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|BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz|
Sep 3, 2017 SERMON ARCHIVE
God's grace, His mercy, and His peace are yours in abundance, through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I pray He opens your hearts and minds as you hear His word. That Word for today is from the Gospel of St Matthew chapter 20, especially verses 25-28. There we read these words:
But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 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 your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN
Talk about upside-down. "Whoever would be first among you must be your slave?" I can see the disciples kind of cocking their heads sideways and saying, "What's that again?"
The people living in Jesus' time knew very well what a kingdom looked like. Power was demonstrated through dominance. Greatness was shown through strength. Achievement was shown through the conquering of other nations.
And here comes Jesus saying something so ridiculous that I wouldn't be surprised if a few people decided they were done with Him. How do you keep following a man who says that power is not shown through dominance, but rather, through service to others?
That true greatness comes not through strength, but through vulnerability? And that achievement is not about conquering others, but rather, showing compassion to them? This sounds subservient. This sounds like how a slave would act. How in the world, Jesus, do you expect us to do this?
True power means to stand tall. True greatness means to dominate. Can you imagine, for just a moment, what the world would be like if our leaders behaved like this, competing with each other to see who could best serve the needs of the vulnerable? Always looking for new and better ways of coming in last so that others could come in first?
Thats just crazy. Thats just impossible. That is just upside down. And yet, that is the Kingdom Jesus is describing in our text.
Speaking of kingdoms, have you ever seen the series called "The Crown." It's about Queen Elizabeth II's ascension to the throne in 1952, after her father, King George VI, died at the very young age of 56. At the time, Queen Elizabeth was just 26 years old.
Elizabeth is torn between her own self, her own life, and her life as monarch. Shortly after, the Queen Grandmother, Queen Mary, says to Elizabeth, "You are now gone. It is the queen who exists." Ultimately, Elizabeth embraces this truth, losing herself in her service as queen.
Early in her monarchy she went on a 23-week tour of the British Empire. She made several appearances each day. For 161 days in a row. Australia was 57 cities in 58 days.
At one point during the trip, her husband, Prince Philip, told Elizabeth that he had begun to realize that he was waving his arm in his sleep, and he encouraged Elizabeth to skip a few days. She said: "No. The people want this. The people NEED this. We will not miss a single engagement." And they didn't.
And yet, in the same moment that duty was being fulfilled, there was a heavy feeling of obligation, of being trapped. There was a feeling of servitude. And I think that's because of the bottom-line reason behind Queen Elizabeth's actions.
You see, it's not the service. It's the reason behind the service. Everyone who surrounded her, who coached her, who counseled her, talked about the same thing: preserving the crown. Furthering the dignity of the crown. The importance, above everything else, of the crown.
Every Christian is called to serve. In fact, every Christian is called to give up yourself, just as Queen Elizabeth was told by her grandmother. Paul wrote to the church in Galatia that he was gone; he no longer lived. His life was one big act of service to Jesus.
God equips you to be His disciples and to serve that way in His upside-down Kingdom. He gives you gifts to use. He gives you opportunities to use them.
But most important, he gives you the best reason in the world to serve. The eternal salvation of souls. The Gospel. Not a crown that perishes, but a crown that lasts forever. A crown that you have been given freely because of the life, the suffering and death, the resurrection, and the ascension of our Lord, our Savior, our one and only King, Jesus Christ.
That is the difference between service to God and service of any other kind. All other service is temporary. Service to the Gospel lasts forever.
Think about this. What if you fully lived as subjects of that upside-down Kingdom of God? What if you measured your achievements not in terms of possessions or status, but in terms of lives touched? What if you calculated your "net worth" not in terms of bank accounts but in terms of acts of compassion?
Here's another way God's Kingdom is upside down. There is no seniority, no positions more important than any other. ANY of you can serve any other. Young or old, powerful or vulnerable, rich or poor, educated or not. Anyone can act with kindness, put others first, and try, by God's grace and His power, simply to show compassion to those around them. Anyone can.
And maybe that's another way the Kingdom of God is upside-down. In this world, this "kingdom," people look to the President and Vice-President, Congress, Governors, and other leaders to step in and change the world for the better.
But in God's upside-down Kingdom, change happens from the bottom-up. Change in God's world comes first in your homes, your schools, the places you work and play and volunteer and shop and live your lives. As you show compassion, As you share God's love, As you serve others with the gifts you already have from God, His Kingdom happens. All around you.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., the great American medical doctor, and poet, and writer, said this: "Many people die with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it, time runs out."
You all have music in yoi. It is the music of the Gospel. It is the most beautiful music ever heard. Dont let time run out. Take "music lessons" as you are equipped through study of God's Word, through prayer, through Holy Communion, through fellowship with your brothers and sisters.
And let's play the music of God's amazing Gospel to the world. Because it's not the service. It's the reason behind the service.
Use those gifts you have. Share the music God has given you to play. Shine the light of Christ which is within you! When you cheerfully welcome newcomers to church, God uses you to open their hearts to the Gospel, which I promise, I PROMISE, they will hear from this pulpit every single service.
When you serve the homeless through work at shelters and soup kitchens, you'll help provide comfort and nourishment, and perhaps an opportunity to share the reason that you want to help them. When you join a group Bible study, God uses you to help your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ get deeper into His Word, and the Holy Spirit builds faith and a greater and greater trust in the Gospel.
In fact, that's what Jesus mentions at the end of this passage. The Gospel. So will I.
When the mother of James and John asked Jesus if they could sit at his left and right hands, Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able."
Well, James and John didn't know what they were saying. They couldn't drink from the cup Jesus was drinking from. Jesus knew that.
Only Jesus could live a perfect life in your place. Only Jesus could carry the unimaginable weight of your sins to the cross of Calvary. Only Jesus could rise again so you could be absolutely certain you will also rise to eternal life with Him. Only Jesus came "not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." Only Jesus. He is the sole reason to serve.
Christ is Risen
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