Pentecost 12

Not long ago I admitted that I hate the almost universally beloved Wizard of Oz, and today I will admit that I don’t have much interest at all in the also almost universally loved Downton Abbey.  I haven’t seen much of it, to be honest, but I will agree with my friend Fr. Bret Hays when he said that “if you want to understand what it means to be a faithful servant, look no further than the impeccable team of Downton Abbey.  An English country estate in the early twentieth century, Downton can only function with the work of a small army of housemaids, footmen, cooks, valets, ladies’ maids, all under the butler’s watchful eye.  They epitomize the concept of the faithful servant, standing ready to accomplish any necessary task with alacrity, courtesy, competence, and discretion, from preparing and serving elaborate banquets to removing the body of a Turkish diplomat from the eldest daughter’s bedchamber in the middle of the night.

“Downton Abbey shows us that while servanthood encompasses many things, boredom is seldom among them.  The fact of servanthood infuses even quiet and ordinary work with dignity, for these smaller tasks are also essential to a very profound enterprise.  By the same token, Holy Scripture and the lives of the Saints show us that being a servant of God is an adventure that demands all we have, gives us direction and purpose, binds us together, and brings out the best in us.

Servanthood seems to be very near the heart of God.  God sent Jesus to be among us as one who serves, and his divinity was revealed in moments of servanthood.  Sometimes Jesus was serving others, feeding crowds and washing feet.  At other times, Jesus was being served as a dinner guest or being anointed with precious ointment.  Through it all, God uses personal interactions to reveal and accomplish cosmic plans.  It seems that God wants us never to forget how profound a power we have in our choices, how every moment of life is full of wonderful possibilities, how much we can glorify God even in small gestures.”[1]

That’s a very comforting thought, and in the Gospel lesson we just heard, Jesus is in full comforting mode.  “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” should be written in the doors of every church in the world.  Too often we worry about our place in the Kingdom of God, as if we have to climb the company ladder to a plusher mansion in heaven.  Back when I was a kid and was surrounded by more Pentecostal Christians than I am now, one of their hot-button issues was if you could lose your salvation; could you be so bad that you could essentially reverse God’s decision to keep your soul.  The inevitable follow-up question is How would you know if you lost your salvation?  How could you tell?  The simple answer to all this is sure, you could probably lose your salvation, but you have to really, really try, over and over and over again, both in this life and the next, to get your baptism renounced and thrown out of the Kingdom.  I’ve found it difficult, even close to impossible, to come up with an example of how to do this.  Why?  Because it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom.

Having this comfort, this assurance of our place in the Kingdom, allows us to then respond, gives us the freedom to respond, to that wonderful gift of God.  How do we respond?  By being faithful servants, in things big and small.  Being in a parish this beautiful and yet this – let’s call it historic -gives us ample opportunities for servanthood.  I take great delight in seeing how many of you regard things big and small as ways to respond to the love of God.  All of the cleaning and mowing and arranging and singing an ironing, the showing of hospitality, the giving of love in outreach, in all those things and more you show each other and the world the joy of being a servant in God’s kingdom.

Even as God prepares a place for us in heaven, we can prepare a place for God within ourselves on Earth.  The only question is, what sort of place will we make for God?  Will we give God the place of honor, the center of our identity and the top priority in all our choices?  That choice is one we must make every day, and we won’t always get it right.  But when we do, we find that being a faithful servant, that always being ready for God is not a burden, but a way of life, the only life worth living.

 

[1] Fr. Bret Hays, Sermon for Pentecost 12, 2013

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