Tuesday, March 24, 2009


This week's scriptures are Mark 9:30-41 and Philippians 2:1-11.

I have to start by thanking Susan Foutz again for writing last week's blog. Her comments about the questions that we ask have been turning over and over in my mind as I've been looking at the scriptures for this week.

Talking about "servanthood" is one of those things that used to be very popular. Robert Greenleaf's book on Servant Leadership and Max Dupree's Leadership Is An Art were two of the books that fueled much of the conversation, conferences, and workshops that were held for both church leaders and and business ones. Then the focus moved on. Being "effective" and having good "time management skills" became the new buzzwords.

But scripture hasn't changed. And scripture's focus on servanthood was always a little different from that of the folks above (which is not to take away from Greenleaf or Dupree's contributions to moving management into a more positive direction). And this is where it gets hard. Because 'servant management' is a lot easier to define than the kind of servanthood that Jesus calls us to and Paul writes about.

Phrases like "whoever recieves one such child in my name recieves me" and "Christ emptied himself and took the form of a servant" raise some of the most troubling questions.

Jesus' culture didn't have the same attitude toward children that ours does...or maybe it did, and our culture just masks it better. In the eyes of the culture surrounding Jesus, children had no social value. They were worthless. Jesus' use of a child to make his point to the disciples was one more example of demonstrating that the Kingdom of God had come for those at the margins, those outside the gate, those who didn't matter to anyone else. It was a shocking, 'slap in the face' moment for the disciples. Put this next to Jesus' statement that "unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" and you have a call to radical care for the marginalized.

We don't have to look very far in our world to see that the attitude toward children hasn't changed much. We don't have to go to other countries to find starving children, sick children without medical care, or children suffering from grinding poverty. If I hear one more person say "children are our future" I think I will be ill. How come one of the major illegal trades in our world now is human trafficking...and much of that in children? How come our country (and others) still have not acted in Darfur? Is it because we do not see these people as having "value" to us because their oppression does not affect us financially or in some other direct way? I do not ask these questions just of others-but of myself as well.

And then there is the issue of what it means to be a servant in the first place. How can I be a servant to the drunk driver who kills a family on the road? The pedophile who trades child porn on line? The corrupt executive who walks away with a "golden parachute" while investors and employees without such safety nets go broke?

Jesus didn't just call us to be servants to 'nice folks' who're like us. But what does it mean? And what does it look like? And why does it call for such powerful transformation in the way we look at and live in our world?

I'm struggling hard with these questions. I hope to have some partial answers by Sunday. I also hope you'll write your responses and comments here on the blog page to help frame that conversation.

Hope to see you on Sunday.

1 comment:

Jeremy said...

One of my big issues related servanthood is in one of its implications or meanings - love for the receiver or object (i.e. in Stephen's example, this could be children or felons - what a range!) This creates *just a bit* of dissonance for me between

1. acceptance and love through serving

2. the need (?) for some sort of accountability here in order to learn/grow

For an example of #2, I guess I would point to the necessity of pain in our lives for learning (at least for our physical safety, if not our personal growth).

I suppose that, in knowing we will likely never achieve the perfection of this idea in this life, there will always be enough people who exclude, punish, and call others to the carpet.

Hmm...not sure if I'm being clear or not. It's kind of early in the morning. Let me know if I need to explain a bit more.