Summary: Stewardship is about much more than money. This sermon deals with how we can be generous with our service.
Membership has meaning. Every organization has expectations for those who join its ranks, and let’s face it, the church is no different. Jack Jones wrote: “Putting a hog in the living room will not change the hog’s nature, but it will damage the living room. A lost man’s nature will not be changed by placing his name on the church roll, but the church will suffer by his being a member. Every Christian should be a church member; in fact, there is no place for a true Christian outside the church. But the church membership has nothing whatever to do with the salvation of the soul. Billy Sunday was right when he said, ‘Joining the church does not anymore make one a Christian than entering a garage will change one into an automobile’.” Joining the Rotary Club is not what makes a person a Rotarian. Assenting to the purposes and aims of the Rotary Club is what makes a person a Rotarian.
The church is no different. Those of us who have chosen to join the United Methodist Church assented to those expectations when we joined the church. Our assent is that we will “faithfully participate” in its ministries by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. As we reflect on the possibility of living a generous life, we turn our thoughts toward what it means to be generous with our service. Our God is a generous God who demonstrated his generosity by giving His Son, Jesus Christ that we might have life. Generosity is at the heart of all we do as disciples, so let’s explore this morning what it means to be generous with our service.
There was a day in Jesus’ life when two of his disciples, James and his brother, John, made a request of Jesus. Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus was walking ahead of his disciples on the way to Jerusalem. He pulled the twelve aside and told them again the purpose of his trip to Jerusalem—to be arrested, crucified and eventually, to be resurrected. “Ah,” the disciples think. “The Kingdom is about to come!” James and John seize the opportunity to seek their place in His Kingdom, so they approach Jesus and say, “Teacher, we want you to do us a favor.”
Jesus answers, “What is it?”
James and John respond, “When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left.”
Jesus takes the opportunity to correct their thinking about what it means to be “in the Kingdom.” It’s not the first time he’s dealt with this issue. In Mark’s gospel, in chapter nine, while Jesus and the disciples were at Capernaum, Jesus asked them what they were talking about while they walked along the road. They didn’t want to answer because there were discussing which one of them would be greatest among them. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” There, in chapter 9, and here again, in chapter ten, Jesus connects the idea of greatness and leadership in the Kingdom with service. The disciples didn’t get the point then. I wonder if we even get the point today. It makes me ask “What does it mean to serve in the Kingdom?”
Jesus, yet again, turns the disciple’s world upside down. After James and John ask Jesus to let one of them sit at His right and the other at His left, Jesus replies, “You don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
Jesus uses two symbolic Old Testament words, cup and baptism. They are words that have huge implications. Remember, Jesus had just finished telling His disciples what was going to happen in Jerusalem. He would be arrested, tortured and killed. The cup that Jesus drank and the baptism that Jesus was baptized with would be the offering of His life. So, His question to James and John was literally this: “Can you, too, offer your lives?”
Of course, they thought they could. We think so, too, when we come to faith in Christ…when we join the church. Too often, we come with the same understanding that James and John had, though. They understood faithful discipleship to Jesus as a means to a selfish end; it will help them achieve their goal of having power over others. Jesus mentions a cup, and they think he’s talking about the cup of victory over their enemies. They want to replace the power structure of the Romans with their own power structure. They simply wanted to supplant one set of rulers with another—themselves! Their ambition was still worldly. We still find people in the church who put meeting our ego needs before meeting our obligations as disciples. Like James and John, we soft-sell the cross in favor of a more popular brand of discipleship—one that offers fulfillment and satisfies our material needs.