Sermons

back to list

Serve Me Up

Date:10/21/18

Series: Ordinary TIme

Category: 2018 Sermons

Passage: Mark 10:32-45

Speaker: Nicole Trotter

 

A few weeks ago I delivered a sermon with a theme on loving kindness. Kindness is a new buzzword right now. It’s popping up in social media, it's moving its way into the title of books and blogs, it’s on signs, and it’s in direct response to the flip side of the coin, which lives in expressions of anger and frustration that gets directed towards people who don’t agree with one another. I have no problem with not agreeing with one another. I have no problem with anger. What I do see as a problem is the way we express, the way we listen, and the way we treat one another despite our understanding of how we believe the world should be organized, the way people are organized, in other words, despite- politics.

After I delivered that sermon related to loving kindness, someone came to me and said that they heard the undertones of criticism against our president. Which was a shock for me, because in writing that sermon and in delivering it, I had never once thought about our president. If preaching on loving kindness is now perceived as a political stance or partisan opinion, then Houston we have a problem.

Politics is an interesting word. The origin of the word, Greek politikos, from politēs ‘citizen,’ from polis ‘city.’ So what we have are citizen, people, living in community together attempting to organize themselves so that they can cohabitate, live and share the same land, city, country, world.

Over time, the definition has morphed into one that includes the word power and influence, because it meant that then as well. Land meant wealth, wealth meant power. The same is true today.

In both senses, the Bible is filled with this juxta-positioning for how to live together in harmony, and how the power structures in place, either help or prevent that from happening.

And in Mark’s gospel, these power structures, this idea of who is in and who is out, socially and politically, are being reversed by Jesus, time and time again. Remember a few weeks ago, the disciples hear Jesus talk about his own death, they can’t understand. Death is not how this story ends. They argue about greatness and Jesus flips upside down what it means to be great, the last shall be first. 

Later we hear about children, the lowest on the social scale of influence and power, but Jesus instructs his disciples, this is how you must be to enter the kingdom. Last week we looked at wealth, Jesus says give it away if you want to enter the kingdom, the good life, a life of quality over quantity.

And today again, in this mornings scripture, Jesus is talking about his death again, with a few more colorful details and again, the disciples don’t fully get it, James and John are starting to grab hold of this idea of Jesus being glorified, into wherever he’s going, and they want to go with him,

Baptist Pastor Stacy Simpson puts it this way-

Here Jesus sums it up again: “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. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus reorders power structures among those who wish to follow him. He has been preaching and teaching and living this all along. Had James and John understood, they would never have asked to be at his right and left hand, places that would ultimately be taken by criminals on either side of Jesus’s cross. 

The scene closes with Jesus announcing his mission. In all of Mark’s Gospel, this is the only time Jesus says a word about his purpose: “For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The entire Gospel centers on this revelation. Here, discipleship and Christology come together. We who would follow will find our purpose and the power to live in Jesus teaching: Whoever wants to be first must become the slave of all, and we’ll have the power to do it because of the One who did it first for us.

What does that mean for us in the way we approach the world around us, in a relationship with our relatives who see the world differently, with our friends who see it differently, with our fellow congregants, with those on the other side of the political fence. Well, I think the first thing it means to stop calling it a fence, or a side. And instead begin understanding that we share the same city, the same block, the same country and the same world. 

To be a slave of all is to enter into a relationship from a very different kind of power than what James and John are looking for. To enter into a relationship or a room, from a place of service, is to enter in, before the conversation even begins, to enter with a spirit of generosity and humility. 

In 2004 the world council of churches came together to discuss power. They asked so many good questions but the one I liked best was this-

How do we understand the life-affirming potential of the power of service as against the power of domination?

And the reason I like that question so much is that I believe that’s Mark’s Gospel in nutshell, but specifically this scripture. And for Jesus that service, to be a slave for all, is culminated on a cross where the powers of domination crucify him. Jesus dies to the authorities in power and then reverses everything three days later. Through his death, he takes on the life-affirming power of service for all of humanity in one act of selfless love. 

And what does that do for us? It gives us freedom to live according to his will. Because we now have a choice, in how we approach this life. To continue to seek domination and lord over, or to enter into life, in our relationships, into our cities, into our politics of how we cohabitate in the spirit of servanthood, of serving, of giving.

In his life and suffering, Jesus identified with the weakest, the vulnerable, and the lost, so that they with him might be exalted (II Cor 12,9; Eph 1,3-14; Phil 2,5-11; Col 1,15-20). Through this identification, the failure of human societies, structures and governments is exposed. The dying of Jesus is the pivotal point in the process in which power is made perfect in weakness.[1]

~~~

Power through weakness reminds me of this very simple teaching I learned in movement class back in 1986. When it comes to our body and our approach to life, we confuse strength and weakness as opposites. To illustrate this understanding, our teacher would hold up her hand. We think of strength as this…Holding our hand strong, fingers firm. But what if an object or force with weight clashes and makes direct contact with your fingers? They break. But not so if you let your hand go limp, giving up the struggle to stand strong with some false sense of what that looks like, If your fingers are weak, limp and that same object makes contact, your fingers bend, preventing injury. Weakness can be the strongest stance we take. 

~~~~

That quote by Parker Palmer..that question he used to ask…I used to ask what can I let go of and what can I hold onto. He no longer asks that question, but instead, what can I let go of and what can I give myself to… 

To serve is to ask yourself that question, what can I give myself to, whether it's in acts of service to the poor, acts of service to the sick, acts of service to the other…whether it’s entering into conversation with someone who sees the world differently, with someone you don’t understand, don’t like, don’t even want anything to do with, to serve, to be a slave for all, is to ask how can I give myself to this person. How can I enter into a relationship with compassion, with a listening heart, with curiosity, with humility.

There’s a quote going around Facebook…

To understand poverty you have to understand power dynamics.
To understand sexism, you have to understand power dynamics
to understand racism you have to understand power dynamics,
to understand power dynamics you have to listen with compassion to the to the witness of the powerless among you.

That’s what Jesus did over and over again. The point is not to avoid politics, but to enter into this polarization of fence building and start tearing down the fences through simple loving kindness and a spirit of service. 

How do we understand the life-affirming potential of the power of service as against the power of domination?

Through Jesus Christ.

35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and for the gospel will save it. 36What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?…

We can forfeit our souls to a false sense of power and influence, building fences, creating sides and convincing ourselves we can make the other see it our way. Or we can serve what we understand as unjust. We serve the hungry, the poor the sick, the immigrant, the oppressed, the fearful not by telling them what to do, but by doing for them what they cannot do for themselves until they can finally stand on their own.

We may not get quantifiable results that allow us any bragging rights, but we will enter into the land of qualitative results. That's the land of relationship, of living in relationship with neighbor and others as you would with Christ. That's the land of the kingdom that Jesus calls us into.

So the next time you hear loving kindness as a political statement, let it live not on one side of a falsely constructed fence, but let it ride deep within your self, that is your whole and hidden heart which calls out for love over war, trust over fear and the life-affirming power of service. 

 

[1] https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/x-other-documents-from-conferences-and-meetings/theological-reflection-on-peace/interrogating-and-redefining-power-a-theological-consultation