You Gotta Serve Somebody
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Old Testament: Jeremiah 8:18—9:1
Psalter: Psalm 79:1-9
Epistle: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
Old Testament: Amos 8:4-7
Psalter: Psalm 113
Epistle: 1 Timothy 2:1-7
Gospel: Luke 16:1-13
When joy is gone and hearts are sick, O God, you give us Christ as our healing balm. He came in human flesh that he might give himself as a ransom for our salvation and anoint us with the Spirit of consolation and joy. Hear the cry of your people, that we may rejoice in the richness of your love and be faithful stewards of your many gifts. Amen.
No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13).
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Yes indeed, you're gonna have to serve somebody.
Well it may be the Devil,
Or it may be the Lord,
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.—Bob Dylan
The religion of voodoo, more properly called Vodun, has a strong influence on the island country of Haiti. In the religion of Voodoo, the spirits control everything and everything that happens means something. If you are a farmer and your harvest is bountiful, that means that the spirits (loas as they are called) are pleased with you; if the next year the harvest is terrible, the spirits are angry.
This view of the world can make it very difficult for Christian missionaries to keep converts. The voodoo priests and priestesses of each village wield incredible power over the people. When someone converts to Christianity, the priestess will often put a curse on the person; and if something terrible happens to that individual later on, the villagers will see it as proof that the spirits are angry at this person for becoming a Christian. The temptation for the new convert in such circumstances is to abandon their new faith and return to his or her former religious practices.
I experienced this situation first-hand over thirty-five years ago as a college student on a mission trip there. Our team was in a very primitive setting way up in the mountains near the Dominican Republic. There was a farmer in the village where we worked, who had been a recent convert to Christianity. The priestess of the village placed a curse on him and the following year his crop failed. It was unimportant that there were crop-failures in general in many places surrounding the village. He was told that his woes were due to the anger of the spirits. The temptation to return to his former faith was great. The only Christian missionary in the village, whose specialty was agriculture, worked with the man, praying with him, studying the Bible with him, and teaching him better farming techniques, and tried to encourage him to keep his newfound faith.
Throughout the various planting and harvest seasons, he remained true to his faith in spite of the ridicule he received from some villagers and members of his own family. Over time as this farmer utilized what he had learned from the missionary, his crops were more productive, his average yield increased. Soon other farmers in the area began to approach the missionary asking, not only for help in farming, but inquiring into what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. One villager commented that even the powerful spirits of voodoo had to answer to the God of the American missionary.
Many years ago a theologian defined faith as “that which ultimately concerns us.” What is it that ultimately concerns us? What is it that we devote our time, energy and money to? That is where our faith is. That is where our “religion” is. Jesus said it another way: “No slave can serve two masters, for a slave will either hate the one and love the other or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” We may not worship golden calves any more, but we live in a society that often will do just about anything for the almighty dollar. We live in a society where everything including blood is a commodity. That is idolatry. We don’t worship a goddess of love anymore, with temple prostitutes, but we live in a society that constantly bombards us with sex in all its illicit forms, that is, if the television and radio are accurate indicators. That is idolatry. Those who traffic in human beings made in the image of God treat them as things which are less than human. Yes, that too is idolatry.
Yes, all of us will and are serving somebody or something. It is impossible to do otherwise. And if we choose to treat God as ole “What’s-His-Name, we will end up putting our faith in someone else, likely ourselves. Our golden calves may not be golden and they may not be calves but they are still idols. In the twenty-first century we are not more sophisticated in the objects of our affection. Indeed, not much has changed.
I recently read a story about a young college student who was the first person in his family to attend college. His mother had sacrificed much and was continuing to do so in order to send him. Not too far into his first semester, one day, he was offered some illegal drugs. “Go ahead, try it. It’ll make you feel good,” said the dealer. The young student refused.
“Don’t be so uptight," said the drug pusher. “Nobody is going to know that you tried a little, got a little high. Lots of people do it.”
“That’s not the point,” said the student. “The point is that my mother cleaned houses and washed floors to send me to this college. I am here because of her. I am here for her. I will not do anything that will demean her sacrifice for me.”
That comes very close to how we are to react to our holy God. Christians don’t lie, cheat, steal, murder, commit adultery, etc. not in order to get on God’s good side. In Christ we are already on God’s good side; we are made right with God through Jesus Christ. We live upright lives because we are to live in the light of our knowledge of God’s name, God’s holy name. We live holy lives because we do not want to do anything that will demean the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for us. As God’s children we do not want to do anything that will defame God’s holy name.
In praying the Lord’s Prayer, in naming the holiness of God, we discover not just who God is but also who we are. We are daily reminded that we are not our own. We belong, not to ourselves, and our desires, but to God. Thus, the Heidelberg Catechism asks the Christian, “What is your only comfort in life and in death?” The answer? “That I belong—body and soul, in life and in death—not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” Each of us has been named by the God whom we name in prayer. We have been elected, chosen, commandeered to take God's holy name to the world. We are owned.
Our God is not old “What’s-His-Name.” Our God is holy. To commit our worship, our lives, our time, our talent, our desires, our resources to anyone or anything else is to commit idolatry, is to raise a Golden Calf, a tribute to ourselves in what will turn out to be the wilderness of our lives.
Friends, all of us have to serve somebody. Whom will we serve?
PRAYER: O God, you call us to embrace both you and the children of this world with unconditional love. Give us grace to discern what your love demands of us, that, being faithful in things both great and small, we may serve you with an undivided heart. Amen.
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