(watch here: https://youtu.be/Xd4OR_zldEw)
30They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He [Jesus] did not want anyone to know it; 31for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.
33Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
Our reading for this evening reminds me of the one about Ben who was a devoutly religious man and was alway trying to do good for others. He also wanted very little in return. In fact, throughout his entire adult life he only prayed for one thing: he wanted to win the lottery. Day after day he would perform these acts of kindness without looking for reciprocations. When he would pray, he would note prayers for all of the individuals he had encountered that day, as well as friends and family, but nothing for himself until he would end the prayer, “Lord, please, just once, let me win the lottery.” As the years went by, age caught up with Ben and he took ill. Still he prayed for the needs of others until he ended the prayer with, “Lord, please, just once, let me win the lottery.” Eventually Ben passed away and he found himself standing in front of God who welcomed him into heaven. He looked up at God and said, “Lord, I was your faithful servant for my whole life. I helped countless people and never asked for anything in return. Throughout my entire existence I only prayed for one thing and you would never grant it. Why, oh Lord, would you never–not once–ever let me win the lottery?” God looked kindly down at his faithful son and said, “Ben, you still needed to buy a ticket.”
If only Jesus’ disciples understood what being a servant meant the way Ben did! Sure, he did ask for something in return for dedicated service. But God could have easily met his request with a simple $2 winning! After all, Ben wasn’t really specific about how much he wanted for a winning, only to win the lottery. But Ben’s life of dedicated service to those around him is something to be admired. And not only admired but mimicked. We are all called to relentlessly serve each other without any type of expected return. The very act of serving is it’s own return, it’s own reward. The joy and purpose found in serving other people are far greater gifts than anything someone can give you. Everything else can disappear over time or worse yet, get taken away. But joy and a sense of purpose are two things that can only grow over time. We can only lose them if we give them away. Don’t let anyone or any situation persuade you to give up your joy or sense of purpose! They are invaluable and irreplaceable gifts to give up! God gives each of us purpose and joy as his beloved children and taught us how to hang on to such gifts by loving and serving him and each other.
It’s easy to get caught up in the same bickering as the disciples were prone to. When they were called to leave everything and follow him, they no doubt thought they were called to serve him. They would follow him around, assisting in his miracles and teachings and protecting him from anyone who sought him harm. Along the way, they would learn much about God and themselves in serving Jesus, or so they expected. But Jesus doesn’t need help in teaching or performing miracles. He certainly doesn’t need protection! He can handle his own. No, Jesus calls them and us to serve him in a unique way–by serving each other. He doesn’t need our help doing what he does. He needs our help in creating opportunities for him to work on those around us. He needs us to get out and serve others as a way of opening hearts and minds to him and his endless love. In serving each other we allow him to come among us and be present within us. He doesn’t need us to help him in his work of love and healing. He can do it quite well, thank you very much! In fact, he can do it far better than you or I could! His love and healing is all-powerful and unending! What he does need if for us to pave the way before him, much like John the Baptist. He needs us to prepare the world for his inevitable return. And we prepare it in serving each other, in loving each other.
Perhaps the disciples were not unlike Ben after all. They must have expected some type of personal reward for their service too. Otherwise they wouldn’t have fought over who was the greatest servant. But true, genuine service isn’t about personal reward. It’s about mutual benefits. Both parties benefit in the act of serving. Now you might ask yourself, “Well, how does Jesus benefit by my serving others?” Because in serving others we open hearts and minds to him and his love. And to quote any number of poems or songs, love is what makes the world go round. Love is what ensures our future and the future of this world. Love is what God uses to hold it all together. Without love, there would be nothing. Without God’s love…God’s endless, forgiving, selfless, merciful, life-giving love…we would be nothing.
And what better way is God’s full love revealed to us than through the cross! We’re setting out on our six-week journey through Lent this evening. Our journey ends with a great show of God’s love. Jesus gave and gave and gave until he could give nothing more than his very own. That is the type of servanthood we are called to mimic–a relentless, selfless, self-sacrificing servanthood. Unlike Ben and his disciples, Jesus didn’t ask for a single thing in return for his service. Let us strive to mimic his type of servanthood! As we walk through this season of Lent, let us be ever mindful of Paul’s advice to the Philippians, “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (2:3-4) After all, it’s how Jesus served us and continues to serve us. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.