Phillipians 3:4b-14; Matthew 20:17-28
What comes to mind when you hear the word “servant” or “slave”? Most of us imagine a person who is not free to do what he pleases, one who lacks the power or freedom or resources to direct his own life, one who must work to fulfill the desires of another. We think of a servant or slave as powerless in relation to his superior. His station in life demands that he constantly set aside his own desires to fulfill the desire of his master. For most of us, it is not an enviable position. How many of us would willingly sacrifice our independence and autonomy to become the slave of another person?
And yet this is what Jesus asks of his disciples, that they imitate him as one who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (v.28).
In his letter to the Christians at Corinth, St Paul writes, “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.” (I Cor. 4:1,2) “Think of us in this way,” says Paul, “as servants of Christ.” He says this with pride, not shame. He is not embarrassed that he has been reduced to the role of a servant; he does not regret that he is no longer free to do his own will and is compelled to do the bidding of another. Nor is there any suggestion that he has been forced to become a servant – in fact, the opposite is true: Paul has voluntarily chosen to take up this role. He sees it as a glorious privilege to be considered a servant of Christ. He sees it as a blessing to live no longer for himself, but for Christ. He is honored to have been entrusted with divine mysteries, and feels both an obligation and a desire to be found trustworthy in this responsibility.
Feast of Christ the King: Proper 29A
Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16, 20 – 24
Ephesians 1: 15 – 23
Matthew 25: 31 – 46
We all know that a shift has taken place in the world, and we see it most clearly in last year’s election in this country and the BREXIT referendum in the UK. The shift appears to be away from a global, universal outlook to a more individual, nationalist one. Me First appears to be the watchword, and that has become true about nations as well as individuals. We see this in foreign as well as domestic policy, ranging from trade, to immigration, to security, to health, to education, to gun laws, to the environment, to civil and human rights. We see this as society becomes more stratified and neighbourhoods and communities more uniform. We are losing, or perhaps have lost, our concern for the other and appear to live in a culture that says that I can do whatever I want, and the other person, or neighbourhood, or nation, simply doesn’t matter. Some political commentators see evidence of this, not just at one end of the political spectrum, but at both ends. And some argue that this isn’t a recent phenomenon, but has its roots back several decades.
But this Me First attitude is in stark contrast to the kind of life we are trying to live as Christians, and as a Christian community. It is such a stark contrast, that I have spent some time pondering what it is that sets us apart from the world, and shapes our life as Christians in a fundamentally different way, so much so, that not only are we set apart from the world, sooner or later our values as Christians will set us in conflict with a world where a Me First attitude is king. And that, I think, is the key for us, at least for today: who or what is king over our lives? Who or what rules supreme in our lives? To whom or to what do we owe our ultimate allegiance?
On this day, in 1961, there was a plane crash in Central Africa and it took the life of Dag Hammarskjöld, who was the Secretary-General of the United Nations. He was an extraordinary man, and in the calendar of the Church we keep him on this day. He is kept as a memorial in the Church firstly because he was a man tirelessly committed to the cause of peace, who was willing to undertake the greatest personal sacrifice on its behalf. In fact, the plane which crashed in Africa was taking him on a very dangerous mission and most of the people in the UN didn’t want him to go, but he was very brave. He was going to negotiate a ceasefire between warring factions in the Congo.
The second reason Dag is remembered and honored in the calendar of the Church is because of what was found in his apartment in New York shortly after his death. It was a manuscript and it was full of journal entries. He wrote in it every day, and there were poems, and they (i.e. the journal entries) covered a period of several decades and revealed a rich, hidden life. No one knew it existed – and no one knew that this was what was going on deep within this man, within his inner life. They revealed a man of deep faith, whose courageous life of self-sacrifice was a direct result of what went on in those times of silence, often very early in the morning – times of passionate (prayer), sometimes wrestling (with God), sometimes commitment to God.