You gotta serve somebody
No one 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.-Matthew 6: 24
Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in Brooklyn on May 24, 1941. He grew up to be a singer and songwriter more commonly known as Bob Dylan. Of late, for health reasons, he’s been low-profile, but he has been a major figure in popular culture for more than 60 years, with songs that became anthems of the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960’s. Simple greatness, in my humble opinion.
As tends to be the case, a long life like his involved a number of stages. For Mr. Dylan, that included a season which began when he converted to an evangelical Christian faith. That experience resulted in the kind of fervor often found among new converts. It shaped his music in the late 1970’s and early 80’s. It won him a bunch of Grammys.
He produced several albums that reflected his new-found faith. One song in particular always strikes me when I run across the verses from the Sermon on the Mount before us this morning. The song’s refrain: You gotta serve somebody. The song has many stanzas. I’ve included just a few above. But I find myself this morning wondering if you think the premise is true. Do we really have to serve somebody?
A culture that celebrates the mythology of rugged individualism may not warm up to this idea. But let’s kick it around. Does everyone of us live our lives in service to someone or something? The list of potential masters, those people or things we serve, can be long. Purchased politicians bend to the will of those who donate the most money to their campaigns, even when it violates personal convictions or professions of faith. Clergy tailor homilies to avoid offending big donors, even if it mutes inspired voice. Teenagers twist themselves in knots to please the in-crowd, or to fulfill images media provides. (Newsflash: adults do that too.) We slavishly try to live up to expectations of parents, children, neighbors, employers, jumping through all kinds of hoops to get the nod.
To make it all the more complicated, we may find ourselves bifurcated or trifurcated or multifurcated (I’m making up words here) as we try to please the many voices calling to us at the same time. It can get tiring. It can be crazy making. In the end, it can prove to be unfulfilling.
Jesus knew this about us. His answer was simple. He said: Follow me. Stay close. Do what I call you to do. Do what I do. Love God and love neighbor. Put first things first. Seek first God’s kingdom and the rest will fall in place. That may mean that we recognize that we’re not in charge, often a painful realization for those of us who toy with the idea of being masters of our universe.
In the mystery of our faith, we discover our fullest, richest identity when we get the service piece down. Augustine captured that idea in his prayer which said that we serve Christ in whose service is perfect freedom. In other words, we find a life of freedom when we serve the one who came to serve. What does that look like in life?
With an eye on recent history, maybe it means choosing communal responsibility over independent rights, changing our thoughts on masks or guns or any other prerogative. Maybe it means listening more and opining less when we meet someone who disagrees with us. Maybe it means opening our eyes to those nearby and far away who might be hungry or homeless or lonely, and doing something about those desperate situations. Maybe it means looking around at those closest to us each morning and asking: How can I help you today?
We will always face multiple vocations. We go to work. We need money. We deal with expectations of others. We have aspirations. But perhaps we are being called to place all of those potential “masters” in the context of discipleship, i.e., the way we follow Jesus. What would it look like this week to take a step in that direction, to make that our goal?