Sermon (10.18.15)- Based on Mark 10:43-45
Life is full of paradoxes: The more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. The best way to find happiness- or love- is to stop looking for it. The more you fail, the more likely you are to succeed. The best things in life are free. We don’t fully appreciate what we have until it’s gone.
You see, life is messy. It is full of what-ifs and could be’s and should-have-beens. Water and oil don’t mix, yet you need both, mixed together to bake a cake. So it is with today’s text.
I wrestled with this text a lot over the past couple weeks. The sermon should have been simple- if you want to be first, you have to serve.
But it wasn’t that easy. Sometimes God puts things on our hearts and leaves the details in how to deliver that message on us. And it’s not always straight forward. This week, the piece that kept coming back to me was this quote from Nelson Mandella. It reads:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?” Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us . . . And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others"
and I kept thinking, “Okay, God…I love that quote- really I do…but how on earth would you like me to tie THAT into THIS message?” So I continued to think..and pray and think and pray…until a few days ago, when it finally hit me. These two ideas are a perfect paradox.
In our text today, I will be focusing on verses 43-45. They read:
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
I think the reason I struggled so much with this text was the idea that in order to to become great, we have to humble ourselves and serve others. It almost feels as though the text is saying, none of your talents, goals, or ideas matter…just serve others. And maybe it is…but perhaps there is a way to acknowledge our gifts and still serve at the same time.
I have never been good at accepting compliments. I don’t like to be boastful and I certainly don’t see myself as any better than anyone around me…we all have gifts…I just wasn’t sure what mine actually were. Sure, I was decent at a lot of things…but I’ve never been willing to consider myself great at anything. I struggled to see how I was being used by God.
And recently I learned, along with James and John, that it isn’t who we are, or how powerful we are… it’s how open we are to listening to God and allowing God to use us. If we go back through the text, God has used all kinds of unqualified people (by our standards) to do His work.
David’s armor didn’t fit.
Jacob was a liar.
David had an affair.
Solomon was too rich.
Abraham was too old.
David was too young.
Timothy had ulcers.
Peter was afraid of death.
Lazarus was dead.
John was self-righteous.
Jesus was too poor.
Naomi was a widow.
John Mark - rejected by Paul
Paul was a murderer.
So was Moses.
Jonah ran from God.
Miriam was a gossip
Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
Jeremiah was depressed.
Elijah was burned out.
Martha was a worrywart.
Samson had long hair.
Noah got drunk.
The list goes on.
These people were all less than ideal based on our current beliefs about success…yet when God spoke, they listened. Don’t get me wrong-many of them cowered, argued, even pleaded with God to choose someone other than them…but ultimately, when God called them to serve…they served.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I don’t like to brag, because I don’t want to sound boastful…yet, by refusing to acknowledge my God given gifts and abilities, who am I serving? Who am I praising?
And that’s a problem.
So here’s where the paradox comes in. As the quote by Mr. Mandella says, who am I NOT to be everything God created me to be? Who am I helping by shrinking down? We think we are helping others to not feel insecure, when really, by acting insecure ourselves, we are only promoting insecurity! So here it is…
I am strong. I can fix things. I am determined. I am patient. I am a good listener. I am trustworthy. I am artistic. I am good at baking. I understand teenagers. I am giving.
I have never, willingly spoken of my strengths before. I have always viewed that as being egotistical….but here’s the reality and here’s where everything comes together…
I am all those things I just listed for one reason and one reason only: because that is who God created me to be. Without God, none of those things matter. When I use my gifts to serve and promote myself, I am useless. When I use my gifts to serve others and glorify God, I am priceless.
Let me repeat that.
When we use our gifts to serve and promote ourselves, we are useless; when we use our gifts to serve and glorify God, we are priceless.
Picture a church in which everyone wants to be served. Each person believes the church exists to meet their needs, to make them happy, and to cater to their whims and tastes. Imagine a congregation in which everyone has a “take care of me” attitude and is quick to complain whenever things are not just the way they feel they should be.
This kind of church does not honor Jesus and bring glory to God.
Now imagine a church in which every single person has a passion to serve others. Think about what God could do through a group of people who are committed to serving one another. These people know that God has given each of them unique abilities and gifts that are to be used for building up people and bringing glory to God. So they are purposeful about discovering, developing, and using them.
We are either on the stretcher or helping carry it. There are times we need to be served. But most of the time, we are called to serve others. The bottom line is that God wants each of us to help carry people through their times of need. The church was never meant to be a bunch of people watching from the sidelines.
We are the hands and feet of Christ. We are children of God. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us . . . And as we let our own light shine, we give other people permission to let their lights shine.
So take a minute to figure out what you are good at. What gifts has God equipped you with? Own those gifts. Don’t brush them off. Don’t feel guilty for being talented. Be proud. Be grateful. Serve others at all times and in all places. Shine your light-because you are important, and you are needed, and you have a purpose.
And Because God is Good. All the time. Amen.