October 6, 2019

Slaves to God

Text: Luke 17:5-10

Before I begin I want to share with you a story told to me by  Rev. Lydia Neshangwe over lunch last Monday. Rev. Neshangwe. a Presbyterian pastor from Zimbabwe, was visiting Columbiana in her role as a Presbyterian peacemaker. Here she’s telling the story of how, around a decade ago, her family moved from Zimbabwe to Denver, where they lived for five years.

About twelve years ago, Lydia received her call to ministry.  At the same time circumstances in Zimbabwe made it difficult for Paul, Lydia’s husband who is also a Presbyterian pastor, to work with his congregations.  They agreed it would be best for the family to leave, and Lydia looked into attending seminary either in South Africa or in Zambia, but neither were working out.  One day she shared all of this with some church partners in Denver.  They were looking for someone to use a scholarship to Denver Seminary.  It wasn’t long before she’d been accepted by the seminary, granted the scholarship, received a visa, and the family was on the plane.  Many of their friends and neighbors acted like the family had hit the lottery jackpot, but Lydia was in tears.  Zimbabwe, she said, was home.  “In Zimbabwe,” Lydia shared, “I am like a fish in water.  Outside of Zimbabwe I feel like a fish out of water.  I’d never been to America.  To leave everything behind was scary.”

Hold Rev. Neshangwe’s story while we turn to today’s scripture. While Jesus’ image of the mustard seed makes the perfect Facebook meme, I want to skip down to the part about the slave.

Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?

Whenever I read this passage my gut response is protest. Shouldn’t we invite the slave to the table? Isn’t slavery bad? Shouldn’t we treat the slave as our equal and give him a seat at the table? Then I realize I’m not the master in this story. I’m the slave. As the apostle Paul reminds us, Christians are not free people. We submit to slavery to God. In our salvation we pledge obedience to Christ. As slaves to Christ we should not expect either applause or reward for fulfilling our calling.

In a way Jesus’ slavery analogy reminds me of parenting. The slave reminds me of a mother who, within minutes of walking in the door after a long day at work, faces the demand: “What’s for dinner?” or “Practice starts in ten minutes and I can’t find my…” or “I forgot to tell you, we all have to dress up as airplanes / our favorite dog breed for Spirit day tomorrow.”

I remember one time, in 7th grade, I proudly told my teacher my dad could build a life-size cardboard boat for some sort of skit and could build it in a day or so. My dad, I figured, could build anything. It wouldn’t be that hard. I still use the expanded vocabulary I learned that night and trust one day, in a similar situation, I will pass them on to my son.

As slaves to our children we do things and go places we never thought we would. We spend sleepless nights helping them face fears and monsters. We clean up poop and puke and dry the tears of broken relationships. We huddle in the rain and cold to watch sports we never before followed. We empty our retirement savings to help pay for college, buy houses, cover emergency medical expenses, life-saving counseling or drug rehab. We bail them out of jail and visit them there if sentenced. Yes parenting has its rewards, but there’s no line of cheerleaders greeting us in the driveway at the end of a hard day. No thank you for working our tail off to pay for groceries, cars, houses, activity fees and the latest i-Phone. Just one more task, one more place to be, one more demand to be met.

Jesus calls and we go. Jesus called Lydia’s husband Paul and he went. He went to his international journalist friends and called them to document the horrors happening in his country. He went to the rural churches and faced the brutality of his government first hand. No brass band awaited him when he got home. Robert Mugabe, who grew up in the church, didn’t give him the Presidential medal of honor for bringing the country back to moral decency and holding the government accountable. Instead his life was threatened, his family was threatened, they were forced into exile.

As I was one of Lydia Neshangwe’s official hosts I received a packet of instructions from the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program. One note stuck out: please allow extra time for our peacemakers to clear security. Many face extra scrutiny. Shouldn’t these amazing men and women, many of whom have given up much, endured much to follow Christ receive a hero’s welcome?

The way of Christ leads neither to riches nor glory, neither to thrones nor kingdoms, neither to power nor acclaim. The way of Christ leads to the cross. Yes the cross then leads to resurrection – Lydia’s story of how God’s grace followed them to Denver is as powerful as her story of how they got there – but there’s always the cross. There’s always the cross just as there are always nights spent comforting a vomiting child, Saturday mornings watching cross country meets or soccer games in the drizzle/sleet or trips to who knows where at what time of night to pick up a child caught doing who knows what. As slaves to Christ God leads us to places we’ve never been, calls us to things we never would do on our own, and expects us to perform brave heroics, to give our all for people we’ve never met. And then, with neither accolades nor fireworks, do it all again.

Where has following Christ led you that you never, ever expected to go? What might God be calling you to do, this church to do, that you’d never ever imagine doing?


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