"Living Our Vision: Serve Others"

Scripture: 1 Peter 4:8-11; Mark 10:35-45 

INTRODUCTION

We are in the middle of a 4-part sermon series called “Living Our Vision” at Bay View United Methodist Church.  This series comes out of the visioning process that we began in September, and the response of the congregation to the question, “What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?”  Our answer to that question involves four different characteristics or qualities.  Disciples of Jesus Christ are people who…

1. Learn and Grow
2. Teach and Lead
3. Serve Others
4. Engage in the life of the church

We have already talked about the first two of those points:  “Learn and Grow” and “Teach and Lead.”  This morning, we talk about the third characteristic of disciples – which I believe is closely linked to the first two characteristics of authentic discipleship.  When we are learning and growing, and when we are teaching and leading others, I think that we can’t help but live those things out through the way that we serve others.

A LESSON FOR TODAY

Though the options for scripture passages that relate discipleship with service are plentiful throughout the New Testament, the passage that Kurt read from the Gospel of Mark is one of my favorites.  I have a great appreciation for this passage because it speaks so clearly to the world that we live in today.  I think that, whether we admit it or not, all of us can relate to James and John as they request the most highly prized seats in the Kingdom of God – those at the right and left sides of Jesus. 

These seats of “glory” would be the same seats as the guests of honor at a party or banquet – the seats on the right and left side of the host.  Everybody would look at these two individuals and know that they were people of great importance.  The seating charts at banquets were, in a sense, the 1st century equivalent to a person’s 15 minutes of fame.  Those were important seats – so who can really blame James and John for at least trying to get them in the eternal Kingdom? 

In his famous sermon on this passage, Martin Luther King, Jr. had a phrase for the human instinct to be the first, the best, and the greatest in life.  He called it the “drum major instinct.”  It’s a part of human nature that James and John showed when they made their request to Jesus, and all of us are prone to it, as well.  King said the drum major instinct is “a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first.  And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life. […] We all want to be important, to surpass others,  to be recognized, [and] to achieve distinction.”[1]

When I think back to my childhood, I remember that one of the most important words in my vocabulary was “Shotgun!”  That was the password that had the power to gain access to the most highly coveted seat in the family car – the seat right next to the driver.  In hindsight, I’m really not sure what was so great about that particular seat…  But I know that it was important, and I know that I learned the importance of the “shotgun” seat before I had any idea what the other meaning of the word “shotgun” was.

The rules of “shotgun” were very simple.  As soon as you were out the door and you could see the vehicle, the first person to call out “Shotgun!” got to sit in the front seat.  There was some dispute, I remember, about whether or not all three of us had to be able to see the car, or if somebody could run ahead and call “shotgun” before the others were there.

When I think about it, I really think that that was probably what upset the other ten disciples, as well.  We are told that they were “indignant with James and John.”  Certainly, they had reason to be upset with those two.  But I don’t think they were upset at the fact that James and John approached Jesus about getting the front seats in the Kingdom – I think they were upset that they hadn’t thought of it first.  They were upset that James and John had called “shotgun” before everybody else even had a chance to see the car.

JESUS’ REACTION

Jesus hears their grumbling and calls all twelve of the disciples together.  One might expect that he would be upset with the disciples…  But it doesn’t seem that he was.  Instead, he told them that their energy and ambitions were focused on the wrong things.  It is the rulers and institutions of the world that Jesus criticizes, and tells his disciples that they shouldn’t let themselves be trapped in that sort of thinking about the world.  He tells them that they shouldn’t seek to serve themselves, but to humbly offer themselves in service to others.  He tells them not to try to elevate their own positions, but help to lift up those who in need.

Jesus’ words tell us that the disciples had the wrong ideas about the goals of discipleship.  Discipleship isn’t about gaining fame and fortune and prestigious positions of power.  It’s not about obtaining the front seat for yourself, but it’s about those who don’t even have a voice to call out.  It’s not about where you sit at the banquet table, but making sure that everybody has the opportunity to come to the table.  Discipleship is not about what we get for ourselves, but about what we are able to give to others.

POWER VERSUS LOVE

That seems so simple, doesn’t it?  We all know these things, don’t we?  Since we know the whole story of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, it would be easy for us to look on the disciples and think, “Can you believe those guys?  Can you believe how badly they misunderstood what discipleship was all about?”  But as somebody once told me, you should never point your finger at somebody – because when you do, there are always three fingers pointing right back at you.

It is easy for all of us to fall into the trap of seeking power and success for ourselves rather than offering love to others.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have to be willing to give up some of our own power in order to empower others through loving service.  We have to put others first, even when it is inconvenient.  One of my favorite theologians, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, writes:

We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.  God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions.  We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps even while reading the scriptures.

King continues:

It is a strange fact that Christians and even ministers frequently consider their work so important and urgent that they will allow nothing to disturb them.  They think they are doing God a service in this, but actually they are disdaining God’s path.  But it is part of the discipline of humility that we must not spare our hand where it can perform a service and that we do not assume that our schedule is our own to manage, but allow it to be arranged by God[2]

OFFERING OURSELVES IN SERVICE

Bonhoeffer remind us that serving others begins with the little choices that we make and the smallest actions that we take on behalf of others.  We are faced with opportunities to serve others multiple times a day, if we are willing to put our own desires on hold for just a moment.  Being a disciple means getting rid of our tunnel vision where we are concerned primarily for ourselves, and instead be willing to look to the needs around us.

I encourage you to seek opportunities to serve others.  Or, perhaps you don’t need to seek very hard, because the opportunities are already there.  Serving may be as simple as holding the door for somebody who has their arms full, or visiting a friend who is lonely.  Instead of passing by the person holding a sign on the street corner, you might offer them a sandwich or buy them groceries.

Serving may mean going to Bay View Elementary School once or twice a week to help first graders learn to read.  If that sounds interesting to you, talk to Barb Miller or Charlotte Allen.

I want to share a couple of other opportunities that we have to serve our community.  There will be two opportunities coming up in February:

1.     The first opportunity is volunteering with Habitat For Humanity.  They are in the final stages of building a home in La Conner, and hope to have the home finished and dedicated at the beginning of April.  We will have a group from our church volunteering at the build site on Saturday, February 8th from 9am to 3pm.  They have room for up to 10 volunteers – no experience is necessary, but they need people who are willing and able to do some light physical labor.  If you sign up this morning, come find me after the service so that I can give you some additional information and forms to sign and bring with you on the 8th.

2.     The second opportunity is serving meals to individuals and families in need with Reverie Outreach.  You may remember Cheryl and Matt Kaufman talking to us about a year ago about their outreach program that serves free meals during the last 5 days of every month.  We are all set to serve dinner on Monday, February 24th from 5pm-8pm.  All of the food will be provide and prepared, they just need 6 people to serve the food.  You are welcome to sign up for a full 3-hour slot, or a 1.5-hour slot.

 

CONCLUSION

I’ll send those sign up sheets around for you all to sign up.  As they start making their way around, I want to conclude with a few more words from Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermon, “The Drum Major Instinct.”  He writes:

When we recognize that becoming great in God’s eyes means becoming a servant to others,] it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.  You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.  You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace, [and] a soul generated by love.  And you can be that servant.[3]



[1] Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  “The Drum Major Instinct.”  Sermon preached at Ebenezer Baptist Church on February 4, 1968.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. (San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1954), 99.

[3] King, “The Drum Major Instinct

Comments