Service not Status

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday.  It goes hand in hand with the one from Saturday night.  I hope you enjoy it.

 

Proper 20B—150th Anniversary Sunday

Last night in my sermon, I looked back on our 150 years, and especially the call for this place to be a house of prayer for all people, with no distinctions, as our founder Joseph Burnett penned it, “as to wealth, color, race or station.”  At the very end, I mentioned that I had recently learned that the mission statement of Canterbury Cathedral in the UK — what many consider to be the Mother Church in the Anglican Communion— is simply this: To Show People Jesus.  What a fantastic statement, and I would argue that we, as followers of Christ, are called to that mission too.  Sometimes though we forget that this is what we are all about.

Notice the disciples in our lesson we just heard from Mark.  They had been told by Jesus that he was going to be put to death, and then rise again. But did they miss it?  Because they don’t say anything, and soon enough the conversation changes to be all about them.  Which one was the greatest among them.  It went from focusing on Jesus to focusing on a competition.

They were concerned only with status and station.  They should have met Joseph Burnett.

And so Jesus, in his unbelievable compassion, sits them down and tells them the secret to the kingdom: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  And then taking a child, Jesus says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me and whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

This is one of the scenes many of us cherish.  The little child, full of innocence, comes before the disciples as an object lesson.  It may give you a feeling of joy and warm satisfaction.  But in that day, children weren’t given the preference that we give them now.  Kids were seen as a liability since they couldn’t add much in terms of economic value to a household and so had no status, much like a servant.  It’s no coincidence that we know the idiom “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”  Babies were washed last of all when water had to be hauled up to the house and warmed up over the fire.  After Daddy, and Momma, and the older kids.  And that bath water would have been well used by the time little Sarah got her bath.  It certainly wasn’t the bath time rituals we know today.

So Jesus is telling his disciples that they must become like a servant, they must welcome those with the lowest social standing, if they truly want to follow him.

And that, brothers and sisters, has major implications for us.

Because if we are called to show people Jesus, that means we need to do so without regard to status or station or age or color or any of the numerous things that can separate us from one another.  Because more often than not those are the things we are told by our society to notice most of all.  We hear messages that we should strive to be higher up on the food chain by what we do or what we buy or who we know.  And we tend to hear that those who are the lowest in our society—be they immigrants or homeless or people from depressed areas—should be looked down upon.

I think the very thing Jesus is getting at here most of all is that we are called to love deeply.  While we may spend our time ranking ourselves up against one another like the disciples, it’s not about that at all.  It’s about befriending the ones we think we’re better than, and listening to them and engaging with them.  It’s realizing that in Jesus’ kingdom the first is last and the last is first.  In other words, it’s not about status.

A minister tells a story that sheds light on this truth. “On one occasion I was responsible for making the seating arrangements at a head table.  At one end of the table a person with experience was placed next to a newcomer in order to make him feel welcome.  When the experienced person saw his place card, he promptly picked it up and moved it to the center of the table, next to the person who would be presiding.”[1]

For that gentleman, it was all about status.

If we are concerned with impressing others, or about where we end up in the pecking order, or how to make ourselves look good, than we cannot show people Jesus.  We’ll be too focused on ourselves to do so.

So what does that mean for us as we celebrate 150 years today at St. Mark’s?  What are we to hold onto as we move from this point of time into our future as a congregation?

I would say two things.  First, we must love without regard as Jesus has loved us.  When Jesus came, he broke barriers.  He spoke with women—like the one who was so despised she had to gather her water at the hottest part of the day.  He healed the haves — like the daughter of Jarius the centurion—and the have nots—like the woman hemorrhaging for 17 years.  He brought the best wine to the party, and was accused of being a drunkard.  He blessed children and fed people and got upset when the system showed a preference to the wealthy ones.  He loved and showed mercy and called people to amendment of life.

Jesus loved.  And we should too.

Second, we need to deepen our focus on reaching out and working alongside our neighbors.  Jesus told us today that our call is not to status but to service.  We have talked about doing an outreach day here at St. Mark’s in honor of our 150th year.  A single day when a great number of us gathered and went out to places around our community to work with our neighbors.  Possibly serving a meal, or doing yard work, or building a home, or reading to kids or visiting a nursing home.  Imagine a day when we join forces to simply spread the good news of Christ by our deeds.  I would hope and encourage us to do so before the end of May next year, and we need your help.  Will you join with me as we envision such a day of service?

Finally, on this day of celebration, I simply want to say thanks.  In many ways I am preaching to the choir, to those who are faithful and seeking to serve and follow Christ and wanting to keep the ways of the world in check.  St. Mark’s is St. Mark’s because of you all, and I am deeply grateful to be your rector at this time.  I look forward to the work before us, and to all of the wonderful days God has placed before us.  Amen.


[1] Harry B. Adams.  “Mark 9:30-37: Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word Year B Vol. 4.  Pg. 94.