldn’t it be refreshing, in today’s loud, brash and often hostile public discourse, if servant leaders emerged among us setting a different example? I continue to believe there are persons who – like the state rep I learned from, or the mission leader in the story – act as servants on a regular basis. Part of my own “red letter challenge” will be to thank them, acknowledge them, and pay more attention to them. Will you join me?