Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
September 9, 2018
I was five minutes early. I dared not be late.
Professor Elton Trueblood, the most disciplined
person I ever met, was waiting for me in his study at Earlham College in
Richmond, Indiana. We met together there at eight every morning during my
two-weeks’ visit with the distinguished philosopher.
At first I was frightened to sit alone for an
hour with the world’s most famous living Quaker, the author of some 35 books. I tried not to say much, afraid he would
discover the shallowness of my mind. His kind acceptance put me at ease. His
warmth quickly convinced me he had no need to impress me or to test me. He was
offering me his friendship. I was amazed – and thankful.
Those hours with Trueblood
remain one of the great treasures of my journey. While we were together, he was
truly “with” me. He listened to me. He looked into my eyes and often I felt he
was looking into my soul. While that made me a little nervous, it also convinced
me that the man really cared for me and wanted to know me. I never got the
feeling that he thought of himself as the great learned man who wanted to
“teach” the ignorant younger man from Alabama.
Of course I hung on every word he said and would
have made notes except doing so did not seem appropriate. Once our meetings
ended, I quickly found a quiet place where I could write down what I remembered
One morning Trueblood
suggested we talk about servanthood. He said, “Walter, you know Mark 10:45 is
the most revolutionary verse in the Bible.” (I would later read that statement
in one of his books.) He explained that the “haves” in the first century, just
as in our time, expected the “have nots” to serve them. The rich and powerful
had their servants. But Jesus turned this idea upside down. He did not “demand
his rights” as the Son of God, but insisted that he had not come to be served
but to serve and to give his life for others.
said, “saw himself as a servant of God and a servant of others. He called upon
his disciples to follow his example: become servants of others. Servanthood,
then, is the key to kingdom living.”
The good doctor went on to observe that Jesus
did not rebuke his disciples for wanting to become “great.” He simply reminded
them that the pathway to greatness in the eyes of God is not in power, fame, or
fortune but in serving others.
We talked about how serving others is seldom
glamorous. It usually involves doing menial tasks that some people think are
“beneath” them; such people think they are too important for such things. But
those who take Jesus seriously will pick up a towel and basin and wash dirty
feet just like Jesus did.
Now, many years since those conversations with
the good doctor, I like to think that by spending time with me, Trueblood was living out his concept of servanthood. There
was nothing I could do for him. The benefit of our talking was all mine. Yet he
was willing to put his superiority aside and spend many hours of his valuable
time making me feel that I had value to God, that I had the potential to make a
contribution to the work of Christ in the world. Because he did that for me, I
have tried to follow his example by doing the same for others, encouraging them
to believe they can make a difference as servants of Jesus.
When I think of true servants of Jesus, I think
Robert. He was never president of a bank or mayor of the town. He never served
as a key leader of his church. He was simply available when someone needed
help. He would drive someone to see a doctor, take a hot meal to a sick person
or visit a lonely homebound person. Robert did those things because he was a
servant of Jesus Christ.
I saw Betsy recently. She is in her mid-thirties
now. She told me she and her husband were on their way to Kathmandu, Nepal.
There they will serve in the US Embassy but they will also be serving Jesus for
they are both radiant Christians. Betsy reminded me that when she was a
teenager, she took up my habit of putting the initials “sjc”
after her name. Now, she told me, “I put those initials after my name on
everything I sign, even important government papers.” Like me, Betsy does so to
remind herself that she is a servant of Jesus Christ. I smiled with joy and
turned my head, hoping she would not see the tears of gratitude filling my
The church is not perfect. It fails often in its
mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world. But sometimes
the church succeeds by inspiring and equipping men and women, young and old, to
live in the world as servants of Jesus Christ. For that we can be thankful –