Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Wandering about Servanthood"
(Lenten series #1 - Servanthood as Identity)

Message preached February 25, 2007
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Deuteronomy 26:1-11 and Romans 10:5-13

Order of Worship

            No, I didnít misspell the first word in the title of my sermon, as you may have "wondered" at first glance. I do hope, though, that we will do some "wondering" as we "wander" about this word "servanthood." At least thatís my plan, for better or worse. Interested?

            "Service" is a key ingredient in the make-up of Brethren. One might say that our emphasis upon it, as a denomination, has been our contribution to the wider church. I donít mean to imply that other Christians are lesser servants; that they do not value service as much as we do. Servanthood spans denominational divisions. It has been easier to agree, as Christians, on how we "do the Word," as James put it, than upon how we "hear the Word." Disasters, natural or human, tend to unite Christians in our response.

            Thatís true not only of the wider church of Jesus Christ, but also true of our own particular denomination, as well as every congregation within it. Our best, as Brethren, comes out when we do the Word. We have influence far beyond our small numbers. Let me forsake a litany of our accomplishments. Suffice it to say they are many, and there is always room for more.

            Unfortunately, we tread on slippery ground when moving beyond "doing." Thereís a great deal upon which we just plain donít agree. Because of this, we tend to fall back upon the doing of the Word to discover our unity. I think that is an appropriate and a natural step.

            However, in doing service we cannot run away from what it means to be a servant. Itís not just "service" that is a key ingredient in the make-up of Brethren. It is "servanthood." If you wish, you may insert "Christian," in the place of "Brethren," for this applies to all who would follow Jesus Christ. "Servanthood" is central. It is not just what we do, it is who we are. It is our identity. We are Servants of the Lord.

            To be a servant is not, first of all, an action. Servanthood is an orientation. Back when I was a Boy Scout, I learned how to use a compass in finding my way from one place to another. The metallic rod within my compass would always point to magnetic north. Using a map, I could then orient myself to where I was, based on this magnetic north, and proceed accordingly. I have internalized this learning to the point where I can generally tell where north is, without a compass, and find my way. Itís hard to get me lost.

            When our children were small, our family once left the Washington Zoo to go on to my motherís home in Virginia. Forsaking the major roads, I decided to make a B-line through our nationís capital to where I wanted to go. Anyone who has ever driven there knows that the District of Columbia was laid out to prevent such moves. Going half by an un-detailed map, and half by my sense of direction, I finally got there.

            Servanthood is an orientation before it is an action. Much depends upon what we orient ourselves to. A compass can be thrown out of whack if exposed to a magnetic attraction stronger than magnetic north. In such a situation, one can get terribly lost. The map doesnít make sense. What we orient ourselves to is significant.

            The long-standing argument within the church over the issue of homosexuality is a case in point. We have become lost in this "discussion-less" discussion because our internal compass is out of whack. We do not, as Christians, orient ourselves according to our sexuality, whether we are straight or gay. Sexuality cannot be ignored, but neither should we let this so-called sexual "orientation" be our magnetic north, so to speak. People on both sides of the issue have made that mistake.

            First and foremost, we are servants of the Lord. That is, our identity is in orientation to Jesus Christ. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved," wrote the apostle Paul. "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:13,9) Those are words of orientation. That is what we mean when we say "Jesus is Lord," a key phrase in the New Testament. He is our magnetic north. When we orient ourselves to him, the map begins to make sense. Discipleship is the process of internalizing this orientation, such that we have a sense of where we are, even when the terrain is unfamiliar.

            Within our denomination, there has been a decades long debate over our name, Church of the Brethren, a title that helps determine our identity. Some have felt that "Brethren" excludes women. They may be right. Then again, there is much to say positively about the word "Brethren." After all, we are named not for our founder (as Lutherans and Mennonites), or for our organizational style (as Presbyterians, Methodists, or Congregationalists), but for our inter-relationships. We are sisters and brothers of one another.

            However, this is not a matter of genealogy (though the Brethren love to make such connections). The heritage we have received from our elders, passed down from one generation to the next, is very important. However, the only blood that makes any real difference in the matter is the blood of the lamb of God. If anything, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, not just plain "brethren."

            Thereís an interesting confession of faith found in the 26th chapter of Deuteronomy. Itís couched in an offering setting. When a person brought their tithe to the altar, they were to make a confession of faith. This particular creed begins with the words: "A wandering Aramean was my ancestor." Now you know where I got the "wandering" part of this chapterís title. The confession is like a mini-history lesson, describing how the children of Israel managed to become slaves in Egypt, and how God then brought them out to the promised land. The key orientation phrase in this confession of faith, however, is not the "wandering Aramean ancestor."

            In this scripture, the magnetic north, so to speak, is found where it says, "we cried to the Lord" ... and the Lord heard, saw, and delivered us (vs. 7-8)... "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved." Whether from Deuteronomy or Romans, these are words of orientation to be remembered by those of us who are reluctant to stop and ask for directions when weíve lost our way, even those (like myself) who place great trust in their internal compass.

            This is an appropriate text from which to dive into "Servanthood." At its center is the experience of slavery. In Egypt, the children of Israel were forced into bondage. They were coerced into servanthood, if you will. They had no choice in the matter. In response to their cry, God brought them out of Egypt. He set them free, but thatís not where the story ends - for freedom is not an end by itself. God brought them to a place where they could freely choose servanthood, where their choice could answer Godís in choosing them. As Bob Dylan once wrote, "you gotta serve somebody."

            Within the Exodus story is the experience of Passover, remembered every year up to the present. The passover was not the journey through the parted sea, though that is an important element of the story. It was the blood of a sacrificial lamb painted on the doorpost of each home in which the children of Israel dwelt, that saved them from the death of their firstborn - the cutting off of their future. In Egyptian households, however, the firstborn were not spared - the angel of death did not "pass over." Because of this, Pharaoh gave up his coercive hold on Godís people, and they were set free. Passover is about freedom from death, from slavery. But itís also about freedom to choose servanthood.

            Many years later - after their escape from Egypt and their 40 year trek through the wilderness, after they had entered into a new land, a place God had promised, these former slaves, who had been set free by the blood of a lamb - these Passover people were asked to make a choice. The leader this time was a fellow named Joshua, who gathered everyone together and recited the story of that wandering Aramean and his descendants. Then he pointedly asked them to "choose this day whom you will serve." Placing his own life and that of his family on the table he added, "as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:15) And that generation of Passover people responded, "The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey." (Joshua 24:24)

            Our celebration of Easter, we believe, is connected to Passover. Jesus takes on the role of the sacrificial lamb - his blood, so to speak, painted on the doorposts of our hearts. Because of this, we have a future. Through Jesus Christ, God sets us free from death, from slavery. "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved," wrote the apostle Paul, echoing the prophet Joel (Joel 2:32). Easter is about such freedom, freedom for everyone - and not some genealogically determined group, or other "holy huddle." Easter is also about freedom to choose servanthood. "You gotta serve somebody," Dylan wrote. "Why not serve the Lord?"

            Yes, service is a key ingredient in our make-up as Brethren, as Christians. In coming weeks, as we wander through the season of Lent, weíll explore further what servanthood means, with the emphasis not so much upon the "doing," as upon the "being." Yes, we serve, we "do" service projects. More important, however, is the fact that we "are" servants of the Lord. Thatís our identity. Thatís how we "compass" our path through life. We orient ourselves to Christ, even as we wander about servanthood.

            Turn now to #545 in your hymnal (or follow the words on the screen), and letís sing a hymn that orients us to our true "magnetic north" as followers of Jesus. The words and tune are ancient, taking us back to the days of St. Patrick and the birth of the Christian movement in Ireland. As you sing, note how "the strong images of each phrase peel away layers of distraction until only God is left to become our vision, our thought, our wisdom, our protection and dignity, our inheritance and treasure. God becomes our very heart." (Hymnal Companion, ed. Lani Wright, Brethren Press, ©1996, p. 31)


(para traducir a espaŮol, presione la bandera de EspaŮa)

 

©2007 (revision of ©1995) Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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