Serving God, Serving Others
Readings: Psalm 123:1-4 (NRSV) and 2 Corinthians 1:1-4 (NRSV)
Do you feel like praising God today and expressing your trust in God? Or are you lamenting today and crying out to God to do something? Or a bit of both?
Whichever of those options you just ticked in your mind, Psalm 123 is for you. It’s only a short Psalm, but it has a bit of both in about equal measure.
Take v1 & v2.
V1: “To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens!”
V3: “Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt.”
This is a Psalm of Ascent, one of the songs that Jewish pilgrims would sing as they made the journey to worship at the Temple, especially in the lead up to the great religious festivals. Generally, such journeys were joyous occasions, but they were also hard and sometimes there was even criticism and opposition. As expressed here.
This is also a psalm of lament. It’s unusual because it begins with a note of praise and ends with the cries of lament, whereas most other Psalms of lament have it the other way round.
The pilgrims have experienced contempt and scorn from the proud and arrogant, and from “those who are at ease” in v4 (either the rich or perhaps those who’d rather relax than exert themselves on such a journey).
The psalm speaks to us today because we often experience similar derision and putdowns as we journey as pilgrims on the way of faith. There are great joys on the journey but also times of difficulty and things we lament along the way.
Eugene Peterson, in a book on the Psalms of Ascent (“The Journey – A Guide Book for the Pilgrim Life”, 1980), says this Psalm is essentially about service.
“Psalm 123 is an instance of service. In this, as so often in the psalms, we are not instructed in what to do, we are provided an instance of what is done. A psalm is not a lecture; it is a song. In a psalm we have the observable evidence of what happens when a person of faith goes about the business of believing and loving and following God. We don’t have a rule book defining the action, we have a snapshot of the players playing the game. In Psalm 123 we observe that aspect of life of discipleship that takes place under the form of a servant.” (p47).
That’s supported, I think, by v2:
“As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God…”
This is where servanthood begins, and it’s the way faithful servanthood continues – by looking to God as Lord and master.
There’s a better known Psalm of Ascent, Psalm 121, that begins:
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD who made heaven and earth.” (v1,2)
Psalm 123 doesn’t begin by wondering where help comes from. It jumps straight in and says “I’m lifting my eyes to God who is enthroned in heaven”.
That’s the foundation of servanthood – looking up to God, humbly acknowledging God’s greatness, and recognising that God is the source of help and mercy.
And it’s a personal commitment and a personal relationship. V1 is in the first person singular – “I lift up my eyes”.
But it is a shared experience as we journey with other servants. Every other verse is in the plural – our, us, we.
Although servanthood is founded on the servant/master relationship, it is not just a private matter. As I said, we are on this journey with others. But more than that, we are to serve others.
An enduring expression of being a servant of God is being a servant to others. It’s a logical corollary of the Great Commandment Jesus spoke about – loving God with your whole being and loving your neighbour as yourself.
I also want to make a couple of comments about the NT reading because it is very clear on this point. Paul refers in v3,4 to God as “the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us (or some versions have comforts us) in all our affliction”.
But that’s not the end. It’s more that just a God and me thing.
Paul says God consoles us “so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (v4)
The God-me thing is meant to be extended as a me-other thing. As a servant of God who receives blessing from God, I am then meant to also be a servant to others.
We’ve explored the theme of lament for several weeks now. Lament cries out for consolation. How blesses are we when God provides comforters to be with us during those times of lament along the way. That’s how it’s meant to be!
I’m glad that today is BaptistCare Sunday and that Howard has been able to be here and share with us this morning. Because there is my illustration. BaptistCare staff and volunteers do such a great job serving the homeless, poor, abused and especially the aged. Most people in residential aged care and home home care have complex and challenging needs. As the staff and volunteers care for them, they serve them, and help to bring about the consolation so sorely needed.
The change in the organisation’s name to Baptist Care many years ago now signifies that caring ethos. So do the organisation’s values. If you’ve been up th BaptistCare Griffith or any BaptistCare facility, you’ve no doubt seen this poster or one like it. The website gives the following explanation.
“Among the thousands of individuals we meet each day, we see that people want to be shown genuine loving care, to be respected as an individual, to be empowered to live well, and to always feel confident they have someone they can rely on each day.
Our values are the four drivers of an excellent customer experience. It’s what they value most; and so, we also value it most.”
I think those 4 values encapsulate what serving others is all about. BC staff and volunteers are to be congratulayed for serving others in that way.
But let me close this morning by suggesting that these values should be just as much a part of our service for others.
Be a servant of the Lord. As servants of the Lord we are called to serve one another – to comfort them as we have been comforted. Love, respect, reliability and empowerment will go a long way to accomplishing that.
There’s a song we often sing about serving one another that I’ve included in our service at this point. We’re not going to sing it though, not even the choir. To begin our response time, I’m going to invite you to say it with me (or at le3ast 3 verses of it). When we say these words we are saying them to one another. You might think of 1 or 2 people in particular and imagine you are saying the words to them. You could even let them know some time. Let’s say them together.
Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh I’ll with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.
Richard Gillard (b.1953)