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Sermon – Matthew 20:25-28. Independence Day

But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28)

Holy Scripture compares Christ’s followers often with servants who work in their master’s vineyard. Servants do not work for themselves, but for those who have hired them – the master. In most cases the master in the Gospel parables is God.

In a free nation we do not want to hear anything about masters and serving them. Too much in our history has entailed serving others and for only about a half of a century we have had a time when we ourselves have made our own decisions – when we have been independent and free. The word „master” brings before our eyes someone who is foreign, who oppresses, who governs, who appoints and decides for us. This means slavery, occupation and subordination along with which come restrictions and violence.

In today’s Scripture lesson from the Gospel according to Matthew Jesus turns the aforementioned understanding of masters and governing inside-out with the words: „Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27)

This picture is well suited to describe what happens in the family as well as society. It is appropriate to think upon this especially today, on the birthday of our nation. Every family, every community, even every company and business, not to mention the state, has a leader, a director or a head. Yet a head alone is not enough for the community to function and guarantee to all its members a secure present and a firm tomorrow. The future of the community is secure when all its members first of all do not think about how much they earn, but how many each might be able to serve. This goes for all of us.

In Biblical days the in force – and even today in many places in force – master-servant relationship in society did not suit Jesus. He says: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant” (Matt. 20:25-26)

Isn’t it remarkable that in Latin the word minister means ‘servant, attendant’? Keeping this in mind, we could look at the list of candidates to our parliament and see a list of those desiring to enter into their master’s service. The master is the people and the Toompea Hill is the vineyard where awaits the work field. Every voter gets on March 1st the opportunity to cast a ballot for who in their opinion is the most faithful servant. The best thing that could be is that if those listed on the ballot would see themselves as just those servants of whom Jesus says: „Whoever would be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:27)

Naturally, serving one’s fellow human being is not only the task of politicians – servants of the people. This is a task for all of us. When I look on a family member, co-worker, friend, acquaintance or stranger as a neighbor, whom I can serve with love and understanding through my gifts and talents, there would be less hatred, intolerance and criticism of each other.

If the characters in the much talked about recent Estonian-Georgian film „Mandarins” would have dealt with each other in an attitude of mutual service, all the mandarins would have been harvested at the right time and the harvesters from differing nationalities would have in peace and harmony gone on their ways. The owner of the plantation Margus would not have found an unexpected violent end, but instead would have made it back to his homeland of Estonia. Things went utterly differently. When a person seeks first of all in the stranger that which differentiates and separates instead of that which unites one with another, the crop will not be harvested – freedom will not be attained. And not only in the Abkhazian mandarin plantation  in the film by Zaza Urušadze, but also in the Lord’s vineyard where we servants, each one of us, serve our master in our appointed tasks.

Our nation’s freedom is founded upon faithful servants who were not afraid of sacrificing themselves in service. Unfortunately, the price of gaining freedom or the price of preserving freedom must often be counted in the loss of human lives – sacrificed on the altar of freedom through the shedding of blood. Think upon the first years of Estonian independence shadowed by the War of Independence, the waves of World Wars crossing over Europe and even today to the situation in the Ukraine.

May God allow us to get by without such a sacrifice here in the 800-year-old Land of Mary, elsewhere in Europe as well as over the world.  At the same time, let us value highly the price paid for freedom. As Christians we know how valuable our freedom is. „As the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” says Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. (Matt. 20:28) In Jesus Christ God has given His Son to die for us, for us people, so that we may have life. So that we may be free – free to be people, free to love and to serve God and neighbor, free to carry the responsibility for the whole of creation.

The freedom of a nation does not only mean political freedom. It means that there is security for each individual at home, on the street and in the workplace. Be they citizens or noncitizens, locals or strangers, transients or guests. To lead a happy life in a free nation, we need to act together with dedication and responsibility so that in our homes, schools and streets we do not need to be afraid of humiliation, injustice and violence; that in traffic we can trust the traffic lights as well as crosswalks and not dread drunken drivers; that each child is allowed to be born and is expected in a secure and caring home with parents; that the teenager who goes out with friends does not fall into the snare of narcotics; that the occupation one trains for is one’s employment and brings bread to the table from places nearer than Tampere, Espoo or Pori; that our senior wayfarers do not need to fear the threat of want or poverty and instead may experience the joy of a well-earned retirement.

Every one of us seeks and desires the good and the beautiful, all that which comes together with freedom from the yoke and foreign taskmaster. Let us strive for all that by helping and serving fellow human beings. Through God’s grace we have been given the freedom to be good servants for those next to us – family members and friends, co-workers and neighbors, guests and foreigners.  ”Whoever would be great among you must be your servant,” says the Lord Christ. (Matt. 20:26)

Blessed be freedom and glorious the work in serving one another here in the Land of Mary!


Urmas Viilma

24.02.2015 Narva Alexander’s Church

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