Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
September 9, 2018
A Revolutionary Idea
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 him saying.
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.
“Jesus,” Trueblood 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 eyes.
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 – and hopeful!