A Life of Service
by Jim from B.C.
Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, where I studied for three years preparing for pastoral ministry, was old stone on the outside and old oak on the inside. Inside the entrance to the dining hall were three long coat racks, big oak free-standing things, and at lunch hour one Sunday, as I was eating in the dining hall, at a table near the entrance, a family with young children came in, hung up their coats, and went toward the buffet line all except for one of the children who was slow in hanging up his coat. Suddenly I heard a noise, and looked up, and here the boy had
accidentally pulled one of the coat racks down on himself. While the others at my table were still sitting and watching, I was already running over to the boy to lift the heavy coat rack off him. Fortunately, he got only a small bruise.
Afterwards I asked myself: Why had I reacted almost instantaneously, while the others were still sitting there? Motivations are difficult to uncover, and I didn't think deeply about it then; but now I believe I did that so spontaneously because I was viewing myself (now that I was at the seminary) as God's servant, as a helper of people. It had become, already then, a part of my identity. If you're a servant, you serve, right?
Coincidentally, it was about that time when the American media were abuzz about an incident in New York city, where a helpless woman was brutally attacked and beaten by a man, one evening, out on the street, under a street-lamp, while 22 people were looking on, out of their windows in the surrounding housing development. But none of them did anything to intervene. They just watched. When it was over, one of them called the ambulance. Evidently nobody wanted to get involved.
That incident is an illustration of how much courage it takes to get involved, and to sacrifice, or even risk, something of yourself for somebody else.
A week or so ago I read a review of a book by an American university professor called "The Mystery of Courage". Using true stories, the author explores the question of why some soldiers fought courageously and others didn't; why some medics ran out onto the battlefield with bullets whizzing around in order to help the wounded and others did not; and why some people knowingly and purposefully sacrificed themselves, risking great loss, and others were mercenary, or glory-seeking or had a death-wish, or whatever.
Motivation is such a hard thing to pin down. It's very complex. We're often not consciously aware even of our OWN motivation for doing things.
So what I want you to think about this morning very difficult: "Why do you serve?" ("Why do you serve?")
There are cases, of course, where the motivation for service seems obvious, such as: if a teenager dotes on his elderly aunt, and says, "I'm hoping she'll leave me something in her will."
Or the people on the street who give money to intoxicated panhandlers, and realize they're doing it not out of generosity but out of a sense of guilt.
We often attribute to people the worst motivations, especially politicians! And only God knows how many politicians are in office not for love of country or to serve fellow citizens, but for some other reason: perhaps their own glory, or public recognition, or a sizable pension.
Indeed, it's impossible to judge motives, because only God can see what's in each person's heart. So we ought to leave the judging to God. "Judge not," Jesus said, "that you may not be judged." How can you see clearly to take the sliver out of your neighbor's eye when there's a log in your own?
Sometimes, however, motivations are clear. Such as in today's Gospel Lesson. The motive of the disciples is clearly revealed in their request of Jesus. James and John said: "Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory." The motives of the other ten were also revealed by their reaction of anger. Evidently they were angry at James and John for seeking an advantage over them, and they felt they were deserving of just as much glory and
honor, and a position next to the Messiah as well.
This is an example of how people are so competitive that even service to God or other people can turn into a competition.
I remember when I was attending Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana: every year there was a competition between Indiana colleges over which college would donate the most pints of blood per capita to the blood bank. Our college always won, but I think that some students donated blood so often BECAUSE OF THE COMPETITION, to beat the other colleges, and not so much out of humanitarian concern for people who need blood.
But, who am I to judge?
The thing we learn from today's Gospel Lesson is that the disciples were all gung-ho, eager to sacrifice themselves and be "baptized" (quote-unquote) with the "baptism" Jesus was going to be baptized with (not knowing what it was); but their motivation here was glory-seeking. They didn't understand what Jesus was talking about when he said: "Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all." And they ESPECIALLY did not understand when Jesus said: "For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many."
It was not until after Jesus died and was raised, and after the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost, that the disciples understood these words, and realized that Jesus had sacrificed his life for them on the cross, and that they were saved, they were God's people now, in a far more important way than being Jewish. They realized that now they didn't have to seek glory, they already HAD it. They didn't have to seek security, they already had eternal life. They could give themselves away in service, because through Christ they were ultimately free from all harm, even safe through death.
After this Gospel story was complete (after Jesus died and rose and ascended), this became the disciples' new motivation. Out of the joy and the freedom and
HONOR of being saved, out of their resultant humility and thanksgiving for the salvation Jesus won for them, they ended up sacrificing their lives for Christ, freely, in the service of God. Most of you know that all of them ended up being martyred, except for John, who died in exile on the island of Patmos, sent there by Caesar.
It's still true today, that for us to grow in Christian maturity and service to others, we need to grow in this faith I've been talking about. It must become our primary motivation. We need to have that fact of WHO WE REALLY ARE sink into our conscious and unconscious: that is, that we are ransomed, redeemed, set free, joined to Christ in resurrection, God's children forever. And from THIS knowledge, and THIS faith, we will have courage even against death.
In this way, sacrifice and service become second nature. Servanthood in a sense becomes our identity. It's identical with being a Christian.
Not to say our motives will ever be pure. They'll always be mixed, always tainted with selfishness and vanity and glory-seeking and who know what base motives. It shall be so until the day we die. You and I may be a new creation in Christ, but we still have the old Adam in us, the old Eve. The important thing is that we are in the process, that we becoming, growing, that the motivation in us is increasing, toward ever more love and service.
As we worship and study and have fellowship with the communion of saints, and as we experience God's love each day, we will learn to trust more and more in Christ's sacrifice for us and his
marvelous work on earth that gained heaven for us; and it will become clearer to us that we have everything we need, both now and in eternity. We will become more and more sure that we are ransomed, redeemed and adopted by Christ.
From this stance, from this position, from this motivation, service comes naturally. As our offertory prayer says, "We joyfully release what has been entrusted to us." We serve from our abundance. We give from our tremendous storehouse of talents and treasures, because they came from God in the first place.
This is the answer to the question, "Why do I serve?" Because a servant of Christ is who I am. A servant is also who you are.
So let us, together, live a life of service. Amen.