Growing as Servants
Given by Rev. April S Blaine on Sunday, April 6, 2014
I remember one Christmas when I was 9 years old. My family did something we did most years – we went out to shop for Christmas gifts for families in need.
Like every year, we had a list of the names of the children, the sizes of the clothes they needed, and some of the toys they wanted.
But this year, after we purchased these gifts.
We actually drove to their house to deliver them – in person.
And even though I had known all these years that families were living in need – this was the first time that I had faces to go with the names. This was the first time that I had looked them in the eye, spoken with them, and been with them in their home.
And I remember feeling a real mixture of emotions that day.
A part of me felt really good. The family was very appreciative – and gracious with us.
But I also remember coming home that day – I remember looking at all the things that I had – and feeling incredibly guilty.
I had so much.
So much that I often didn’t appreciate.
That Christmas, there was an awareness that opened up in me –
Of the inequities in the world
And of my own status as a person of privilege.
And at the ripe age of 9, I made a decision that I would do something about this.
as the years passed – I would try to make myself feel better by participating in service projects. I saved up my own money to give away at Christmas, I picked up trash on the highways, I visited old people at the nursing home, and I visited a little boy at the local elementary school to be a mentor to him.
I would sign up for things I didn’t really even want to do. Because
I was obligated – as a person of privilege – as a person of white privilege – I knew it was my obligation to serve others. Almost like a debt I had to pay.
Truth be told, I always felt good after I did these things – but the lingering feelings of guilt remained. Like I could never really do enough.
When my faith became real as a young adult, I began to really read the bible for the first time. And all throughout Scripture – I was seeing stories of people – who also came face to face with the great inequities of the world – some of them were people of privilege, some were people in poverty – they were very ordinary people.
But these people were responding in extraordinary ways. Some of these ordinary people were doing amazing things to make the world a different kind of place – and the most interesting and intriguing thing was that these people weren’t acting from a place of guilt or obligation. They seemed to be serving God from a totally different place - place of JOY.
Mary was one of those stories that struck me early on – probably because I first remember really thinking about it as a teenager.
Here she was an ordinary teenager – she’s been betrothed to Joseph – her family has probably made the arrangements and so her course has been set. She’s headed in a particular direction.
Until this angel interrupts her life.
And I think interrupts is a pretty mild term.
The angel appears – and says – Don’t be Afraid.
And then proceeds to tell her – that she will bring the Son of God into the world. The very living God will be born into her womb and then she will be a mother and raise this child, who is really the son of God.
Don’t be Afraid.
It is this crazy, ridiculously huge thing that she is invited to do.
The question she asks is entirely appropriate – how can this be?
It’s actually impossible. It doesn’t even make sense.
In a moment – everything has changed – and Mary is invited to participate in the very transformation of the world –
And she says Yes.
Let it be to me as you’ve said – I am God’s servant.
So many of us hear this story and find it very hard to imagine that she would be so calm in the face of such a daunting task.
But it seems clear –
that Mary’s answer of Yes – isn’t an indication that she fully understands all that this means, or that she thinks she has all the right stuff to do it – or the super ability to endure all the challenges and hardships that will come when she does.
She doesn’t feel coerced or guilty or obligated.
No, she says she is willing to be a servant – because she understands this as a CALL. Something bigger than just herself – something that would plant a seed – something that would make a difference for all the world. It wasn’t an obligation. It was a CALL.
Last October, it was 2 weeks after the Healthcare.gov website launch. And things for the White House could not have been looking worse. The website was not working. Most people who were trying to enroll were getting error messages if they were able to get on the page at all. They kept promising that they were working on it – that these were temporary gliches - but the truth was – they weren’t. The entire infrastructure on which the site was built was fundamentally flawed – and the writing was beginning to appear on the wall.
Over the course of the next few days – calls began to go out to some key people around the country. These weren’t government employees or friends of the White House or really anyone who had had anything to do with the creation of the site in the first place –
But they were people who had the knowledge and the skills to help.
And they each got a call –
We need you.
To come and fix the site.
Now all of these people had other things to do. They had jobs, families…
I’m sure their calendars were fully booked for months .
And these people dropped everything. They came.
They responded to this ridiculously huge challenge -
And it wasn’t about the work – because they all had full time jobs that they left, and it certainly wasn’t for the prestige – and it wasn’t out of obligation – because none of them had any affiliation with the government.
No, they said yes– because they understood this as a CALL. Something bigger than themselves – something that would make a difference for all the world.
We’ve been talking this Lenten Season about growing as disciples – we’ve talked about each of the ways that we can step out in faith – and take another step forward. Growing in knowledge, growing in sharing our faith stories, growing in our relationship with God and growing in our relationship with others.
But I have to be honest with you – when I first looked at this discipleship guide and began to pray about where my next step was – this was the area where I knew I needed to grow.
Not because I wasn’t serving – but because I wasn’t serving from the right place.
I was doing a lot of stuff – because I felt like I had to –
As if it was up to ME to make things in the world right again.
But God’s story reminds us – just as he did with Mary.
Our job isn’t to make all that is right in the world.
Our job is simply to be willing to serve in the ways that we are called.
In small ways and in big ways
Because God is the one who is working to make things right.
And so what I have been asking God this season – where are you calling me to be in a place of service?
Not because its what others will expect – and not because its my job – but because you are calling me to be a part of it.
A wise person once said to me – April – put down your to-do lists long enough to look around and see what God is already doing.
And then go do more of that.
Churches are notorious for burning people out – having so many different things that people are involved in –
And then making them feel obligated to do it.
But following the call to be a servant of God – really aligning our life with God’s calling – is about really trying to pause long enough to listen to where God is inviting us to say yes.
Because when we do that – there might be some challenge and struggle along the way – I’m sure Mary would agree – but there will also be a pathway filled with joy.
So, the question for us during this season is –
To what are you called?
What are the things that you’ve been uniquely wired to do and how is God inviting you to serve in the world according to that call?
For some of you – that might mean saying YES to something that has been nagging at you for some time.
But my hunch is that for many of you – it might mean that like those website programmers - you might need to say NO to some things. You might actually have to say no to some things that are good things – but that are eating up your time and energy and passion – so that you have the freedom to do what you are actually called to do.
So that the work you are doing – might be directed toward God’s work – planting seeds that will bring about transformation in the world. For all people. And joy for you.