October 9, 2016 – Servants serving servants

Pentecost 21   October 9, 2016   Philippians 2:1-8, Luke 1:46-55, Luke 12:35-38

Servants serving servants

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Everything Jesus does is done in the service of God and the people of God…

Jesus must have learned a lot about serving from his mother, whose words we’ve heard in our second reading. “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.” Mary starts by appreciating God’s love for her, then goes on to celebrating God’s faithfulness to his servant Israel. Her vocation and her nation’s vocation are two sides of one calling – to love and serve God. At the same time her vocation is unique to her, as each of our vocations is unique to us. Yet her vocation also serves as a model for us, much like our serving can help others learning to serve. The same can be said of Israel’s vocation to serve God as a light for all nations (Isaiah 42 and 49), shedding light for all the nations on how to live (and how not to live) in the presence of God…

And probably from the womb, Mary’s son Jesus lives the life of a servant of God. On his last night on earth, he sums up the servant’s life (in the words of our Thought for the Day): “Who is greater, the one who is at the table, or the one who serves? Is it not the one at table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

In our last reading, Jesus calls his followers “servants” and names himself as our master – yet, as he bids us to be like servants, ready for their master’s return, Jesus also promises he himself will act like a waiter, serving those who have been faithful.

After his resurrection he shows us what he means, serving disciples breakfast on the beach in the last chapter of John’s gospel, where, earlier, on his last night before his death, Jesus also washes the feet of disciples, telling us we should do the same for each other.

In our first reading from Philippians this ‘serve one-another’ theme is applied directly to us, as the apostle Paul tells us ‘let the same mind that was in Christ be now in us’ –  putting others before ourselves, looking to the interests of others before our own interests.

Here’s one of those places where I pause and confess my own sometimes ambivalent feelings about our theme today of serving God and the church. (In our membership vows and each time we welcome a new member, we pledge to serve God and one another through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, now our service.)

And these words from Philippians summarize both the extreme beauty and the difficulty of what we are promising to do. On the one hand, this passage of Philippians is among the most beautiful ever written. Bible scholars identify this as a fragment of one of the oldest hymns to Christ. (We’ve sung a version as our opening hymn.)

On the other hand, for me, there’s something in the way St Paul lays it out so very directly – saying we should all have the same mind as Jesus Christ, who took on the form of a servant (or slave in some translations) – obedient even to death – death on a cross. There’s something in these words that can make me feel the distance between me and Jesus all the more…

I’m certainly not a natural at this serving unto death thing… As a child and as a teenager, I can’t remember even doing my simple household chores cheerfully without being asked. I didn’t mind working outside the home in my highschool years – but that was mostly because I liked the money that came with the work. I didn’t mind washing dishes and pushing a broom and a mop to earn gas money… But I wasn’t eager then and still hesitate even today to volunteer for dying on the cross… (Recognizing taking up our cross, as Jesus says to do, is usually a metaphor – but recognizing also there have also been many times when its been very real for some of Christ’s followers.)

Probably the closest I’ve come to literally holding a servant’s job – (other than being chief breakfast cook and primary dish washer in our household) – was back in college, when I had a job helping our elderly college librarian get dressed, get to work in the morning, get back home at the end of his work day. Once or twice a week I would also drive him to a nursing home a few towns away where his wife resided…

Dr Hall had some health issues and was confined to a wheelchair, but was able to get most of the way dressed and undressed by himself, and most of what I did was simple and not too demanding. The one thing I did that was kind of like what Jesus did was washing his feet.

Dr Hall’s feet were somewhat crippled. They hurt at the end of the day. So every day he’d ask, and I would draw water and wash his feet, massaging soles and toes. He was always appreciative…

The most difficult part of the job for me was usually just to be respectful of his political views. (I was young and had strong opinions. We were both Quakers at the time. He thought our president at the time was a good Quaker and a good President. He thought the same of the other Quaker president, Herbert Hoover…)

We would occasionally discuss and debate our views… But most of the time we’d stick to less controversial subjects… And he’d always insist on buying soft ice cream cones for both of us every time we went to visit his wife… It was really not burdensome to be Dr Hall’s servant. And the act of serving him helped open my mind… to becoming less afraid of having a bigger dose of the mind of Christ…

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Many years have come and gone since those days… and… What makes our Philippians reading different for me now can be summarized as sixteen years as husband of Reah, nearly fourteen years as daddy of Rohi, and fourteen and a half years as a pastor…

All of which has been bringing me into steadily deepening appreciation, on the one hand, of how life can be pretty lonely for some people who are (or feel as if they are) the only ones doing the serving… Reminding me of the old Beatles song, “I look at all the lonely people…”

I’ve known some loneliness at times…It’s not hard to be lonely in this culture, even in a crowd… I can understand why people feel lonely…

But thanks be to God, what joys we often share – when everyone seeks the good of others more than their own good. And here, now, is where I hear the biblical accent falling – as I realize anew – the word of God is directed primarily to us together as the church, the people of God. And what can be a very lonely task done all alone, can be an entirely different kind of work, done together.

When we’re serving one another – we get to be simultaneously servants and the ones being served. Whenever this happens, we’re coming close to the kingdom of God.

One of the very best parts of being a Christian for me is seeing this happen. Seeing some of you here in church early on a Sunday morning, getting ready (just like Jesus says)… Making ready, setting up for coffee hour… Preparing to welcome others…Singers and musicians practicing… Everybody welcoming and greeting each other…

And after church, after you’ve heard the benediction call to “Go in peace, love and serve the Lord our God” – how wonderful to see it all happening – God’s people going in peace, serving coffee and juice, greeting each other, taking time especially to meet and greet visitors and newcomers… Taking time to keep getting to know each other better… Cleaning up after, chatting, catching up with each other’s lives, while washing dishes, clearing tables, saying goodbyes, making plans to continue loving and serving the Lord our God and the Lord’s people throughout the week in all of our ministries….

Serving as pumpkin patch volunteers – serving in other outreach ministries – choirs, music teams, worship committee members serving in preparation for next week and the week after… Trustees serving the present and future in their caring for our buildings and grounds… All of us serving together in all the ways we can, to reach out with the good news of Jesus in our neighborhoods and villages….

Many of you are serving in your day jobs and volunteer time…Serving your families and communities and our church in so many ways…Serving as CNAs, nurses, teachers and aides, bus drivers, waiters, waitresses, cooks, helpers, drivers, store workers, care-givers, and whatever we do that serves the needs of others… Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, cousins… spouses…friends… neighbors….We all seem to get plenty of experience serving others… Often we get to take turns… Taking care of those who took care of us when we were little or a little younger than we are…

Servants serving other servants is what makes the world go round…

Servants serving servants is how the church makes ready for Jesus and his kingdom…

Serving the Lord through love working through faith…

Serving all the Lord’s people by faith working through love…

This is the way of Jesus.

May we love and serve with him together by his grace.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.