Sustaining Service

I have been exploring in recent posts the central metaphor for discipleship – that of being on the road with Jesus. Jesus invites us to join him on the road. The road leads to Jerusalem. The Evangelist Mark records a series of events involving Jesus as he travels towards Jerusalem. Through the chronology of events Mark shows Jesus gradually revealing to those who are with him what being in discipleship means.  As in today’s section Mark 10:35-45 we once again see how the disciples continually remain imprisoned within the limitations of only what they are able to imagine. Their imaginations, like ours, have been shaped and remain encapsulated within very conventional ways of looking at the world. As I mentioned last week, the impact of Jesus’ teaching about the meaning of being a disciple has the potential to shake us to the core and break open our encapsulated world views like the proverbial martini – vigorously shaken and not just stirred. The road to Jerusalem is a metaphor functioning at two levels of perception. Jerusalem is both a place-name on a map and a symbol of the destination of our own road of discipleship. This is the destination for our own internal dying to the old in us and rising to the promise of the new.

Last week we passed the road sign TIME TO EXAMINE YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MONEY. Approaching this signpost we become uneasy, fearful of an implicit demand. We are unsure we will have the courage to meet this demand. Here we enter a less familiar stretch of the road. Here in order to pass-on we have to face-up to the most difficult realization of what being in discipleship means. It means accepting that being on the road requires us to relinquish our illusion that the money we earn is  ours to control. For it’s difficult to face the implication that if we long to open our hearts publicly, we cannot continue to keep the open or closed state of our wallets as a private matter between us and God. 

Having passed through this section of the road we may be somewhat relieved today to find that the next section of the road is better paved and the route more familiar to us. It is with relief that we approach the next sign post that reads: WELCOME GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS.

Yesterday, at the Diocesan Convention, Trinity Cathedral was recognized as a center for Jubilee Ministry. Trinity Cathedral has become designated by the Episcopal Church as a center for Jubilee Ministry. The concept of Jubilee Ministry is taken from Isaiah’s proclamation of the year of Jubilee – the seventh year when all social injustices will be righted. This is God’s call to his people to build societies based on divine principles of social justice. In this morning’s Gospel Jesus echoes an important element of Jubilee when he tells us that we are not to abuse one another through the exercise of power. Among us, he or she who wants to be first must become the servant on all.

While Episcopalians may have a low threshold for pain in the area of giving till it hurts, in the area of service they show a remarkable pain tolerance. Here at Trinity Cathedral we know about service. As was duly recognized yesterday at Convention,   we give of ourselves unstintingly in the service of others. The proof of this can be seen in the summary of ministry achievements for 2012, which you will all receive as part of your Annual Renewal Packs this morning.

So does this mean that we have met the challenge of Jesus’ teaching on servanthood and passed with flying colors? I think not! For while the product of our service is second to none, one question remains. What is the motivation for and the spiritual fruit of our service?

Much of our motivation for service seems to me to be continually outwardly focused. We long to make a difference in the world and we give of our energies to make the world a better place. Does this mean that we are good people only doing what good people should do? I suspect many of us operate from this motivation. Again while the product of our labors is beneficial, so much of our service could be seen as just another expression for our self-assertion – which is always an expression of our power. Service becomes our equivalent of following the commandements. The rich man in last Sunday’s Gospel followed the commandments as an expression of his self-assertion, his self-sufficiency, his being well and truly in control of his relationship with God. All of this masqueraded as spiritual faithfulness, and deep down he knew it, because he felt the promise of eternal life continued to evade him.

In our world, commitment to social justice, the imperative of the Year of Jubilee, is not a characteristic confined to Christians alone. Many non-believers hold Jubilee values with passion as an expression of Humanitarianism. I am not troubled by Humanitarianism. I welcome and applaud it. The rise of Humanitarianism, a product of the Enlightenment, has made our world an infinitely better place. The question I am asking is, is there a difference between being a disciple of Christ and being a good person, doing what good people do? For me there is a difference. The difference is not discernible in the product of our service but it is discernible in the motivation for, and the spiritual fruits of, our service.

The difference between a Christian and a Humanitarian approach to service lies in the direction of the motivation. For the Christian, it’s not enough to have the outward focused motivation of wanting to make the world a better place. For the Christian service is our response to God’s invitation to come into the intimacy of relationship. We are motivated to make the world better because we are in the process of growing more deeply in love with God. Growing in love with God through being in discipleship with Christ, is our motivation for service and produces the spiritual fruit that is the hallmark of our discipleship.

Anglican openness to a dialogue with culture has its dangers. We have become much influenced by the humanitarianism of the age.  As Episcopalians we no longer expect to see God active in the world. The world is no longer enchanted, a term coined by Charles Taylor. By this he means a world full of a magical sense of God in all things. Our world has become as Taylor terms it, disenchanted. God seems far off. God is the prime mover who has set up the clockwork of the universe to now run itself. Our job has become that of good servants of the machine oiling and cleaning and repairing so to maintain its efficiency.

Lives of service will always be missing something when the service is not motivated by a deep love of Christ and an expectation of being in relationship with Christ. In such a relationship we expect to encounter God intimately in our day-to-day living. In such a relationship we expect to not only notice God, but be noticed, by God! This personal component of intimacy with Christ, in which we feel a love for Christ and expect to be loved in return, is the engine of our service. It is also the spiritual fruit, the promise of eternal life, for which perpetually seek and for which our hearts are continually in restless search.

I discern that there are two kinds of need in our congregation. I see traditional church people, committed to lives of service and outreach. They are the backbone of this congregation. Their need is to enter into the intimacy of relationship with Christ and let this become the driver for their  service in the world. I encourage them to expect to see God and to see themselves no longer as merely faithful servants, good persons doing what good people do. They are called into the being-ness of discipleship that takes them beyond being merely useful to God. They are nothing less than courageous disciples of Christ, beloved of God and accompanying Christ on the road.

I see others here who have little experience of being good servants in any traditional sense. They are newer arrivals to this Cathedral, drawn here by a force that defies rational explanation. They are here because they know they can be no-where else. They sense here in the depth of the liturgy, God’s conversation with them, mediated through Lectionary and Sermon. They know they are being personally addressed. They know the pull of the longing to open your heart to God. For them, the need is to move beyond a solitary search and to enter on the road in the company of others. For them it is through community dedicated to service that they will find themselves to be already on the road with Christ.

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