Once upon a time there was a girl whose mother died and her father remarried and then she had to become a servant. She bore it well, but obviously it was very unfair that this had happened to her, losing her mother and then losing her status and position in the family. So fortunately her fairy godmother showed up and turned her into an almost-princess for just long enough for her to meet a prince and then after some confusion they got married and she became a real princess and was able to kiss the servant life goodbye. Thank God.
Only on British PBS shows do people enjoy being servants, and then only some of them. So in that regard, I’m not sure which story is more of a fantasy - Cinderella or Downton Abbey. Servanthood is not something most people aspire to. We want to be transformed into something spectacular, we want to be elevated to a place of importance, we want to share in the glory of being on the winning team.
But here comes Jesus this week reminding us that as his followers, servanthood is our actual calling. Servanthood. Not becoming Lords and Ladies and Princes and Princesses. Rats.
Jesus tries to tell his disciples that they will be free if they are not weighed down by possessions, if they are not striving to get to the top or to stay at the top, that God will give them what they need so they don’t have to grasp and grab and grip so tightly. They will be free to use their resources to help others as they follow him on the way. Jesus’s ideas are radical - they were then and they are now - that it is by giving up all that stuff and instead living in service to others that we will be fulfilled.
It is sad how the disciples continually fail to understand Jesus but then Jesus just wasn’t what anyone was expecting. He turned things upside down all the time. Which was indeed good news for those who were marginalized, poor, broken, outcast. But most of us are not really in those categories and we want Jesus to be about us so what do we do when he talks like this?
Try to follow of course. Even if we fail. We try to follow.
Perhaps it would be helpful to talk about servant ministry a little here and what that might mean in our context, in our time and place, in the life of All Saints parish in Richmond Virginia. The word that keeps coming to me these days is “mutuality.” Unlike in the story of Cinderella, the kind of servanthood Jesus talks about is shared ministry, mutual ministry, not just one person doing for another, although sometimes that does end up how things go.
Shared, mutual ministry is certainly what we do as a church together. All of what we do here on Sundays as well as Mondays and Saturdays and all days, is shared ministry. We are serving one another with our contributions, be they monetary contributions or gifts of time and talent, in order to build up and strengthen our community - both our church community and the larger community around us. One of us doesn’t sit back while the other does all the work. We do it together. We each have our role, our part to play. That’s mutual ministry.
So this is a good time to consider, as we try once again to look ahead to coming out of a time of deprivation and isolation, how might we each become more engaged, become re-engaged, in the work of this parish? All of the things we do here depend on each other’s gifts and work. When we get together on Sunday mornings, it is a mutual effort, it is mutual ministry. Some prepare the flowers, and others the altar, and some offer their musical gifts while others read the lessons and still others greet and shepherd us through our movements.
And you know what? We need more folks to join in that effort.
And when we gather on Wednesday for the healing service, we need more folks to join in that effort.
And when we gather with our youth and our children, when we care for those who are homebound, we need more folks to join in that effort.
And when we reach out to the community in love and service, we need more folks to join in that effort.
That is how we are called to do church - to minister together. It’s how we BE church.
I know that many of you are experiencing grief right now. Grief about how All Saints is not what it used to be. We are coming to grips with some realities that are hard, how folks have left, how folks may not come back, how many losses there have been and the attendant downsizing of our budget, our programs, our staff. This grief is real and should be acknowledged and felt deeply.
And it is also true that we have an opportunity now to be more mutual in our work, in our ministry. All of us have a ministry, or more than one ministry, and each of us needs to discern what our ministry is, our ministries are, and to step forward in faith to offer that ministry in company with others. We don’t need a large staff to accomplish great things, because it is our combined efforts, our mutual ministry, that is the engine that powers our work. The work of the church does not need to get smaller - it needs to get more collaborative.
So this is my charge to you today. As a follower of Jesus who is called to serve, what is your ministry in this place and time and how can you step forward to offer it to and with this community? Will you come and be part of our workdays? Will you sign on to become a reader or an usher or to join the altar guild or the A/V team? Will you join our outreach leaders to discern and carry out mission to the community?
How will you become re-engaged here in order to live out your baptismal vows and exercise your ministry? How will you become a servant of Jesus? He’s waiting for you to follow him.