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The Rev. Roger Salter: “Glory and Service”

January 28, 2008

From the Rev. Roger Salter of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church in Birmingham, here is a sermon titled “Glory and Service.”  I think much of this message deals with the Biblical quality of meekness (as in “Blessed are the meek…” in the Beatitudes):

An indication of character is seen in the way we treat folk who are deemed to be of an inferior station in life (Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Rom 12:16), who perform what are regarded as menial tasks. Of course, such distinctions would not exist if it were not for human pride that likes to rank people in the unseemly jostle for precedence and superiority. George Herbert in his great hymn of authentic spirituality, Teach Me My God and King, reminds us that no common chore is unimportant or demeaning and that sweeping a floor to the glory of God is noble effort. Nonetheless, our attitude toward folk assigned to simple work is a pointer to our real closeness and understanding of God, for the Bible makes it clear that the glorious divine nature is essentially humble and that the master of creation cares for his handiwork through the role of a servant. God delights to serve his dependent creatures who are infinitely beneath him. He is addicted to the giving of himself and the outpouring of his energies and riches in the interests of those whom he has made. The whole story of human restoration through Christ is an account of divine humility and servant-hood as God stoops to retrieve us to himself. The methods God chooses, the means he uses, are all modest and unpretentious (Micah 5:2). This conclusion is inescapable as we read Holy Scripture and observe God’s gracious approach to man which, in the first place, was not obligatory and definitely forfeited in our blatant repudiation of him. He comes prophetically to us in friendly speech (lisping as to little children, says Calvin) through men of humble bearing. Bom as man he submits himself to the dirt, dust, discomforts, and disasters of human experience as one of us, and as one more lowly in station and spirit than any of us (Phil 2: 5-1 1). Washing the feet of his disciples, which no self-respecting Jew would ever do, foreshadowed the ultimate self-abasement of the cross through which he cleared away the moral muck of the human race at the price of his life. And still he continues in the same humble vein, ascended to kingship, yet associating with the likes of us in sweetest condescension. Our attitude to ordinary labour, and those who are labourers, is an insight into just how well we know God in reality. For God’s labours and lack of pomposity have lent dignity to all human endeavour and not just those occupations deemed to be prestigious in the eyes of men and well rewarded in pecuniary terms.

John Ruskin, one of the greatest of the Victorians, knew that his accomplishments were facilitated by the servants who met his physical needs, thus releasing him from the drudgery of jobs such as the cutting of kindling and logs for his morning fire, preparing food for his daily energy, and cleaning and caring for the home for his daily convenience. It was Ruskin who propounded the profoundly Christian view that every vocation and career is pursued, not for self- interest, but for the service of others in the acknowledgement of mutual dependence and in the attitude of mutual respect. Exploitation and gross inequalities were unjust as the Old Testament is very careful in declaring (note the Year of Jubilee, Lev 25, and the vigorous protest of the prophets against the oppressive treatment of the poor, debtors, and employees). It was Calvin who “socialized” the bakery industry in Geneva so that all could be fed including the most poor (Henry Meeter, The Basic Ideas of Calvinism). We may reject the extreme emphases of the social gospel, or the tenets of ideological socialism, but the concerns of God and Scripture are distinctly social (the welfare of people) and the manner of meeting these concerns is through self-giving servant-hood modelled by God himself, where the constraints of artificial and divisive political philosophies – usually fashioned by selfishness and avaricious protection of privilege or the envious pursuit of advantage – and conventional custom and classification in social outlook and behaviour, are broken down by the simple law of love an ideal only realized in the kingdom to come.

We can tend to gravitate towards those who are of some recognized worth or distinction and overlook those whose lives are not lustrous with attainment, position, and the kudos of success. It is because we feel ashamed to be caught mingling with what the world deems to be base, and we like to bathe in the reflected glory of distinguished company. The Letter of James seems to have a great deal to say about this kind of snobbery and its regrettable existence, even among Christians. It is painful to hear of the discomfort of those who feel excluded even in so-called Christian fellowship when they are bonajide brothers and sisters in Christ, one day soon to be crowned with glory in heaven. A test of true Christianity is the genuineness of our openness towards, and acceptance of others. If we are snooty about the company we keep it is questionable as to whether we truly keep company with Jesus. A little personal litmus test and corrective to our native and recurring arrogance is our attitude to those who serve at tables * in restaurants and cafes. This is a revealing giveaway that stops us short when we find ourselves demanding, ungrateful, and short on courtesy, the latter virtue especially, according to C. S. Lewis, an essential feature of Christian character. Lordliness, a domineering demeanour, and peevishness are pagan traits according to the Saviour, who was denied a decent birthplace, was cradled in a food box, had nowhere to lay his head, who, in Hans Kung’s excessive term, lived the life of a vagrant, and died an ignominious death. None of this is to disparage the legitimate blessirrgs and noble achievements of our lives, but simply to display the deep humility of the Lord Jesus in his voluntary deprivation and death for our sakes. His humbleness is the supreme manifestation of His glory. It is in such stark contrast to the way in which we believe a personage of majesty ought to behave, but as Gregory of Nyssa observes, God delights to work through contraries. Magicians produce tricks from hats. God produces wonders through negatives. For our enrichment he became poor. In consequence of the attitude and action of the Saviour believers are poor in spirit, poor in their own estimation, beggars before God (Prayer of Humble Access), and deferential to all, distressed at the emergence of pride and discrimination in self and all other situations.

God’s self-description is as shepherd, a not well-respected or prestigious vocation even in Israel his wandering flock. As man he served in variety of ways — craftsman, healer, teacher — for the wellbeing of others, always with the disapproval of the establishment. He moved from outsider to outcast, spurning popular acclaim, which he could easily have won from selfish motives, as we see from the subtle temptations with which he was assailed at the outset of his ministry. And it is precisely in ministry where the foremost feature of the Saviour’s disposition — servant-hood — is to be found, and where the temptations and flaws common to humanity can present themselves.
Just as we are attracted to human excellence sometimes as a means of enhancing our own through association, so sinful human nature can ostensibly enlist to serve the glory of God but in reality only to increase its own glory (see a mother’s request Matt 20:20-28, and mark the motives of the Pharisees who sought the praise of men. Jn 5:44 & 12:43). The Scriptural term employed for “minister” originally refers to those who serve at tables* and the primary function of New Testament ministry is to set the word of God upon the table as food for the people of God (Acts 6:2-4). The bread is not baked by the server, but simply brought. The plaudits go to God and not his waiters. The praiseworthiness of the heavenly cuisine is the Lord’s, not the carrier’s who simply presents his empty tray before God for him to load, thereafter to be borne carefully to the diners. It is a marvel to see Paul’s description of the glory of the gospel he proclaims accompanied by his own self-effacing depiction of his office (Eph 3: 1-12). Paul, the inveterate boaster is resolved not to rob God of his honour, and to boast from here on only of the Lord.

I have to say I have not read many sermons that quote from such a variety of sources: from Gregory of Nyssa to John Calvin!

4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 28, 2008 6:58 pm

    Will, I quit counting at nine and still had many to go. A charming article about character. My deep-east-Texas grandmother taught me to say “yes sir” and “yes mam” to anyone who looked older than me no matter who they were or what they were doing. It is a practice I followed with my children and that they will hopefully pass on to my grandchildren.

    When it came time for me to designate what my first grandchild would call me I decided upon “Sir”…since I figured the respect might not be forthcoming. Now all four of my grandaughters (ages 8-2) answer me with “Yes sir, Sir”

    This is a wonderful sermon. Most of the good things we experience in life such as politeness and respect have their source in Jesus Christ…too bad so many people don’t realize that.

    I finally figured out where these Salter articles come from.

    Go to the St. Matthew’s site and click On the “Roger Salters meditations” line in the left hand margin. Alot of neat articles such as this one can be found. There.

  2. January 28, 2008 10:20 pm

    You are exactly right about where these meditations come from; I have not posted the link before because there is no way to post a link to a specific sermon. But if someone wants to check his other “meditations” that is how you get to that portion of the St. Matthews website, or this link should work:

    But yes, I would attribute most of what kindness there is in the world today to the Source in Jesus Christ.

  3. tanaudel permalink
    January 30, 2008 11:53 pm

    Do you think it’s fair to say that the “social” aspects of the gospel are not the point, but the proof?

  4. January 31, 2008 12:28 am

    I think that is a very fair statement: the social aspects correspond to the fruit that is produced by true faith.

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