Sunday, September 4, 2011

Being Humble Servants

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Commemoration of Moses
Rally Day
September 4, 2011
Romans 13:1-10

On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Without missing a beat, Jesus said, “You’re lookin’ at ’im.” They all, without missing a beat, said, “Well, yes, of course we know that. What we meant was, among us. You know, the greatest apart from You.”

Because it wasn’t enough to know that Jesus was the greatest. They needed to know among themselves. They couldn’t be content with just knowing that He is the greatest. Not enough to know that they must be humble and simply submit to His Lordship.

Maybe the insistence on being the greatest is more of a male trait, but each one of us as Christians, male or female, tends to look at Jesus and not see Him for who He is. Each of us tends to look at Him and see someone who can help us get to where we want to go. We tend not to look at Him and simply see that He is the one we should be concentrating on and not ourselves.

How this plays out in daily life is that we so often forget how we are to view others and interact with them. It doesn’t matter if we are related to them or are friends with them or they are our brother or sister Christians or they are neighbors or co-workers or anyone. So often we just interact with others as if they are just other people. We often forget that God has called us to serve others. When we are wrapped up in our own world we forget who it is we said we were in the Collect we prayed a little bit ago: we are humble servants.

That’s why Jesus put a child before the disciples. Not because that child was greater than they were. Because they thought of themselves more highly than they ought to. Because it’s in being as a child that we see what greatness is all about.

That’s why it’s so difficult when it comes to living in this world. It’s hard enough to deal with temptations and people who run roughshod over the Christian faith and people run roughshod over us and a lot of difficult situations and decisions we face. But then we are confronted by our Lord who puts a little child in front of us. We are faced with the reality that we too often think that putting away childish things means thinking highly of ourselves rather than humbling ourselves. We are met with our Lord basically telling us that if you want to know who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, it certainly isn’t you.

Today in our congregation we are starting our new Sunday School year. If you were to go to any school in the country and talk to the students about what the first day of school means they’d probably talk about the fact that a new school year is starting and that this is the day it’s starting. It’s often not until you’re out of school and an adult that you see that the first day of each school year was far less important than each day of each year and every day of your life. You don’t just learn in school. You learn in life. Hopefully you will continue to be learning throughout your life.

Rally Day in the big picture is nothing more than a day to realize the importance that it’s not just today but everyday that we are to be learning the Word of God. Learning the Word of God is looking at Jesus and instead of asking Him about yourself you ask Him about how you can serve Him. The way you serve Him is by serving others.

Imagine if Paul addressed our interaction with government the way the disciples asked their question of Jesus. Christians, you are not of this world, you are of the Kingdom of God. Have nothing to do with government. It is secular, it is not spiritual, it is not of the things of God. Do not submit yourselves to government for you are to submit yourselves to God alone.

This sounds really spiritual but it’s the opposite of what Paul says. He says that we are to submit to government. We are honor government and pay what we owe to government. As little children are to honor those in authority so are we adults to honor those in authority over us. That’s government. Try telling that to those in countries that suffer under repressive regimes. Try telling that to the conservatives when those in office are liberal, or the liberals when conservatives are in office.

But Paul doesn’t talk about those nuances. He just says, Be subject to the government. It is the authority. Talk about being humbled. God knows how to humble us. We have no right to go against the authority of government, even if it’s a pagan government like what was in place when Jesus and Paul were alive. But even more astonishing is the reason we are to submit to the authority of the government. It is because the authority of government is actually the authority of God. Even more, God is the one who instituted the government to carry out law and order in society. As Christians we won’t take issue with submitting to God, but to the government?

That shows how turned in on ourselves we are. We look at government and see conservatives or liberals. Jesus shakes His head and says, “No, you’re not getting it. You’re not supposed to see that. You’re supposed to see Me.” So He puts a little child before us. He says, “There. Be as a child. Be a humble servant. When you see others, see Me. When you look at government, see Me.” This is how we learn to submit.

We won’t always be able to obey government or others in authority over us. If they command us to go against God’s Word then we must obey God and not the human beings commanding us to sin. But we nevertheless give them due honor, because the honor is given to God in this way.

And while we owe that to government, to others we owe nothing except to love them. We look at the commandments and instead of seeing things that we are compelled to do, we see opportunities to look at others and see Jesus. How does Paul say it? The one who loves another has fulfilled the Law. When you or I love others we so often hold back. We invariably do not give our all. Inevitably we steer circumstances so that they can turn out for what we will get out of it. True love doesn’t work that way. True love sees Jesus. And if you start looking at others and seeing Him you will see how the Law, the Ten Commandments, is fulfilled. Be as a little child. Don’t think of yourself but what the other person needs.

It’s a sad commentary on us Christians that we even need to be told what Paul says about the Ten Commandments: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. If we weren’t so stuck on ourselves we wouldn’t need to be told to love others as ourselves. Sometimes it takes Jesus putting a little child before us and saying, If you are so high on yourself then consider for a moment that being as a little child will make you great in the Kingdom. It’s not who you are or what you do that makes you great. It’s not about you. So look at the Commandments and see opportunities. Opportunities to love others and do what is best for others.

On one occasion the disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” You might have thought I was being facetious when I said that without missing a beat, Jesus said, “You’re lookin’ at ’im.” But I wasn’t. This really was Jesus’ answer. As is so often the case when Jesus answered questions He made a deeper point than the surface level questions so often asked of Him were seeking. In putting a little child before them Jesus was given them and us a picture of Himself. He easily could have said, “My dear disciples, who do you think is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven? Why, you know deep in your hearts that it’s Me.” But what would that have accomplished but nods of assent without any understanding.

Instead, He brought forward a little child and showed them Himself. “This is who I am. I am the one who comes before you as a child. I the one who alone is Lord comes before you as a humble servant. I come before you as the one who walked the path of the Commandments, loving others as I love Myself. The one who alone walked the path of going to the cross as punishment for not obeying the commandments. It’s not that I was guilty, it’s that I wasn’t asking, ‘Who is the greatest?’ I was rather asking, ‘What do these people need, these people whom I love?’ What they need is a servant. It’s not going to happen if I’m stuck on Myself and My eternal throne of Lordship. It will happen if I humbly submit to My Heavenly Father and walk the path of suffering and death for the sin of the world. It will happen if I fulfill the Law in this way. It will happen if I see that it is here and in this My true glory is shown.

And that, my friends, is what you need to see each day. See that it is not in what you so often think is what God is all about, but rather simply how God gives you to think about others and serve them. He gives you His Son. You live in Him and by Him and through Him. You live each day with the awesome opportunity to be as a little child. Seeing instead of yourself, your Lord and Savior. Seeing instead of burdens, opportunities to serve others and love them as Christ has loved you. Seeing instead of drudgery the amazing opportunity to be in God’s Word and grow in it. Seeing instead of a life where you try to think about what is best for yourself you rejoice in what God has given you.

In Baptism, new life. In the declaration of the forgiveness of your sins, the very Gospel that sustains you. In the proclamation of that Gospel, the power of God unto salvation. In the Lord’s Holy Supper, the strength you need to go into each day as God has called you. By being Himself the greatest humble servant He has called you and enabled you to be humble servants. Amen.


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