Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Having the Mind of a Servant Jesus

This week's scriptures are Matthew 12:15-21, Romans 12:1-8, and Philippians 2:5-11.

'Be a sacrifice,' 'have the mind of Christ'....all of these are high sounding, noble phrases. So much so that we can lose track of what they are calling us to in some lofty expectation of "perfection" that we know we cannot reach. Then we either give up (often in despair) or-what is perhaps worse-become spiritually arrogant about how good we are.

These scriptures come at the end of a brief sermon series meant to help our congregation explore what our ministry should be in the larger community around us. What are we called to do and be. We started with the story of the Good Samaritan and began asking ourselves to look for the "neighbor beside the road" and to try looking at our community through Christ's eyes.

This Sunday, in a medition and pray type service we will share with each other what we feel God is leading us toward.

In preparation for that I would like to focus on two particular images we find in these scriptures: gentle mercy and servanthood.

The Matthew passage uses a quote from the prophet Isaiah that "the bruised reed he will not break and the smouldering wick he will not snuff out." There are a lot of ways that interpreters have played with these two images, but all of them come down to the idea that Jesus does not do violence to our fragile state. He does not beat us up spiritually or otherwise when we are vulnerable in our shame or our weakness. He sees us as worthy of mercy. If we are to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds" so that we have the "mind of Christ" I believe that it calls for us to be acutely aware of the fragile state of many of the folks we encounter. They don't look fragile at first. They look angry, or violent, or distant and aloof. Jesus looks at them and sees the painful wounds they're trying to protect. Can we learn to do the same?

The next image comes from Philippians. This passage was, most likely, taken from the words of a hymn in the early church. It's theme is the 'servanthood' of Jesus. Now 'servanthood' was a word that got tossed around a lot a few years back (though not so much these days). I sometimes think that two of the reasons it lost popularity was 1) that it got identified with a kind of sickly sweet pious humility (not a pretty picture); and-maybe more important-we (myself included) discovered how difficult a model for living this is!

See it's one thing for me to see myself as a 'servant' to you if you're a clean, upstanding, middleclass person like myself. When 'servanthood' means that I offer you a ride when your car breaks down (that is if I know you and you're not too far out of my way) or some similar 'sacrifice' on my part. I can feel good about engaging in that kind of servanthood.

But what if you're a different ethnic group? An abusive mother? A drunk? A mentally ill person? Or maybe you're just an obnoxious jerk who doesn't think like I do...what then? How am I supposed to be the servant to a wife beating, drug addicted person with PTSD? This is where it gets sticky. Let me make it worse...the best translation of that greek word "doulos" isn't "servant." It's "slave."

Jesus did not pick and chose his servanthood in regard to who he would serve. What I believe he did do was to make himself the servant, the slave, of the Image of God in them. He served what they were created to be. I don't know that trying to follow this example is any easier, but it does give me a way to understand what the goal is without colluding with the worst of behavior. With a drug addict, I can make myself the servant of his/her 'recovering self' and not to his/her addiction.

Nancy told a wonderful story at the Bible study last night that I hope she'll share on Sunday about the difference between 'service' that is what we want to do and being in the service of what the person we're helping has as their goal.

Living out this idea of ministry as a church here in Annapolis won't be easy. It's going to call us to examine our gifts; the needs of the community; and our openness to being led by the Spirit into new and challenging places. Frankly, I'm a little scared...I don't know where it will take us, or how it will change me. But I'm also excited. I hope you are too.

Hope you'll join us Sunday.


Anonymous said...

I was just having some discussion with some friends last night about how hard it is to really sympathize with and prayer for the perpetrator, so to speak. Whenever something bad happens it seems we naturally want to reach out by caring for whomever the obvious victim is and then finding a culprit to blame - even if there really is no one.

I'm curious what your worship service will be like today - sounds like a neat idea!

Anonymous said...

Hi Kara,

You hit upon something that I am struggling with - and in fact something I should talk to Stephen about and having been to much of a wimp to do. Thanks to you and God for the nudge. How very odd, though...

As to the worship service, it was a very reflective and open sharing and something I've rarely experienced in church. The acceptance of silence and the knowledge that others are striving, struggling, and meditating along with you to understand/perceive God's voice...very powerful. Even the hymns were more powerful and meaningful today. We'll see what comes next!

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