23 September 2018 – Sunday message:Servants of all

Readings: James 3:13-4:3; 7-8a;  Mark 9:30-35

MESSAGE:

It’s been great visiting churches through my study leave. They’re all so different.

They all had a Presbyterian familiarity really. Not just because we knew some of the people. But because there are certain things that remind you of what Presbys do. And staying for tea and eating something and talking a lot together is one obvious one.

A talk on the predictors of long life I watched recently had two interesting things at the top of the list for the people studied who lived for a long long time. 100 or beyond. These things reduced their chances of dying the most, the research indicated.

  • Second to the top was close relationships.
  • Right at the top was social integration. Interestingly enough.

You may be thrilled to hear that exercise was number 7. Diet was lower. Quitting smoking and drinking a little higher, I hasten to add.

They explained the top two like this:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.
  • SOCIAL INTEGRATION. How many people you interact with every day – good and bad people. People you know well or not. Weak and strong bonds. The postman. The person who makes the tea at work, or cleans the office. The stranger. Being connected with people. As opposed to being lonely and isolated. And greeting them and including them in your day.

They were the top indicators of how long the people lived in the study.

See it pays to join the pastoral care group. And just to be friendly and sociable.

The Christian life is like a diamond with many facets. Its described in many ways. Some people emphasise the intimacy we have with God – especially in communion. It matters a lot to them. Others are passionate about the cross – and what Jesus is done – how we are completely saved by faith through grace. Luther would applaud that. He didn’t like the book of James which we heard from today because James wanted to see proof in works – in good deeds.

Some love worship more than anything else. If the music is off, they feel robbed. They love to sing and celebrate. Others are more the thinking types – they like to debate about ideas about God – we call that theology. They read piles of books. Their faith would be less than meaningful without library membership. Some are totally consumed with Bible knowledge. They’re like walking encyclopedias when it comes to scripture.

For some people fellowship is everything. You hear them talking excitedly and loudly on a Sunday morning. They love morning tea – and lots of coffee and conversations. And having fun together. Others are big on prayer – and would prefer the rowdy ones to tone it down on Sundays when they are praying before the service.

All these things are part of our rich Christian experience. They all matter.

What isn’t helpful is when we make our preference the main thing on the agenda at the expense of others.

So – Jesus’ teaching today is really important.

The disciples were not fighting about ideas or preferences. People do of course.

On this occasion they were arguing about who was the greatest. About power!

Peter had been elevated to leadership when he recognized Jesus as the Christ. He was the rock (in Mark 8) on which Jesus would build the church. He rocked – or so he thought until he tried to stand in the way of God’s plan – and was demoted with a new title “Satan”.

Peter, James and John had been up the mountain of transfiguration and had seen a vision of Moses and Elijah, and Jesus transformed. They were the inner circle. Peter got things wrong up there too. He wanted to built tents and stay up there.

When they came down the mountain they found the other nine in an argument with the teachers of the law over a failed prayer for a boy with an unclean spirit.

Jesus is a bit impatient with them on this one too. He says:

Mar 9:19  “O unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.”

So it’s not surprising that in the reading today they are having a disagreement.

Listen again: Mar 9:33  They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” Mar 9:34  But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

It’s also not surprising that they kept quiet. By this stage they must have realised that Jesus’ way was different.

So he sits down – that’s the way he taught.

Here’s the key to real fellowship and witness – listen again:

Mar 9:35  Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

Later in Mark 10 he spells out the model that he will be:

Mar 10:45  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.

In that study about people who live to 100 and beyond, the second on the list was:

  • CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS. The people you can call on for a loan if you need money – who will take you to the doctor – who will sit with you in a crisis. Usually a small group of trust friends who will do anything for you.

Those are the kind of close friends that serve you.

In marriage it’s no different. It’s never a 50/50 relationship. Its 100/100. At some point one partner is on zero strength and the other gives everything.

Jesus challenges us beyond those close friends and marriage partners – to be servant of ALL.

This is the upside-down Kingdom again.

It’s usually the wealthy or the powerful who have servants.

The least, the poor and the oppressed often are the ones who serve.

The Kingdom of God does not involve dominance, but rather it revolutionises the way we relate.

And Jesus’ example is seen in the teaching about his death. In Philippians chapter two, we read about how he empties himself and becomes a servant -ultimately giving himself up to death on a cross.

And just to show how radically different this Christian way is, he shows them in a visible sign.

Mar 9:36  He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, Mar 9:37  “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

When you think of the money that goes into special events to welcome special people – powerful leaders, presidents and popes alike, its all about who is important. It’s honour to receive people into your homes in many cultures and situations.

There used to be a sign in peoples’ homes in the old days: “Christ is the unseen guest and listener to every conversation”.

People still tidy up when guests come. In our case a visit from granny brought about real action.

Jesus turns all this on its head by saying that if you welcome a child, you welcome him – and indirectly you welcome God who sent him.

Because Jesus the king becomes Jesus the servant king – all the power structures on earth are seen differently – people are valued differently from then on. They area no longer valued by what they have accumulated, or achieved, or invented. Rather they are seen from God’s point of view. They are loved by God. They are the people for whom Jesus died.

And if Jesus values them – so should we.

We are called to be servants of all.

In the words of the song we sang:

Verse 4

So let us learn how to serve,  And in our lives enthrone Him;

 Each other’s needs to prefer,  For it is Christ we’re serving

The interesting thing about the servant and the child, is that they both get their identity from someone else.

The servant from the master.

The child from the parents.

We are the children of our Father and bear His identity by the way we live. If power and position drive us, we do not belong to Christ; but if we are the “last of all and servant of all” (Mar_9:35), we are identified with Christ as the sons of God.

So when Jesus talks us about being salt and light, and that a light is meant to be on a stand and not under a bowl, he says this: Mat 5:16  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

The kind of light that should shine is this servant heart for people.

Our values, our character, our identity and our wisdom come from our heavenly father. So what James says in 3:17 makes sense, and sounds right in this servant mode: we should be peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.

May this be true of us.

Amen.

 

Advertisements

About robinpalmer

I am a Presbyterian Pastor living and working in Browns Bay on the North Shore of Auckland in New Zealand. We moved here at the end of March 2011 after spending five years in Wellington the capital city. I am passionate about what I do - about communicating and writing. I also enjoy my counselling work, especially with young people.

Posted on September 25, 2018, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: