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a servant

April 8, 2009

“Jesus remains Lord by being a servant.”

I read this sentence in Reflections for Ragamuffins by Brennan Manning earlier this morning.   I can’t get by it.  It is so obvious; of course we “know” that Jesus is a servant.  Philippians 2 jumps into our minds.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8).

The image I am confronted with is my tendency to see Jesus high and lifted up.  Rightly so, but Brennan Manning confronts any inclination to see Jesus only as high and lifted up through his “kingship” alone.   His reward if you will as something I benefit from, something I receive.  It is easy to see Jesus as powerful when He is a risen King.

“Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2:9-11).

It is very subtle, but I realize that by focusing on the after-Easter experience it is possible to miss that Jesus was first Lord as a servant and remains the servant.  Perhaps his most powerful statement came as a servant, humbling going to the Cross.  There would not have been a resurrection without the Cross.  I am seeing both through a different lens.

We are mid-way through the week, Holy Week, a week filled with remembrance and entering in. Because my Baptist heritage and later church experiences had placed the primary emphasis on the resurrection — Easter Sunday my knowledge of Lent is one that I am acquiring through deepening acquaintance and experience.

Again this year, as in recent years I felt as if I wanted to avoid the Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and I did not understand why.  What was it about those times?  Why did I feel a sense of loathing?

These are reflections and musings.  In other words what I am writing is a personal reflection.  I invite you to join with me in these reflections.

I know that few of us like to “discipline” ourselves.  We are often too lenient or too stringent.  It is easy to deceive ourselves.  A true assessment comes only as we grow in our ability to receive God’s assessment of ourselves.  The “why” of discipline, acknowledging my real motivation helps me understand my need.   It forces me to face my “besetting” sins.  Am I trying to please God or earn God’s approval to be acceptable or prove myself to God?  Is my core — the very essence of my motivation sourced in relationship?  In knowing Him?

In Philippians — right before the “invitation” to have the same mind that was in Christ, Paul writes, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” (Phil. 2:4).

How often I have focused on “me” within the scope of Holy Week… Christ died for my sins; it was my sins that put Christ on the Cross.  Please don’t misread what I am saying.  These things are healthy.  This is a time for introspection, but not on our own.  Left to ourselves we will disguise our heart.  We dare not be introspective apart from grasping that Christ’s actions were sourced in love not substitution.

But this is what I have realized.  Finally, I think I am beginning to understand why I felt frustrated amid Holy Week.  The need in our reckoning “with me” is the recognition that it is not “only with me,”  but it is with “we.”  The “me” is like my left hand, a part of the Body, but that hand must be joined with my right hand, the “we,” which is also part of the Body.   The focus is so often on my individual salvation and redemption that I have lost sight of the “we” — the corporate body of Christ.

It is so easy to get lost in the sadness of Christ’s death.  It is also so easy to see the resurrection as Christ rescuing us.  He is now the triumphant King.  What Brennan Manning did was make me realize I dare not see Christ’s servanthood through the lens of his “King-liness.”  But that I see his Kingship through the lens of his servanthood.  Not, I repeat, not as something to be used for my advantage or purpose with the focus on me — my well-being, my health, my desire, my pleasure… no, not that at all.

But for the sake of others.  Jesus is our Savior, our redeemer, our Lord.  And He remains forever a servant.

Did Christ’s servanthood look different than mine (ours)?  That is the question.  If it does, then what is the difference?  If “Jesus remains Lord by being a servant,” have I missed something, have we?  Perhaps one aspect of my individual repentance is to recognize that being a servant means that I am looking for the interests of others, not my own interests — heck not even if I am fulfilling a personal mission statement or a church mission statement, if the reason I am doing what I am doing is focused on accomplishing a task or a mission or a project or a program I might be missing something.  This is even more subtle than I had imagined.  I start out with a mission or a purpose to renovate, or create community (starting a new small group), and desire to incarnate Christ — to be the hands and feet of Jesus and very subtly the focus shifts to what I am doing.  The “doing” is important, but if I let go of serving, my focus can end up being more concerned with personal satisfaction, my interests or what I get out of serving and doing.  I realize it is possible for me to miss the individual right before me.

I also realize that I can be overwhelmed and feel I need to be all things to all people.  When I look at the servanthood of Christ — I do not see frantic action or behavior.  His ministry flowed from his context — from where he was and who he was with.  He put himself in position to meet the needs of the larger community; at cost to himself.  He found time as well to renew within by being with the Father. This occurred amid ministry and in places of solitude. Even amid the pressure of ministry and untold need, Christ demonstrated a rhythm, a way of life.  I do not think serving others could have happened apart from this.  It seems the anchor for Christ, the servant was compassion, because he knew the heart of his Father.

Throughout the gospels, we have noticed in his interactions with women, Jesus was “present” to others.  He was attentive.  The relationship was centered upon acceptance. He placed himself and the disciples outside the expected and acceptable realm of religious behavior. While I am concerned with ministry and doing I cannot let the needs of those right before me go unnoticed. When I sit in our services this week I am realizing that I am just one, but I am not complete apart from those with whom I am present. I am realizing that to be a servant I must be listening to the voices around me, to listen and place myself in posture of compassion, which means I am more concerned with the needs of others. It is the posture Christ took when he knelt to wash the feet of the disciples.

Christ’s compassion even extended to those who would betray and deny him.

Brennan Manning is right. Jesus remains Lord by being a servant.


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