The gospel text is Mark 10:35-40. This sermon was presented by Pastor Jim Kniseley at Resurrection on October 22, 2006.
Dear Friends in Christ,
I have given my sermon a title – it’s “The Servant Church.” Today we zero in on the qualities of discipleship that Jesus wants of all of us who dare to call ourselves Christians.
I have a story that comes from the time of our American Revolution. A man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions, but making no attempt to help them. Asked why by the rider, he retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” The stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. The job done, turned to the corporal and said, “Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.” With that George Washington got back on his horse and road off.
Where did Washington learn such leadership skills? I have no doubt he learned them in the words we hear from Jesus in today’s gospel: Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant. The young corporal had these words modeled to him from the man at the top. The disciples of Jesus, likewise, received from their leader a picture of servanthood.
The setting for today’s gospel account is just five days before Jesus’ crucifixion. Four days before his betrayal and trial. One day before the cleansing of the temple. A few hours before the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Of all times, it is now that they bicker among themselves and seek a place of honor for themselves in the kingdom. Haven’t they been learning anything from Jesus himself how to act? I hope that today you and I can learn something from this not-so-flattering moment in the life of the disciples.
Jesus said to James and John, “You want to be great in the kingdom? Then you must be a servant of all. You want to be great in the kingdom? Then you will have to be completely obedient to my teachings and if you do, that will bring you suffering. Of all the enticements to be a disciple that Jesus could have used, suffering is certainly an odd thing to promise.
Some folks who suffer physical ailments or have misfortune in love or jobs or money, might say something like, “I guess my suffering is something that God expects in order to make me more faithful.” It may come as a shock to some folks that this kind of suffering is not what Jesus was talking about to James and John. The suffering that Jesus was foreseeing is the kind that comes as a result of being a witness for Jesus Christ. When you really are obedient to God and live your life accordingly, you will encounter opposition and persecution from some people. It is inevitable. For the values and expectations of Jesus are at odds with the values and expectations of this world. Jesus was put to death because some people were so uncomfortable with his message and what he represented. A true disciple of Jesus has to be ready to also give up life in this world for the sake of the gospel.
In our day, what would a true servant church look like? What would members of a true servant church have to do and say that would model what Jesus had in mind for us? Have you ever been a part of such a congregation of folks? Is Resurrection a true servant church?
Let me do something that is dangerous in a sermon. Let’s look at some of the ministries that are going on now in this congregation and see what is or could be in order to more closely model the servant church of Jesus.
Our denomination has a resource called Musicians in the Assembly. They provide this wisdom: “Because the model of entertainer is so prevalent in our culture, the church musicians must take extra care to disassociate from it. Whether working alone or part of an ensemble, the song leaders are servants, not stars.” I like the way Amy Burcher is working with some of our youth that have gifts for singing solos. I can see in their presentations an attitude that is being instilled of “I am doing this to the glory of God and not just for making myself look good.”
We had a Church Clean-Up Day yesterday here at Resurrection. I think it is a great thing for a congregation to have such a day. No one is showing off, you come dressed in your grubby clothes, there are some rather menial jobs to be done, including cleaning toilets. Every job is important and you perform your task to the glory of God and to help build up the congregation’s ministry. No one comes out to bring glory to himself or herself on a Church Clean-Up Day.
Some of your family and friends think you are nuts for putting so much of yourselves into your faith and church. Haven’t some of you here today been told: just think what you could do with all that money that you give to the church…just think of all the time you could have to do fun things and instead you go to church…
When James and John ask for places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom, Jesus presents them with two images that give us a picture of what discipleship and obedience and faithfulness are all about in a servant church. Jesus said to James and John, “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?”
For Jesus, the cup is what results in the church’s sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus knew that his servanthood would require not just suffering but death. His blood was spilled not for himself, but for the sake of the world. Whenever we drink the blood of Jesus, we are being called to share in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and we are being called to also live in such a way that we give of ourselves for others.
The baptism that Jesus talks about of course is his whole mission and purpose. He was baptized for the sake of the world. At his baptism, God declared Jesus to be “his son.” Jesus was called to share the good news, to suffer at the hands of folks who opposed the good news, to die on the cross and be raised again to new life. Jesus said to James and John and now to us, “If you are baptized, it means something. It means that you are part of my life death and resurrection and it means you are also willing to risk everything in order to be my witnesses.”
Today I pray that we are becoming more and more the servant church that Jesus envisioned. I pray that this attitude of serving others first, of being a witness for Jesus, will be evidenced in all of us, beginning with our pastors and staff and congregation council members and filtering through all our people and ministries.
May God bless us and help us to be his servant church.