Serving One Another 5/10/15
Isaiah 58, Mark 10:35-45
The Path of Discipleship: Sermon 10
Two Wednesday’s ago, about 7 o’clock in the evening, I was in front of the television when I heard a vehicle stop in front of the school. I knew this because of the loud country music which made its way into our home all the way from the car radio. I assumed the van had stopped because someone was using the crosswalk. Much to my surprise, the driver put the van in park, walked to the back, opened the hatch, took out a garbage bag and threw the garbage bag over the school fence, with this bag landing smack dab in the middle of the play area. He then drove away.
I was shocked. It threw me in such a way that I didn’t know what to do. As he drove away, the simplest thought came seconds late: go get the license plate number. Apparently, the television had made my mind more numb than I realized.
In the next few minutes, a whole wave of thoughts rushed through me. Surely, this must have been a crazy person, so it was probably just trash. But what if it wasn’t? What if he was a mad man? What if there was something harmful in the bag? Should I call the police? Well, I decided on calling our school board representative, and after his assurance that he would come take a look, I tried to get back to normal. But it was such a unique experience in life that it took me about an hour to stop thinking about this bag. Sure enough, when I woke up the next morning, the bag was gone, and the world was still moving. So I moved on as well.
Until this past Wednesday evening, around 7:30pm, I heard music once again from a stopped vehicle. “Oh no”, I thought, as I jumped out of my seat. Sure enough, it was the same man and the same van. And the same man in the same van threw another garbage bag over the school fence.
Gifted with wisdom and experience from the week before, I ran out of the house onto the porch. I raised my voice at the driver. “What are you doing throwing garbage?” “Stop throwing garbage on school property” I was loud enough that my wife came running down the stairs. But the man just drove away. I saw him put his turn signal on and go down Railroad Avenue, and I secretly hoped he wasn’t turning around to come give me a piece of his mind. Though if he was, I was ready.
Well, I called the school board member, who then called our good mayor, who also happens to be in law enforcement. I saw our Mayor pull into the school yard a few minutes later. He proceeded to walk toward the garbage bag, and as I came walking over, he asked “Ken, is this the garbage bag you saw the man throw?”
“Yes”, I replied.
It was several copies of the next day’s edition of the Hunterdon County Democrat newspaper.
Have you ever had one of those moments where a flood of different thoughts and feelings came over you at the same time?
I felt very, very small.
I felt a laugh of relief come over me, and that in God’s great sense of humor, I now had a story that I will repeat in sermons the rest of my earthly days.
I felt the grace that came from our kind Mayor as we chuckled.
I felt stupid at all the anxiety and wasted thought and energy:
Why didn’t I just go over last week and see for myself?
In hindsight, the obvious answer, so simple, had eluded me. I had let it elude me through my reaction.
During Lent and Easter, we are learning about the Path of Discipleship. Focusing on classic expressions of Christian living, we want to move from being tourists to being tour guide leaders as we invite others to follow Jesus Christ. The columns on our map are part of an invitation to take some steps in 2015. Today’s theme is from the Serving column.
Serving is similar to my conclusion from the newspaper incident. The simplest answer is often our next step as Christians. Serving one another, and serving the Lord, is so simple. Why does it elude us? Why do we let it elude us?
In Isaiah 58, we find three waves of if/then logic. The first wave is found in verses 1-9. Isaiah reasons with the nation: If you are doing these things…you shouldn’t, as he then lists several unhealthy behaviors. If you are doing these things, Isaiah reasons, then you should do this. And if you do this, then here is what I will do, the prophet promises on behalf of the Lord God. The second and third waves are a bit simpler, “if you do this, then I will do this”, God covenants through the prophet.
“If you are doing this”
Isaiah, and more importantly, the Lord God, see some problems with the behavior of Israel. If you are doing these things, you are not in a spot of spiritual health.
- If you say you seek God but forsake God’s commands
- If you tell God you’ve done something, but accuse him that he didn’t see it.
- If you acknowledge that you are humble, but that God hasn’t noticed.
- If your fasting is accompanied by quarrelling, strife and fisticuffs
If these things are what you are doing, it is important to ask
“Is this what God wants?”
“Is this too small of a way to live?”
But if you find yourself in this state, you can get out: If you are doing these things, then here is what you should do instead:
- You should loosen the chains of injustice
- You should untie the cords of the heavy yokes people bear
- You should share your food with the hungry
- You should provide poor wanderers with shelter
- You should clothe those who have no clothes
- You should not turn away from family
In the grace of the Lord, if we live righteously, God has said ‘then this will happen’
- Your light will break forth like the dawn
- Your healing will quickly appear
- Your righteousness will go before you
- God’s glory will be your rear guard
- You will call, and God will answer “Here I am”.
Serving God and one another involves doing what is right. If you’ve found yourself trapped, then do what is right, and do what is right before you, and God’s goodness will be with you.
God’s healing will be as beautiful as the light of dawn. God’s road will be a walkway of righteousness that you can follow. God’s glory will be your security and protection. And instead of 58:4, where the prophet teaches, “You cannot fast as you are and expect your voice to be heard on high”, instead of that, you’ll hear God’s yes. You will hear God’s answer and his declaration, “Here am I”.
This first wave speaks to us an essential lesson: Not on your terms. You cannot serve God and others on your terms.
The second wave invites us to leave the yokes of oppression, to stop with the finger pointing and malicious talk. Spend on those who need it, and satisfy those who have been oppressed. If you do these things, then I will do this:
- Your light will rise above the darkness
- Your night will become brighter than noon
- The Lord will always guide you.
- The Lord will satisfy your needs and strengthen your frame
- You will be like a well watered garden, a never ending spring
- You will rebuild the ruins and raise up foundations that have fallen.
What glorious work the Lord does when we say yes to him. This second wave teaches an important lesson: We often know what to do. For example, it isn’t rocket science to stop talking maliciously. Just stop. Stop today. Stop right now. And don’t go back.
The third wave in the chapter beckons us to stop breaking the Sabbath, to stop doing only as we please on the Sabbath. If we honor the Lord first, if we keep his day honorable, if we give honor by not going our own way, doing what we want and speaking idle words. If/then. Then this is what the Lord says he will do:
Then you will find joy in the Lord.
This chapter closes with authority: The mouth of the Lord has spoken. If we have done wrong, but turn and do right, then the Lord has promised to work in delightful, life-giving ways.
The disciples, especially James and John, sons of Thunder, wanted God on their terms: “Teacher, we want you do for us whatever we ask”.
Have you ever engaged in a conversation where the first words spoken immediately tell you ‘this isn’t ending well’. Servants of God would say the opposite of James and John, “Lord we want to do for you whatever you ask”.
Jesus accurately called the disciples on their response. They had no idea what they were asking. When we commit to serving God, we are open to hearing God’s voice, God’s call, God’s way. When we serve one another, that is, care for those who are in our lives, the best and most honorable way we know how, we are open. But when we commit to our agenda, to self in unhealthy ways, we can’t see. We can’t see the simple and clear.
If any of you lack wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt. (James 1:5-6)
The call to serve one another is quite simple. We can hem and haw, we can struggle and resist, we can plan alternative routes to attempt to find what we want. We can waste time and energy and thought. This is what I regretted about the garbage story. I gave my time away, when in hindsight, I should have just gone over and checked the bag out. What a waste!
The call is simple: be like Jesus. “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
Jesus has already done the work of salvation, but not everyone has received the message. Therefore, serve one another in love, so Jesus may be pleased, and the good news might get out, and that Christ’s message of salvation might take root in people’s lives.