Conspicuous Servanthood

Last night, I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church. I started this process just over 8 years ago and there are dozens of people I need to thank. But I’m writing this because many of my friends, family and church members couldn’t be here and I need to tell you what happened.

I will never forget my ordination ceremony. It was one if the most powerful experiences of my life.

In a room full of friends, family and colleagues, I listened to Bishop Robert E. Hayes preach a sermon called The Knotted Towel. He spoke about the wild disconnect between the beginning of the sentence – “Knowing that God had put all things under his command…” and the end of the sentence – “…Jesus tied a towel around his waist and washed the disciples’ feet.” I’ve heard sermons on this story before. But not like this. Bishop Hayes spoke about the the way power and service work in God’s plan. He told me that when he laid his hands on my head and said “take authority” (the traditional words of ordination), he was giving me authority not to lead, but to serve. He reminded me that servanthood starts at the top. He told us that what Jesus was doing when he got down on the floor was not lowering himself, but raising the disciples up to their proper place as leaders in the Kingdom of God.

And then Bishop Hayes did something ridiculous. Something conspicuously foolish. He took off his episcopal stole, knelt on the floor, and washed my feet. He washed the feet of all 12 people being ordained last night. I don’t know what to do with that.

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You might not know this, but Robert E. Hayes Jr. is the kind of person most of us will never become. His family history of changing the world through church work stretches back over 3 generations and 112 years. He might be the only Methodist I know with the universal respect of his colleagues. He is truly full of grace, wisdom and courage.

What in God’s creation is this man doing washing my feet?

I hope he was experiencing the liberation he spoke about as coming through serving others. I hope he was conveying God’s grace to me. And I hope he was raising me up, preparing me for leadership in a corner of God’s kingdom.

But there’s one thing I know: I was ordained under a demonstration of profound and conspicuous servanthood. That means something.  I pray for God’s help in allowing this experience to invade every pastoral decision I make.

5 Comments

  1. James, don’t just let it invade every pastoral decision you make. Let it invade every action you take. As Wesley prayed in the covenant prayer, “Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee.”

  2. Very touching, James. I can tell that you were deeply moved and inspired by the humble, servant action of Bishop Hayes. I’m just so sorry that we were not able to share this experience with you in person. I’m sure this is a night you will remember the rest of your life. Blessings to you as you begin a new leg of this incredible journey.

  3. James, I wish I had been there. I’m so thankful you had this experience and that you are part of our congregation. May you be blessed as you bless us!

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