Scripture Mark 10:35-43
Jesus Teaches about Serving Others
35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do us a favor.”
36“What is your request?” he asked.
37They replied, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
38But Jesus said to them, “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?”
39“Oh yes,” they replied, “we are able!”
Then Jesus told them, “You will indeed drink from my bitter cup and be baptized with my baptism of suffering. 40But I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”
41When the ten other disciples heard what James and John had asked, they were indignant. 42So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Followers of Christ, we were born not to be served but to serve. So we lead by becoming a servant, we must be first in being a slave to everyone. We were born to serve.
Do we really believe this nonsense!
Let’s be real! Yeah, I know, Jesus said it. Because it’s in red letters. And we are Christians as far as our religious affiliation. So we can’t question red letters. But what we don’t question with our mind, we contradict with our bodies.
Most of us don’t live like we are born to serve. We live like we are born to be served.
What is the first thing we do when we are born. Feed me, burp me, wipe my butt.
When my first son Ian was born, the nurse reeled him to me and said, “ready to learn how to change his diapers.” Thus began fatherhood, glorified diaper changer.
So the nurse, who called herself padawan, the whole OBGYN team were Star Wars fanatics, taught me how to wipe, pick up the legs, center the but on the diaper, and strap from the sides snuggle without squeezing.
“Now it’s your turn!” said the chirpy padawan.
So I opened the diaper with the excitement of a rookie, when Ian sprayed my face with his pee. This was his way of saying, “Who’s the boss?”
We are born to be served.
In our heart we all believe we are born to be served.
I will speak for myself. This is what I believe in my heart.
Don’t get me wrong. I serve. I just don’t think I really am a slave to everyone, or should be. I deserve being served. I deserve being served more than serving.
Most of my marital conflict comes down to this. Who is serving who?
Not that I don’t serve my wife. I serve my wife. I think I serve my wife well. I think I serve my wifea lot. A lot, lot. A lot more than she serves me. And that is when I get peeved. I serve. But I should also get served.
Like this past week, I had gotten the kids to clean up their rooms and then to read a book in the morning! Yes, you heard me, clean up and then read! Two of the most impossible things to make children do. That was an amazing super-dad move! I did it so my wife can have a morning to herself because she just started work at Artopia teaching children art. Part time, small pay, but doing something she likes.
But she is teaching kids. Teach kids at home then go out and teach kids at work, that can be draining. So I did my part, super-dad, servant-husband.
So the kids were reading and I was surveying my work as super-dad and servant-husband, and she comes up and looks at the room and she says, “What’s this?” She is not satisfied with the level of cleanliness of the room. We have a difference in our understanding of cleanliness.
And she says, “more important than reading is responsibility, children come” usurps me, authority over mine!
Now I think I have a legitimate reason to argue this point. But I don’t argue, I get angry. Do you know why? Because at that point I feel like I am a servant and she is the master who is checking up on my work. Now if I truly believed I was born to serve, and that means serving the poor gypsy in Athens to my wife I live with, then I could have handled it differently, instead I fly off the handle.
I don’t really believe that I was born to serve. I believe is that I was born to be serve. Now I am an enlightened leader who can serve at times, for PR or for points I get to use later, but I was born to be served.
There was a WSJ journal article that reported on a study that couples who divide up their chores 50/50 tend to divorce at a higher rate. That fact is so counterintuitive. You think they struck the perfect balance. Why would they divorce? Because those who count are always angry that they are not getting their fair share, that the balance of power has tipped over to the other person. The one who counts always feels he is serving more, and that is an unjust world because after all, we are born to be served.
What Jesus says is nonsense. Because that is not how the world works.
Not only are we are born with believe we were born to be served. We grow up thinking that the world is all about who serves who, and that life is about making sure you are on the top, being served, and not on the bottom, serving.
Even Jesus says that much. Lording over, that is how the world works.
It is how the world works because that is the reality.
Enlightened Aristotle said there are two kinds of human beings, masters and slaves. There were the the strong, the intelligent. These were the rulers, the masters. They had the villas, the chariots, the prestige in the public, like himself, because they had the brains to seek truth and the moral character to live by the truth.
The servants who served those masters, who cooked the meals and served them, who dusted the villas, waxed the chariot wheels, and washed the feet of the masters when they got home, were servants because they were born that way. Servants lack the intelligence to see truth and the moral nature to live by truth. Servants are too weak to lead, to decide. Servants are most happy when they serve, so the society is most at peace when masters are masters and servants are servants.
So it was with the apostles. Serving was the last thing in the mind of the apostles. They were jostling for the right hand seat of Jesus. James and John even sent in their mothers to get the positions. You know it’s bad when mother’s get involved in their adult-children’s affairs.
It was ludicrous back then and it is ludicrous today.
You know all the isms of today. Sexism, classism, racism. It’s Aristotle’s argument isn’t it. Some were born to be stronger, smarter, so they are to be served. Male and not female, rich and not poor, white and not black.
But this is what makes us different.
But this is the exact reason why serving is so essential to our discipleship. It is what separates us, what makes us different!
Jesus says “You are to be different.” Because the life of service is a contradiction of the fundamentals of the world.
The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not the bumper sticker, or the radio station preset in the car. The radical revolutionary difference is whether one lives as one born to serve or born to be served.
Christ is revealing his nature
For this radical difference points to Christ. For Christ points to himself as the reason and source for the life of service. I came not to be served but to serv. This life of service affirms to the very nature of Christ that contradicts the foundations of the world.
Until Christ, everyone believed that the nature of God was power. We still say this. God Almighty. That the great essence of God is power.
The disciples believe that Jesus is leading them to Jerusalem for exactly that, to finally reveal his true nature, power! Jesus is going to claim his throne, his power. So they ask, let us sit next to you on you glorious throne. Another way to say power.
Gods legitimate lordship. God is an all powerful God. So reality is distribution of power, and higher you go, the more power you have because more people you lord over. Gods over human beings, masters over slaves, men over women. This is the way of the world works because that is the way of the gods.
Whether our god is Zeus or Steve Jobs, Mars or Military might, how we live our days reflects what we believe about our reality and what we believe about reality reflects the gods we serve and their nature.
But Christ shatters our concept of God. Christ says your assumptions about reality is all wrong.
Christ is God and Christ is servant. Christ is the uncreated one and Christ is the helpless child. Christ is the almighty who suffers. Christ is the maker of stars who washed clay feet. Christ is the righteous judge of the universe who when slapped by illiterate peasants, nailed by brutish Roman mercenaries, and taunted by proud religious leaders while hung on the cross, he prayed, “Father forgive them.”
Christ shatters our concept of God. Christ gives us a new revelation of God. God serves. Lordship is servanthood. To be first is to be first in serving.
So one of the most popular early hymn was about the nature of Christ and Paul quotes it in Philippians and it goes like this:
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
and was born as a human being.
8he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
The call to serve is to live by another reality, a reality grounded on the very nature of Christ.
The call to serve is not a call to be weak. The call to serve is to challenge the lords of the world.
The Christian’s radical call is the call to serve because it challenges the atoms of this world.
We are to be different!
Service Changes the World
For this reason service is the weapon of the Christian. It is not the last weapon but the first and the last weapon. It is not the weapon after political power. Service is the most powerful weapon Christians have in fighting evil and establishing the Kingdom.
Because service denies the claims of the world and says that there is a new world whose fundamental laws emerge from Christ who is God who serves.
When we serve we are claiming freedom from the lords of the world.
When people see Christians serve they are at first shocked because our lives don’t make sense. But when they see it enough, then they begin to think maybe their world of power and lording doesn’t make sense.
Service changes the world!
Christ changed your life not by lording over you but by dying for you.
Our service changes the world.
Mohammed Hanif is a journalist and a novelist in Pakistan. He wrote a satire “A Case of Exploding Mangoes.” It was a satire on General Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, former president of Pakistan.
No one in Pakistan published it. Random House in India published it, and not simply for pure love for truth. He is a writer with following because he had the courage to mock the lords of Pakistan.
For years Hanif read Pakistani papers that everyday told a story about an attack on a woman: shot by her brother, stoned to death by a mob, sentenced to death after her husband’s family accused her of insulting the Prophet.
In 2008, Hanif wanted a story to challenge this lethal sexism in his Muslim society. He imagined a story about a female avenger fighting back against “Pakistan’s patriarchal society” He had this idea of a female superhero flying around and stopping these killings of women.”
But after few attempts he was not satisfied. His satire was becoming, “a bad Hong Kong type of movie” and he gave up.
Then another scenario came up. It was inspired by a life experience.
His mother had fallen ill and was taken to the hospital. He sat with her for days, in a ward staffed around the clock by female nurses, most of them Christians, a tiny minority in Pakistan.
“So many institutions in Pakistan doesn’t work at all, and I was struck by how dedicated the nurses were,” their salaries are very low. No one was supervising them—it was the middle of the night—and yet they carried on in the most dedicated way.”
Out of that unexplainable service of Christians as nurses, he got his story, Alic Bhatii, a nurse who works in a decrepit at Sacred Heart Hospital for All AiIments. He made a story of powerful women who fights against Muslim men abusing women, and he made sure that this powerful women was a Catholic nurse who fought by caring for everyone who comes to the hospital.
The service of the nurse changed Hanif’s world, and Hanif is now writing about that world challenging the world he lives.
Service challenges the lords of this world.
So how do we serve?
We serve unconditionally
It is not that we never serve. We serve. But serve with conditionals.
Christ tell us to be a slave to everyone. Christ served to the point of death. To serve like Christ is to serve unconditionally. That is the radical difference.
If we chose to serve certain people in certain situations, then we are still playing by rules of this world, that of greatness and being served. We chose to serve certain people because we see the hierarchy and it is a necessary step to get us higher in the ranking of being served.
It has to be an unconditional decision, that we serve everyone and every situation. That we are ready to bend our knees and wash their feet. That we are ready to lift them up and have then receive all the credits, the applauses, the praises, the facebook likes. That we are ready to be even disregarded, dismissed, overlooked. For servants do not stand out above their masters.
But here is the paradox. If we chose to serve unconditionally then we are free from the world’s game of rule. We are not serving in the hierarchy of rulers. We are serving out of our free will. We are serving not because we are lower, or servants by nature. We are serving because we have trusted Christ’s words. And because we are serving unconditionally, we are no longer judged in that world’s game.
We are servants, but we are not slaves to people. We are servants, but we are not the weak one in the relationship, we are not the lowly ones, we are not the subservient ones.
No we serve because we are strong, because we are free, because we are followers of Christ.
There are places in human life where we see our service has nothing to do with hierarchy of being, of one’s importance and value. Indeed, the one who serves if of greater important.
Consider the relationship between humans and dogs. Who is of greater worth? But who serves who?
Who gets the food? Who gets the water? Who does the bathing? Who picks up after the being has done his or her business? Who worries over money while the other lives his life as if he is king and has endless wealth? The man worries, the man serves, but he is not less than the dog.
And of course Christ himself is the illustration and the power of service. For our strength is weak. We will constantly be tempted to seek to be served. But Christ did not merely demand the life of service to us. Christ showed it to us, Christ lived it.
Christ the Lord of All is the servant of all.
And one of the simplest way to practice this is to say “I am here to serve you.” To say it to those we don’t want to serve at that moment.
I said it to my wife, “I am here to serve you” She didn’t ask me to do any less, or to do anymore, but I did with greater joy.
I said it to my children. Ian said, “me too.” Elina said, “me too.” Dylan said, “get me my clothes, my slave.”
We serve greatly by serving in small ways
Great things happen through small services done faithfully regularly. Serving unconditional brings great change. But all serving is really small. Service of dying on the cross comes to us in small pieces, small moments. This poem illustrates this:
What I Learned from My Mother
I learned from my mother how to love
the living, to have plenty of vases on hand
in case you have to rush to the hospital
with peonies cut from the lawn, black ants
still stuck to the buds. I learned to save jars
large enough to hold fruit salad for a whole
grieving household, to cube home-canned pears
and peaches, to slice through maroon grape skins
and flick out the sexual seeds with a knife point.
I learned to attend viewings even if I didn’t know
The deceased, to press the moist hands
Of the living, to look in the eyes and offer
Sympathy, as though I understood loss even then.
I learned that whatever we say means nothing,
What anyone will remember is that we came.
I learned to believe I had the power to ease
Awful pains materially like an angel.
Like a doctor, I learned to create
From another suffering my own usefulness, and once
You know how to do this, you can never refuse.
To every house you enter, you must offer
Healing: a chocolate cake you baked your self,
The blessings of your voice, your chaste touch.
If we look for big moments of service than your opportunity to do the great work of Christ will pass.
Serve always in the small things.
Penny Thorton lost her mother the six weeks later lost her dad on February 7th 1994, a day before her birthday. Both died from HIV. These were the days of ignorance and fear of HIV. Her mother got it through a blood transfusion from a heart surgery. Her father got it from her. Penny was studying education at St. Augustine, following in the footsteps of her mother who was an elementary school teacher. She could not afford to continue. She dropped out. She and her sister was now out on their own.
Her sister shot coke into her veins to forget the pain. Penny was angry at God but she plodded on. Penny eventually got custody of her sister's four children, adding more responsibility to her already tired and busy life. "I got married to a man whom I thought would be my savior," Penny tells me. The man left her with two boys, and without a home. One day, with a 7 year old boy in hand and a six week baby saddled on her, she went to Salvation Army shelter at 215 South Person Street. This was the bottom.
On thursday nights, Trinity Baptist Church, came and offered to take the people to their church for a Jobs For Life Training.
She signed up because "I just wanted to get out of shelter, a way for me to get out because at this point I had checked out on life. This was just something to do." Sharing a room with eight families, leaving the shelter felt like a vacation.
A bus picked her up. She brought her two boys since they had child care. A hot dinner waited for them.
Then a man got up and explained the program, that JFL will help them get a job by training them with skills and at the end of the program having them sit across potential employers. But more than that they are here to invest in them. Mentors did everything they could.
"Not only taught you they prepared you, they invested you."
One class she couldn't see the board. One of the mentors got her glasses.
She practiced how to answer and was now ready for interview. But she didn’t have a work dress to wear. Another person got her an interview outfit.
One of the person who held a lantern for her was Chis Latte - owner Chick Fila at Capital Blvd and Falls of Neuse, came to give tips on how to be successful in employment, what qualities employer are looking for. She did not know this detail. When she went for a job interview she was surprised to see him. Of all the Chick FIlas that dot Raleigh. That relationships helped her land it, like most jobs.
Last August of 2015 Chris Latter asked her to be the Hospitality director for his store? On October, she flew to Atlanta GA with him, in corporate center. She was amazed at how far she has come. So she turned to Christ, mentor, employee, and friend, "We went from sitting at the table, me from a homeless shelter, to sitting at the airport together.” ---
“When I was going through a dark tunnel, Jobs For Life was "people who came holding a lantern, go a little bit further I could see more. go a little bit more I could see more, go a little bit more I could see more until I saw the light at the end of the tunnel and I believed I could make it."