Sermon Pentecost proper20B
Let Me Be Your Servant?
Ok, Let’s start with Proverbs. All I can say is, “You go Girl!” I admit, I get a bit defensive when the Old Testament, and Paul, speak about women. I generally listen with my fists clenched, brows furrowed and my defiantly eyes closed.
But Proverbs 1 celebrates women as precious.
Ok then, I’m listening.
She is the heart of the family; this is not totally fair to men, but they get more than their fair share of accolades throughout scripture.
Women are trustworthy and encouraging; capable and accomplished. She can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan.
She is ambitious, earnest and hard-working.
She is a skilled manager, wise, strategic and sees the big picture.
She is strong, physically, emotionally and intellectually.
And she is a teacher: she serves others to impart lessons of physical, emotional and intellectual strength.
She has a mind for business; she can create a shrewd business model, lead operations and prudently reinvest the profits.
She is kind, compassionate and charitable.
She is not afraid of hardship or storms, because she is prepared and she freely shares her knowledge so that others can be equally prepared to weather the rough storms.
She is beautiful and has exquisite style, not only in the clothes she wears, but expressed also in her dignity, her humor, her speech and her servanthood.
She knows what she needs to do to be happy, and the people who love her, and the ones who are loved by her are made happy by her love.
The author knows that she has less social power in this world than men, for she is often the last to eat the bread she has made by her own hands. Her love in God will be honored.
So, the author warns: men, pay attention to what a woman can do and so make sure, guys, that she shares in the bounty of her labor.
God is watching.
Servanthood. On the surface it does not sound empowering. In this world it isn’t. But Jesus says, the greatest of these is last at the table. Jesus preaches this Gospel message, by my count, five times.
- Matthew 30: Jesus is preaching that his followers must forsake everything that this world offers and follow him because, “The ones who are last shall be first.”
- Matthew 20: the laborer in the vineyard complains about his pay; Jesus provides the same argument, “So the last will be first, and the first last, for many are called and few are chosen”.
- In Mark 10:31 Jesus is speaking to the dangers of seeking wealth and power: “But many that are first now will be last in the Kingdom, and the last will then be first.”
- And Luke 13:30: After Jesus is reprimanded by the powerful church leaders for healing the sick in the temple on the sabbath, he shouts out at them, calling the leaders hypocrites and angerly defending those who will know the kingdom of heaven. The lesson here is that these powerful men will likely not be included in God’s Kingdom, for Jesus yells at them, “And behold, in the Kingdom the last will be first and the first will be last.”
In today’s lesson, Jesus uses this same stump speech as the disciples rested in Capernaum after a long day of travel through Galilee. This time, Jesus addresses a squabble among the disciples.
Earlier in the day, Jesus once again attempted to prepare for what is about to happen in the coming months. He tries to explain to his followers that he will soon be betrayed, killed, and three days later will rise again. As always, the disciples don’t quite get it, but this time they find themselves fighting over who Jesus will choose to lead when he is gone; they are totally missing the point. And yet, hearing about this silly competition for power, Jesus is gentle with them when he says, “Friends, whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
I used the term ’stump speech’ loosely. A politician will use catch phrases to drive a point home, to reiterate to folks where he or she stands on an issue. Politicians have a clever team to carefully spin the rhetoric so that each word lands in our ears just right and represents exactly what we, the voter, want to hear.
However, Jesus doesn’t pander. Jesus does not need our votes, he is challenging us.
In the Kingdom, the servants will be the served. Today Jesus drives his message home by raising up a small child, preaching, “this is who I choose to lead when I am gone, thus your quarrel is ridiculous, misdirected and ironically childish.
The disciples are arguing about greatness, while Jesus is trying to teach them about the resurrection.
Maybe this is a good time for us at St. Mark’s to hear this message.
This is a scary time for us.
Jim did the work of many, and unfortunately, he is not available anymore to do all that work. He would if he could.
But seriously, this could mean some harsh realities for us if we cannot redistribute the work-load that Jim accomplished on his own.
Yesterday, I was moved by the bishop’s words that went something like, “Speaking about our servant Jim is much like speaking on the Gospel.” Jim was a servant leader.
The situation we are in right now is not Jim’s, or anyone’s, fault. Jim tried to engage all of us in the work. This is not to say that we are not engaged now; some of us do a lot to keep this parish alive through many forms of ministry and by maintaining the physical building and grounds. But we are all going to be doing more than we did before, and it might be overwhelming.
This brings me back to the disciple’s squabble. It might get tense. Some of us might feel overburdened. We might notice who is doing more and who is doing less. If we are not careful, this could go quite badly for us.
Human conflict can be distilled down to emotional triggers that react to three basic core values:
- need to be seen as competent and able
- need to be seen as a good person
- need to be loved and feel a sense of belonging.
When one or more of these core values are perceived to be violated, our autonomic nervous system hijacks our good sense and we might engage in conflict; in other words, feel resentful and act like meany-heads.
For us, this could happen if one thinks another is not doing their fair share, or if another is thinking someone is doing too much, is taking over or being controlling. We have all heard, or have been party to, these sad organizational meltdowns in other parishes. Our humanity is sometimes our greatest obstacle.
Like Jesus was with his disciples, we have to be gentle with each other. We are called to be gentle. Servant leadership calls for honesty, directness, and kindness. It requires us to set aside our pettiness.
Here’s a tip from a certified conflict mediator: Judge and manage your own petty thoughts and behaviors, not your follow parishioner’s petty behaviors. That is a time-bomb waiting to explode.
Remember the lesson today is that the kingdom is not about greatness, or even our worldly concept of fairness. The Gospel is about gentle servanthood. We are gathered today because we share a common desire to worship God the same way. This way.
We are a small group. But we are each trying to be Christ in the world.
We gather together because we know and believe that we are people of the resurrection.
The bishop spoke yesterday of the things he learned from Jim. I have one as well to share. Jim showed us how servant leadership is a pathway to greatness. We are so lucky to have this example of Christlike leadership through servanthood.
The kingdom of God turns everything upside down. Instead of striving to be the one on top or the one who does the most, we are called to be in a position of service without power. So, our individual and collective capacity for humility might be tested in the coming year.
We will do our best.
Together we will do what we have already been doing: we will love the unlovable; feed the hungry, open our arms to the powerless, worship together, mourn together; run this little church together, and celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ together.
Kathleen O’Conner wrote, “To ‘fear the Lord’ does not mean to live in abject worry but in awe, wonder, gratitude, and reverent humility before the Creator.”
Like the woman in Proverbs, we--the men and woman of St Marks--are now taking a calculated risk. And who doesn’t love a risk?
Just because something is scary does not mean we need to be afraid. We are a people empowered by humility, servanthood, Christian fellowship, Wisdom of the Spirit and Grace. We are going to be ok because we are willing to trust each other’s intentions and we trust God.