Sermons That Work

The Servant, Proper 24 (B) – 2000

October 22, 2000

Once, in a time long past but remembered in stories and brought to mind by bits of pottery dug up from mounds of earth that experts say were once towns, there lived a servant. This servant, or so he proclaimed himself, had no visible master. This peculiarity disturbed many people who came in contact with him. His job, if you could call it a job, was to do the will of his master, who had sent him to serve those whom he met.
Exactly when he had become a servant is not agreed upon in the memory of his friends (who were few), though many people flocked to see him at work, doing his master’s will. People came from far and wide to witness the great things that the servant was doing. He himself took no credit for his work, he was, he always said, only serving his master.

His master must have been very poor himself, for the servant lived on the land and from gifts that were given to him by the people to whom he was sent to serve. He had no fine clothes, his accent was coarse, and he was not particularly attractive physically. There was no deceit in his words. He spoke only truth. In his presence the sick were healed, the lame walked, the deaf could hear, the dumb could speak. Before him, all evil fled.

Eventually, the servant drew such crowds that the governor of the region and the police were threatened with his presence. The local ministers and boards of deacons found fault with the way he talked about God. So the two groups, politicians and religious leaders, conspired to have him arrested on false charges and put to death-for the good of the people, of course. The servant was obviously a dangerous man. A wandering servant with no visible means of support and no verifiable master was dangerous to the wealth and wisdom of the world.

The powers that be oppressed him at every turn, forcing him to flee for his life, but the servant did not complain. In fact, eventually he let himself be captured, actually walked into an ambush when he could have fled.

Court convened in the middle of the night. The state’s witnesses were brought to speak against him. A mob of rabble denounced him. He was despised, and rejected. Given over to the guards, he was beaten and bruised, yet he did not open his mouth. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, the humble servant was taken away to his death. In the end he was alone, his master did not come to defend him from death.

He died. The servant died a death reserved for the unrighteous. A rich man donated a grave site for him, a cave dug from the cliff. Some women and the rich man took the servant’s body and placed it in the tomb. Then soldiers rolled a large rock into the entrance of the tomb and stood watch to maker sure there was no disturbance or unrest. His few friends deserted the servant and hid behind closed doors in fear of their lives.

This is not a very pleasant story, but it is very plausible. The world is cruel to the goodness and selflessness of servanthood. Everyone wants to be a master. Powerful oppressors fear truth and power that is not theirs to control. Not much hope for servants, at least not much hope for servants of the invisible master (if there are any still walking the earth, or ever were).

But this story does not end there. And, this is the suspicious part, the part that only certain people accept. However, servants of the invisible master, whoever they are, accept it.

The story told among the servants is that on the first day of the week some women friends of the servant went to the cave tomb and found it empty. That’s not the end of the story either.

His friends, hiding out behind locked doors, say that the servant came and stood in their midst and gave them a gift of new life. Others of his friends say that he appeared to them , but they did not recognize him until they sat down and ate together. Then there was a story about the servant appearing to his friends on the beach while they were fishing. He prepared breakfast for them and they sat and talked.

His friends say that the servant did not stay dead, but was raised from the dead by his master to a new way of being. And thus, the master vindicated and redeemed the life of his servant. In that, there is hope for those who choose to be servants of the invisible master. Death is not to be feared. Life is eternal for those who are faithful servants.

His friends also say the servant still lives in the hearts of those who will let him into their hearts. They know this because they see the servant at work in women and men who are also willing to let themselves be servants of the invisible master. The living servants find that, still, truth is not always welcome and that power respects power and not servanthood. But in service of the master they find joyful life everlasting and that is worth all that servanthood brings.

Once, the servant said to his friends some great words of truth that came quietly, intimately, as secrets are told among friends. “You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be servant of all.”

Jesus is the servant. God, his Father, was his invisible master. We, should we choose it, are the friends through whom the servant still serves all people: the rich, the poor, the outcast, the popular, the illiterate, the educated–all people.

The invitation is always open to let Jesus be a servant to us and through us for the salvation of the world. Even today, the invitation is always open to receive the servant into our hearts so that he may lead us to eternal life.

Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus. Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema


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