February 21, 2016 Sermon
“But to Serve”
Gospel Reading 1 – Mark 10: 32-40
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
Gospel Reading 2 – Mark 10: 41-52
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher,[g] let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
Message – “But to Serve”, Part 1
Jesus’ closest followers were on the road with him – a familiar place, I’m sure. Following him, wherever he went, lots of time literally following him along on a road.
And yet…they weren’t really following him…not with the whole of their beings…just with their feet, really…at least at the beginning of today’s gospel reading. I mean, Jesus was walking ahead – so the disciples were following with their feet – and when Jesus stopped to take them aside, the feet of the disciples stopped. But then Jesus started to teach them – for a third time – how to follow with the rest of their being, more than just their feet. The way of the Son of Man was to give of himself, completely, for others, even to the point of death on a cross.
But for some reason those first disciples couldn’t follow to that place in their hearts or minds, not yet. Jesus was talking about serving, but all-the-while the minds and hearts of James and John were focused on leading. Jesus wanted to give to everyone. James and John wanted something to be GIVEN to them. Jesus was talking about serving; James and John seem to have heard nothing but RULING, lording over.
And so Jesus has to correct them and tell them what following him is REALLY about – not a place of honor in God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom is not that kind of place. Places of honor are for the kingdom of humanity. Lording over is for the kingdom of humanity. Being first – or of the highest value – in God’s kingdom isn’t something you’re born into, it isn’t something you can buy, it isn’t a position that comes from taking from everybody else – no, that’s how you get the position of highest value in the kingdom of the world, the kingdom of humanity, the kingdom all the people who were following Jesus were trying to escape from…even as it was still all they knew. Being first in God’s kingdom is something that comes only from following the one who gave everything for everyone else. Not from being served, but from serving.
NOTE: A celebration of 2015 congregational leaders and a service commissioning 2016 congregational leaders took place in between the two messages.
Message – “But to Serve”, Part 2
Let’s go back to our story from Mark’s gospel for a little while. Remember where Jesus and the disciples were – on the road…to Jerusalem…toward the cross, Jesus talking about serving, James and John talking about being served? James and John telling Jesus they want him to do whatever THEY want?
Doesn’t sound like what following Jesus is supposed to be like, does it? Aren’t we supposed to let Jesus lead while we follow? But is that really what we do?
But Jesus did tell us to follow, to follow him toward the cross, to follow him in the way of serving, of using our time, talents, and money not for ourselves (or our families and friends) but for others.
So I want us to consider for a minute – why? Why would Jesus, Son of God, who tells us he loves us, want us to spend our lives serving instead of being served? I mean, who would want to live in THAT world, THAT kingdom? Well, what would that kingdom look like?
I suppose, if the people known as Jesus’ followers – aka Christians – even just in Grand Junction, started serving people they don’t even know instead of serving themselves and their families and friends:
- The homeless people on the street corners would pretty much never be alone. For as long as they remained homeless and on the street corners, there would be people talking to them, getting to know them, learning their real needs and helping meet them. Can you imagine driving down the road and seeing people stopping – not just to give a few coins but help? Can you imagine stopping, yourself?
- I suppose all the places that provide assistance to people in need would be fully staffed with volunteers – and there’s probably be a lot more of those kind of places and they’d never struggle for funding.
- I suppose even here, at First Christian Church, we’d be providing emergency shelter for people during the coldest months, so that no one would have have to sleep outside. And we – along with all the other churches in the valley – would become warming huts in the winter and cooling huts in the summer, giving people a place to find shelter from the elements during the daylight hours, at least.
- I can picture in my mind congregations working together to solve the issue of mental illness in the valley. I’m not saying we can cure mental illness. But we can help deal with the problems it causes. Combining our resources to make sure that insufficient resources wasn’t keeping a single person away from the mental health resources they need.
- Come to think of it, I can imagine church buildings changing pretty significantly – from buildings that look like worship and education centers to buildings that look like mission outpost centers…with spaces for worship and education as part of the design but not dominating it.
- I could even see congregations employing social workers and victim advocates and employment counselors and doctors and nurses. Whatever the needs of the community – I see the congregations stepping in to solve them, knowing that with so many people following Jesus with the whole of their being – not just their prayers but also significant contributions of their time and money and intellect and creativity – with so many Jesus followers serving instead of being served, the community would be transformed into a community in which all needs are only temporary stumbling blocks in life.
Maybe I’m thinking too big. Maybe this isn’t what Jesus had in mind. Or was it? Look at the end of the story for today.
A blind man, Bartimaeus, has some needs. A physical need – he’s blind and probably hungry and in need of shelter, as well. An economic need – with his blindness, he could not provide for himself in that society. A social need – like the people on the street corners today, he was an outcast. Notice – Bartimaeus didn’t have a spiritual need – the need so many congregations focus almost exclusively upon; no, Bartimaeus had faith to go around. So Bartimaeus had some needs. What did society do about those needs? Apparently, society hadn’t helped him much to this point. And then, when a solution to his needs presented itself in the form of Jesus, and Bartimaeus called out for help, the crowd tried to stop him, the crowd tried to shut him up. Most likely, that’s what the people of Jericho had been doing his whole life, sternly telling him to be quiet each time he sought help. But Jesus and his followers did not stand idly by. And notice – it wasn’t just Jesus. Jesus told his disciples to participate in helping Bartimaeus, to serve Bartimaeus in the way they could at that moment – which was calling him to Jesus.
Maybe I’m thinking too big. Maybe what Jesus wants is for us to stay in our houses of worship, talking to each other, and leaving everybody out there to fend for themselves. Maybe, but I don’t think so. Actually, I’m pretty sure those big dreams and visions I have about the way it could be – even just here, in Grand Junction – are more in line with what Jesus meant when he said:
“You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
And, what we’re celebrating today – all you servants of God who are giving of your time and talents to lead this congregation – it’s a start. It’s a good start. What’s next?