Talk of “all things under his power” puts the present-day shepherdless mind on high alert. So what happens next is all the more striking. Jesus gets down and washes his disciples’ feet, making it clear how God-given power is to be used: in costly, loving service—willing, and working, and acting for others that they might flourish. We’re told that to serve is to give up power and freedom. In fact, true service is power acting rightly in the world for the sake of others.
Let me state the obvious: the world is dangerous, war-torn, and fragmented—a world in which power entails the manipulation and domination of others. As the Archbishop of Canterbury recently remarked, surrounded by the powerful of the globe, a life of loving service is a rare thing. Those who walk in the way of Jesus the Good Shepherd learn both the cost and the profound freedom of willing, and working, and acting for the flourishing of others. We discover the great joy of Christ’s servant life; at the same time, we remain aware just how strange this freedom and power to serve appears to the world God sends us to.
It therefore takes courage to serve. And we need to receive and give encouragement to each other. This is what animates Nathan McLellan’s personal essay, “A Servant Leader for All Seasons.” A number of conversations might be had in the wake of Queen Elizabeth II’s death; and such conversations—about government, say, or about the history of the British Crown and colonisation—need to find their proper mode and shape. But Nathan’s concern here is focussed and personal: he considers how this woman interpreted a vocation for very public leadership as a call to Christ-like service. Hers is a fascinating example of a person making the best of her vocation in a mixed and changing world.
In this month’s Field Notes interview, we are honoured to feature Dr John Kleinsman, Director of the Nathaniel Centre for Bioethics. A leading Catholic voice in Aotearoa, New Zealand, for bioethics, John has worked extensively on behalf of some of the most vulnerable in our society. Our title for this issue, “The Courage to Serve,” is an apt summation of his journey with God. Carve out the time, grab a coffee, and be inspired. Encouragement is on hand, too, from Murray Rae, whose meditation on “Jesus the Servant” looks ahead to Advent 2022. Christian service, he points out, is not only patterned after Jesus Christ, but enabled through him by the power of God’s Spirit. Ours is, he suggests, a high privilege: we are lifted up to serve in the way of Jesus.
Finally, we invite you to take up as the practice of imaginative reading. The call to serve confronts us with a very practical question: how am I to become a person of humility and service? Experience tells us it’s not simply by trying hard! But, as we meditate on Scripture—here, as you prayerfully listen and enter in to John’s story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet—God works to reshape our hearts after his purpose. We hope you’ll enjoy this bespoke audio meditation on John 13, read by Melody Cooper.
How does God meet the powers of the world and the need of our moment? Christ came not to be served but to serve and to give his life, and he calls his people to share in this freedom and power. So, may God grant you new courage to serve with Christ for the good of your households, workplaces, churches, and communities.
Ngā mihi nui,
Dr John Dennison
Editor, Common Ground