A sermon for the Twenty First Sunday After Pentecost, October 17, 2021
The prophet Isaiah serves as the source for a lot of our hope for a Messiah to come. A source of what we can expect. A source of what he will endure. A source of how we can prepare the way, recognize him among us, and understand his impact on our reality.
Reading Isaiah through the explicit Christian lens, one honed and developed over the past 2000 years, it is quite clear to us that Jesus Christ is the person that all of these prophecies pointed to. Not just in the life that he lived, but also in his death, in his sacrifice, in his ability to flip conventional understanding and get others to focus on something beyond what was immediately in front of them.
As Jesus begins to amass a group of followers, the disciples being the most loyal and devout among them, mumblings of a new king spring up, hope for a new king takes hold, and an optimism that things are about to change spreads throughout.
But, Jesus subverts their understanding of what it means to be a king.
Jesus subverts what it means to hold power.
Jesus subverts what it means to lead, to teach, to change the world.
Jesus offers himself, a sacrifice, because he is a king, just unlike any king that had ever been known.
The disciples are wrestling with this understanding that Jesus is trying to teach them.
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, original disciples, among the very first to answer Jesus’ call to “follow me,” came forward to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”
And as the other disciples become indignant that James and John have made this request, surely because they themselves would like such positions of power and authority, Jesus subverts their understanding once more:
“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. But it is not so among you; but 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, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus Christ came to serve creation. Jesus came to heal. Jesus came to teach. Jesus came to hang out with the outcasts, the sinners, the unclean, the unwell. His people, his followers, his ministry, were often with those who were ignored or made other by the community. His ministry knew no boundary of decorum, of acceptable practices, of acceptable people.
And, Jesus got his hands dirty.
Jesus healed a blind man by spitting on the ground, making mud, and wiping it on him.
Jesus touched those who were sick. Those who were considered diseased. Those who bled, for decades.
Jesus washed the feet of his friends because he physically was capable. He didn’t need someone who was deemed beneath him, beneath his disciples, a servant, to stoop down and declare their subservience due to social order. Jesus washed their feet because it was a worthwhile offering, because it showed his understanding of what it meant to be a leader, what it meant to live into the way of love, what it meant to practice a faith that flips conventions on their head, that shakes the very foundations of our reality.
What does it look like for us today to get our hands dirty in service to our neighbor, in answering the call to serve, not be served?
What does it look like for us today to consider this call of Christ, “not be be served but to serve” when we think of how we live into our faith as part of a church community, as part of this church community of St. Stephen’s?
We are being called in our stewardship campaign this year to “dare to dream the vision promised.”
Those who came together 91 years ago to establish St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church right here on the corner of 22nd and Louisiana had a dream for this worshipping community.
Those who came together in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expand this space, to build this very sanctuary, had a dream for this worshipping community.
Those who come together today, are being called to dare to dream the vision promised of what it means to follow the way of love, to be the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, to change the reality of our community through expressing and living a Christian life that challenges the status quo, challenges the accepted reality of our day and time.
We take all that has come before us, the commitment of generations, the history and prayer soaked walls of this place, the quiet strength of knowing we are supported, each and every one of us, in our lives as Christians because of this community we call St. Stephen’s, because of the wider Episcopal communities that share in our tradition and history, that share resources and worship services and new ideas with us, we take all of this, and it serves as the foundation upon which we can build a new expression of this place for the ever-changing world around us.
In order to dare to dream, we have to get our hands dirty.
It takes true commitment to support the work of a parish.
It takes our financial commitment that we call a pledge, to support the day-to-day, Sunday-to-Sunday, worship, formation, outreach, maintenance, administration, pastoral care, and fellowship of our community.
It takes a commitment of our gifts, talents, and time to support everything that happens in and around this place.
Whether it is showing up and helping organize and host a funeral reception for over 100 people in the first major event at the parish in 20 months, and doing it again two days later, cleaning the gutters of debris because they are overflowing when it rains, serving on the altar guild and preparing worship services for 5 different services and congregations over the course of 4 days, blowing leaves and acorns off the front entrance on Sunday morning, it takes a lot of our own time and energy to be a church community for all in need, and all of that was just this past week!
We are called to get our hands dirty by Christ today.
We are called to serve, not be served.
We are called to recognize that positions of authority, power, leadership, king-ship even, is not about lording it over our neighbor, of making our neighbor less than, of using our power, privilege, authority, wealth, as a tool of demanding subservience from others, rather we are called to be like Christ and live simply to serve.
When we live simply to serve we honor that Christ has given his life as a ransom for us.
When we live simply to serve we honor that God, through Christ’s death, through his sacrifice for us, for our sins, has promised us eternal life through grace, has promised us eternal life through love, and what better way to honor that than to live it?