Sermon – Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost 2021
Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35 Job 38:1-7 (34-41) Hebrews 5:1-10 Mark 10:35-45
“Having a Servant’s Heart”
A local United Way office realized that it had never received a donation from the town’s most successful lawyer. The person in charge of contributions called the lawyer to persuade him to contribute: “Our research shows that out of a yearly income of at least $500,000, you give not a penny to charity. Wouldn’t you like to give back to the community in some way?” The lawyer mulled this over for a moment and replied: “First, did your research also show that my mother is dying after a long illness, and has medical bills that are several times her annual income?” Embarrassed, the United Way rep mumbled, “Um...no.”
The lawyer continued: “Or that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair?” The stricken United Way rep began to stammer out an apology. The lawyer interrupted her apology, saying: “Or that my sister’s husband died in a traffic accident,” the lawyer’s voice rising in indignation, “leaving her penniless with three children?!” The humiliated United Way rep, completely beaten, said simply, “I had no idea...” On a roll, the lawyer cut her off once again: “...So, if I didn’t give any money to them, why should I give any money to you?”
For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life in ransom for many. When our hearts are filled with God’s love, we find joy in serving. Elsewhere, John tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” Because God loved us so much that he would give his son for us, so we, too, can love. Just as Christ’s love for us led him to labor for us through his passion, death, and resurrection, so we, too, are prompted by our love for him and others to serve. God’s love within us overflows to those around us. Service without love is self-centered. Apart from God, we cannot truly love. God’s work depends on you and me.
God’s love is not simple sentimentality, nor should ours be. God expects that the love he lavishes on us will naturally flow out of us into others. Real love is expressed through action, first in labors of love to fellow believers and then to our neighbors. The Apostle Paul, tells the Galatians, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “No one longs for what he or she already has, and yet the accumulated insight of those wise about the spiritual life suggests that the reason so many of us cannot see the red X that marks the spot is because we are standing on it. The treasure we seek requires no lengthy expedition, no expensive equipment, no superior aptitude or special company. All we lack is our willingness to imagine that we already have everything we need. The only thing missing is our consent to be where we are.” Consent to where we are – to what we have – to what we can share. It turns out the grass isn’t greener over the fence, but here where we stand.
We all have gifts to offer for God’s glory. I have said my definition of fulfillment many times. Fulfillment is using our God-given gifts for the glory of God in the community of faith. To be able to be equipped to serve God and others, we must continually examine our hearts, our intentions, our lives, to see whether or not we really are God’s servants. We are God’s beloved and we also have received the forgiveness of our sins through our faith in Jesus. But are we really living as God’s servants? Or are we living as servants of the world? Where is our focus, our groundedness, who is guiding us? God’s work depends on you and me.
In today’s gospel, this request of James and John, sons of Zebedee, comes after Jesus’ third prediction of his passion. It is surprising, that James and John are so clueless in asking to sit beside Jesus in his coming glory. Had they not been listening? Were they that lost to Jesus’ teaching? Jesus has taught them a new understanding of marriage and divorce, but they don’t comprehend. The disciples continue to struggle with the meaning of Jesus’ encounter with the “rich young man”, the priorities of life in the kingdom and “who can be saved.”
James and John don’t get it that a servant is someone who submits his will for another, does not seek his or her own interests, but lives for God. The concept of serving rather than being served is not a natural one. We have an inborn desire to be served ourselves and to have our own needs met rather than to see and meet to the needs of others. It is our nature to want to be “number one.” God’s love transforms our mindset and heartset from wanting to please ourselves into a desire to serve others. Seeing others as our brothers and sisters in Christ helps us follow God’s command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
Because of our desire to serve Jesus, we begin to identify with the compassion he has for people. We are freed from selfish interests and freed for Christian service.
God brings us into a proper relationship with himself so we can begin to “serve one another in love.” We are urged to be imitators of Christ, who lived a life of compassion for others, we, too, will serve the hungry, lost, homeless, handicapped, and helpless – the widows and orphans. We serve out of love for Christ and his people. Perhaps, we strive to feel worthy of his calling. All of us are worthy, because we are chosen by God. We are God’s beloved. God’s work depends on you and me.
On Tuesday afternoons at 4:30, several of us gather in the parish hall to put together the sacks for the Ruskin children. Our “Sacks for Saturday” program provides food for the children on the weekends, when free lunches are offered. We worry about meeting their needs. At Christmas time, we also give presents to our children and their siblings. And we provide a Christmas meal for them. Our Episcopal Church Women (ECW) has donated money in the past to pay for the meals, which run close to $600. Since we have not been able to have the New to You Sale in a while, I will be asking folks to donate to the Sacks for Saturday Fund that we can continue the meals. Your help and financial support are needed. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve…..
A servant of God is someone who, when entrusted with a certain task by the Lord, is faithful to that work. Whatever God’s servants do, whether we stuff bags of food, serve on the altar guild, sign up for refreshments, show up for the bazaar, sing in the choir, or usher folks into church, we do it all for the glory of God. As servants, there are no works of service that are too lowly or insignificant. There is no preferential treatment based on what we do. God does not distinguish noble work from lowly work. In God’s dominion, when we are faithful to what God has entrusted to us, then this itself is precious. What you have been entrusted with and are doing right now is what is most precious!
We heard last Sunday, that if God’s servants are too attached to material things, then we can’t live as his servants. Our focus is too narrow. Whether rich or poor, a servant is still a servant. With God’s grace and mercy, we can keep from being too preoccupied with things of this world. We can live like one who lives to please God by following and doing God’s will. God’s work depends on you and me.
The ultimate servant was Jesus. We are reminded by the words of Mark, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The life of Jesus was one of total sacrifice. That he wants to develop a servant spirit in his disciples and in us is made clear by his statement recorded in Mark: “. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43). Jesus embodied this truth, becoming the ultimate servant who laid down his life for those he came to serve. He sends us his Spirit to transform us to the image of God creating in us the desire to take on the role of servants. We ask that God help us recognize your hand on our shoulder, and on our mouth and on our back gently pushing us to serve in love.
The challenge to us today is to adopt an attitude like Jesus. Jesus became a servant to all. Jesus humbled himself. His number one priority was us. Stewardship is about serving God and others with the love God has planted in our hearts. There are times when we just don’t have the money to give for a certain need. We can serve. There are times when we fail to hear God’s call for help. Part of serving is signing up, showing up and speaking up. Jesus’ day job was to serve God and his fellow men. Our day jobs may be different, but ultimately, we all have that common goal. We are called to serve – to be the hands and hearts and feet of Christ wherever we are. Jesus wants us to think about others. He asks us to be kind and gentle regardless if others are kind and gentle to us. He tells us to care for others regardless if they show care for us. As he made us his number one priority and we are to make others our priority. God’s work depends on you and me. Amen.