Text: Mark 10:35-45
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“God did not call you to be served, but to be servants.”
Today’s gospel reading provides a remarkable contrast between being served and being a servant. In this reading we hear the story of two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John, who make the request to Jesus to receive a position of prominence in the Kingdom: “Let one of us sit at your right, and one at your left in Glory” they ask of Jesus.
The disciples’ impudence and lack of understanding is beyond belief. How could two people who are so close to Jesus miss the boat so completely? Did they forget the encounter with the rich man that occurred just before their request? Or the encounter with the little children? And have they not heard Jesus’ own prediction of what was soon to happen to him? In light of all of this, their request is truly astounding.
And it angers their fellow disciples. But what seems to anger the other disciples is not so much that James and John have misunderstood Jesus’ teachings – which could perhaps be justified – but that James and John went to Jesus requesting a place of power ahead of the rest of them.
The other disciples do not seem to be acting out of righteous indignation; rather, it appears that they are jealous. And Jesus’ loving response to them all is to take the opportunity to contrast earthly greatness with divine greatness. Earthly greatness is defined as having power over, whereas divine greatness is defined as being servant to.
Today, there are examples all around us of the secular quest for greatness and its often accompanying spectacular fall. The economic recession that we are in the midst of has been a huge example of how secular notions of power, wealth and greatness are so flimsy, so fragile, so built out of a ‘confidence’ that has no true foundation. The wealth that as Jesus says will corrupt and decay.
In contrast to worldly greatness, to be great in God’s eyes is to be a servant modeled after Jesus’ own life of service. For many listeners, the story of James and John is disconcerting because if James and John, who knew Jesus personally, couldn’t incorporate his teachings into their lives, how on earth are we to do so?
These stories are a reminder for many of us that, try as we might, all too often our actions are more reflective of motivations of the secular world than the divine. Dr Martin Luther King, in one of his most powerful and effective sermons, one which both personally love and feel challenged by, spoke powerfully on this text – a mere 2 months before his assassination He identified “the Drum Major Instinct” – the desire for personal gain and hedonistic desire which is within all of us: to be the centre of attention and at the head of the parade – from the crying of a newborn who knows nothing beyond its own senses and needs, to career competition and “keeping up with the Joneses” which drives adults into debt and no doubt an early death. He challenged self-righteous churches which he described as “a little social club with a thin veneer of religiosity” and drew us back to the reality of Christ: God on this earth pointing not to himself as God, but to God to be served.
“And he transformed the situation by giving a new definition of greatness. And you know how he said it? He said, “Now brethren, I can’t give you greatness. And really, I can’t make you first.” This is what Jesus said to James and John. “You must earn it. True greatness comes not by favoritism, but by fitness. And the right hand and the left are not mine to give, they belong to those who are prepared.” ( Amen)
And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That’s a new definition of greatness.
And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.
This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It’s the only way in.”
So how do we become better servants?
One way is by making sure that the motivation for our service is love. Eighteenth-century Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Secker said, “God has three sorts of servants in the world: some are slaves, and serve Him from fear; others are hirelings, and serve for wages; and the last are sons [and daughters], who serve because they love.”
There is a world of difference between slave and servant; and the difference is love. To serve, and to serve willingly, without begrudging, without recourse to duty, but with a whole heart is to serve in Love. Christ himself didn’t need to wash the disciples feet, or heal the sick, or raise the dead or preach the good news of God’s Kingdom, but he did so out of love.
This is what we are called to – to love as Jesus loves, to be a servant in this place.
Is this parish a living servant church? Does it have a clear understanding that it exists in service to Jesus? Do all actions stem from Jesus’ commission to proclaim the gospel? Does our worship, community outreach, and missional activities all have the possibility to transform those they touch? If not, then how can we make it so, for, after all, the mission of the church is the mission of Jesus Christ. We are a missional church and we must be a beacon in this place motivated – each and every one of us – to mission, evangelism and the spread of the Gospel in practical, prayerful ways. If we are not prepared to be a missional church, then we will die. If we are not prepared to try new ways of working, worshipping and ministering, if we are only concerned with Church as a selfish service done to us then we will flounder in the selfless service done by us. I pray that though the ministries of such things as Blessed, as the Silver Service, and in our everyday witness, we can be at Christ’s right and left, alongside him as he serves the world he saves.
The opportunity is there, my friends, for us to serve alongside the servant we seek to model our lives on, and that is truly Good News indeed!