“Not to be served but to serve,
And give yourself that we might live”
Not surprising that today’s reading reminded me of The Servant King, a favourite item in our school worship band’s repertoire.
I have been thinking about serving this week, as I have moved chairs, mopped floors, collected up rubbish, and fetched and carried instruments, microphones, etc. I have also led worship, prayed and preached, which is a different kind of serving.
I have been reflecting on how surprised people are, especially those used to working in a very formal hierarchy, when someone they perceive to be “in authority” rolls up their sleeves and gets stuck in. It changes things. It changes relationships – generally improving my relationship with those in serving roles, sometimes at the cost of being less respected by those at the top of the organisation. It also changes my perspective.
Of course, people were far more surprised when Jesus took on the role of a servant, subverting everyone’s expectations of the Messiah. He built relationships with those at the bottom of the heap and didn’t care when it cost him the respect of those at the top.
Perhaps that’s the model we need to follow in ministry. It’s very easy, especially in some types of ministry, to get sucked into being part of the “in crowd” – friendly with the mayor, the MP, the Councillors, the professional middle classes – enjoying status and respect in the community. But Jesus is more often found with the out crowd, the down-and-outs, the servants, the slaves, the unclean and unloved. Perhaps that’s where we should be looking for him too.
I remember the example of a bishop who once told me that, wherever he went, he washed up 10 cups. At the time, I thought it was a slightly eccentric tokenistic gesture. It has taken me years to see that doing this gave him the opportunity to spend time with the people doing the washing up – not necessarily the people anyone would make a point of introducing the bishop to. His discipline of washing up helped to keep him in solidarity with those who serve unnoticed. I can see the wisdom in that now.
It is only in taking on the role of the servant, and in spending time with those who have no option but to serve, that we can begin to see the world from the perspective of the Servant of whom Isiah speaks in this passage.