By Laurie Gudim
. . . but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’ – Matthew 20:26-28
Like so many others, the church to which I belong is in transition. This means that there are anxious and angry people who are only hanging on to their affiliation with it by a thread. Since I am a vestry member this is one of those things I worry about a lot, especially in the middle of the night.
Our congregation works at being servants to one another, supportive and available, but we often fall way short of doing a good job. And this is especially true when we are stressed. The more tension there is in the community the more we each tend to curl in on ourselves and to become unavailable.
But I’m coming to realize something. Even if our parish were composed entirely of people who not only cared deeply about one another but who always, without fail, were able to understand and take care of each other, if this were all we were doing we would be missing the point of Christian community.
Our real purpose is not to be a comfortable and supportive bunch of people; our real purpose is to follow the Way of Jesus. It is to be a proclaiming people, used by God in God’s mission to the world.
This fact makes me see that, bottom line, we just have to get over ourselves. We have to get over needing to be snug in and coddled by the church. Our planet is drowning in terror, violence, shame and disillusionment, and Christ is tapping us on the shoulder. “Go out and do something about this,” he says. “You’re my hands and my heart in the world.”
What is servant leadership, really? I imagine the disciples in the days after Jesus’ resurrection. What did James and John, who had wanted to sit on Jesus’ left and right hands in the Kingdom, really need from their community after Jesus had been killed and they were alone? What about Peter, who had betrayed Jesus three times?
It is easy to disappear into confusion and self-pity when God calls us to change in the service of new understanding. We can get ourselves stuck in a cycle of placating the whiner in ourselves – which makes it feel vindicated – which makes it whine even harder. What Peter needed was somebody to say, “Yup, what you did was pretty rotten. But you’re forgiven. Now come help us figure out how in the heck we’re going to serve our Savior, who just turned our whole world inside out!”
Getting over ourselves is, of course, a complicated undertaking. And we actually can help one another by being good, compassionate listeners and friends. But, bottom line, it’s not about us being comfortable and supported. We can do what we need to do without that – in fact, there are plenty of times when we have to.
It’s about pointing a way for those anguished souls who need God to find God. It’s about being a conduit so that God can show God’s self clearly to the desperate, hungry hearts God yearns for so ardently. It’s about loving, intentionally and with unfaltering resolve, even when nothing much makes sense to us – even when we aren’t getting anything back.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.