THE SERVANT CHURCH
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON SUNDAY OCTOBER 18th 2009
Mark 10: 45 “The Son of Man also came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Occasionally I will be sitting at my desk in my office, perhaps gazing out the window or planning something – like the stewardship appeal, or a special service, or a meeting. And in an idle moment I will wonder if this is what our Lord meant by service.
The concept of service is easily understood. As Christians we believe it is an expression of our faith and a living-out of our call to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Service within the church, of course, as well as in the community. Furthermore, we believe that public service is integral to our democratic society. and to serve others is the hallmark of a Christian society.
“The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve”.
Furthermore we expect those in authority in both Church and State to be morally upstanding and good people. We know they are human and make mistakes – and those mistakes are more obvious because they are leaders. But we expect them to lead by example.
As scripture says, “To whom much is given, much is expected”.
So there is always a sense of outrage and disappointment when a politician has an affair or makes money on the side, or cheats. And equally, when a priest is accused of sexual transgression or using church funds for his own benefit. We all share the disappointment with both Church and State leaders who transgress – and we’re outraged because we expect them to be better than us.
The three great temptations for clergy are money, power, and sex. The three that seem to go against what our Lord taught. In today’s Gospel we have a classic example of the temptation for power. James and John wanted the best seats in heaven, and so they asked for them. This question had interesting implications.
James and John had been chosen to be amongst the twelve apostles – the foundation of the Church, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. However James and John viewed the kingdom of God, all they could see was that this glorious Messiah and wonder-worker, Jesus, could give them whatever they wanted – certainly the seats next to his throne.
I’ve met Christians like that! Because they’ve made a decision for Christ and they believe they will be blessed by Jesus, they presume that He will give them everything they want – from no mortgage problems to a parking space. Who amongst us hasn’t prayed for something we wanted, believing that because we are Christians we deserve to get it?
Not so in James and John’s case. Look at Jesus’ reply to James and John.
Using images of Baptism and sharing a cup Jesus tells them that, yes, they will get something indeed. It’s just not what they expected. They do not know that Jesus will later pray: “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me”. For it is a cup of suffering
Jesus says they are going to share the same cup – so profoundly described in Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant in our Old Testament lesson (Isaiah 53: 4-12).
This is a significant turn in the conversation between Jesus and these two apostles. Jesus is telling him that he is not a glorious Wonder-worker who promises rewards in heaven – but he is the suffering servant who will “give his life as a ransom for many”.
As suffering servant Jesus identifies with us – for who amongst us hasn’t trod some path of suffering at some time? Who amongst us hasn’t been tempted? Because as suffering servant Jesus identifies with us in our humanity, therefore we can identify with him in the same way.
Not for us “Palms of glory, raiment bright, crowns that never fade away” – but what is put to us in another way in the Epistle today: “Since, then, we have a great High Priest, who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).
Be strong even when it is not easy.
This passage from Hebrews is a link to the meaning of today’s Gospel. Like James and John, the writer begins by exalting Jesus. Let me paraphrase for you: “The Word of God – Jesus – is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”.
At first sight it looks like he is talking about scripture. But the Word of God is Jesus. So he exalts Jesus. Then we come to Hebrews’ recurring theme.
Jesus is our great High Priest! His death as the suffering servant was his triumph over death, and the fulfillment of his identification with us and all humanity. As the writer says: “One who in every respect has been tempted as we are – yet without sin”. Human like us in every way – but also the holy Son of God.
Thus he is both the sacrifice for sin and our great High Priest who offers the sacrifice.
For Christians, service is our response to this wonderful truth of who Jesus is. It means that we will serve both in his world and in his Church for two reasons.
Firstly, so that his name is proclaimed and the Gospel preached – according to the great commission he has left us.
Secondly, so that in this place our great High Priest may present himself to us and the world in the Eucharist – and in doing so build us up as his body in this place.
For me to serve our Lord means celebrating Mass and the other sacraments, spending time in prayer, visiting the sick, preaching the gospel, and running a parish. Yes – even if it is just sitting in my office planning something.
Of course I cannot do it all, and I don’t have that many hours in the week to do it perfectly. So service for all of you means being regular at worship – our great offering of service – and contributing in various ways – altar guild, hospitality and suppers, welcoming, sidesmen, altar flowers, choir…..where do I stop?
There are so many ways – though not all of you have the time, nor the inclination to do these things. But what we all do Sunday by Sunday is come to God’s altar to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice in service.
And so to this week, when we think about stewardship.
Firstly stewardship means being a happy member of All Saints’! This is the great service we all have to give to Christ, for there is nothing more undeserving of Christ than unhappy Christians. And we are a happy church!
Ultimately of course, the focus is on our budget and pledging – because that’s the way all of us can follow Jesus’ call to serve and make a contribution which is both significant and beautiful.
Did Jesus have a typical Episcopal Parish in mind when he challenged his followers to serve? I doubt it! But I can tell you I know of no better way to serve him than to do it here in this wonderful Church of All Saints’, San Diego.