We all need to find our gift of servant ministry, Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 16 (B) – August 27, 2006

(RCL) Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18; Psalm 34:15-22; Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69 

Remember the old gospel hymn, “When the roll is called up yonder”? Today’s scripture challenges Christians’ exercise of God’s gift to servant ministry and how we will respond to God when we are called to share in God’s “glory.”

Throughout our lessons Joshua, David, Paul, and Jesus lay challenges of servant ministry before us. It is not done to chastise us, but to help us see and feel the call that is made to each of us to use our skills, our intellect, and our compassion to serve others.

In Joshua, after gathering the tribes of Israel together, he said to their leaders, “Revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and faithfulness.” In the Psalm, David reminds his people, “The Lord ransoms the life of his servants and none will be punished who trust in him.” In Ephesians, Paul challenges his listeners to “Put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”

The remarkable thing in the Gospel of John is that the disciples have questioned Jesus about his teaching on the Eucharist and what is required of those who follow him. “Many turned back and no longer went about with Him.” John called those who walked away from Jesus “disciples.” Obviously they were not just folks who showed up at Christmas and Easter. These folks were committed to Jesus – at least for a while, until things got a little tough and demanding beyond their understanding. Like many vestries, we are honored to be a member until we have some heart-wrenching decision to make such as a choice between paying our apportionment or keeping the thrift shop open.

The disciples became anxious about Jesus. They might have said, “We like him, but can we do what he is asking?”

Jesus called the twelve together and asked them, point blank: “Do you also wish to go away?”

Had we been Jesus, how would we have asked that question? Would we have asked it sadly, disappointed by what had just happened? Think of the tough decisions that we have had to make in business, at home, in social clubs, or at church. How have we reacted when questioned about decisions that affect others? We are uncomfortable. We may feel like getting up and leaving the room; it is a normal reaction. But it is gracious to stay and listen. We need to be part of the solution – only then can we be at peace.

Jesus knew what he was asking of his disciples. He knew what the cost would be: his life! He knew that what he was saying offended them. They were unwilling to really hear what he was saying.

Peter even later asked him, if this is so. “Lord, to whom can we go?” Blessed Peter just could not grasp that Jesus would be with him in spirit as powerfully as he was in flesh. Are not we – as active as we may be in the life of the church – often like this? We are fearful of being called “Jesus freaks” if we tell someone about the love Jesus has for them.

Jesus, admittedly, had an advantage over modern Christians. He knew “who were the ones that did not believe, and who would betray him.” We don’t have that luxury. What we do have is the element of surprise the Holy Spirit works through us as we share the agape love of Jesus with others.

Sometimes, no matter how strong our convictions are, or how great our desire to journey with Jesus may be, we may want to walk away, to find a spot in the wilderness away from the pressures around us. Peter doesn’t just come out and tell Jesus that is what he wants to do, but Peter is honest about his uncertainty. He realizes that no one besides Jesus is in the business of eternal life. Either the disciples of Jesus must keep this faith experience alive or it will die away for the simple reason there is no other alternative.

Paul, preaching to the Ephesians, makes reference to the use of the shield as the “shield of faith” and that should be carried by those who go out to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul adds that faith is always the complete trust in Christ.

As adults we need the child-like faith the 5-year-old girl had when her grandmother visited her. Sarah had been in Sunday school earlier that week, and she said, “Nana, I know Jesus. Do you? Because Jesus is a friend of mine, I let Jimmy play with my teddy bear today. What did you do?”

What a joy it will be when we all get to heaven and find our name on the roll of servant ministry. How has God empowered us, as individuals and a congregation, to reach out and serve God by serving others in Jesus name?

William Barclay, in his commentary, points out that the sign of the Christian is when he or she is eager to be on their way to tell the story of Jesus: his death, his resurrection and his ascension. This is the commitment of being a servant for the Lord. Barclay emphasizes that for servant ministry there are three conditions people must have in their prayer life:

Prayer must be constant. It is from daily prayer that we find daily strength and holy guidance.

Prayer must be intense. No beating around the bush. When you have a clear message from the Lord about a particular concern, be bold about your prayer life. Be the prayer warrior he has called you to be.

Prayer must be unselfish. We must learn to pray as much for others as for ourselves. We must seek a community of believers to pray with us and for us. Together we will know the wisdom of the Holy Spirit as it uses us to be a vehicle of servant ministry.

There is no one more colorful in the Anglican Communion than Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Many years ago, he preached in St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa. The wall was lined with soldiers carrying guns, waiting for the opportunity to close the service down. The cathedral was filled to capacity. Bishop Tutu spoke of the evils of apartheid. Near the end of his sermon, he pointed a finger at the soldiers and said, “You may be powerful, but you are not God! You have already lost!” Before the soldiers could react, Bishop Tutu, with that wonderful smile that God has given him, came out from behind the pulpit and began to bounce up and down the aisle with glee. As the congregation moved into the aisle, dancing with him, he spoke to the soldiers again, “Since you have already lost, we invite you to join the winning side,” The soldiers melted away. They broke rank. Surely some found Jesus that day and danced with unspeakable joy. Bishop Tutu was inviting those soldiers to cross over and be servants of the Lord.

We all need to find our gift of servant ministry. Join the winning side! Tell others in our work place, where we live, or play, or go to school that we want them to join the winning side. Tell them about our friend, Jesus.

 

— Harry Denman is a layman and parishioner at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. A former member of Executive Council and Chair of Episcopal Life, he is retired and writes devotionals on the Collects and other Christian materials for his blog, LaymanAtWork

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