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Justice

Encounters: Pastor Graham Paulson “On Servanthood” – January 2015

May 15, 2019 by

May 2019 marks twenty years for the Danthonia Bruderhof in regional New South Wales, Australia. As we celebrate this milestone, we give thanks to God for the years together, through thick and thin. We also thank God for all those who have visited us, and we have been especially privileged to host members of Australia’s First Peoples, our Aboriginal brothers and sisters whose ancestral presence in the country goes back some 60,000 years.

On a Sunday in January 2015, Aboriginal theologian and pastor Graham Paulson held a morning service at Danthonia; four years later, his words remain a timely message for Danthonia’s future, and for all who seek to live out Jesus’ radical commands:

A casual visitor to Danthonia might wonder, “What is a bunch of Americans doing on a subsistence farming property with a sign-making business?” Well, it only takes a little interaction with you to discover that this community is about seeking the kingdom of God, and living it out.

And so this morning I want to focus on Philippians 2:5–11:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God to be something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

These passages bring home something of the cross-cultural nature of Jesus. One might ask oneself, “What is a bunch of Americans doing in Australia seeking to live out the kingdom of God?” And yet the kingdom is cross-cultural, right from the very beginning, isn’t it? The early church struggled to find this out. In Acts 15, at the council in Jerusalem, they couldn’t work out what it meant for the early church to “Christianize” and not “Judaize.” Verses 2 and 5 emphasise the sentiment that gentile Christians should be required to obey the Law of Moses. And they struggled to discuss this question.

I stand among you as the first Indigenous person in Australia to be ordained into the Baptist ministry, and my life’s work has been: How do I missionize, how do I evangelize – and not Westernize? Instead of changing my culture to be like another earthly culture, I should be changing my culture to become a kingdom culture.

Graham and Iris Paulson, Danthonia Bruderhof, January 2015Graham and Iris Paulson at Danthonia Bruderhof, January 2015

One of the first things that strikes one about Danthonia is the countercultural nature of this place. Worship isn’t just a Sunday morning exercise; it’s a daily experience. It’s a minute-by-minute experience – an experience not only in meal preparation and meal sharing, but also in vocational mission and ministry. And that’s how it should be.

But establishing a kingdom culture is not easy. So what were the values that Christ brought, in order to establish the kingdom of God here among us, on earth? Philippians 2:5–11 nominates four characteristics that God thought were necessary to impose on God’s own self. The first one was what theologians call kenosis: he emptied himself of those aspects of his deity that were not compatible with his humanity.

Instead of changing my culture to be like another earthly culture, I should be changing my culture to become a kingdom culture.

To become part of the Bruderhof community means to forsake the outward signs of power in the mainstream culture, to give up those things that make it hard for the kingdom of God to be experienced and manifest and demonstrated in this world. And so God gave up those aspects of his culture that were contrary, that would have impeded the shedding of his blood, the building of his mission and ministry here on earth. As the church of God in Australia today, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we need to give up in order to give out Jesus Christ – his character and his culture?”

The second characteristic Christ took upon himself was the nature of a servant. That is what defines servanthood; that is the essential substance of it. And servanthood is one of the key elements in the kingdom of God.

All around us we see things made of cotton, we see things made of wood, we see things made of aluminium. They all take different shapes. They all take different sizes. The shape of servanthood doesn’t matter. It’s the spirit of servanthood that’s essential.

Remember the story in John 13 where Jesus and his disciples were sharing a meal at a certain house? When they arrived, the servant was missing. And I can imagine Peter and the disciples sitting on stools, looking at each other, wondering where the servant was and who’s going to perform the task that their culture demanded.

Notice the shock that Peter experienced when Jesus took the towel, wrapped it around himself, got the dish of water, and proceeded to wash the disciples’ feet. Peter said (like any Australian would have), “No, Lord, not you. Don’t wash my feet!” Jesus said, “Peter, if I don’t wash your feet, I have nothing to do with you.” Later on in the chapter, Jesus said, “You call me ‘Master’ and ‘Lord’ and ye say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, ye ought also to wash one another’s.” Servanthood is essential in the mission and ministry that God has called us to.

Humility is the third factor. God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud. For the King of kings and Lord of lords to stoop to servanthood among his own creation boggles my mind. The fact that he should take my place on a cross, the fact that he should endure hardship for me, the fact that he should serve and save this little Aboriginal boy running around the lantana bushes with a catapult looking for birds – that boggles my mind

And yet Jesus came for each one of us, irrespective of our station in life, irrespective of our nationality, irrespective of our ethnicity. Jesus died for all of us. Such humility, that he should place himself at the bottom rung of the ladder of every social indicator of prosperity in order to redeem the whole of creation!

Jesus placed himself at the bottom rung of the ladder of every social indicator of prosperity in order to redeem the whole of creation.

Obedience: the fourth characteristic. The Bible tells the story of an Old Testament king who was promised victory if he would go out and destroy everything that belonged to the enemy. The culture of the enemy had become so abhorrent to God that God’s final command to the king was, “Destroy every single thing that belongs to the enemy.” But the king noticed some nice fat rams and thought to himself, I’ll take those back and use them in a sacrifice to God, until the prophet came along and said to him, “Saul, Saul – is that not the bleating of rams that I hear?” And Saul said, “Yes it is.” And Samuel the great prophet said, “Behold, to obey is better than to sacrifice, and to harken than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15).

We may think it’s difficult to live this cultural lifestyle of the kingdom. What have we got to give up? What about our servanthood? What about our humility? What about our obedience? To develop a cultural lifestyle in which we invite God to rule and reign means that the principles are the same for every culture, but the outward expression may depend upon worldviews and lifestyles.

As a person who has experienced cultural genocide, my mission is to help my people recreate a culture in which the Lord rules and reigns.

God calls us all to the same thing: to live a lifestyle that glorifies and honors him, that enables him to be God, and to play our part in answering the prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May we truly “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” so that all these other things will be added unto us as well (Matthew 6:33).

From a person who has experienced cultural genocide, may God bless you in your efforts to find and establish kingdom culture. That is what God is all about: recreating culture. And so the aim of my mission and ministry is to help my people recreate a culture in which the Lord rules and reigns. Pray with us as we seek to do that, as we also pray with you to continue to establish models around the world that show the rule and reign of God, and bring a little bit of heaven down to earth. Thank you.

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photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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