Jesus called them together and said, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great mong you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. -Mark 10:42-45
So the theme for this Sunday in the fullness of time is the theme of service. Now, this week I happened to go past the Wendy's out on Liberty Mills and West Jefferson, and on the back side of the building by the entrance going in, there's one of their banner billboard things that they have on the side of the building, and it has a quote from George Bush, that says, From now on, any definition of a successful life must include serving others. There's no context, it doesn't even specify which George Bush it was that said that, but... Any definition of a successful life must include serving others. Well, at the bottom of it, then it says, come serve with us and join our team, so they're trying to hire... They're trying to recruit people, and it's not an unworthy way of serving...
I appreciate those folks that serve burgers and fries and chili, but even in Bush's definition of a successful life means one that includes serving others, he's not presenting a very new idea. In fact, Jesus tells us that the life that we are called to live is one that's about service. And the reason that we know that it's a life that's about services, that he sets that example for us, that as Christians, as followers of the one who called us to be His disciples... Well, we’re to be a little Christ, a little Jesus in this world. And so if Jesus says, I came not to be served but to serve. Then we should do likewise.
Now, our text for this morning comes on the heel of some of the disciples having a conversation. If we look a little bit earlier in Verses 35 and 37 of Chapter 10, James and John come to Jesus and say, Jesus, we want you to do for us whatever we ask. And I can't imagine what kind of look Jesus must have given them when they make a statement like that, do for us whatever we ask. Jesus says, What exactly is that you want? And they said, When you enter into your kingdom, we wanna sit at your left in your right hand, and Jesus tells them, Well, that's not my place to decide that... But he also says to them, Can you drink of the cup that I'm going to drink? And can you be baptized with the baptism I'll be baptized? Now, for James and John, they say, Yes, we are able. And Jesus doesn't dispute their insistence on the fact that they can indeed drink this cup and be baptized with His baptism, but the problem still was their motivation, it was what was driving them to make this request, because they saw drinking of this cup that Jesus was going to drink and being baptized with His baptism, they saw this as a way for them to...
Well, to receive some personal glory and honor, the other disciples are indignant when they hear this, so Jesus calls all the disciples together and says, Alright guys, here's the thing, I don't run things like the Gentiles too. I don't run things like the rulers of this world, do they lord it over people. Well, hey, if you do this for me, I'll give you this special honor, I'll give you this special place if you go above and beyond, so it's a tit for tat, you scratch my back, I'll take care of you. And Jesus says, Let's not have this kingdom that I'm talking about works, it's not about you having that position in that power and that authority, lord it over you, so you can in turn, lord it over others. He says, I didn't come to be served. They used that title, Lord, which is a title of honor, recognizing someone in a position of power and authority when they refer to Jesus, and we use that in our prayers, Lord. And yet Jesus says, No, I'm here as a servant, I'm not here to be served. It's not about me being puffed up and lifted up, but rather it's about me serving, and he turned the tables on the expectations that they have... The things in God's kingdom aren't going to work like what we see in the world around us. This week in Bible study, one of the questions we had was, how many times have we ever felt tempted to want to play first chair in God's orchestra? It's a place of honor.
We wanna be asked to do the big flashy stuff that's gonna garner attention and people... applauding saying, Good job. That was such a great program where you put together such a fine meal or whatever active service it was, sometimes our egos get in the way and sometimes people want to have that attention, and yet Jesus is saying No, no.
It's not about being first, it's not about having the best seat at the table, there was a Carmelite monk by the name of Brother Lawrence, and he served in Paris in the 17th century as a little book that is very popular, that is a collection of some of his letters and writings. Now, Brother Lawrence was a Carmelite lay brother, which basically means he wasn't a full priest, but he committed himself and lived and worked in the monastery, and he had that high and lofty and prestigious office of working in the kitchen, of making meals, of scrubbing pots and pans, but there were some wisdom that Brother Lawrence learned along the way, that he dispensed to others that the life of faith is not a whole bunch of isolated independent acts, but rather he saw it as a continuous life that we live... In fact, this little book of his is called the practice of the presence of God, of being aware of God being with us and around us and always at our side.
Well, one of the lessons that Brother Lawrence learned about service is that... And this is a quote from his book. He says, “We ought not be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” And so for Brother Lawrance that meant, serving the community that he was a part of, and demonstrating that act of love for being the best cook and the best pot scrubber that he could be, because he understood that God wasn't looking on the size of the task, God was looking on the amount of love that we were putting into that task, into that act of service that we were called to. Now, we live in a world where we see service happening all of the time, just like I talked about with the kids, services, a word that we hear a lot, we go to the service station to get our oil change, we have a server when we go out to eat. And there are people who engage in business that doesn't have any tangible products that they sell, what they sell is a service, so going to the doctor or an attorney or the accountant, they provide a service, but the idea of the service that we're called to is a service, much like what I described to the kids, it's something that we do for someone else, driven by compassion to make their lives a little bit better.
And sometimes we make this idea of serving too difficult, sometimes we have a mind that unless we pack up and sell our house and go and live in the middle of the most remote place on this planet to serve indigenous people that we're not actually serving, but we're not all called to be missionaries, we're not all called to invest in those particular ways. Maybe there are people that are, but more importantly, we need to recognize and understand service in the way that brother Lawrence, how can you wear your act going about your day-to-day life? Engage in acts of service that make a difference in the lives of the people around you, and to do so, driven and motivated by that love that Jesus calls us to, we have those two great commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor as ourself, and loving our neighbor is just that, how do we engage in an act of service that demonstrates that kindness...
Well, we do so in many of those little ways that the kids shared and so much more... And you know what those things are? Jesus mentioned, Love your neighbor as yourself. We know what kinds of things that we appreciate, we know what kinds of acts make us feel good and make our lives a little bit easier, and so we are called upon to go and do the same... The problem sometimes when it comes to acts of service is that it creates a power dynamic by that, I mean that sometimes those who are in the position of serving so not necessarily intentionally in a way that's condescending, that we're bending down saying, Here you go, because I'm in a much better place. And you need my help. And so there's a line that we have to be careful of that we don't see this as, Because we're up here and you're down here, we need to do this to help you. Because the truth of it is when it comes to acts of service, if you've ever been on a mission trip or talk to people that have been on one... A lot of times when people go on that first mission trip, they think I'm going to help people, I'm going to go make a difference, and they come back saying, I'm not sure I made a difference, but my life was forever changed because I went... That's where we need to understand that service is so much more than just doing something that love has to be a part of it. And the thing about love is it draws us into a mutual relationship, it's no longer just me up here and you down there, and I'm gonna toss some crumbs to you, it's us finding ourselves in a relationship and recognizing that our lives are not that different.
Henri Nouwen, the author that a number of our devotions readings that you have in those booklets come from, describes compassion this way, he says compassion, which literally means to suffer with is the way to the truth that we are most ourselves... It's not when we're different from others, but when we are the same, he says Indeed, the main spiritual question is not, what difference do you make? But rather, what do you have in common? He said, It's not excelling, but serving that makes us most human. It's not proving ourselves to be better than others, but confessing to be just like others, that is the way of healing and reconciliation.
So now, in saying that, Look, we need to understand that our lives are not that much different than others, there may be people that have specific needs, but their lives are probably not that different than ours, they probably have some of the same worries that you and I have… They probably have some of the same concerns. They have the same burdens and responsibilities of work and family, they love their children, they wanna care for those around them, they wanna enjoy the friendships that they have.
And so Nouwen says... It's not about excelling, it's not about how do we make a difference. It's about discovering what we have in common, and when we serve others, he says, Well, that's when we're most human...
So for those who have put their trust in Jesus, when Jesus says... The first shall last, and the last shall be first. When Jesus invites us into this relationship that he's calling us to, where he says, If any of you wanna be great, you have to be a servant to all, what we need to understand is that it has to be motivated by love and love alone. True service in the fashion that Jesus is calling to. Never ask What's in it for me. You only ask, what do I have to offer? What is it that I can give that will truly bless and make a difference in another's life?
Again, sometimes we make it too difficult and we underestimate the real significance of small acts of kindness, but friends, if this world were more focused on everyone engaging in these small acts of kindness and loving and serving one another as Jesus did, our world would be transformed. Everyone's lives would be different, and dare I say better, because we're not looking out for ourselves, we're looking for the ways that we can serve and add value and meaning to the lives of others, Jesus invites us into this relationship to these acts of service.
So James and John came to Jesus and had that request, Jesus, we wanna be great, we wanna be recognized, we want those positions of power and authority at your left and right side... Well, this particular John and James help us to see ourselves for who we are, that unfortunately they reveal that, You know what, there are probably times right now in our lives that were more like them than we'd like to admit, but there's another John... It's the John of the Epistles, First, Second, and Third John, who had a better understanding of this idea of what it means, in 1 John 3:16, it says, We know love by this, that He laid down his life for us, and we too ought to lay down our lives for one another. And again, in 1 John 4:11, he says, Beloved, since God loved us so much. We also ought to love one another.
So with the brothers, James and John kind of shined the light on helps to see who we are, the John of the epistle, and his understanding of that we've been loved so we ought to love, helps to show us the possibility and the potential of what we can become, if we embrace that message of Jesus, who said that if you wish to be great, well, then you have to be a servant, and I wish to be first among others, you must be a servant to all.
It's not about aspiring to be more humble, it's not about aspiring to be great by serving as much as we can, it's about aspiring to be as loving as possible. To dare to love as much as we have been loved, and to demonstrate that love through all of the ways that we serve. And so it was in the fullness of that time that God sent his son, not that we could lift him up and serve Him, but in the fullness of time, Jesus came to be a servant of all, and to demonstrate to us what that love can look like, a love that doesn't think of self, I love that gives of self, love as Jesus demonstrated that gave all that all might live. We give all of ourselves, not in the same way as Jesus, but yet we give all of ourselves to the work of His kingdom and love as greatly as we can through the smallest acts we can, knowing that God's love can and will flow through us and make a difference in the lives of others. So it may be in the fullness of God's time that we too go forth to serve from moment to moment and day to day in this world, that needs to know that love...