First Lutheran Church
October 18, 2015
Who will you serve? Do you got a prickly feeling when asked that question? If so, perhaps it is because it goes so squarely against our grain. So, I will ask it again. Who will you serve? As American human beings, we prize our freedom, accomplishments, autonomy and self-determination. Which is why, if we slow down and take the question seriously, we will recognize how much it grates against our deeply held beliefs and culturally formed sensibilities. Yet perhaps one of the most pernicious illusions of our culture is that we are, indeed, free and autonomous beings who can live independent of all bonds of loyalty, devotion and service. In fact, I shudder to think how much time and energy we expend in service to the idea that we do not have to serve anyone. I chose the phrase in service to quite deliberately.
The assertion that you will always serve something or someone whether you know it or not is at the very heart of today’s passage. It is also very much at the heart of Mark’s Gospel. There is a careful literary structuring of this section of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem which is centered on his three assertions that he is going there to die. It begins in chapter 8 where Jesus heals a blind man at Bethsaida. Then, as Peter confesses that Jesus is the messiah, Jesus the Messiah tells them for the first time that he is going to Jerusalem to suffer and die. Peter, being Peter, doesn’t get it and rebukes Jesus, who, in turn, rebukes him right back.
In chapter 9, Jesus repeats that he will suffer and die in Jerusalem, a pronouncement that terrifies his disciples into silence for awhile. As they ponder what he means they begin arguing with each other about who is the greatest because, again, they don’t get it. Jesus’ words take time to sink in, so he puts before them a child and tells them that leadership and greatness are about welcoming the vulnerable and defenseless.
Now, in chapter 10, Jesus, for the third time, asserts that he is on his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die. And, again, the disciples don’t get it. First, James and John ask for special places of honor and then the rest of the disciples resent their self-interested pushiness. Jesus’ words still have not sunk in and taken hold. So he says as plainly and clearly as possible that to be great is to serve others and that to be first is to be last. Then he heals blind Bartimaeus.
It is interesting how these healings of blindness bracket Jesus’ three pronouncements of his impending death, the disciples’ failure to understand and Jesus ongoing teaching about what constitutes greatness. Mark tells the story this way because he knows that Jesus’ identity, purpose and teaching run contrary to our natural tendency to think about power, leadership and life according to how the world defines those things. He knows that we are blind in that way and need time for it all to sink in. James and John think greatness comes from status and power. Jesus responds by pointing out that there is no escaping service. We will either serve others with joy, or we will become a slave to our illusions that we are free and secure through status, power, wealth, youth, fame or possessions, or whatever.
So I ask again. Who will you serve? Will you serve the voices of human culture that says you can be free on your own and at any cost? Or will you serve the voice of Jesus which calls you to find your freedom and true self through service to your neighbor? God created us to live in relationship because we are made in the image of the triune God. We are made to be in relationship and we discover our wholeness only as we join ourselves to the service of those around us.
Jesus, the Messish, teaches that he gives his life as a ransom for many. Traditionally, the church has taught that this means that, on the cross, Jesus buys us back from evil and gives us back to God. Perhaps he is also buying us back from our delusions that we are somehow self-sufficient. When we look at it that way, his whole life, including his self-sacrificing death, challenges those delusions with the surprising and life-giving revelation that as we lose ourselves in service we find ourselves living more fully than ever before. His is a sacrifice validated in the resurrection and in our own experience of service and love.
So I ask one last time. Who will you serve? God gives you the freedom to answer that question for yourselves. Those who answer that we will serve God and God’s precious people, we will discover the power to serve others as we find ourselves. This is how we give glory to God and build up the Body of Christ. To God be the glory. Amen.