Oct 14, 2021
A text sermon based on Mark 10:35-45, especially Mark 10:43–44 (NRSV): whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.
Also a celebration of Blue Care a service agency of my church which is one of the largest aged care providers in Australia.
Full text of the service including some prayers below.
Mount Morgan Uniting Church
Come last to be great!
17 October 2021
Proper 24 b 21 Servant of allt.wpd
Today we remember and celebrate the work of Blue Care and the many people who have been servants in God’s mission of compassionate care and love.
We give thanks for those who have sought to make a difference in the lives of people in their community and the wider world.
We too are invited to see and respond to the needs of others and join God’s mission of reconciling and renewing our world.
We gather to worship God who looks at all people with love, justice and compassion.
God welcomes and loves us so we might love and serve others.
We do this, not as strangers, but as a reconciled community.
We retell the story of Jesus that we may find our lives in His life
In grateful thanks for what God does for us, we are called to do what is just, to show mercy and kindness, and to journey in humility with God.
Open our eyes Lord, to see the needs of our community and the wider world, and give us the courage to share your abundant love.
Let us worship God.
Generous God – giver of all good things, all we have comes from you. You are love. You are our provider.
We love you and express our love through worshipping you and serving our neighbour.
We give thanks for the many people who have gone before us as witnesses to your great love through serving those in need.
Forgive us when we miss the mark of your heart for our family, our friends, our neighbours, strangers and enemies.
We give thanks for present witnesses who continue to follow Jesus’ call to give compassionate care and loving service.
Forgive us for neglecting the poor, the marginalised and those who we define as different from “us”.
In Jesus’ Name
In this is love, it is not that we have loved God bu that God loved us and gave his son as the means by which our sins might be forgive. If God has loved us this much, we should love one another. (1 Jn 4:10-11)
Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven!”
Thanks be to God.
The Christian Gospel is about serving the disadvantaged
If you are my age or older we perhaps remember a time when churches were full and healthy. Every church had a reasonably large youth group and Sunday School. Up to 5,000 young people gathered each month for a youth rally in Brisbane. When church leaders spoke the politicians listened. The church was great; it had some power. Often we have a tendancy to look back and want to recapture the glory of the past. In today's Gospel reading the opposite is true. James and John were not remembering a time, they were looking forward to a time when Jesus would be the King. Like David he would defeat the enemies of Israel and lead the people in worship. Like Josiah he would reform the nation and bring in back to God. Like Solomon he would be rich and wise and all the nations of the world would come to pay respects, worship the LORD and seek advice. And James and John would be right there with Jesus.
In the past Institutions were one source of greatness. If you had an important role in a bank, or a large corporation, or a University, or the Church or the government then you were someone. That has all dissolved, we no longer trust banks or governments or churches.
In our time the idea of glory comes from a variety of sources. Wealth... Fame... Sport... Celebrity...
In Jesus’ time it was who you were connected to, especially being close to those in leadership. The closer you were to the king, the Emperor, the High priest the more important you were. To put it in modern terms in Rockhampton the person to be close to would be Tony Williams. In this congregation the person to be close to would be me the Minister, or maybe Margaret or Jean who are your church councillors.
When James and John ask Jesus if they can sit on his left and on his right they are probably thinking of themselves having seats or a place to stand right next to Jesus as king in the throne room. In a great banquet they are probably thinking of themselves having the place on honour on the left and right of the host or the guest of honour - Jesus.
I’m not sure what James and John thought of Jesus. Some modern scholars such as Marcus Borg argue that Jesus did not see himself as the Messiah. I do not agree. I think that it is hard to explain the Jesus phenomenon unless he did. Jesus consistently teaches about the Kingdom of God. His prayer is about the kingdom. More than that I think he probably viewed himself as the Son of God in that he believed he had such a close relationship with God that he could call him “Dad” and in a number of Gospel stories Jesus claims the authority of God. It’s difficult to imagine Jews in the first Century inventing that, it would be blasphemy. In fact it’s for his blasphemy that the Jewish leaders want him dead, while for the Romans it’s his claim to be King that leads to his death.
In any case James & John believe that in some sense Jesus will come into glorious power and they want a share of it. The thing is though that Jesus did not view himself as the kind of King or Messiah who was expected. He had no plans to overthrow the Romans and raise an army. He had no plans to bring the wrath of God down on the oppressors and the ungodly. Instead he taught inclusion of the least. Instead of a Kingdom which honoured power, princes, and priests he spoke of a Kingdom which was full of sinners, tax collectors, children, and the least in the community.
And so Jesus’ response is the very opposite to the kind of thing that James and John are hoping for. Jesus says that it is not about sitting at the right or the left hand side of glory. It is about service. Even though we live in a culture so influenced by Christianity that we honour service in it should still shock us as it would have shocked the disciples. When Jesus says “... whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:43–44, NIV)
He is saying in modern terms that the greatest person in the community may be a parking inspector, or a street sweeper or a sewerage worker. He or she may be a sales assistant or a humble clerk. They might be a kitchen hand in the back of a Macdonalds. They may be a personal carer for Blue Care or a child care worker. They may be a dedicated volunteer in meals on wheels or at the hospital.
In this congregation the greatest person would not be me the minister or one of the Elders, or the organist, but would be one of our dedicated members who just gets about serving. I will not embarrass anyone but you can probably think of those in your midst who might fit the bill. These least ones, these servants are truly great people who live out their Christian faith in humble service.
This Sunday we celebrate the ministry of Blue Care. A ministry of service. Before the Christian era, services like Blue Care did not exist. Isolated frail aged people, runaway, abandoned and orphaned children were not cared for. Since the very beginnings of the Church we have served the least because Christ served us and that humble service has changed the world.
There is no greater example than Jesus himself. Jesus concludes the reading by saying. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”” (Mark 10:45, NRSV)
At the heart of the traditional understanding of the Christian faith is the belief that God in Jesus Christ has become our servant. The King of eternity became our servant. He took our place. He lived our life. Indeed he died the most humble and demeaning death. He touched the lepers, he washed dirty feet. Through this service for us, he forged a new relationship between us and God the Father. God the Father is no longer some distant figure, but Jesus loving and providing “Abba” or “Dad” who like Jesus longs to gather us under his wings as a mother hen would gather and protect her brood.
In Romans 6 and in this passage the New Testament describes Jesus’ life of service given for us as Baptism. Indeed I believe it’s the most important Baptism in the whole Bible. In response to James & John’s request Jesus says "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?"Mark 10:38 (NRSV) What he speaks of here is his death and resurrection. In Romans 6 Paul says “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” (Romans 6:3–4, NIV)
In churches which baptize Adults and in the Orthodox church when they baptise new born babies the person being baptised goes right under the water. So for the Orthodox a tiny baby is taken and dunked right under the water, once in the name of the Father & the Son & the Holy Spirit. Jesus was buried in the ground and raised to new life, Jesus gave his life in service and a ransom for many. He shares that life with us and this is symbolised in Baptism. Jesus has shared everything with us, his whole life, and we are buried with him and raised to new life. We suffer with him, we humbly serve with him, he suffers with us and humbly serves us and we are also raised to new life with him as well.
To summarise Jesus is saying to James & John to the other 10 disciples that being great means serving others even if that means rejection and the cross. The good news is that it also means new life.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews puts it like this:
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation...” (Hebrews 5:7–9, NRSV)
Salvation is ultimately a gift and even those of us who have some position in this world, who are not the least, who are leaders as well as servants, can be part of the Kingdom of God, but in that Kingdom when it comes in its fullness, it will be the least who are the greatest.
Thank-you, everyone of you who quietly serves and looks to the needs of others no matter how humble you may feel your contribution is. You are truly great!
If you want to be great in the Kingdom of God
learn to be the servant of all.
Go then in the name of Christ to love and serve the Lord
and all the neighbours God gives you,
and as you go, know that
the undeserved gift of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God [the Father]
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
is with you all. Amen.