By The Rev. Sarah Hedgis
Life with God involves service.
“But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant … for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve…” (Mark 10:43-44).
What a good and important reading for us today, as you begin this journey with Servant Year. It’s a reading that emphasizes a word we’ve been thinking about all week and that we are focusing on as our theme for today: service.
“I didn’t come to be served but rather to serve” (Mark 10:44).
But it’s also about being surprised.
But there’s another word I want you to think about: And that word is surprise.
Throughout this retreat—during all of our engaging, discussing, and embodying— we’ve talked a lot about life with God and one another. We talked about how life together has to include formation, community, and–yes—service.
But I want to talk for a few minutes about how life with God and one another also has a lot to do with surprise.
Look at the surprising ways God acts in the Bible.
Remember our readings for today and consider the surprising ways God acts in the Bible:
The psalmist, whose suffering had him down and out, now stands in the very center of the “great congregation” praising and teaching (Ps. 22:25).
In 1 Peter, it is when “the end of everything has come” that the community of early Christians are surprised to learn they must begin living out the Gospel.
In the OT reading, the Prophet of Zechariah speaks to the few and broken Israelites who have remained in Judah during the exile. Unlike the exiles, these people were able to stay in their homes. Yes, they are still in Zion, but Zion is empty. Their temple is gone. Their families are gone. It seems even God is gone.
And then God says, “I have returned to Zion; I will settle in Jerusalem” (Zech. 8:3). God will come back. And so will their families. And there will even be new families: “Old men and old women will again dwell in the plazas of Jerusalem. Each of them will have a staff in their hand because of their great age. The city will be full of boys and girls playing in its plazas” (Zech. 8:4-5).
Where it seems there is nothing, God declares there will be something. And not just something, but everything: “The seed is healthy:/the vine will give its fruit./The land will produce;/the heavens will give its dew./I will give the remnant of this people all these things” (Zech. 8:12)
That same unexpected healing is present in the Gospel reading. Jesus has just told the disciples his extreme, confusing, and even disappointing teaching that the Messiah has come not to rule but to serve. He’s walking with his disciples, perhaps continuing this conversation, and there’s a “sizeable crowd” around him. With all of this going on, Jesus still hears Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, calling his name. The crowd doesn’t expect Jesus to respond, so they shush the man. Maybe even Bartimaeus doesn’t expect Jesus to respond because the crowd has to interrupt his shouting to say, “He’s heard you—go!”
No expects this man to be heard. But Jesus hears him. Against the odds of busy crowds, social stigmas, and Jesus’ own weighty march to Jerusalem, the Son of God surprises everyone. And while it is indeed amazing that Jesus heals this man, thesurprise is that Jesus chooses to see a person to whom the world has become blind. Jesus’ healing is surprising not because Bartimaeus cannot see the world, but because the world chooses not to see Bartimaeus. But this is who Jesus sees, speaks to, and heals. This is the one Jesus, the Son of God, serves.
Think about God’s surprising ways in your own life.
Think about when you’ve experienced God’s surprising ways in your own life:
· When has something turned out differently than you thought?
· When have your assumptions been overturned? Your horizons widened?
· When has a surprise challenged you?
· When has a surprise made something new and better than you ever imagined?
Being open to surprise is how we live in service
Each of you have bravely and willingly committed to a life of service over this next year.
But along with service, what I hope you will take with you for the year ahead is this:be open to a surprising life with God. Because these surprises are essential to service. They show us how to live out this life of service. They open us up to God’s presence; help us understand Jesus’ call to serve; teach us how to enact God’s love in the world. God surprising visions imagine—and maybe even rely on—us taking part in them.
Going back to Zechariah, God declares the surprising things God will do for those in Judah and then says, “These are the things you should do: Speak the truth to each other; make truthful, just, and peaceable decisions within your gates” (Zech. 8:16, emphasis mine).
God gives surprising help to the psalmist and the psalmist’s whole life becomes about showing that help to others: “Let all those who are suffering eat and be full!/Let all who seek the Lord praise him!/I pray your hearts live forever!” (Ps. 22:26)
The writer of 1 Peter declares our salvation has been made complete through Jesus Christ by writing, “The end of everything has come.” But that is precisely when we are called to love and serve one another most fiercely.
Jesus heals Bartimaeus. And then what does Bartimaeus do? He follows Jesus.
Life with God is call and response. Surprise and service.
So be prepared to be surprised!
So be open to a surprising life with God. Be open to a God who chooses to act through suffering and exiled people; through people like Bartimaeus who the world does not see; and through servants like Jesus. A God who says the greatest people are those who joyfully become the least.
If you’re open to this life with God, I can’t tell you exactly where God will take you, but I believe it will include incredible places marked by God’s faithfulness, justice, and love. I believe it will form you into your truest self. I believe it will include loving community. And, yes, service. I believe it will be an amazing way to live your life.
So, when you leave here to go in peace to love and serve the Lord, be prepared to be surprised.
Preached by The Reverend Sarah Hedgis, Servant Year Chaplain, at Opening Retreat Eucharist on 8/21/15.