Only Doing My Job
Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Luke 17: 5 -10. Focus is on doing our jobs to the best of our ability is enough. In fact it requires no thanks!
It’s a phrase I hear all the time. “I was only doing my job.” And it’s said all of the time in the most extraordinary of circumstances. I heard this phrase from the fire fighters who were at ground zero on 9/11. I’ve heard this phrase used by vets from the 2nd World War on. “I was only doing my job.” It’s a phrase of humility and one that seems to be offered by people we would often consider to be heroes.
Yet when they say this they really mean it. And the true heroes, the ones we see as heroes for the most part don’t see themselves that way, which amazes me. They see themselves as just having done their job.
In effect they are living out of Jesus’ command in our gospel lesson, “So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, should say, ‘… we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Yet I wonder if that’s what most of us do when it comes to our discipleship. See our actions as only having done our job. I suspect one of the differences between us and the folks we tend to call heroes is that we want to be told something more than we have merely done our job.
I suspect most of us would like to be acknowledged or thanked in some way for what we do. I know I appreciate being thanked for doing my job. It makes me feel good when people tell me you gave a good sermon or you did a fine job at my mother’s funeral. I suspect we all like being told that in whatever endeavor we find ourselves, but according to Jesus that would seem to be asking too much.
So let’s see why Jesus would have said this.
When I was in High School I ran track and we had a coach by the name of Hageman who was long on direction and drill and short on praise and thanksgiving. Every year there’d be new athletes who were coming out to make the team and each year everyone had to compete to see who would make the team. Just wanting to be on the team was not enough. There was no such thing as seniority or special treatment just because you were a junior or a senior you had to earn your spot on the team every year.
I liked it that way because you were judged according to your performance. You either finished in the top three or you didn’t. You either made it through one of Hageman’s grueling practices or you didn’t. And there were always those athletes who complained that it was too tough or that they never heard any words of congratulations from Hageman coming their way.
And they were correct. The practices were incredibly hard. In fact I remember telling my father about how hard they were and he shared with me a little prayer he used to say when he ran, which went something like. “I’ll put em down if you lift em up.” By which he meant his legs.
And I used that prayer almost every day because when you were finished with a Hageman work out you were whipped and when you left the track you left it in silence because words would have meant less energy in terms of trying to catch your breath.
And so as a result we’d always have quite a few athletes who’d drop out in the first two weeks of practice, which was just fine with Coach Hageman. In fact he loved it because he didn’t want anyone on his team who wasn’t willing to work harder than they thought humanly possible and he didn’t want anyone on the team who needed to be told how good they were in order to do their job on the team.
And Hageman got results. The year he took over as head coach our team was ranked dead last in the State of Missouri among division 1 High Schools, but by his second year we were the State Champions.
In a real sense that is what Jesus is saying to his disciples. If you are going to be on my team you are going to work your tails off and if you think otherwise, count the cost, think it over because discipleship isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for the faint of heart. It isn’t for those seeking glory and recognition. It isn’t for those who want discipleship on their own terms. If you want to be my disciple come follow me and I will show you how to live a more excellent way, but don’t expect me to praise you all the time, because when you do all that I have commanded of you, you are only doing your job, nothing more.
If it sounds hard it was. But what I learned from Hageman, which I believe applies to discipleship is that if you want to be on the team for the glory, or to be told how great you are, you are on the team for the wrong reasons, because all glory is fleeting and will not last, all greatness diminishes over time, the only reason to be on Hageman’s team was the way it made you feel about yourself on the inside.
At the end of the day when we’d walk off that practice field we felt good about ourselves. We weren’t afraid of anyone because we feared Hageman. I didn’t need the coach to tell me what a good job I’d done. Having done it was good enough and all of us who ran for him knew that. If you ran for any other reason you wouldn’t be able to make it through those grueling practices and if you didn’t know what it felt like to win and the joy that it brought you or how hard it was to lose and why you didn’t want to leave anything but your best behind on the track. No amount of praise from coach Hageman would make up for that.
Like wise with discipleship. It’s hard work. And I don’t think everyone wants to work that hard. In fact one of the reasons I think the church is in the sorry state of affairs it’s in today is that we don’t expect much out of ourselves. How many folks push themselves and their duty as Christian’s anywhere approaching a breaking point?
How many folks live as disciples because they’ve taken the time and put in the practice to discover that it offers a joy and peace that passes anything the world offers? I suspect most of us want discipleship on our own terms but when we bring discipleship down to our level we merely make the church and ourselves into self-serving group who need to be told over and over again how good we are because deep down inside we know we haven’t left our best on the track and when that happens no amount of thanks will change that reality.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. How many of us are serving this church on a committee or as an ordained leader? How many of us are regular in worship or in some kind of Adult study? How many of us are involved in mission or in bringing others to this church? You get my drift.
Christianity didn’t grow because we made up the training regime. It grew because we had a Lord who like my coach expected a heck of a lot out of us and was willing to say if the demands are too high then discipleship might not be for you.
And some went away sorrowful but those who stayed found the joy and the abundance of life that he offered. There’s no short cut to it. We go by way of Jesus’ commands or we don’t go at all. Amen