Mark 10:32-52 (NRSV)
32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34 they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.”
35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” 39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. 42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.
“. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” Jesus said this to the disciples after two of them, James and John, had asked to sit at his right and left hand when he came into power. You see, they still didn’t quite understand the whole “my kingdom isn’t of this world” thing, yet. They still thought that Jesus was destined to be some sort of king or other powerful ruler, with a throne and armies of people serving him. They wanted to be his 1st and 2nd officers. They also didn’t quite get what he meant when he asked if they would be willing to drink from the same cup he did. “Of course!” they said, not realizing that it was a cup of pain and death he was talking about, not fine wine. Jesus knew that it was going to be really hard for his disciples to wrap their minds around this entirely different model of leadership than they were used to. He kept trying to help them understand, but it will take more than a few stories. He will literally spend the rest of his life teaching this concept - that the leaders must serve their people, not the other way around. We’re still trying to get it right.
Don’t get me wrong. We do service pretty well. Churches and schools engage in service projects and programs to help their communities. Students who are considering college will start doing community service as early as junior high so their resume will impress admissions officers, because colleges and universities want “servant leaders”. Most clubs and other organizations have adopted particular projects or causes. We walk, run, bake, pick up trash, buy stuff, participate in phonathons, volunteer for dunk tanks or to be “arrested” so our friends can bail us out by donating to something or other . . . we, each of us, do what we can to help those who need our help.
Today is the first of two Sundays when we Disciples take up the Week of Compassion Special Offering. For those who may not know what Week of Compassion is, it is the disaster relief and humanitarian assistance program fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the US and Canada. When there is any kind of disaster and people need help, the Week of Compassion is ready and willing to jump into action. When there is an earthquake or wildfire in California, WoC is there with funds to help congregations and church members. When tornados hit Kanas, WoC is there. WoC was in Haiti, New Orleans, the Philippines and Japan. Right now, WoC is monitoring the situation in Fiji, where one of the strongest storms in recorded history made landfall last night. Week of Compassion works in conjunction with other faith based agencies, like Church World Service, to provide blankets, hygiene kits, school supplies, water . . . whatever is needed in any disaster. They even help organize volunteers when “boots on the ground” type assistance needed. Talk about serving! We can help serve those in need by giving generously to Week of Compassion.
It might have seemed a bit strange, when this passage was being read, that a healing story was tacked on to the end of this very well known story about the first being last. In fact, in this story, even blind Bartmaeus serves in his own way - as an example. He believed his sight could be restored by Jesus, and his faith did, indeed, restore him to wholeness. He didn’t cry out “Heal me!” Rather, he said, “Son of David, have mercy on me.” It wasn’t so much the plea as the address that proved his faith. It was prophesied that a son of the house of David would restore the kingdom. By calling Jesus the Son of David, he was proclaiming his belief that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. Further, Bartimaeus calls Jesus “my teacher.” Not Lord or King or any honorific connoting royalty or might. Teacher. Bartimaeus served as a voice proclaiming to those with ears to hear that Jesus was the one anointed by God to lead Israel into wholeness - not through military prowess but through the Word. Jesus healed Bartimaeus’ blindness thus restoring one man to wholeness, but his teachings, if heard and acted upon, would restore the entire world. Jesus wasn’t telling us to do service. He was telling us to live a life of serving.
Yesterday I heard two stories that have been running around my head ever since. It seems that when Pat Adams was teaching 3rd grade she asked her students to write something about different work people did. One of her students wrote that Mrs. Adams didn’t work. She was his teacher. And Chief Garner said that he had spent part of the morning with the department’s newest patrol officer and told him, “When you are doing a job that you love, you will never work a day in your life.” So, I’m thinking that child wrote more truly than he knew — that Pat Adams didn’t work, because she surely loved teaching.
Actually, I heard a lot of good stuff yesterday. I attended the Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life First Annual Vendor Appreciation Luncheon. We got a certificate! Pastor Nelson Schwamb introduced Police Chief Garner by telling the story of their first meeting. He was impressed that the Chief spoke of being called by God to serve in Selma. And the Chief re-asserted that statement in his remarks. He believes that he is here because God wants him to be here, to help Selma become whole. He further, and fervently, believes that if all the churches and help agencies and police work together serving God, we can heal our community, rendering jails obsolete and police unnecessary. That is the work that we do in Bringing Broken Neighborhoods Back to Life - that attempt to make our community healed and whole. I turned to my neighbor at one point and said, “That’s the Kingdom he’s talking about.” What the Chief was describing is what Jesus is pointing us to, what God desires for us. To heal the world so that all persons have enough, no one is oppressed, justice is tempered with mercy, need is met with compassion, anger is turned aside by love.
Jesus didn’t ask his disciples — us — to do service. He directed us — his disciples — to live a life of serving. There is a difference. Now, that doesn’t mean giving up your job and going to work as a volunteer missionary in Appalachia or Kenya or someplace - although you could if that’s what you feel called to do. Serving is simply a matter of doing whatever you do for God. If you teach, you do that with love, the best you can, for God. If you care for children or aging relatives or both, you do that with love, the best that you can, for God. If you fix cars, if you work in an office, if you dig ditches, if you train horses, if you make music — whatever it is that you do, do it the best you can, with love, for God.
Perhaps you don’t feel called to the work you do. Perhaps you don’t know yet how it is your life is supposed to serve God. Perhaps you think you could be doing more, or better, or more important things. The poet John Milton expressed his concern that he wasn’t serving God well enough in the poem, “In His Blindness.” In it he asks himself if he is doing enough to serve God, and the answer he received was this:
“. . . God doth not need
Either man's work or his own gifts. Who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed,
And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
They also serve who only stand and wait."
It may be a while before you discover what you are truly called to do. I loved being a secretary, truly. But in my early 40s I heard the call to the ordained ministry and now I know that this is what I am intended to do. As Martin Luther once said, “I can do no other.” Whether you are working at what God calls you to, or you are waiting to learn what that is . . Treat all your fellow humans with kindness. Do all the small things that you wish people would do for you. Let that car go on ahead of you. Hold the door for the person behind you. Smile at the very slow cashier.
Jesus did not say it would be easy. None of this is easy. One of the hardest things we have to do is treat everyone else with love - the way we want to be treated. None of us is really very good at it, although some are better than others. The Good News is we don’t have to be perfect. We only have to do our best.
When we go from this place today, then, let us keep in our minds the words of the hymn we are about to sing,
Called by worship to your service, forth in Your dear name we go,
To the child, the youth, the aged, love in living deeds to show;
Hope and health, goodwill and comfort, counsel, aid, and peace we give,
That your servants, Lord, in freedom may your mercy know and live.