For the birth of each of my kids, we enlisted the help of a doula, someone who in addition to the midwife, supports the mom as she is bringing new life into this world.
The anglicized word “doula” comes from the Greek doulos, which is the same Greek word behind the word “servant,” used by Jesus in today’s gospel. Contrasting the life of those who would follow God and Jesus with the rulers of the world who would “lord it over” others, Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.” (Mark 10: 43)
In other words, if you would have others look at us and our lives and consider them to be remarkable, then we should, kind of like a birth doula, be learning how to serve others, supporting Christ’s new life work in and through them. This is the work of teachers lifting up students, parents and grandparents encouraging children, and teenagers reminding complacent adults that we need to keep working to change the things that are broken in the world. There is not one among us who will not find, this very week, that we have an opportunity – or many opportunities – in which Christ’s servant work (doula work) cannot help to encourage and bring forth new life that makes this world a better place, that makes someone’s life a better life.
I have spoken before of Crossroads Springs Orphanage and School in Kenya. Crossroads Springs was founded by Helen and Meshack Isiaho to help house and educate children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS. In Kenyan culture, when someone’s parents die, a family member will take the child or children into their own home, to raise them as their own. But you see, as of seventeen years ago, when Crossroads Springs was founded, many families had taken in so many children that they had 8 and 10 and 12 children to look after. And still there were more children in need. So, these courageous people, Meshack and Helen, who, whether they knew it or not, were acting as a doula, as servants; Meshack and Helen decided to spend the rest of their lives getting this school off the ground. It has become one of the very best schools in Kenya, thanks to the work of Helen and Meshack and many other Kenyans, as well as partners from abroad.
“Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
And make no mistake, this servant work is resurrection work. It is Christ meeting the world at the cross work. It is saving grace offered through human hands and hearts. Not through lives spent worrying about who will get the places of power and be thought well of by those around them, but lives spent getting to know how the power of Christ - the power of healing and truth and love and compassion - seeks to work through human hands and hearts, even ours. This is Christ the eternal priest from beyond time and yet acting within the timeline of this world.
Here’s another, albeit quite different story of servant leadership making a powerful impact for good in the world: This story predates the “#MeToo” movement, and all of those worthy efforts to bring justice where harm has been done, especially to women. You may or may not know that years ago (I can humbly say I did not until I read about this story), when women first began to enter the workforce outside the house in greater numbers, that various abuses were happening to many of these women and that when they were brought into the legal system, they largely dismissed as the “natural” result of what happens when women and men are mixed together in the work force. Inappropriate innuendos, unwanted sexual advances and touch. Deemed by the legal system to be “natural.”
Of course, as Christians we see such inappropriate words and actions for what they really are: sin - as old as the apple plucked from the tree in the Garden of Eden and eaten by Adam and Eve despite being forbidden by God. And there is nothing natural about sin and brokenness. It is wrong in the eyes of God and it should cause us as humans to cry out for justice and change.
Well, change is exactly what Spots Robinson, a Federal Circuit Court Judge in the District of Columbia, began to bring about some decades ago, when he decided a series of cases wherein he effectively argued that abuse against women in the workplace is the same and just as egregious - grossly unacceptable - as abuse of white people against people of color. Neither one ok! Judge Robinson did the servant work, the doula work of bringing new life into the realm of legal argument.
And again, this is resurrection work. Fallen humanity being triumphed over by the One who is truly the greatest of all – Jesus. Jesus, who desires new life and new birth for us and for this whole world. Jesus, who desires justice for the oppressed and food for the hungry. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
The disciples James and John were getting it wrong, just as we so often do. Getting caught up in the ways of the world and the tangles of sin we try to get powerful and great in all the wrong ways. But then Jesus cuts right through all of our sin and brokenness and proclaims as the humble-going-to-be-nailed-on-the-cross-servant-leader that Jesus was and is, to be great is to learn to serve alongside, to support the birthing work of God in the lives of others.
You know, one of the first stories I ever heard about Crossroads Springs Orphanage and School, was of the children coming to school singing. And singing during the Day, with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts. One song they sang went like this: “Lost my mother, what shall I do, lost my father, what shall I do? Lost my mother, what shall I do? Go to Crossroads Springs.” The teachers taught them this song and many others, meeting them with love and daily care. “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”