Choose Your Master 4th Pentecost
Romans 6:12-23 Matthew 10:40-42
Back in the 70’s, there was a mini-series on TV that almost everyone in the country tuned into. It was about a young man, Kunta Kintay, who was captured by slavers and brought to America and sold to a plantation owner. The series chronicled the life of Kunta and his descendants (like “Chicken George”) and how the story of his life was passed down through the generations to Alex Haley, the author of ROOTS. For many, this was the first introduction to the true horrors of slavery—what it meant to not be able to be the captain of your own ship, the master of your own destiny. We had been aware of the existence of slavery, but ROOTS put a face on it—gave us an opportunity to relate to real people who suffered this dehumanizing institution. We also caught a glimpse of what freedom meant for those who were liberated after the Civil War. (However, the initial joy of freedom was soon replaced with misery for many, because they had no idea how to be self-ruling. They had been 1. Trained to obey their masters, AND 2. Trained to be dependent on the plantation for their daily needs. Suddenly, they were on their own, thrust into the clear air of freedom AND laden with responsibility for their lives.)
I thought about ROOTS when I read Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery. As a boy, Booker had been thoroughly schooled in the importance of making the best of each and every opportunity, and had been taught the value of
hard work. I’ll tell you more about Booker T. on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. For today, I just want to leave you with this image: Booker T. Washington was a man who knew that slavery was not just an institution where people were owned as property. He also knew about those who were slaves to other things. In Peter’s second letter, he says, “They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a person is a slave to whatever has mastered him or her.”
What Matters Most Is Choosing One’s Master
Our Scriptures for today are precisely about this idea that there is more than one kind of slavery, and there is a great difference in masters. What matters most is choosing one’s master.
Remember with me something that Jesus once said, something that will sound strange to those who do NOT believe they have a master. He said, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” No one can serve two masters. What matters most is choosing one’s master.
Think about Matthew, the Disciple who once served as a tax-collector for the Romans. He chose a new master, and followed Jesus. He knew it was important to choose the right master.
There came a time when some of the Disciples were looking to be more special than the others. Jesus saw this as a teachable moment. He told them, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be
first must be the slave of all. (And then he talked about himself.) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Did you get that? Jesus came, not to be served but to serve, to be the slave of all!
Choose Jesus, Choose Service to Others
Friends, if we choose Jesus as our Master, then we are choosing a life of service. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul proclaims that if we choose Jesus as our master, then we are no longer slaves but full sons and daughters of God. God has made us HEIRS! It’s as if we have a dual role: 1. We choose to be servants, and 2. God treats us as full heirs of the Kingdom! I love Paul’s way of describing his attitude: “Though I am free and belong to no human being, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.”
What matters most is choosing one’s master.
Now, of course, there is a voice in each of us that says something like, “I don’t want to be a slave to anyone, thank you very much! I will be the ruler of my own destiny and the master of my own fate.” Yes. But the problem with that is that you and I don’t make very good masters of our own fates! When we think we are free, it turns out that we are being controlled. We might be controlled by our passions and lusts and destructive desires. We might be controlled by others who are simply manipulating us for their own ends. When we think
we have no master, it may well be that we are mastered by things that simply lead to death.
Let me repeat these words from our Romans passage: “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification (that’s a fancy word that means growing in holiness—becoming a saint!) The end is eternal life.”
I want to finish today with a personal story about a not-so-glorious moment in my life. I was a junior in high school, and my friend and I had gone to a college football game. Since he and I were both in the band, we were always on the field during our high school football half-times, and we never got to catch one of those little footballs that the cheerleaders throw into the stands after the halftime show. But at this college game, we were primed to catch one! Most of the footballs went into the first 15 rows of the stadium, which was disappointing. But the last ball thrown was tossed by a powerful guy with a great arm, and the ball came skimming over the crowd right in our direction. Everyone was stretching up to get it, and it landed in my hands! Wonderful!
Then this mountain of a guy in front of me turned around and just plucked the ball out of my handsL Now, friends, I don’t have any memory of what happened next. I must have gone berserk with anger—because the next thing I knew, my friend was saying to me, “Wow, Mecham! That was awesome! I can’t believe you jumped on that guy’s back and pounded on him!!”
All I knew is that my fury had been expended, and I hadn’t had any effect on the guy who stole my ball. I looked down at my hand, and I saw a stocking cap. I looked at the mountainous guy in front of me, and saw that his head was bare (and his hair was thinning). It was a fairly cold night, and I began to feel sorry for the guy. I reached up and put the cap back on his head so that he wouldn’t get too cold.
Before I knew it, the guy turned around and said, “Aw, you can have your ball back.” He gave it to me, and my friend and I were just flabbergasted. What just happened?!
I’ve been thinking about this event for the last 50 years, and this is the only explanation I can come up with for the dramatic change in my attitude: I had chosen Jesus to be my Master, and it was His Spirit that enabled me to feel pity and return the stocking cap. Sometime later, I read Paul’s advice to the Romans: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
What matters most is choosing one’s master. Friends, I hope you will choose EVERY DAY the master that will set you free—free to serve and free to live your JOY. The Master that says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”