Sermon delivered by The Very Rev’d Dr. Jeffrey D. Gibson, Dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Michael & All Angels, in the Cathedral. The Third Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 4B
June 3, 2018
Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45
The recent General Election in our country has offered many points of interest. My point of interest is that fact that all the parties and each individual, whether as a member of a party or as an Independent candidate, campaigned around the idea of offering service to the country.
All spoke about providing service to our country. The approach was different; but many promised to put the people first, and to render service to the country above self. It is against that backdrop that I invite you to reflect with me on the call to service.
Today’s Gospel reading, about Jesus’ teaching on the Sabbath, and the healing of the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, provides us with an excellent example of what Jesus meant by service.
At the time, it was expected that some work could be done on the Sabbath, but only to save life. Faced with the situation, therefore, and seeking to respond to the needs of a man with a disability, Jesus asked the scribes and Pharisees an important question. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath day to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath to save a life or to kill?”(Mark 3: 4).
He posed two possibilities, but the scribes and Pharisees remained silent. Perhaps, they were pondering a third alternative: namely, there is no urgency, let’s wait for tomorrow; when the Sabbath is over and he can be healed.
However, Jesus placed the man’s needs above the strict observance of the law. Though the man did not request it, Jesus rendered to him, the service which he deserved – healing. He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. (3:5)
There were many miraculous deeds done by Jesus. For example, the healing of the man who had a deformed hand. Some were impressed; however, it got him into trouble with the religious and the civic authorities.
Jesus also had to challenge his disciples to understand that service was to be the measure of greatness rather than miraculous deeds. Jesus was the embodiment of service, and so, he challenged his followers to do the same.
His encounter with the brothers James and John, who wanted to share in his glory, is a good case in point. The thought of Jesus dying on a cross was distant from them. As they journeyed to Jerusalem, Jesus took time out to share an intimate message with them on the measure of greatness.
At the beginning of the journey, Jesus healed a blind man whose “sight was restored, and (he) saw everyone clearly” (Mark 8:22-26). During the journey, Jesus’ disciples seemed unable to see anything clearly.
Jesus three times predicted his impending death: Peter rebuked him; the disciples argued about who was greatest (Mark 9:34). Following this, Jesus taught them that “Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).
And after the third prediction, Jesus told disciples.
“Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all” (10:44). Jesus then held up his own sacrificial service as a model for all disciples. “For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (10:45).
James and John presumably attempted to capitalize on the rebuke which Peter received, by claiming the positions of honour, and to exclude Peter. After all, they formed an ‘inner circle’ which had many intimate associations with Jesus.
On this particular occasion, they had Peter down, and they moved in on Jesus for his patronage. However, they did not get their way. Work in the Kingdom of God was not to be based upon privilege or patronage; it was to be based on service to people. If they truly wanted to be close to Jesus, they had to accept his method of operation. It was to be by sacrifice and surrender; and this would be the ultimate measure of service.
Jesus calls us to a different ethic, telling us that God honours service rather than power. He challenges us to begin living by the Kingdom of God’s standards on this earth.
When one is given the opportunity to lead, whether in the State or in the Church, in spite of how difficult it might be, service is to be at the center of our life together.
As the country settles down under new leadership, following the recent general election, it is important that the leaders make service to the Nation the underlying principle of operation.
Towards that end, everyone should endeavour to overcome the rhetoric of the campaign, which may be considered as part of the contest. We can overcome it when, inspired by the love of God and neighbour, we forgive each other, and commit ourselves to working together in unity for the common good.
In the church in general, and in the Anglican Church in particular, we too need to work through the process of our election of a Bishop. The drive for preferment need not be divisive, but could be considered as part of the process of discernment. Personal ambition did not start and end with the Apostles James and John. It is alive in the church today.
We are aware that it is a scourge in the state and in many areas of the political landscape. The overwhelming mandate which the new government has received – 30 to 0, will perhaps allow for a more equitable distribution of the country’s resources than in the past.
Previously, those constituencies not represented by a government member of Parliament often complained about being neglected. In this current arrangement, the stage is set for resources to be adequately distributed across the country, for the good of all.
The tendency for the supporters of the winning party to seek patronage in celebration of the power they hold over others, need to be matched by a commitment to service. This, as each citizen works towards an improvement in our country’s economic, social and moral climate.
Now is certainly not the time for assertion of power, but instead a time to make service the hallmark of everyone’s participation in the affairs of the nation.
Meantime, the church has no option but to practice service to everyone.
When we practice service to everyone in humility, we are taking our cue from Jesus. As a leader in the church, I solemnly pledge and recommit myself to rendering service to all which is the essence of ministry. And I invite every Barbadian, whether in context of the church, state, business, family or community, to also make service their raison d’etre.
It is only through a genuine commitment to service by all of us that we will achieve the ideal of a better Barbados and a better church where people find fulfillment and come to experience God’s love.
I close appropriately with the well known Prayer of St. Ignatius of Layola. It offers a most profound reflection on the meaning of service and allows us to commit ourselves to the service which Jesus expects of us all.
Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.