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Date: April 9, 2017 (Passion Sunday) 1. Texts: Isaiah 50:4-9a; Ps. 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:11-54. 2. Subject: discipleship. 3. Topic: the cost and pay-off of serving God. 4. Aim: educate, inspire. 5. Proposition: “To serve God is to experience genuine abundance, which the world does not tolerate.”

 

TO SERVE AND TO SUFFER

 

Boy, I certainly don’t want to serve God, not if the Bible is any example of what happens to God’s servants. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.1 But [he] emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death.2 They spat on [Jesus], and took the reed and struck him on the head…And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots.3 Then, of course, Jeremiah is put in a dry well to die. St. Paul lists a whole lot of near fatal abuses as a result of serving God. We can find other examples. Given what the Bible says about those who serve God, why would anyone want to be his servant? Because serving God is abundant and eternal life, that’s why. We know that God is the source of life, whatever processes he used to bring it about. That means that the closer we are to him, the more genuinely we live and the more authentically alive we become. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” said Jesus.4 The closer we are to God, the more accurately we experience that abundance. We can label that abundance with the fruit of the Spirit: 1 Isaiah 50:6. 2 Philippians 2:7a, 8a. 3 Matthew 27:30, 35. 4 John 10:10b. Page 2 of 3 -We suffering servantsBy contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.5 The more genuinely and authentically we experience this fruit, the more abundantly we live within whatever circumstances confront us. That’s what happens when we draw closer to God. Drawing closer to God necessitates that we serve him. You see, to serve him is to live out his love in the context of all our relationships. To serve him is to be the proclamation of his love, grace and forgiveness. To serve him is to be Christ’s disciples. Those who draw closer to God serve God. To be drawn closer to him is to be at the same time propelled out into the world. That’s the way being loved by God works. So, to serve God is never to be equated with suffering. To serve God is to experience abundant life and love. To serve God is to become the fruit of the Spirit. To serve God is to serve others as God’s ambassadors and Christ’s disciples. That’s not suffering in any way, shape or form. The suffering comes not as a direct result of serving God. God doesn’t call us to suffering. Rather, suffering is the outcome of the conflict between the servant and the world. When the Bible uses the word “world”, it rarely refers to the physical planet. Most of the time “world”, like its twin “the flesh”, refers to a set of principles which inform our actions and lifestyles. These principles are contrary to the nature and will of God. The principles include pride, arrogance, anger, envy, lust, self-sufficiency and greed—all those things that work contrary to God’s mission to save us. These contrary principles create the conflict that results in the suffering of God’s servants. God calls us to truth, justice, righteousness, love, grace and forgiveness. The world combats this on every level and usually the conflict is expressed in the servant’s suffering. 5 Galatians 5:22-23a. Page 3 of 3 -We suffering servantsGod doesn’t make us suffer, nor does he want us to suffer. He calls us to abundant life in the power of the Spirit, which attracts the world’s enmity and therefore the servant suffers. But here’s the thing: God can redeem that suffering. The world may intend it to conquer the servant and bring shame upon the faith and God’s people. God can use even suffering to bring about his mission and the most glorious example of that is Christ himself. This is the true message of Passion Sunday. Today is all about the passion and commitment of Jesus to serve God no matter what the cost. Jesus knew that to love God was to serve him. Jesus knew that to serve God was to be God’s reconciling love in the world. That divinely abundant life was going to attract the enmity of the world, and Jesus knew that, too. But because of that love and that life, Jesus was willing to serve his Father no matter how the world treated him. I guess it is worth serving God. Even if all the world should be against it. AMEN.