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Rewards of Servanthood
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Mark 10:35-45

Have you parents ever had this kind of experience? Your little wonders approach you with cautious optimism (after all, you’re the parent with the track record of the most "yes’s"). Then, once the target victim is identified, you are isolated. Shrewd parents know by the tone of their voices what’s coming next. Instead of the usual nasal, whiney sound that turns a simple word like mom into four syllables, they turn on the sweetest melody this side of heaven. The actual content usually includes a litany of what they’ve accomplished in the past twenty minutes. "I’ve . . . made the bed, picked up dirty socks, cleared off the table, cleaned the toilets and living room, swept, stripped, mopped, and waxed the floor . . ." Can you hear it? Now numbed into generosity, you are disarmed and vulnerable: "Can I spend the weekend with my friend’s family in Daytona Beach to watch the Nascar Race? Pleeeeeease?"

James and John saunter up to Jesus with this daring, bold request: "we want you to do for us whatever we ask." As you become acquainted with Mark’s gospel you get the idea that this is the topic of choice among the Twelve. Ever wonder where their audacity came from? How could they be so confident that Jesus would give them a blank check response? Maybe they had heard Jesus’ inspiring teaching on faith and decided to try it out. Someone once remarked to me that faith could get them anything. You might want to call that Beemer faith. Well, truth be known I’ve got Dodge Reliant faith-coughing and sputtering after 140,000 miles of faith. Whatever it was that made them so ridiculously confident, James and John remind us how quickly power can turn even the best of us into little power-grabbing people.

Another thing. Why did the other ten get so uptight with J and J’s request? I’d like to think that they exhibited righteous indignation, an outburst against injustice. But truth of the matter is that they were angry because they wanted to be VP’s too, but just didn’t think of it first-or use their "faith."

Do you get the impression that these guys needed to get a life? They just didn’t get it. Look at all the times that Jesus gives them the wake up call. They had heard Jesus rebuke Peter for wanting to avoid suffering. They heard Jesus wheel around and call Peter a "satan." They had heard Jesus then raise his voice to all within earshot of them and tell everyone to take up their personal cross and give away their life it they truly wanted to follow him. And at least three times along their journey to Jerusalem, Jesus pulls them aside and whispers that when they arrive in Jerusalem that will be the end of the trail. Jesus will be humiliated, beaten to a pulp, killed, but will some how manage to come back to life. Does that sink into James and John. Mark’s story seems to say no. In their imagination, they’re probably already sitting on sofas in the palace next to their Leader munching pizza and watching Survivor reruns. The way they figure, Jesus will emerge as Christus Victor and they will end up as his top two leaders.

But did you notice Jesus’ response to their bold request for position? He says, "You do not know what you’re asking." Isn’t that the truth! James and John really don’t know what they’re asking-or they wouldn’t have hatched up such a request. Who really ends up on Jesus’ right and left hand? Two thugs. One spits curses at Jesus until his dying breath and the other repents. And Jesus will be enthroned as king all right, but his throne will be a cross and his crown, a wreath of thorns. So we can be reasonably certain that James and John are out in left field on this one.

Power-grabbing and servant ministry just don’t mix! Instead of trotting onto the field behind their coach to play a bone-crunching, brutal football game, James and John more resemble two guys prancing on to the field swinging ping pong paddles. Something is definitely incongruous here.

Jesus’ answer moves them-and us-away from an unconditional yes to an unconditional motivation to serve. But it’s hard to get worked up about being a servant. Especially when the message on the billboards of American culture reads, "Have it your way," "Look out for number one," Do yourself a favor," "You owe it to yourself," "You deserve a break today." But Jesus says, "This must not be so among you." The Good News of the Gospel has a new message for the billboards of America: "Whoever wants to become great must be your servant."

In a recent interview with Bill Marriott-founder of Marriott Hotels, food services, and other industries, Bill was asked, "How do you understand service? He replied, "You have to live service. It is total commitment. We can’t hide behind a desk somewhere, we must get out and set an example for the rest of the organization." Bill Marriott doesn’t have time to sit on the right hand or left in luxury-yet. He’s too busy living servanthood among his employees. If you carried Bill’s bags last year, here’s where you would have gone: to 100 of the Marriott hotels, 50 of their restaurants, 30 of the Marriott In-Flite kitchens that do airline catering. And at every stop you’d see Bill speak with every single employee, shake every hand. He calls his type of leadership the "gospel of service." What do we call our gospel?

Meet Giesela. He lives in Pezcil, Hungary. Four of the members of the Christian band that I once traveled with stayed in his home for several weeks. The house was small and unadorned; they had little food, but their lack did not keep them from opening their heart and home to us. Though we insisted, they would never eat until we had finished-to make sure that their guests were filled first. And long after we went to bed they would find an open space on the floor. They weren’t mindless slaves, but true servants.

Meet another friend of mine. He’s nameless, a weather-beaten farmer in another country we ministered in. When asked by one of our vocalists if she might have an egg for breakfast, something got lost in the gesticulations. While she was getting ready she heard this terrific squawking in the barnyard; here is this farmer chasing a duck with his axe! Well, when she finally sat down for breakfast, she noticed that instead of the usual cheese and bread, she was served fresh duck. He apparently thought that she had requested duck for breakfast. "These Americans, they have funny eating habits," he’s probably still thinking. So she sits there and eats duck for breakfast, mostly out of deep humility and gratitude. But I want you to see into the heart of this farmer, this servant, the deep motivation to honor and cherish his guests, to go beyond the call of duty, to serve others more than himself. Bill Marriott would be proud of him.

Follow me down an airport terminal-can’t miss her. She’s wearing baggy pants, has a suitcase in one hand and a mosquito net in the other. She’s going on a servant’s idea of a vacation-three weeks of working in the refugee camps in Africa. Must be a teenager; they’re up for that sort of thing. The rest of us sit back and give them the bucks to do our work. She calls herself a VIM-Volunteer in Mission; we call her our Bishop. "As I look at a very broken world, I believe the church must embrace the servant role or it will not survive." So off she goes-a 50 something lady-to make a difference in the world through service.

So this morning Jesus’ response will look and sound differently. But at the core is an attitude that desires to serve rather than to be served. So next time, instead of asking the James and John question, consider this: Jesus calls us to serve rather than be served, to follow last rather than to be at the front of the line. More often than not, we will be overlooked, passed up, behind the scenes, and virtually unknown. But our reward will not come from without, but from within. Not from people, but from the satisfaction that God gives us.  Amen