From Self to Service
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 10:35–10:45, Hebrews 5:1–5:10
Fifth Sunday in Lent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
“Return from Exile – From Self to Service”
Umbrage is a great word. It’s sort of a synonym for offence or annoyance or displeasure. While it’s not used much anymore, when it is, it’s usually in the context of “taking umbrage:” the offended party feels resentment for something that someone else did or said. When taking umbrage, a person senses that their personal dignity or worth has somehow been slighted or put off.
Umbrage. While the word itself might sound out-of-date, the concept behind it surely isn’t. If you look on social media in our country – or most media, really – it’s almost as if taking umbrage has become our national pastime. Our fellow human beings are offending and being offended all over the place. Sometimes that umbrage is clearly defined, while others might leave you scratching your head as to its cause. But before we jump down the rabbit-hole of how easily other people might be feeling slighted these days, let’s look ourselves in the mirror.
Are you the most important person you know? If you know anyone else, then your answer should be “no.” So why is it that it’s so easy to take umbrage?
Let’s look to Jesus’ disciples and see how they do.
In Mark 10, you heard two of Jesus’ closest disciples come to him with their request to sit at the places of honor and authority in his coming kingdom. To better understand what’s going on here, let’s step back a bit and look at the bigger picture. Set aside for the moment the fact that they ask Jesus to grant them whatever request their about to put before him, sight unseen. As Mark records it, this incident takes place as Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem with his disciples following behind. Jesus knows what waits for him there. The disciples? Not so much. They still don’t get it. In the verses immediately preceding our reading today, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for the third time! What are they thinking?
Jesus’ disciples apparently had some assumptions in their heads that they simply couldn’t shake. They expected that Jesus was going up to Jerusalem as a political messiah, to shake things up and be the new man in charge. And if James and John are any indication, they wanted to be in on that action! It’s not that these brothers or the other disciples were ignorant – Jesus had repeatedly told them that he was going to die – it’s more a matter of their own view of how things should be, their assumptions about God’s kingdom, keeping them from hearing their beloved Teacher. So when James and John bring their demand to Jesus, do you think that the other disciples take umbrage that the brothers sought places of rank and importance when Jesus comes into his glory? Were they offended at the selfish nature of this request?
No. They were bothered because they didn’t think to do it first!
You and I aren’t so different. When you see someone doing better than you’re doing, getting what you want when you don’t, how easy is it to take umbrage? Aren’t you entitled to the same level of treatment? Or if someone slights you and offends your dignity, don’t you have the right to take umbrage there, too, and set them straight? It’s easy enough to get caught up in yourself and your own importance, focusing on self and missing out on the bigger picture. If you’re looking out for your own interests, the stuff that affects you most directly, it’s tougher to see and respond to the needs of your neighbor. Self-centeredness is an exile. You’re separating yourself from the people around you and turning away from God.
Jesus came to bring you back, to return you from exile.
That’s why he was going up to Jerusalem that day with his disciples. Jesus wasn’t going to be the political messiah they seemed to be expecting, overturning the government or the leaders of temple system and installing himself as the authority. He was going to overturn their assumptions and our assumptions. In Jesus’ model, God’s kingdom that was breaking into the world through him, the great ones serve. They’re not self-centered but selfless. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (v. 45)
The cup that Jesus would drink is the whole of God’s wrath against a selfish, self-centered humanity. He alone could drink it. The baptism with which he would be baptized is his suffering in our place as the innocent Lamb of God, giving his body and his blood for all people: his disciples, us today, everyone. As you heard in our reading today from Hebrews 5, Jesus, the Lamb, is also the high priest. He is the one to stand before God as the representative of the people. And yet he is also the sacrifice, giving the gift of himself for all. Jesus gave himself in selfless service.
St. Patrick knew something about selfless service. You might have celebrated his feast day this weekend, but do you know his story? He was born in Britain back in the fifth century. When he was sixteen years old, Irish pirates captured him and carried him away to Ireland as a slave. For six years, he served as a shepherd, then escaped, managing to get on a boat back to his homeland. Patrick became a priest, and, acting on what he saw to be God’s calling, returned to Ireland as a missionary. Through Patrick, God worked to convert the people of Ireland, turning them to follow Jesus, who came to give his life as a ransom for them, too. It takes something special, I think, to go and be a missionary in places and cultures that are far from your own. The LCMS missionaries who are with us this weekend are going to serve people who have had to leave their homeland, people who Jesus came to serve. But you and I are missionaries, too.
Our congregation has for a few years now been especially mindful of what it means to be following Jesus, joining him on his mission as everyday missionaries. One of the questions that we’ve used to consider what that looks like is, “What good can we do around here?” We ask this question because we’re looking to serve our neighbor as Jesus has served us. We go out to serve others in Jesus’ name.
God has prepared opportunities in each day for you and me to do good to and for our neighbor. Those opportunities are out there whether you’re age nine or age ninety. Sometimes, that good will be done with financial gifts, supporting workers in the church who serve in the ministry of the gospel. But do not neglect opportunities for hands-on service, helping the neighbor in need with the skills and abilities God has given you. Serve with your hands in helping someone clean up a yard or a home. Serve with your ears in listening to the person who needs it. Serve with your mouth in speaking the word of peace that comes from Jesus.
Service isn’t supposed to be a burden; it’s a gift that you give – or, more accurately, one which God gives through you as His agent. There’s a part of one of our liturgies that has long struck me the wrong way… just a little bit. In the sending at the close of the service, you’ll often hear the liturgist say “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” It’s kind of stark. For me, that line comes across in a dissonant way, finishing our time with God in the Law instead of the Gospel. In our Lenten midweek services, though, the service closes with a slightly different phrasing of the sending, but one that I think makes a world of difference: “Go in peace as you serve the Lord.” Peace and service are connected.
“But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” You serve the Lord as you serve the people who He has put before you. He doesn’t need to you serve Him; instead, He wants His people to share the grace He’s given. In the kingdom Jesus brings – the kingdom of which you are a part – greatness is lived out in service. As you serve others, you’re delivering peace that Christ delivers to your neighbor through you.
Today, God is at work to turn you from self to service. God is at work to bring you home from the exile of selfishness. God is at work to bless the world through you.
Go in peace as you serve the Lord!
More in Lent & Holy Week 2018: Return from Exile
April 1, 2018Welcome Home!
March 30, 2018Sin-Bearer to Sin-Bearer: The Day of Atonement to the Atonement
March 29, 2018Meal to Meal: The Passover to the Lord's Supper