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Serving as God's Presence in a World That's Missing Him
Scripture: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31
Track 2 of 17 in the Living in the Light of His Coming series


Be sure to scroll down to read the transcript.

Sermon for Sunday, September 12, 2004
2nd sermon in a 17 part series.
"In the Park"
"Serving as God's Presence in a World That's Missing Him
"Being in Him Means Being His Church"
(1Corinthians 12:12-31 )
Copyright 2004 G. Charles Sackett

"Serving others with others". That was a phrase that we were toying with for quite some time about today. You've heard it a place or two I'm sure. It seemed like a phrase that made good sense but never quite caught on with everybody. But, I still liked it! And since I'm the one standing up here, I get to use it.

By the way, I put my watch on so I would know how long I'm up here. It won't make any difference, but I put my watch on.

We're glad you're here. We're glad you're with us, together. It really is kind of fun to look out there and see all of you at one time. It's a little hard to imagine this over a three hour period, in segments. It does help that you are all in bright yellow or safety green, or whatever that color is. It really was a delight to be walking up into the park and see all those shirts and recognize that there are going to be a lot of folks in Quincy who are going to see you today. You are going to make an impact on folks lives. And we're going to do that because we're gonna be "Serving others with others". We're gonna do this together. It's a part of who we are.

I like the phrase. I wish I could say that it originated with me. It didn't. I heard it this summer from Erwin McManis when I was in Arizona but I really appreciated what it sounded like."Serving others with others". It's such a confrontation with our culture. To be able to serve is confrontational with the culture that is so overtly selfish. To be able to serve with people in a culture that is so right with people pushing others down or out of the way in order to get where they want to be. It is such a confrontation with Satan, himself, who would do everything he could to only serve himself and to cause us not to be willing to serve others. And especially not "Serve Others with others".

I find the phrase as a remarkable statement about the wonder of what it means to be a disciple. When I look at the life of Jesus and I watch those three and a half years of evidence that we have while he walked on earth. What I see is a man who served others and he did it with others. Twelve of them in particular. Three more closely. One very tightly. "Serving others with others".

Our text this morning, if you happen to carry your Bibles with you along with your lawn chairs and everything else that you brought is going to be 1Corinthians 12 and I want for us to take a look at that text together this morning.

Ah, on the big screen that's behind me, in bright bold letters, you now see the phrase

"Serving Others with Others". What are you laughing about? They told me there would be a big screen. No they didn't, really! But I know you. You can see it and in that big screen in bright, bright safety green, the word WITH is in all caps because we're talking about "Serving Others WITH Others".

Look at 1Corinthians 12. We're going to jump into the middle of this chapter. We'll come back over this Fall and pick up the first part of it, but look at 1Corinthians 12:12&13. The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

You notice the emphasis. Ah, look back at that text and just mentally or actually, with a paper and pencil, mark those terms. Body--three times. Unit. All. One--four different times. The emphasis in this opening part of this paragraph is that we are One body. We are One unit. We have lots of parts, there is no doubt about that. The body is made up of lots of different pieces but it is still One body. And Paul is emphasizing that strong statement that we are not in this thing alone. We do not stand by ourselves.

I look with some envy, actually, at our high school young people, our junior high young people in this church because of the mass numbers of people who attend the same schools. When I became a Christian, I didn't realize there was another Christian in the entire high school. We certainly didn't have anybody from that particular high school in our youth group because I lived in a community ten miles away in a completely different part of the area and so, when I went to school I literally felt like I was the only Christian trying to stand up as a Christian. I learned later that it probably wasn't true. It's just that I didn't know that because nobody else from our youth group was in my high school class.

I like to look around. I don't know if you want to do this. It might be embarrassing to you but, if you feel really comfortable, you know, like on an elevator standing with your back to the door and looking at the people in the elevator. Turn around now and see the people behind you. Some of you are brave. Now what you're looking at is the back of somebody's head. Sorry about that! I suppose I should have had every other row do that so you could actually see who you're looking at.

You know one of the amazing things that happens to me with such regularity is that I'll be walking in a store or along the street, or, in a restaurant and somebody will come up and greet me and they'll make this comment because they can see this deer in the headlights look that I have on my face--I go to Madison Park. Oh, oh of course you do. You know how you respond to those situations. It's an amazing thing when you realize how many people love Jesus. And we're not the only ones. We just happen to be the ones in this tent this morning. We are not alone in this thing and that's what Paul's trying to emphasize is that we are One body. It's not up to us to determine that "oneness". That is something that God, himself created for us. Our only job is to maintain that "oneness". That's all we're ever asked to do. To treat that "oneness" with great dignity. To honor it. To keep it in safe keeping.

Look at another text. Just keep your finger in 1Corinthians 12 because we're gonna go back there, but look at Ephesians 4:1 for example. As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Six times he says we are one. When he writes this great chapter in Philippians, the second chapter, as he describes what it means to be the church. He says in Philippians 2:1 If you have any encouragement from being untied with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

We are in this thing together. And the wonder of having all the same shirts, which obviously we don't, because some of us forgot to put our name down--no names being mentioned of course. When people see us walk the street, they're going to know that there's something unusual about those folks on the street because every street has people that look like this. And they may not know what that means and they may not know why we're doing that but there is this dead giveaway. We belong in a group.

Our CIY guys do that when they go down to Carbondale. They all dress with the same

shirt and then all of a sudden you realize--all of these people belong to one place.

There's something tremendously important about Paul's statement, "We Serve Others WITH Others". Functioning together. That was not true in the Corinthian church. One of the things that was absolutely amazing and we're gonna spend a lot of time this Fall, at least September and October, looking particularly at 1Corinthians 12. But the Corinthian church was a mess.

I ordered a book to study so that I wouldn't be totally on my own and it finally came this Thursday, which was a little late in the week but I want you just to hear Craig Blomburg's opening remark in the introduction and his treatment of the book of 1Corinthians . "Imagine a church racked by divisions. Powerful leaders promoting themselves against each other, each with his band of loyal followers. One of them is having an affair with his step-mother and instead of discipling him, many in the church boast of his freedom in Christ to behave in that way. Believers sue each other in secular courts. Some like to visit prostitutes. As a backlash against this rampant immorality, another faction in the church is promoting celibacy. Complete sexual abstinence for all believers. Still other debates rage about how decisively new Christians should break from their pagan past. Disagreements about men's and women's roles in the church add to the confusion. As if this were not enough, alleged prophecies and speak in tongues occur regularly but not always in constructive fashion. A significant number of these immature Christians do not even believe in the resurrection of Jesus."

That was Corinth and it was a mess. We don't want that. . . . .EVER. . . .in the 21st century. The church stands as testimony of the unity of the spirit of God in the triune nature of God himself. We're going to discover in the first part of Chapter 12. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are the model of what it means to be the church.

I had the fun of going Friday night and watching Quincy football. They tell me that was probably a good night to have gone. You can clap. They won! Handily! I was also told that might be the only night that you could do that, so you may want to clap again. I don't know. But it's amazing to watch a football team who runs a play correctly. Because it works. I remember days playing football when that was not always true. I was one of those linemen. You know the kind that never get any credit for doing anything unless it's wrong. Jerod understands. He's nodding his head down here. I played on the left side of center. My friend played on the right side of center. We did a lot of plays, (for those of you non-football fans, forgive me, just take a nap for a second) where the guards would pull out around the ends to try to protect those wimpy runners. Right? That's right. Except that on this particular play, I pulled out from the left side of the center to go around the right end and the right guard pulled around from the right end of the center to go around the left end. The ball snapped. We turned, head on! . . . . . . You know it just works better when you do it as a team and you go in the same way. That's Paul's statement. We serve others WITH others.

It's gonna be classic to watch us walk through the streets together serving others.

Well, back here on the big screen in bright colors you see this phrase; "Serving Others, with Others". Only this time it's Others that's in bright letters. Because Paul's statement is that we are not in this alone but we are not all the same. This is not a cloning kind of thing that happens here where everybody is identical. In fact, if you want to turn around again, you can figure that out pretty quickly. I can tell from here. We're not all alike. I would tell you it's kinda like going to the zoo but that would be probably not appropriate.

Look at 1Corinthians 12:14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

It is an amazing thing, this diversity that we share in the midst of the unity of the body. We are all so radically different. And we bring such different things with us when we come. Different personalities, different gifts, different natural abilities, different loves and likes and passions, different interests and yet, those things function, he says, together as part of the body.

We had the privilege this last week to go hear the Illinois Symphony. I don't know if you've ever gone to a symphony and arrived early?? It's not pretty. I mean everybody's just kind of doing their thing. There was the trumpeter back in the back. He was playing his thing and there was a cello player doing her thing. And people. . . it just sounds awful. And then all of a sudden, the conductor comes out and the next thing you know, all of that racket became music. It was absolutely remarkable what they were able to produce. At one point in that evening symphony, a lady came out and played this piccolo. Now I don't know that I ever thought of a piccolo outside of a drum and fife corp and ya know, watching civil war movies. This little tiny piccolo came out and it was absolutely incredible. I never heard a solo on a piccolo. They sent her back and the audience called her back to do it again. It was incredible but it was incredible in the context of the symphony. My guess is, those notes by themselves would not have made a lot of sense. But because that particular part of the body functioned in the context of the rest of the body it was magnificent.

It's an amazing thing, this diversity that we have and I, I want to come back to this. We will come back to this text on numerous occasions yet this Fall because it's so important for us to understand the nature of what it means to be in the body and be gifted to do what God has gifted us to do.

The thing I want you to hear this morning, just this simple thing that comes out of this text is that you notice that Paul says, there are no inferior gifts. Nobody should say, just because I'm not that gift over there, therefore I don't matter. We all matter. Just smash your little finger sometime. You can live without it but when you hurt it, you know it. The whole body knows it. There is no inferior person in the body of Christ. We all have value. Whatever it is that we add to the body, we add value to the body.

I had a lady say to me one day, talking about her husband. By the way, he still happens to be a janitor at a church. But her comment to me was, "My husband is just the janitor". Do you hear it? What he does, doesn't matter very much. What an unfortunate attitude to have about any gift, any contribution, any ministry in a church. - 9 -

Because it doesn't make any difference which ministry it is, as Paul says, there are no inferior gifts in the body.

But he also rolls that around in the very next paragraph and says there are no superior gifts in the body. Nobody should say, because you're only that, therefore we don't need you. And so he balances that sense that my gift isn't important with the sense of my gift is and yours isn't.

It's a wonderful experience to live in this context where we literally respect one another for whatever it is that we bring to this situation. And it doesn't make any difference what it is that you bring. We value it. That was not true in the Corinthian situation. And one of the things that we will see as we walk through 1Corinthians 12 and we reflect on some of those other passages in the body, is there was a great deal of disdain and lack of respect for others in the body in Corinth.

Even Blomburg's comment about some of the issues that were faced in that body highlight some of those things. But, for example, there was no respect shown by the rich for the poor. And so the rich would be able to come to the Lord's supper and they had a full meal every time they gathered. And they would eat all the food and by the time the slaves got off work and were able to get to the assembly, there was no food left.

There was no respect shown by the immature for the mature. There was no respect for the wisdom of the older saints and they would simply ignore what the older saints had to say.

There was no respect of the membership for the leadership and so they would simply ignore those things that church leaders were trying to accomplish.

There was no respect of the Jews for the Gentiles and their freedom and vice-versa. There was no respect from the Gentiles for the Jews for the fact that they didn't share that same freedom when it came to eating meat sacrificed to idols.

There was no respect from the men for the ministry of women.

There was no respect among the new members for the traditions of the older members. It was just one of those places where people didn't understand the need to value and respect each other. Paul says very clearly in 1Corinthians 12 "We Serve Others WITH Others" and those others are not like us but they are valuable in the eyes of God for just who they are. That we have to capture.

Well on the big screen, one more time is this phrase, "SERVING OTHERS with others". Only this time the capital letters and the bold bright print says "SERVING OTHERS, with others. . ."

If you'll come to the end of this chapter you'll notice that Paul says in 1Corinthians 12:27ff Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? (By the way, these next series of questions all demand the answer NO. That's the way they're constructed in the language.) Are all apostles? NO Are all prophets? NO Are all teachers? NO Do all work miracles? NO Do all have gifts of healing? NO Do all speak in tongues? NO Do all interpret? NO But eagerly desire the greater gifts.

His point is very simple. We all bring something to the body that we're supposed to use. Now it's different, but we don't have gifts in order to just have gifts. We don't go around and identify somebody has the gift of this and put a tag on and say, okay--gift. You discover it in what you see in the way they actually use it. So Paul words it differently in Romans 12 where he says, if you have the gift of, then (and he gives you the verb) do something with it.

When we come to the church; when we come to being this body of Christ, being the church literally means having a role, doing that which we are called to do. SERVING OTHERS with whatever gift we happened to have been blessed with and everyone has a gift or more than one gift.

It is at this point that I think the church runs as contrary to culture as at any point because serving others demands that you not be selfish.

I'm not a huge television fan. Well, what I mean is, I like big TV's but I don't watch it much. And I've never watched any of the four programs in their entirety that I'm about to say something about. But I want you to know that I've seen them advertised over the last several years and every one of them strikes me as just exactly about what I'm talking about. The Apprentice, Survivor, Bachelor or Bachelorette or whatever they're calling those programs these days. Every one of those is about how can I succeed at your expense. Every one of them is about a culture that is about self-serving, about getting ahead no matter what the cost, about voting other people out of the picture, about trying to somehow lie or scheme or deceive until you get to the place that you want to be.

Paul says, we serve others. It's not about what we want. It's not about what we think we deserve. It's about what others need. And how, somehow, my gift might, in some way, enhance your life.

I won't embarrass the person who did it the other week. But, I walked in the building two or three weeks ago now and one of our guys walked up to me and with this great big enthusiasm grabbed my hand, shook it, gave me a hug and said, "I just want to tell you how much I appreciate you". And I looked at him with this really strained look and he knew that I was wondering, "what on earth is going on" and he said, "Well, I've been to Promisekeepers and they told us to go home and tell our preacher something good". Ya know, I'm glad he did that. Now that seems like such a simple contribution. But doesn't it make a difference when you walk in the door and somebody takes you by the hand and welcomes you in and you feel like they've made you special? In fact, of all the things that are out there about churches, that which is most often commented on is whether a church is, in fact, friendly. Do they greet people? Do they welcome people when they walk in the door?

It was a wonderful thing here the other day to have somebody walk up and say, "I just want you to know that I don't need that special greeting time during church, because I have felt welcome here every time I've walked in". What a simple gift, to just be able to smile and say "good morning". Now for some of you that's not your gift. You're not an extravert and frankly we don't want you out at the door because you kinda look like maybe pickle juice was in the cereal bowl. I'm kidding of course! What I mean is that not everybody is a gifted greeter, but those of you who are ought to exercise that gift because it makes such an enormous contribution.

We serve others because we really do care about others. It's part of who we are in the church. The world doesn't understand that. The world doesn't understand this concept that other people can be more important than me.

My daughter, as you know, went on a mission trip this summer. I've told you a little bit about it. She spent about three weeks in Ghana among the poorest people she's ever been with and frankly, she's been among poor people because she's been in various parts of the slums of Mexico City. She's been in the Dominican Republic. I've taken her into the north side of Hartford, CT into the slum areas there. She said, "I have never been around such start poverty in all of my life". They helped 2500 people and turned something like 1500 or 1000 patients away. Most of those patients were ill and dying because of simple things like they didn't know that you're supposed to wash you hands after you go to the bathroom.

They didn't have simple access to medication as simple as an antibiotic. There was one doctor in the area to serve three hundred thousand people. And obviously, if you needed him, getting to him was pretty tough.

There were a group of American people with this team that went over to do this mission trip and one of them, no offense to sixteen year old teenagers, but she was a sixteen year old teenage girl. She wanted to go home. Now I understand that sense of home sickness, but this wasn't about home sickness. She didn't want to have to eat what they were eating and she didn't like the fact that they didn't get to take a bath. And she didn't like working with people that were sick. By the way, she was in a nursing program. The frustrating thing was sitting down with her one day and saying if you need to go home, we will send you home. If that's what you really want. But in order to do that, it's a two day trip to the airport for at least two people and Amy has to go home with you because we can't let a 16 year old travel alone. And that means two days back for the team that takes you in. That means for five days nobody gets treated. And, we lose our head nurse for the rest of the trip. She finally said, "I'll stay".

When she arrived in Chicago the first thing that she did was, she called her mother and said, "Would you buy me a new outfit, bring it to the airport because I'm tired of these clothes".

And my daughter, being a lot like her father, in his own inimitable, cynical way, wanted to know, "did you learn anything at all from three weeks of trying to serve hurting people"?

The church is about serving, not self-serving, serving. It's about serving others. It's about making a difference in the world for people who need it.

Now, what we're about to do today is not a big deal, okay. We're gonna go pick up some trash and it's not gonna change the world. But what we're hoping is, that it will do a couple of thing. It will say something positive about our desire to make a difference in the community. But we're also hoping it will make a difference in us. Teaching us that one of the things that we do is, as an act of our worship before God we literally serve others.

You're going to get a bag that looks a lot like the one sitting down here. Every team, at least, is going to get a bag. It looks like this. On it is a set of instructions and I'll explain those to you later, but one of the things it says is, have a positive impact. Don't look like service is drudgery, okay? Enjoy this. Have a good time. Be safe. Do it as an act of worship but let it help you come to learn how to serve. Because one of the things that what we're hoping will happen and, there's no hidden agenda here, if you learn how to serve today, you may want to come back next week and say, "do you have a place in the church where we can serve"? In a nursery, in an elementary class, preparing communion, as a greeter, cleaning up the parking lot. . . .who knows what?? Just a place where you say, hey, that was part of my growth as a Christian. Let me plug in somewhere, somehow. I know lots of you already do.

Well, hopefully this Fall, September/October, we want to spend some time in 1Corinthians 12 and what we want to do is we want to ask . . . . .What does it mean to be the church, not to be a member of a church, but to be the church? To literally be the body of Christ serving others with others. And, if nothing else happens one of the things that we want to do in serving those people, is, let the world see Christ through us. That's really what that's about, you know. . . . SERVING OTHERS with others is the way that we allow the world to see Christ in us. And they desperately need him don't they?

Well there's a real opportunity for you today just to serve. If you didn't sign up to serve there's still plenty of places to plug you in. You don't need to feel obligated, but if you want to join us. If you're a visitor today and you want to go serve with us, tag along. We're gonna spend an hour or so picking up trash and just cleaning things up. Maybe there is a way in which you have been thinking that you ought to serve in some capacity in the future. I'm guessing that there are some staff people and some ministry team leader people here who would gladly talk to you today or next week and say, yes, we'll plug you in.

It may be that you have been listening to stories about Jesus long enough that his service to you in going to the cross has so convinced you of your need for him your ready to serve him for the rest of your life.

You know that invitation is always open. If you have a decision you need to make for Christ, if there is something you need to decide about recommitting your life to Jesus, if there is a need in your life that you need a mature Christian to pray for, when we sing at the end of the sermon, you're invited to come. If you believe in Jesus and you've repented of your sins and you're ready to be immersed, I'm betting we could take care of that today, if that's your desire.

We're going to sing together and we're going to invite you to make some decisions, the decision about your own relationship with Jesus. Do I serve Him and honor Him with my life? And we're gonna ask you to make a decision about serving others with others. Is there a way that you can begin to really express your faith? And we're gonna invite you to ask questions. If there are things you just don't understand about what it means to be a believer, to come and to ask and give us a chance to share with you.

Let's stand together while we sing.