To Serve or to Be Served

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S (Scripture): Luke 22:24 An argument broke out among the disciples over which one of them should be regarded as the greatest.

25 But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles rule over their subjects, and those in authority over them are called ‘friends of the people.’ 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant. 27 So which one is greater, the one who is seated at the table or the one who serves at the table? Isn’t it the one who is seated at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.”

O (Observation): What?!?! What about our status? What about our status as leaders? How are we supposed to lead the church if we don’t hold any authority?

Jesus is confusing things once again…leadership in the church has worked, so why change the view?

Well…has it worked?

Perhaps a view of servant-leadership is in order.

A (Application): On a weekday in Spring 2003, I went into what is known as my Entrance Interview to start my process into becoming a pastor in the ELCA. I talked a lot about all of my church experiences and what I’ve done to deserve this opportunity to serve the Church.

A gruff, pipe-wielding man by the name of Rev. Dr. Tom Ridenhour (who would later become my preaching professor at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary) said to me: “I’ve heard a whole lot about ‘me’ and ‘my’ and what ‘I’ve done’ and very little about ‘what God is doing or what God has done.'”

<insert long, awkward, quiet pause…and me starting to sweat…>

Dr. Ridenhour continues after the pause with: “…but I look forward to having you in my classes at seminary…”

(“phew!”)

Well, I learned that day (and I’m still learning) to want to be the one serving, and not the one at the table. How about you?

P (Prayer): Lord, remind me that service to neighbor is as meaningful as being served. Amen.

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Servant-Minded

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S (Scripture): Matthew 20:25 Jesus called the disciples over and said, “You know that those who rule the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. 26 But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. 27 Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave— 28 just as the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”

O (Observation): Jesus turns the idea of “status” on its ear. The worldly issues about status don’t work in God’s Kingdom. Instead, to become great, you lay down your own ambitions and seek to serve someone else.

How is that helping your own cause? Jesus seems to be thinking upside-down and backwards. … Well, maybe that’s exactly what the Gospel is about: shifting around our priorities and letting go of status altogether.

A (Application): How many times have you tried to network, only to feel subservient? Like you were there to serve everyone else, and felt like you were just a pawn in someone else’s game? Why is that? Is it about a negative self-image? Is it because you think serving others is your calling? Is it because you see others as better than you?

We play lots of mind games with ourselves. When we are in a room in which someone feels they must have the upper hand, our sense of pride swells up and we don’t want that other person to walk away feeling superior. But something about humility and serving our neighbor kicks in. Do we let them just walk away thinking they have the upper hand? Do we remain poised in a “ready to be your servant” kind of mind frame? Doesn’t that mean the “other person” wins?

How frustrating is this thing called faith? The first will be last / servant of all?

That just doesn’t feel right, does it? And it doesn’t make sense, right? What is the end game? Ah… now that question changes everything.

What do we assume about the goal of the Christian life? What is the assumption about being a servant? Is it bad, by default? Is the Christian life about winning and losing?

(There you go….more questions than answers today…)

P (Prayer): Lord, keep us servant-minded in our approach to life today.

Abundance – Giving & Receiving

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S (Scripture): Psalm 144: 9 I will sing a new song to you, God.
I will sing praises to you on a ten-stringed harp,
10 to you—the one who gives saving help to rulers,
and who rescues his servant David from the evil sword.
11 Rescue me and deliver me from the power of strangers,
whose mouths speak lies,
and whose strong hand is a strong hand of deception,
12 so that our sons can grow up fully, in their youth, like plants;
so that our daughters can be like pillars carved to decorate a palace;
13 so that our barns can be full, providing all kinds of food;
so that our flocks can be in the thousands—
even tens of thousands—in our fields;
14 so that our cattle can be loaded with calves;
so that there won’t be any breach in the walls,
no exile, no outcries in our streets!

O (Observation): The abundance found in God is described here by the psalmist – an abundance beyond joy, beyond measure. Hope springs eternal for the follower of God.

A (Application): The hope and abundance found in God comes in many forms. We hope our sons and daughters bear fruit in their own special ways. We pray that our storehouses are filled and that our jobs bring abundance.

This is our hope. Reality sometimes does not match this hope, however. But this still remains our hope. That all will be fed and that all who have need will be satisfied.

In the meantime, we will feed the hungry, we will gather together and do our best to make sure all are fed and that none have need.

In my church setting, we work with the Murfreesboro Cold Patrol, Roots for Refugees & Murfreesboro Muslim Youth, The Journey Home, Coldest Nights Women’s Shelter. These are some ways in which this psalm is coming to fruition for many people who have need in Murfreesboro. And this is also helping us to see our need to be humble, broken, and filled with the Spirit.

May we be God’s hands and feet this day.

P (Prayer): Lord, help us to be another person’s abundance. And help them to be our abundance. Amen.

“I Would Plant a Tree…”

  

S (Scripture): Matthew 24:45 “Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom the master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom the master finds at work when he comes. 47 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that evil slave should say to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ 49 and he begins to beat his fellow slaves and to eat and drink with drunkards, 50 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, 51 and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

O (Observation):  Jesus is gearing up his followers to be ready for his second coming.   He has been telling his disciples that his own death is pending, but that one day he will come back.  And in the meantime, his followers are to be ready for his coming again.  

What does Jesus want for his followers, while he is gone from this earth?  For them to be serving, caring for each other, and the world.  This is how his servants will act.  This brings blessings beyond measure…beyond what we deserve. 

A (Application):  Martin Luther is reputed to have said, “If I knew the world would end tomorrow, I would plant a tree.”  The validity of that quote is in question, but the sentiment still holds true.  This is something “like” Luther might have said.   Why?   Because of scripture verses like Matthew 24:45-51.  

Luther was very big on going to the sources – the scriptures – relying less on tradition than scripture itself.  

In this case, we can focus on two things:  vocation or fear.   I choose vocation.   Why?  I think focusing on the blessing and joy of following a calling allows me to sense my baptism sparking my motivation for doing good in the world.  I choose not to focus on the fear, for fear only motivates out of anger and lasts but a short while.   Following a calling lasts a lifetime.   

(A caveat about fear: as a parent, I can get angry at my children for doings things that put them in harms way.   That may be Jesus’ motivation here, too:  keep the disciples from hurting their souls.)

These are Jesus’ words, so the difficulty is how to emphasize the threat he makes.  To be cut in two?   Really?  Perhaps this is the expression of Jesus’ disappointment.   

But I tend to lean on the promises of blessing found in planting a tree, inviting my neighbor over for a meal, cutting my beighbor’s grass, etc… even if the second coming were to happen tomorrow, for that is the constructive piece of this warning.  

Don’t wait!   Listen, today, for what God is saying to you!   Then, discern what does God want you to do?

That all starts with taking time each day to listen to the Lord.   How is that going for you?  Do you need encouragement?   Do you need help?   

Look at the Tools Section of this blog for a starting point.  Read 1, 2, or all 3 suggested texts for the day.   Journal on your own.  Comment on this blog.    Find your niche that works for you, so that you, too, can dig daily into the scriptures, and hear the Word of the Lord.  

Blessings to you, faithful servant!

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us all to find our callings, by spending time with you, daily.   Help us to serve our neighbors, joyfully, regardless of the day of your Arrival.  Amen.  

Power and Strength

  S (Scripture): Matthew 21:8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those following kept shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” 10 As he entered Jerusalem the whole city was thrown into an uproar, saying, “Who is this?” 11 And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

O (Observation):  Matthew’s Gospel of Jesus Christ seems to have been written to a Jewish audience, to Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah foretold.   Jesus embodied the descriptions of the Savior, but his ways of embodying the covenants was slightly different than what the people wanted to see and hear.  They wanted a mighty warrior, like David…but they got a humble servant-leader, instead. 

Coming into Jerusalem on a donkey was part of the fulfillment of an Old Testament scripture (Zech 9:9).   Shouts of “Hosanna” are roughly equivalent to “O Lord, Save Us!”  And the phrase, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” was a phrase that had become a Jewish liturgical phrase, giving praise to God. 

But there would be more to come…more that would separate, rather than unite God’s people.  Who would be believe where Jesus was headed?   

A (Application):  Turmoil in the wake of Super Tuesday is apparent to me.  We are unsure about our political leaders and future.  House of Cards seems more and more like reality than fiction.  Like we want power and strength ONLY.  

In whom do we hope?  Human cunning and strength?  Who is our Savior?  A political candidate?  Jesus?  

We are but a shadow of who we will be, this side of heaven.   We know only in part, now.  But one who came as a humble servant-leader calls us onward…calls us to follow Him – Jesus Christ.  

Trust in the Lord to carry us onward, despite our failings and shortcomings.  Let us shout “Hosanna!” to Jesus Christ, as he continually approaches our lives.  

P (Prayer): Lord, I have put my trust in others. Help me to put my trust in you alone.  Amen. 

At Your Service

  

S (Scripture): Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called the disciples and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. 26 It must not be this way among you! Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave – 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

O (Observation):  The mother of two of Jesus’ disciples (James and John) just asked for her two sons to sit directly at Jesus’ side in his kingdom.   This would be a position of power.  The other disciples are frustrated at the request, but Jesus puts this argument to rest with the words he shared above.   

Jesus reminds the disciples that their role is not to control, but to serve.   

A (Application):  Serving has a very humble nature to it.  To be humble is to NOT count yourself as more worthy than another.   

And yet, one can sense authority in the midst of being a servant.    The authority we are given comes from God.  That allows us to take action to follow our callings.   But following these callings can be done in a humble manner.  

As a parent, I am to show my children boundaries, but I’m also not to lord myself over them.  That doesn’t mean I let them do whatever they want, but I can serve them in a fashion that shows that I love them and prepare them to live in the world.  

None of us is called to be “above” another, even as we follow our callings and use the authority given to each of us.  

What sense of authority have you sensed?   Who has lorded themselves over you?  How did that affect you?   How has that shaped your sense of authority?

P (Prayer):  Lord, help us to discern the authority you give us and to balance that with the posture of a servant.  Amen. 

#Servanthood

 

 

S (Scripture):James 4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

O (Observation): Harsh words here, from James.   However, he does point out the nature of our faults: looking to our own desires.  

A (Application): It’s all about me!   This is the world we live in…but it doesn’t have to be.  As a child of God I am reminded (and I’m called to remind others) that this life is not about me, but how I can be a servant to my neighbor.  First shall be last, last shall be first.

Jesus is our example and redeemer.  We know what serving looks like (washing feet, feeding the hungry, etc.) and we are free from the worries of sin, so that we can go and do that service for others.  

I’m serving students at Middle TNState  University these days by being present and talking with them and building relationships.  And I try to go for pure reasons, and not just for selfish desires.  Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t.  In either case, Jesus promises to be present.  That gives me hope. 

What about you?  What selfish desires have you bumped up against?
P (Prayer):  Lord, clear our hearts and minds and fill them with the posture of a servant.  Amen.