Sermon, Sept 19, 2021: “Being a Serving Mascot”

*Gospel Reading:

Mark 9: 30-37

30 From there Jesus and his followers went through Galilee, but he didn’t want anyone to know it. 31 This was because he was teaching his disciples, “The Human One will be delivered into human hands. They will kill him. Three days after he is killed he will rise up.” 32 But they didn’t understand this kind of talk, and they were afraid to ask him.

33 They entered Capernaum. When they had come into a house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about during the journey?” 34 They didn’t respond, since on the way they had been debating with each other about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.” 36 Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve, and embraced him. Then he said, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who sent me.”

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Praise to you Lord Christ.

Sermon, “Being a Serving Mascot”

            The college football season is fully underway. Yesterday’s instate rivalry game made me think about my college football experience. When I was in college, I had a specific role on our college football team. I went to the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne and I was….Here is a picture of me in college. (Show pic). For all four years, I was the mascot. I was the Cougar of the University of Saint Francis. Yes, I had my crazy antics on the sidelines, I cheered for the team, and tried to make the local news in my big furry costume. It was a lot of fun! While it was fun to cheer on the Cougars, I’m proudest of my call into service. I learned during my time in college that you can serve God with every part of your life, even as a mascot.

            Our Gospel continues this theme that Jesus started last Sunday. You might remember Jesus telling the disciples, as we heard last Sunday, to deny oneself, take up your cross and follow him. Now this week, we hear again Jesus teaching the disciples about his path to the cross, death and resurrection. Jesus tends to follow a similar pattern in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus teaches, the disciples don’t get it, and Jesus corrects them. Sound familiar? Jesus teaches the disciples of his coming suffering, rejection and death on the cross. Last week Peter confronts Jesus and this week the disciples don’t understand. This is followed by Jesus correcting Peter last week and he corrects the disciples this week. Not only does this happen in Chapter 8 like last week, and Chapter 9 today, but in the very next Chapter the same pattern is found. Jesus teaches that he will suffer and die, they don’t get and they get corrected.

            This time though, Jesus follows up his statement to “deny oneself, take up the cross and follow me” with a description of what this call to discipleship, to follow Jesus, actually looks like. His response comes out of an argument. The disciples left Caesera Philippi, made their way to Capernaum and Jesus knew the disciples were arguing, so he asked them about it. He knew what they were arguing about. We hear it again in the very next chapter when James and John were arguing about sitting with Jesus in glory. Jesus tells the bickering James and John, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.” Even Jesus came not to be served but to serve.” This time, in Chapter 9, they are arguing out who is the greatest among them. That’s when teaches them, “Whoever wants to be first must be least of all and the servant of all.”

            Jesus’ teachings in both Mark 9 and 10 always remind me of the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In one of his final speeches, just months before he was killed, Dr. King gave the famous “The Drum Major Instinct” message.      

“If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness. By giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

            That’s such a powerful reminder for us today, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.” Dr. King makes it sound simple.

            Jesus tried to be clear with the disciples. He was asking them to live a lifestyle of servanthood, to create a culture of service among their little band that would eventually become the church. When he said to follow him, he clears that up this week, well sort of, by telling his followers to become a servant of all. Don’t just find opportunities to serve, but live a lifestyle of service.

            Now I can offer to you all of the opportunities we have to serve at First Church. We have plenty of them nearly every day of the week. Instead, what Jesus is teaching here is that weren’t not called to simply find opportunities to serve, while those are important and good things to do, we’re to create a culture and lifestyle of servanthood.

            Our Church Leadership Team read and discussed a book together by Dr. Phil Maynard called Shift 2.0, where the author challenges us, as a church, to reimagine our ways of being church. One chapter is titled “Shift 4: From Serve Us to Service.” Service is defined as “joining Jesus in ministry to the world, using our gifts and graces to engage others in ways that bring hope, healing, and wholeness to life. The church doesn’t exist to serve us; it exists to serve the world – to transform the world!”

            Too often we say that we need this or that from the church. We say I need this and I’ll go to a church that provides whatever it is I define as my need. What if we changed our thinking here and considered instead how we can bring with us our ideas, passions, gifts and energy creating new opportunities for ministry and outreach. We are called to create a culture of service, where we put the needs of others over ourselves.       

            I have learned this as I became a dad nearly 6 years ago. To be a parent is to put the needs of your little one over your own, no matter how tired you are or hungry you are or frustrated you are. I’m still learning how to be a servant of my two little boys not just once in a while, but as a lifestyle. I am called by God to be a dad and a servant to my family. It doesn’t mean that I always succeed or do that well, but I’m learning and living into this part of servanthood in my life.

            Perhaps this is why Jesus used a little child as his illustration in his teaching. As we heard in Mark, “Jesus reached for a little child, placed him among the Twelve disciples and embraced him. Then Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me isn’t actually welcoming me but rather the one who send me.”

            As the pattern of Mark would have it, we hear this again in Chapter 10. This time people were bringing little children to Jesus so that he might bless them, but the disciples spoke sternly to them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.”

            When Jesus teaches the disciples about welcoming children, he is showing them that true greatness is not about being above others, but to be least of all and servant of all. It’s not to try to have all of my needs met, it’s about serving the needs of others. In any time and culture, children are the vulnerable ones in the population. They are always dependent on others for their survival and well-being. It was especially true in the ancient world. A child had no rights at all and not status among the people. These are precisely the ones Jesus invites his followers to welcome and serve: the vulnerable, the hurt, the lost and the hard to love. That’s why Pastor Emily and I, our church leadership and our Vision Team, all share the same vision to create a culture of welcome and service. You heard our Vision Statement at the beginning of worship that we seek to be an inclusive faith community. In our first practice we list receptive hospitality where we state, “we seek to create an atmosphere of love with open arms.”

            That means when we welcome little children into our worship space, we are invited to create a culture of welcome and servanthood where we are all serving the needs of our children and families. Being welcoming of and serving of anyone or any specific group will require sacrificing our own needs to serve others, that’s the discipleship that Jesus talked about.

            Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. It’s about creating a culture and lifestyle of service. I forgot to tell you how I served as the Cougar of Saint Francis. While I really enjoyed my time on the football field as the Cougar, I am proudest of the ways I served. Once a month for three years, I would put my mascot costume in this large body bag and take it to Lutheran Children’s Hospital. I would get dressed up and walk around the children’s wing visiting with children who were ill and their families bringing a smile or a weird look from parents and siblings. The best was when the doctors would be rushing down a hallway, catch a glimpse of the Cougar, stop, back up, look, smile, then keep walking.

            The thing is, this experience taught me that every part of my life can be lived in service to and for others in the name of God in Christ. Even if I’m just making someone smile, offering a kind gesture, listening with respect and kindness or any other way to serve and welcome, every act can become a way of serving. Every part of your life can be a way to serve others. If you follow Jesus and listen to his call, you will live a lifestyle of service and create a culture of serving others. It’s that easy! Even if you’re dressing up as a Cougar mascot, you can serve God! Let us pray:

Give us servant’s heart, O Lord;

A soul that longs for you,

A spirit that daily seeks your will,

And strength to follow through.

Give us ears to listen

To the cries that go unheard,

A mouth that speaks in kindness

And proclaims your perfect word. 

Give us eyes to see the things

That grieve your only Son

And hands that reach out for the lost

Until your work is done.

Give us legs that carry us

Swiftly through the race,

And when we’re finished let us leave

Footprints marked with grace. Amen.

                                               -Alicia Bruxvoort

Reflection Questions on Serving

  1. Who are the people in my life that God might be calling me to serve in a different way?
  • What are the motivations in my heart for serving others? (Is my desire to feel good or to respond to God’s love? Am I serving out of guilt or love?)
  • How is God calling me to create a culture and lifestyle of service? (What is holding me back from service?)
  • What are the big shifts, not one-time or weekly service opportunities, that God is calling me to?

Take some time in prayer to reflect on service and serving in the name of Jesus.

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