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Called to Serve: Not so much a promotion; rather, an opportunity to be humble

Sermon by Derek Thomas on Dec 7, 2008

John 13:15-17

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The Lord's Day Evening

December 7, 2008

Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons

John 13:15-16

“Called to Serve: Not so much a promotion;

Rather, an opportunity to be humble”

Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas

Please open your Bibles to John's Gospel, chapter 13, and we're going to read verses 15 and 16. [And, yes…the children were to be dismissed during the singing of that [laughter], so, children, you may now leave if you wish.] While they’re leaving, let's pray for God's blessing on the reading of Scripture.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures: that You breathed them out; that every jot and tittle is given by inspiration of God and profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in the way of righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Help us now as we focus upon these particular words — Your words — to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, and all for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

This is God's word:

“For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.”

Well, the context of these words of course is very familiar and well known. This is the last night of Jesus’ earthly life. He and the disciples have gathered together in the upper room. On this night, He will be betrayed. He will be handed over to be tried by Caiaphas and Pontius Pilate, and will be crucified in the morning. And they've gathered together in this upper room in Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, and as you remember this is the occasion on which during the course of the supper He divests himself of His outer garments and drapes a towel around Him, and takes a basin of water and begins to wash the disciples’ feet. “I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

No one does ordinations and installations quite like First Presbyterian Church, and as I was thinking about this occasion, this immensely significant and important occasion in your lives and particularly the lives of some of these men in the front few pews here tonight. I imagine that you've received congratulation from wives and children and parents…and Uncle Tom, probably, and all. But in a sense this is not an occasion where we congratulate in the same sense as the world congratulates on the occasion of a promotion. I'm tempted to think of those words tonight, “What do we have that we haven't received?”

And Jesus is speaking here to His disciples — in many respects, His office bearers — and it's an occasion on which He wants to teach them perhaps the most significant lesson that they can ever learn about ministry, ministry without His physical presence. And it's a lesson about humility.

History isn't kind to the proud and the boastful. I remember at one time learning Shelley's poem Ozymandias. You remember it, of course, some of you:

“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”

And Shelley goes on in the poem to say,

“Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Now let me explain what he's talking about. It's a one-time monument to Ozymandias on which there was a plaque saying these words, “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”, but now all that remains is the plaque, and it's miles and miles of sand. And one witty commentator on that poem, I remember, said perhaps on that plaque there was “Mr. and Mrs. Dukes” — tourists who had passed by and added their names to that proud, boastful statement.

Well, I'd offer my congratulations to you, too, but again I'm tempted to say, "What do you have that you haven't received?" A servant, Jesus says here, is not greater than his master.

I want us to think along three lines of thought briefly tonight about ministry and about service.

I. Service in the Kingdom of God is not about me: it's about others.

The first thing I want us to see and think about is that service in the kingdom of God is not about me; it's about others. John 13 begins like this:

“Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father….”

Knowing that His hour had come…that's a very significant statement. It's a statement that has already been made toward the close of the previous chapter. There are similar statements which suggest that His hour had not yet come, you remember. And then there seems to be a definitive moment of transition in the ministry of Jesus when He seemingly becomes self-aware and self-conscious that His hour had come: the hour for which He had come into the world; the hour that He had covenanted with His Father in eternity on behalf of sinners like you and me; the hour which in another metaphor is spoken of as a cup — “Let this cup pass from Me” — a cup from which He must drink, just as now He drinks from a Passover cup. It was a cup that He too would have to drink, a cup that the prophets of the Old Testament had spoken of: a cup of bitterness, a cup of God's wrath and anger against sinners. And He will drink it. His hour has come. But not just come, but He knows that it's come. He's self-aware that it has come. He is now almost preoccupied with the thought of His mission, of His purpose. This is why He had come into the world.

We’re surrounded by the reminders of His birth, of Christmas. But He had come into the world born in a stable in Bethlehem, Judea; He had come into the world in order to be a servant. He had come into the world in order to give himself on behalf of others. He had come into the world in order to die, in order to go to the cross and bear the sins of His people and drink of that cup. His hour had come, and He knew it. It's almost as though now a dark cloud has come and moved from the horizon and now seems to be enveloping everything. Soon…this night…in a few hours He will go to Gethsemane. He will say those words, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Thy will be done”–his sweat, as it were, like great drops of blood falling to the ground.

You would understand. You would perfectly understand if Jesus would now be so preoccupied as not even to consider the needs of His disciples. You would perfectly understand if this was personal time for Jesus. You would perfectly understand if He were to say ‘I'm too busy now to be preoccupied with your small, tiny, peripheral concerns. This must now be My time.’ We’d understand that. If we read that in the Gospels, we’d say, “Yes, I perfectly understand that.”

But foot-washing? I'm not sure I understand folk who go and study to become podiatrists. It's not something that appeals to me very much. I'm grateful I have feet, but it's not something I give much attention to, to be honest. You’d understand if you read in the Gospels, ‘No foot-washing tonight. Let's skip this ritual.’ I could explain to you something about ancient Near Eastern customs. I could lay it on you tonight about how this was part of their custom, this was part of their culture in a sandy environment. At a social occasion there would be this ritual. It sounds a little weird and strange to us, but it evidently wasn't in the ancient Near East, to bathe one another's feet. But you’d perfectly understand, wouldn't you, if Jesus were to say ‘Let's skip the ritual. Let's forget convention tonight. No foot-washing tonight. I'm too preoccupied with myself.’ We’d understand that. The amazing thing — and it is amazing — it's jaw-dropping that Jesus would not just be concerned about others, not just concerned about His disciples, but concerned about something that — let's face it — you and I would think is peripheral and trivial, and, well, a luxury item.

It puts others first. I think that's the lesson. What is ministry about? It's putting others first. We remember Isaac Newton. We remember him perhaps because of a book that he wrote, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy …(much more interesting than The Book of Church Order!) We remember Isaac Newton because of the laws of gravity, but actually it was Haley of Haley's Comet who forced Newton to reconsider his views and cajoled him not a little to rethink and redo his experiments, and to meticulously proofread his Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. We only remember Haley once in every — what is it? — 76 years. But actually in many ways he was the hero, and not Newton. He was prepared to put himself second for the sake of Newton.

Well, in a similar kind of way Jesus is saying here that ministry is not about “me”; it's about others. You've been elected to office tonight. Elder, Deacon…it's all about ministry, and it's about ministry to others, and it will involve a fair degree of thinking about the needs of others. “I've given you an example,” Jesus says, “that you also should do just as I have done for you.” What does it mean to be Jesus-like? It means putting others first.

II. Service in the Kingdom of God is about enduring love.

Well, secondly I want us to see that service in the kingdom of God is about enduring love — a love that endures, that is to say. You notice again in the first verse,

“Before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

Now. It's interesting how John describes what now takes place, because he tells us very specifically about Judas, and that Judas was also there. He knows (verse 2).

“During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray Him…”

It's knowing the devil's work, it's knowing that one of the twelve is His betrayer that He divests himself of His outer garment and goes through this ritual of foot-washing. He loved them, and He loved them even to the end. They were slow to believe. They were unteachable. They argued, you remember, about places and positions of priority and authority: Who would be head of the table? One of them would betray Him. One of them would deny Him. And all of them would flee from Him. And He loved them. And He loved them to the end. He loved them to the point of death. He loved them to the point of Calvary. He loved them to the point of giving His life for them. He will become sin for them. He will bear their sins. They will be reckoned to His account. He will stand in their place. He will meet the unmitigated wrath of His heavenly Father against sin — the reflex of God's holiness towards sin — and He will meet it, and He will meet it to the full, without equivocation, without pulling back. He’ll drink of that cup to the last bitter dregs until He experiences forsakenness by God. He will cry, “My God! My God! Why have You forsaken Me?” He loved them…all of them. The undeserving among them, the unlovely among them, the ones who wouldn't necessarily love Him back in the way that they should. He loves them to the end.

That's what ministry is about. That's what Jesus-likeness is about. It's about loving the unlovely. You want a church where everyone is lovely. This one isn't it…nor is any church on the face of this earth a church where there aren't unlovely people, and difficult people, recalcitrant people, obstinate people, stubborn people.

“Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but made himself of no reputation….”

What did He do? “He humbled himself. He became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

You remember, perhaps, a story of a Native American woman in Arizona. They discovered her in the course of a brush fire. She had apparently been surrounded by this fire. She was carrying a little child, a little baby, in a shawl upon her back. What they discovered was just her bones. She had been burnt to a crisp. She had curled herself into a little ball, and beneath her she had dug a hole with her bare hands, and inside she had placed the baby. The baby was alive. Ministry is about others, and it's about enduring love.

III. Ministry in the Kingdom of God is about self-denial.

But thirdly, ministry in the kingdom of God is about self-denial. It's about others, and it's about enduring love, but it's about self-denial. John tells us in verse 3,

“Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going back to God….”

John is reminding you of something that he's already written, right in the very prologue of John's Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God.”

Jesus had come from God, but He was now going back to God; and John is saying to us here in the upper room, in the company of His disciples, He is not only aware that His hour has come, but He's also aware of His identity. He's aware of who He is: that He is not only Jesus of Nazareth, but that He is also the divine Son of God. He's the Son of His heavenly Father. He had sat at table with the Creator of the world, because He himself is the Creator of the world. He knows and is self-aware of His identity, and yet He's prepared to wash their feet.

Do you know the story of Booker T. Washington, the one-time president of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama? He was passing through a certain neighborhood, and a lady of some means says to him (he's an African-American, you understand)…and she says to him, “Would you be prepared to chop some wood?” And she would pay him. And he says, “Yes, ma’am. I'd be honored to chop wood for you.” And apparently that's what he did. He went and chopped wood until a neighbor recognized who he was and said to her, “Do you realize that the person chopping your wood is the president of this famous institute here in the city?” Service is about self-denial.

I've been trying to imagine what it would be like. (We don't celebrate, you understand, foot-washing, nor am I advocating that we should.) Now, the French do it, and I gather the Spaniards do it. I gather Eastern Orthodoxy is big on foot-washing. On occasion the Pope and even the Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox church are known to engage in foot-washing. It must be a pretty humbling thing to do, don't you think? I've been trying to imagine what it would be like for 35 men to suddenly be let loose on this city — humble men; men of self-denial; men of enduring love; men who think first of others and not themselves. Not one, you understand. Not ten, not twelve, but 35. I'm trying to imagine the effect of that. Twelve men — actually eleven — changed the world. They turned the world upside down, the New Testament says. Aren't you excited when you read through The Acts of the Apostles what eleven men were capable of doing? How the church grew and multiplied? I'm trying to imagine what 35 humble men would do.

You know, it had a profound effect on Peter. Later in his life he would write his First Epistle (this is the Peter who denied Him) and he would say, “Clothe yourselves with humility.”

That's the secret of ministry. Clothe yourselves with humility to take care of the flock of God…to engage in mercy ministry. I'm trying to think how 35 men let loose on this city, how that might change the city economically, racially, socially; men who think of others first; men whose hearts beat with the love of Christ for sinners first; men who are humble and self-denying. This is ministry. This is not so much a promotion tonight. It's an opportunity for you to be humble. It's an opportunity for you to be like Jesus. Thirty-five Jesus-like men are being let loose on this city. What a thought! What an exciting thought that is! What an exciting prospect and opportunity that is, if we humble ourselves, if we put Jesus first and last. May God help us to do so.

Let's pray together.

Father, we thank You for Your word, and we ask that by Your Spirit You’d write it deep into the hearts of each one of us tonight, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.


Dr. Duncan: Amen. The Elders of our church have examined these men in their Christian experience, especially their personal character and their family management; they've examined them as to their knowledge of Bible truth and Bible doctrine and government and discipline as contained in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church; they've examined them in their understanding of the duties of the office to which they have been nominated and now elected, and in their willingness to give assent to the questions which are required for ordination. And these men have been sustained, and these men have been duly elected by the congregation.

Let me tell you [if you’ll look at your bulletin] what's going to happen in the next few moments. I'm going to ask the officers-elect to stand in just a few moments, and I'm going to put those six questions to them. And then, our beloved Minister of Pastoral Care, Brister Ware, is going to ask questions to you, the congregation. [Brister, you can come on up front right now and be ready to do that.] And then Mr. Smith is going to lead us in a prayer for these officers. These officers-elect will come forward and kneel, except for the three brothers [and I’ll identify those brothers to you who are only going to be installed tonight, having previously been ordained], and the Ruling Elders of our church will lay hands on those men. Then the Ruling Elders will give all of our officers the right hand of fellowship, and the Ruling Elders (the new Ruling Elders and our present Ruling Elders) will go back and sit down, and then the Deacons of the church will come forward and give the right hand of fellowship to all of the new Deacons of our congregation. And then the Deacons, the newly-elected Deacons and our present Deacons, will go back and be seated, and then I will give a brief charge. So that's what's going to happen in the next few moments.

Men, I'm going to call your names out, and as I call your name, if you would stand and face the congregation at first, and then when I ask you the questions I'm going to ask you to turn back around and face me. As I call your name, if you would stand and face the congregation.

These are your Ruling Elders, newly elected: Jimmy Armstrong, Bob Cunningham, David Elkin, Ken Fairly, Harper Keeler, Richard Russ, Mark Sorgenfrei, Tian Teh, and Ward Toler.

And your newly elected Deacons: Ken Ball, Charles Barbour, Sharkey Burke, Reed Cotton, Jack Crawford, Holt Cruse, Ned Curry, T. Dale, Dave Fulcher, Paul Hurst, Terry Levy, Mike Manning, Hugh M???, Lee Owen III, Philip Parker, Ben Roberson, Clark Robinson, Craig Robinson, Victor Smith, Ford Terry, Rob Thomas, Will Vice, Jay Wadsworth, Coles Wilkins, and Neil Witherow. (Have I called all the names?)

Okay, brothers, if you’ll turn around, I want to put these questions to you. Let me say as I do that it is an honor to have the privilege of asking you these questions:

· Do you believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as originally given to be the inerrant word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice? Do you?

[I do.]

· Do you sincerely receive and adopt The Confession of Faith and Catechisms of this church as containing the system of doctrine taught in the Holy Scriptures, and do you further promise that if at any time you find yourself out of accord with any of the fundamentals of this system of doctrine, you will on your own initiative make known to your Session the change which has taken place in your views since the assumption of your ordination vow? Do you? [I do.]

· Do you approve of the form of government and discipline of the Presbyterian Church in America as being in conformity with the general principles of biblical polity? Do you? [I do.]

· Do you accept the office of Ruling Elder [I’ll ask this to our newly elected Ruling Elders first]…Do you accept the office of Ruling Elder in this church and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the church of which God has made you a Ruling Elder? Do you? [I do.]

· Do you accept the office of Deacon in this church and promise faithfully to perform all the duties thereof and to endeavor by the grace of God to adorn the profession of the gospel in your life, and to set a worthy example before the church of which God has made you a Deacon? Do you? [I do.]

· [To all of you again] — Do you promise subjection to your brethren in the Lord? Do you? [I do.]

· And do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and progress of the church? Do you? [I do.]

Now Pastor Ware has a question for you, the congregation.

Mr. Ware: Do you, the members of this church, acknowledge and receive these brethren as Ruling Elders and Deacons, and do you promise to yield to them all that honor, encouragement, and obedience in the Lord to which their office, according to the word of God and the constitution of this church, entitles them? [If you would raise your right hand…and say a firm ‘I do’ too!] [I do.]

Dr. Duncan: At this time I would like to call all the newly elected Deacons and Elders forward; and all of those who are going to be ordained tonight, if you would come forward, face the congregation, and kneel. Those not being ordained tonight, but installed, are Craig Robinson, Coles Wilkins, and Terry Levy, all of whom have been previously ordained as Deacons either in the PCA or in sister Bible-believing denominations. If everyone will kneel, please.

At this time I would like to call forward the Ruling Elders of First Presbyterian Church, and as a show of our support and readiness to serve, I would also like to call the ministers of this church forward that we might show our support and readiness to serve these officers. So if the Ruling Elders will come and lay hands on these brothers….

Dr. Duncan: At this time the Ruling Elders will give the right hand of fellowship to these newly elected officers……. Let me say while the Elders are giving the right hand of fellowship to our new officers two things —one about ordination and one about the right hand of fellowship.

The ordination, the act of ordination, we do not believe is a sacrament. Some churches believe that ordination is a sacrament, but we believe that the only sacraments are baptism and the Lord's Supper. But we do believe that ordination is something that is commanded by God in Scripture; in Acts 6 and in I Timothy we are told that the officers of the church are to be ordained, set apart by the laying on of hands. That laying on of hands indicates that God the Holy Spirit himself has equipped and called a brother to serve his brothers and sisters in Christ in a local congregation, and that we recognize that.

The giving of the right hand of fellowship is not only a friendly show of support, it's an indication that the Elders of the church recognize that these men whom you have elected to be fellow servants in this local congregation, and so it is a fitting part of all ordination and installation services in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In just a few moments, the Deacons will come and welcome the new Deacons in their work, and The Book of Church Order gives this language for them. These Deacons will say to them, these newly elected, ordained and installed Deacons, they will say, “We give to you the right hand of fellowship to take part in this office with us.” And so in all of this there are brotherly expressions of our readiness to serve this congregation along with one another, and it is truly a joy……

[Tape ends.]


A Guide to the Evening Service

The Ordination of Elders
Tonight is very special in the life of our congregation. We have the solemn
and joyful privilege of ordaining and installing new elders: shepherds of the
flock, pastors, guides, disciplers, teachers of the word. We first meet elders
in the Bible, some 3500 years ago. The first Christian elders are already hard
at work when we come to Acts 15. Our Book of Church Order says: "This
office is one of dignity and usefulness. The man who fills it has in Scripture
different titles expressive of his various duties. As he has the oversight of the
flock of Christ, he is termed bishop or pastor. As it is his duty to be grave and
prudent, an example to the flock, and to govern well in the house and
Kingdom of Christ, he is termed presbyter or elder. As he expounds the Word,
and by sound doctrine both exhorts and convinces the gainsayer, he is
termed teacher. . . . It belongs to the office of elder, both severally and jointly,
to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, that no corruption
of doctrine or of morals enter therein. They must exercise government
and discipline, and take oversight not only of the spiritual interests of
the particular church, but also the church generally when called thereunto.
They should visit the people at their homes, especially the sick. They should
instruct the ignorant, comfort the mourner, nourish and guard the children
of the church. They should set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to
their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples.
All those duties which private Christians are bound to discharge by the law
of love are especially incumbent upon them by divine vocation, and are to
be discharged as official duties. They should pray with and for the people,
being careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among
the flock."

The Ordination of Deacons
Tonight we also have the solemn and joyful privilege of ordaining and
installing new deacons, ministers of mercy, to the work of service. The very
first deacons were ordained almost 2000 years ago in the same manner in
which we will proceed tonight – through the laying on of hands (see Acts
6:6). Our Book of Church Order says: "The office of deacon is set forth in the
Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of sympathy
and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the
communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of
need." It goes on to add: "It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those
who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress.
It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of
the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people,
and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed.
They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and
personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings
belonging to the congregation."

The Psalms, Hymns and Spiritual Songs

O Come, All Ye Faithful
One hymnologist says this of Wade's carol, "Its popularity in all Englishspeaking
countries is universal: hardly a congregation fails to sing it at every
Christmas time. Such popularity is testimony to its genuine worth. In the
first place, the method of presentation is dramatic. The poet takes us by the
hand and leads us with triumphant song to the cave of the Nativity in
Bethlehem, shows us the Babe, and bids us adore. Next, in a stanza that
many hymnals omit or modify, we are given an explanation of what we see:
it is not a human infant, but God. Here the language is taken literally from
the ancient Greek creeds of the fourth century. The choirs of angels now
burst upon us, urged on to further song by our own exuberance. The shepherds
enter the cave; they join us as we kneel in adoration. We speak to the
child directly and make our offering of love and praise. This is all so simple,
so vivid in imagery, so sincere in emotion, that barring a few theological
phrases a child can understand it and enter sympathetically into the experience
of worship and joy."

See, amid the Winter's Snow
Edward Caswall allowed his sanctified imagination a little room on this one
as you can see from the title alone. It's unlikely that Jesus' birth was accompanied
by snowfall, though that does not prevent us from singing this one
with gusto.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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