Lenten Service: Clarification

“You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody”

– Bob Dylan

There are many forms of clarification. You can clarify a statement by restating it in more understandable terms. You can clarify an image but taking out the blurs and imperfections. You can clarify butter by melting it down in order to separate the milk solids from the butter fat (Milk solids burn at a lower temperature than the pure butter fat).

For Christians, Lent is a time of clarification; a time of restating, de-bluring, skimming. The what of the clarification, though, is not personal achievement but declaration of service. Who you gonna serve? Lent isn’t a time of past tense. It isn’t a time to live off of former glories and former pledges and deeds well done. It is a precise declaration of the present. Of the need for Easter, of the need for a savior.

The ascetic disciplines of lent are really simply idol testers. Do I worship this idol? I can ask myself a thousand different ways, but once I live without it I will know. It is like the distinction between money and the love of money (as being the root of all evil). How do I know if I love money? How do I know if I love God? My faith is in Christ but am I?

As a church community, we continually clarify our mission and our faith through service. Our service focus for Lent is on Human Trafficking. We have been providing resources during worship as well as decorating our new worship space with images of Human Trafficking from both around the world and in Austin. You can follow more updates and get more information at Freedom Together: Mediations on Slavery and Actions Towards Freedom.

Contribution by Wilson Pruitt

A Servant Church First: Rosie’s Baptism

by Ben Wright (Rosie’s Dad)

Rosie's BaptismI want to thank everyone for Sunday. Servant church is a very special place for young children, as Milo and Everett are about to find out when they start crawling around! The baptism reminded me of words from the retreat from the Old Testament – that Samuel grew up in the Temple surrounded by the priests. (1 Samuel 1)

I feel like Servant Church, a place full of plain clothes priests, is going to be able to give Rosie, Milo and Everett, Audrey, Cooper and all the other kids we come across, the same love and attention that enabled Samuel to grow into the holy person he was.

I must admit, I’ve always been somewhat ambivalent about infant baptism. I was baptized as a baby and really found meaning in the sacrament of confirmation as a teenager. But I’ve always had a zealot-y streak (though it’s thinned out along with my hair) and part of me still asks if adult baptism is the preferred order of the day.

After all, did we take something from Rosie by baptizing her? Did we make a choice for her she might want to have made herself? Would it have been better to wait and let her make her own decision?

These are worthy questions. Here are some thoughts, if not answers.

If sacraments are ‘visible signs of invisible realities’ – like Eric said, part of God’s ‘body language’ – then Sunday’s baptism sevrive was most certainly sacramental. The word ‘reality’ sticks with me though, because of the Great Commission.

Jesus said, “go make disciples…baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” One way that has helped me to think about the Great Commission is to substitute the word “baptize” for “immerse” and “name” for “reality.” (After all, a ‘name’ the thing that signifies and represents the ‘reality’ of a person to others, whether they are present or not.)

On Sunday we visibly immersed Rosie. But by doing so we acknowledged that something invisible has happened, is happening and will continue to happen. (Because Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.) Just like Samuel, Rosie, Milo, Everett, Audrey, Cooper, and everyone else at Servant Church are being intentionally immersed in the reality of God.

I think that is what were acknowledging on Sunday. I want Rosie to be soaked in meaning, surrounded by love, enveloped by community and found in Jesus. It’s already happening, but I want it to continue. It’ll be her decision at some point, but right now it’s ours.

But what does it mean to be ‘immersed’ in the realities of the Father, the Son and the Spirit? I’m sure it means many things, but a helpful way I’ve been shown to think about it is thanks to my Mum.

About ten years ago, we were at a Delirious (remember them?) concert – the closing line of the gig was, “you don’t have to believe to belong.” The zealot in me kicked in and I expressed by disappointment in their ‘lack of orthodoxy’ (wince, smile, guffaw…)

My mum gently but firmly put me straight.

They were right. You don’t have to believe to belong.

The process by which someone comes to God is “belong, believe behave,” she said.

That was a real epiphany for me. For the most part, me and my Christian friends acted like it was the other way round. But my Mum is right. It makes sense that you have feel like you belong before you can make the decision to believe. And (mostly) you have to believe in Jesus before you can begin to behave like him. (Why else would you want to mimic the life of some ancient dude who pee-ed off a whole bunch of people and got himself killed?)

I think we see the process of “belong, then believe, then behave” all the time in the Gospels. People belonged to Jesus before they believed in him. And they begun to behave the other side of belief. Zacchaeus was eating with Jesus while people like me muttered, before he gave his money to the poor and those he had ripped off. (Luke 19) The untouchables Jesus persisted in hanging out with all belonged to him before they believed. Many went on to confess and act, just like Zacchaeus.

Going back to the Great Commission, I think you could make a poetic argument that Jesus is talking about belonging, believing and behaving. We belong to the creator God. We believe in the Son of God who died for us. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are able to be(-have) as God created us to be. To be immersed in the reality of all three is to know that we belong to God, to understand that we are forgiven in Christ and to appreciate that we must allow the Holy Spirit to both strip and refurbish us as new creations.

That’s what I want for Rosie, Milo and Everett, Audrey, Cooper, all of you and myself. That is what I believe we were acknowledging in part on Sunday. I can’t wait to do it again for someone else, be they fully grown or in baby clothes! (Or both, this is Austin after all.)

I was so glad to see so many new faces at church on Sunday. A crowded church is a good problem to have – and one I hope we keep on having. I feel truly blessed that Servant Church is a place I feel I can bring my friends and family, many of whom aren’t yet intentionally following Jesus. Servant Church is a place I am proud to bring them and I hope they’ll come again.

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Photos by Ashley Price

Is it still Easter?

by WILSON PRUITT

My seven-year-old niece, Macy, with whom I spent the Easter weekend, asked her mom on the Monday after Easter how long Easter lasts. My sister looked at me and I said “Fifty days.” My niece said something to the effect of “Awesome. Fifty days of candy!”

Candy aside, how does the joy of Easter morning continue? We like our holidays short and sweet so we can get back to work and think about the next time we get paid vacation to eat a HoneyBaked ham. How can we live in a season that isn’t about anticipation but retrospection? About looking back at what happened both a few weeks ago and 2000 years ago?

Many churches like to stop saying Allelujah during the season of Lent and then to start it again in Easter. Many like to repeat the call and response “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” These simple practices as a community of faith serve as reminders on Sundays, but what about during the week when there is no one to call or respond to or when saying Allelujah seems like a reaction to an extra french fry on the lunch plate instead of the resurrection of the Son of God?

There is one more question that gets to the heart of the season: what does it mean to live like Christ rose from the grave? That is what this season is about and why we celebrate Easter. We remember together this really crazy thing that seems impossible. Servant Church has a flyer that says “Practice Resurrection” and that is what being an Easter people means.

What it doesn’t mean is forgetting Good Friday. Jesus asked Thomas to put his hand in his scars. The scars were there on Easter morning. The scars were there but they marked victory instead of continued suffering. Practicing resurrection means knowing that the victory of Jesus is found in overcoming the scars rather than in the cosmetic cover-up that so many of us live out. Easter redeems even our darkest places and the places we don’t want to go. That should make a difference in the way we live our lives.

Just because the Easter season eventually comes to an end doesn’t mean we cease practicing resurrection. However, Easter lasting fifty days reminds us that we cannot wait until tomorrow to start living the free life God has given us. We cannot wait until next week to admit that God has redeemed even our most scarred places. God’s freedom is saying that those places don’t control us. Our fears don’t control us. And Easter is a time when we as a community can remind each other of that freedom.

Easter isn’t over. As Pentacost comes around, fifty days after Easter, Christ’s resurrection will still be true. But this season is here to help us remember what is hard to remember and to live a freedom that looks hard, that looks crazy (as crazy as God sending God’s son to be killed and then raising him up again). It is a freedom and joy that makes us respond in mission and service. That is the season of Easter, and it can’t be contained in just one day.