SENT TO SERVE
Genesis 29: 18 – 30
1 Peter 5: 1 – 11
Matthew 20: 17 – 28
It’s Mothering Sunday. And O my goodness, was there ever a mother who made a more inappropriate move on behalf of her sons, than the mother of James and John?
Jesus says he will be mocked, flogged and crucified but will rise again on the third day. She hears nothing other than resurrection and immediately sees an opportunity because there’s something apocalyptic about this; it is going to change the game, one way or another; and she can’t resist exploiting the situation for her boys.
She said to him, ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’
Not, “Please, Lord, would you do me a favour?” No. ‘Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.’ That’s a pretty imperious thing to say to the Son of God.
Jesus is actually quite kind to her but makes it plain this is not his concern and goes on to say that holding an important position is what the Gentiles are into. He came, he tells, her to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Mrs Zebedee’s move is reminiscent of people who take advantage of unfortunate situations to further their own ends:
- Christians who took advantage of the Christchurch massacre to point out on social media that for every Muslim slaughtered, Muslims slaughter hundreds of Christians.
- Fringe theologians who took advantage of the massacre to promote their views of the end times.
- People who took advantage of the massacre to blame Donald Trump for promoting a climate of intolerance.
- Even, dare I say it, politicians at home who took advantage of the plight of the victims to make themselves look good. It is always difficult to determine whether that fine line has been crossed, especially in ourselves.
Which all goes to the essence of serving; it is not self-serving. In one breath Jesus refers to his task as both to serve and to give his life a ransom for many. Service is costly. That’s the yardstick.
It’s costly because it’s a ransom: it pays for the release of others. That’s the first point.
The second point is this: we ask ourselves what it releases others to. There is an old saying that says, “Saved to serve.” What it implies is this: we are released from the enslavement of sin in order to free up our energies, time and resources to engage in that same freeing activity for others. That is discipleship. Simple freedom is licence, and there is nothing in Scripture that gives the idea that we are freed in order to do our own thing.
We are a people with a mission and we are born straight into that mission. That is why Michael Cassidy, not long after I gave my life to Christ, had me speaking at another school where he was conducting a mission like the one he did at my school.
It was uncomfortable but it established an expectation and I hope a pattern, for that is what it should have established.
Paul gives us further insight into service and it is a critical one. Colossians 3: 23 – Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
The conundrum of being a Christian is that we constantly need to discern whether we serve as part of a religious activity which we use to enhance our lives, much as anyone might enhance their lives by going to the opera or doing a good deed; or whether we serve in response to God’s Lordship.
It’s not the nature of the act that tells you are doing one or the other, but where the motivation for the act originates. Is it a nice idea or did it come from God? The difficulty is that sometimes it’s not easy to tell, and sometimes it doesn’t matter.
The problem lies in the orientation of one’s life. Very subtly we can become self-serving if our relationship with God is not centred in Christ.
Aside from the fact that that is what makes us Christians as apart from Deists (people who believe in a distant God of sorts) it is a relationship with Jesus that keeps us in a state of grace. When we lose that we serve out of a sense of obligation – in other words we drift into Law. Jesus is not about law. He is about love and grace, but that only works when our relationship with him is healthy.
So, in summary:
- Good News is at the heart of Christian service
- Christian service is costly because it pays for the release of others
- It releases others to serve, and that service involves the same task – releasing still more people
- And, it is service to and for God in Christ, first and foremost, not a religious activity.
Our Lenten theme (A Sent People) has us on a journey through Lent towards both the cross and the resurrection, towards Good Friday and Easter Day. God sends us again and again in this direction so that the cross will kill off our self-serving and the resurrection fill us with the power of Christ’s serving.
May we all hold ever before us the central point of our mission: Jesus, who came, not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.