Lately, I’ve been trying to read the daily newspaper not as news that’s just information, but as God’s call to love my city. It’s been my curriculum for understanding the needs of the world around me. I’ve been trying to read the stories about the economy, violence on Houston’s streets, political corruption, and neighborhood development as helping my call to service evolve to meet my own longings and skills. Mine and my congregations. I’ve heard this called discerning your missional context. But I have to tell you, this past week it was just too much of a good thing. I couldn’t do it anymore. Have you ever felt paralyzed by the overwhelming needs around you? I did this week. I found myself wanting to respond, but completely unable to.
There are other things that hold us back from responding too. Family. Time. Busyness. Comfort. Our own ‘quiet in the land’ Mennonite DNA that tells us to be nice and stay out of other people’s way. All of these and others make us irresponsible.
But there was a man who lived who never seemed to have this same problem. Jesus as witnessed in Mark 1:29-39 was always able to respond to the needs, concerns, and brokenness around him. Coming out of an exhausting experience in the sanctuary, Jesus heads home with some friends for a little much deserved R&R. Instead he finds more needs, as his hostess has been stricken with sickness. But his exhaustion doesn’t leave him unable to respond. Instead, he jumps right back into it, and brings healing where healing was needed. Work – hard work – followed by more acts of service. Here we see the heart of a servant, not just isolated acts of volunteerism.
How in the world was Jesus so response-able? How did he always have energy to give to the needs around him? Our text introduces us to at least two practices that shaped Jesus servant heart. First, the following morning Jesus took time alone in prayer. In an earlier sermon, we talked about how worship is that which shapes us to have the heart of God for our world. Christ exemplified this in his own life. There’s no way I could pretend to be different than Jesus in this regard, is there?
While Jesus was alone in worship, we see a second practice that shaped him to be a Servant: his disciple friends surround him and encourage him to continue to respond to the needs around him. Like we said last week, there is no such thing as a Christian, only Christians, only the body of Christ working together for the sake of the kingdom. Jesus was part of a servant community, and this community helped him to respond throughout his ministry, just like he helped them. Again, I can’t fathom this being different for us than it was for Jesus! We can only be servants together; we can only answer the call to service in community.
An interesting thing happens when the disciples push him to respond. Instead of doing more acts of service, he says he needs to proclaim the gospel. His actions and his proclamation are enmeshed together like the twisting strands of the DNA double helix. You can’t separate actions and proclamation; or personal and social. This is one reason I find being Mennonite so helpful for my own faith walk. Because at our inception this was also true for us. And any time in our history that you’ve found vibrant, faithful Mennonite communities this has again been true for us. Jesus was a Servant, and for him he manifested his love for others in both acts of love and words of love.
As a congregation, we’ve said that we value our call to service as one of six core values. I find each of these values to be very interesting. The kind of interesting you want to pull off the shelf and read a little something about. But to treat any of these six values separately is to neuter them of their deep power. But put them in dialogue with each other, and they come to life with a Spirit that’s larger than their individual parts. Mennonite+worship+relationships+service means so much more than the sum of the individual parts! We can also neuter them of their deep power by continuing to call them values. What does it mean to value something without backing it by making it part of our lifestyle and corporate culture. We need to elevate these six core values into practices and habits of community that define who and how we are together.
Finally, we need to remember that our God is a Servant God. God makes it rain on the just and on the unjust. God pours out blessings on all flesh, and yet bends down with towel in hand to wash our feet. We worship a God who serves all the people of the world. And a God who calls us to serve others. Let the servant church arise! May God shape us to be able to respond to the needs around us.
We are Houston Mennonite Church.
And this is what we practice.