Jesus’ friends just didn’t get it. As they traveled with him through Galilee, they did what travelers do; they talked with each other about their feelings and anxieties. And they just couldn’t understand what he had said about being betrayed and killed, and then rising. And then they began arguing who among them was the greatest! They seemed clueless about the significance of Jesus’ ministry, and what their own part in it was supposed to be. So, when they got to Capernaum, Jesus tried again. (God knows, he had tried before to get the whole “servant idea” across to them.) How plainly could he say it? “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Now, he must have known there was a problem even putting it that way: Trying to be first, and trying genuinely to be a servant—that’s a contradiction! The last thing on a real servant’s mind is getting ahead of other people!
So Jesus used one of his favorite images. As so often, wherever he went, children came along too. So he took one of them in his arms; he said, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” What was it about children that so endeared them to Jesus? Was it not their simplicity, their unselfconsciousness, their instinctive trust and generosity? Little children “get it” about being servants. They love to help; they love to give; they love to be needed. How sad it is when we grow out of those ways! How sad it is when it becomes cool to show others up, and act as though we’re superior to them. I’m afraid that’s what I did at times when I was in school, immature kid that I was!
In a very real sense, growing up spiritually and emotionally means growing up to serve! It means coming to realize how incredibly much God loves us and doing everything in our power to extend that love to others. It took Jesus’ disciples a long time to get there. It took his suffering and death and resurrection—all the things he said would happen—before they really got it about being servants. But that’s how the church began: a small band of believers got it about serving others in Christ’s name. And they went out and gave of themselves, and shared the joy of knowing Christ, and the joy of loving others like he loves us. That’s why we’re here today, and why children are being baptized. Jesus’ death—consciously and intentionally for others—has poured down upon us the love of God like no other event in history. God’s presence in and among us is like we’ve received a “transplant” of that same incredible love to pour out to others. We need to commit to that! When you and I hear that question in the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We need to shout it out, and mean it “I will, with God’s help!”
Growing up in God’s eyes is growing up to be servants—bearers, sharers of the love of Christ. I talked about “joy” a minute ago. A sure-fire measure of how much you’ve grown up, spiritually and emotionally, is how much joy you have in you. Now, life is not always fun—you know that and I know that. Some of us have known a lot of pain. But I say this about myself, and I’ve seen it again and again in others: Giving, loving, serving brings tremendous joy. Without exception, the most genuinely joyful people I have known have been generous people.
Over the years I’ve talked a lot about tithing in the parishes I’ve served; and we’ve long been tithers ourselves. That means giving a tenth of what you make to God’s work through your parish and other avenues, as God may lead you. (It all belongs to God anyway—the tithe is the Bible’s guide to how you divide it up!) One of the most joyful individuals I ever knew was a man named Gordon Capps, in another parish. He owned some radio stations, but he also had a lot of pain in his life, having just lost his wife. One fall, after I’d been preaching about tithing, he came in with his pledge for the next year and said, “This is a tithe.” And his generosity grew and grew. He became joyfully involved in church and charity, locally and far beyond. He discovered the truth that we do a lot better job with all our spending if we give the first tenth to God!
God calls us to grow up and serve, and of course not just with our money but with our time and energy and abilities too. But money is really key. It’s been truly said that we write our biographies with our checkbooks! Some of us can give a lot; some of us can give very little. It’s the proportion that counts—how we divide up what God has given us. St. James’s needs us to look very carefully this year at our pledges. We need to take a quantum leap ahead, not only to support and expand what we’re already doing, but to heat and cool and maintain our new Michaux House, which is going to relieve a whole lot of crowding and congestion and make possible a lot of new ministries. To that end, by moving some priorities around, Joannie and I are going to increase our own pledge substantially. I hope all of you who can will do that too.
Mature people are generous people; there’s just that nature about them. I don’t watch TV talk shows much, but one of them caught my eye the other day at breakfast. Diane Sawyer was interviewing young Matt Damon, the actor, on “Good Morning America.” Now, there’s a guy with some maturity under his belt and a good sense of humor. As the discussion with Diane was warming up, Matt mentioned that he and his wife have three girls and his brother has two boys. The difference between raising girls and raising boys is profound, he said. “My brother called me recently and asked what I was doing, and I said I’m learning to be a little princess. Another time, I called him and asked what he was up to, and he said, ‘I’m in the emergency room!’” But the thing that most impressed me about Matt Damon was how he de-scribed having friends over to watch ballgames. He said, “I always have food for them to eat, but I also have a bowl there and ask them to give money for the local food bank.” What a grown-up guy!
You and I, like the disciples of old, need to “get it” about being generous servants, and caring for others, and doing with less so we can devote more of our blessings to God’s work in the world. Thank God, St. James’s is a parish of “doers!” This little booklet we received the other day illustrates that superbly. But what it says at the end is so very important. It says, “Our journey is only beginning….” How little those disciples knew what lay ahead! God loved them and called them to high adventure beyond their imagining. And God loves us and calls us to the high adventure of wholehearted service in a world crying out for hope. The possibilities are limitless when we embrace the joy of giving. A new journey is beginning for us right now. Let’s get on board!