10-6-13 Becoming Servants of God

Often before the second reading, I come to you with excitement, saying “this is one my favorite passages,” or “listen to this!” Today, I have to say, “this is not one of my favorite passages,” and “listen to this carefully, because this passage is hard to get your head around.” Sometimes the Bible is like that. Passages that you have to work to understand are sometimes the best ones to learn from. Listen for the Word of God for you this day:

Luke 17:5-10  The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.” 6 But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it. 7-10 “Suppose one of you has a servant who comes in from plowing the field or tending the sheep. Would you take his coat, set the table, and say, ‘Sit down and eat’? Wouldn’t you be more likely to say, ‘Prepare dinner; change your clothes and wait table for me until I’ve finished my coffee; then go to the kitchen and have your supper’? Does the servant get special thanks for doing what’s expected of him? It’s the same with you. When you’ve done everything expected of you, be matter-of-fact and say, ‘The work is done. What we were told to do, we did.’”

October 6, 2013

World Communion Sunday: Becoming Servants of God 

“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed (or a poppy seed) you could move mountains, or tell a sycamore tree to go jump in a lake and it would do it.” If you had faith that tiny, you could do great things. A passage like this could make us feel pretty guilty, could make us feel that we don’t get things done because we don’t have any faith.
In this time of government shut-down and shootings and self-immolation, we could easily fall into despair and feel like our lack of faith – or somebody’s lack of faith and determination and caring is to blame for all this craziness. Somebody should be ashamed. You know who you’ve been blaming this week. We all go there. We all seem to need somebody to blame.
The passage suggests that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed, these things would not be happening. When we think about it that way, we do feel ashamed. Why are there so many problems in my life? I must not have enough faith. Something is wrong with me.  And this is the easy part of the passage! It gets harder.
When I saw this part about servants – and in the NRSV the word is not servants, it’s slaves – when I saw that as I prepared for this Sunday that we celebrate our connection to Africa and the people of Africa on World Communion Sunday, I thought I really better choose another passage. Especially when the passage identifies with the master and says you would never invite your servant, or slave to sit with you at a meal. You expect him or her to do what is expected of them without question or reward. Does this make you a little uncomfortable?
I don’t have much time here, but I want to quickly show how this became the Word of God for me this week, with a little shift in awareness of what it’s really saying. First of all, let me emphasize that this is Jesus speaking. Jesus is not one ever to blame you. The disciples have asked Jesus to give them more faith. Naturally they would like that help. Jesus, when he says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can do amazing things,” he is saying “You do have that much faith. Even with that little faith, you can move mountains. You can make things happen.” Trust God who gives you all the faith you need to get done what you have to do in this world.  Trust God and live into that faith that will meet the challenge of a dysfunctional government, that will help you past wanting to blame people and move you toward doing what you have to do to make things change.”
This is Jesus talking, who is full of compassion and trust and expectation. When he gives the example of enslaved people not being invited to the table, we have to remember that the experience of despicable slavery that happened in this country had not happened yet. Jesus was talking about a kind of servanthood that was a little more benign than that, something that had an ending to it.
African folks don’t have the same sense of shame or confusion, anger or rage that we have over the system of slavery in this country. They often have something to teach us in their ease of relationship and their uncomplicated attitude toward people of all different races. When a young man like Timi or Eddie gets treated poorly, they are shocked and simply object.  Over time, they may develop a kind of attitude and understandable resentment, but we hope and pray that with support, they will be able to overcome the kind of treatment that our society sometimes gives and not get lost in defeat or an attitude of hopelessness.
I asked Leaymun’s permission to say a few words about her life as a servant. Leaymun is a servant. She serves a family down the street on Montgomery Ave. She is really good at what she does. Before she came to that family, they had gone through a series of servants because it was an older couple who treated people poorly and with a lack of respect.
Leaymun’s strength of character makes that mistreatment flow right off her back. She takes charge of the situation, pays no attention to dumb things people say, and makes happen what needs to happen. The children of the couple she cares for are so happy that they have finally found somebody who can handle them – and they were a handful.  (It’s easier now, is it not, Leaymun?)
If we have faith the size of a poppy seed, we can do the same thing. We can stop blaming other people for everything that is wrong with the world and apply ourselves to making the world what it needs to be for all God’s people. If this morning, you would like to dedicate your life to God’s work, if you would like to give your mustard seed sized faith to whatever the Living God requires of you, if you’d like to become a member of this church and this community of God’s mustard seed faithful folk, I invite you to come forward during the singing of “By the Rivers of Babylon.” We will be glad to accept you in this community of faith and work with you in God’s work.
After we have our communion offering for this World Communion Sunday, after the ushers serve us and guide us to the table of God’s nurturing goodness, we dedicate our live to being servants in God’s world. We dedicate our lives to not blaming but acting. We dedicate our lives to making God’s world God’s world.

Responsive Hymn:  By the Rivers of Babylon