Would You Like Fries with That?

Garden of Grace United Church of Christ, Columbia, S.C.
Readings for the 21st Sunday after Pentecost: Psalm 104, Mark 10:35-45

Bob Dylan was born May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minn., as Robert Allan Zimmerman. He formed several bands as a teenager, but was discovered in 1961 at the age of 20 while performing in Greenwich Village in New York City. His debut album was released in 1962 and later that year, he legally changed his name to Bob Dylan, after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Today’s song comes off of Dylan’s 1979 album “Slow Train Coming.” The song, “You Gotta Serve Somebody” earned Dylan his first Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance.

You may be an ambassador to England or France,
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance,
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world,
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

As I’m sure most of you are aware, I grew up in church – quite literally. As the last of five children born to a Southern Baptist preacher and his wife, church sanctuaries were my playground. We usually lived in the parsonage right beside, or near, the church, so I spent not just Sunday’s in the church, but most of my week using the pews and the aisles to stage scenes for my GI Joes or make a highway for the Hot Wheels. Who knew I was a lesbian?

One of my strongest memories, however, was my Sunday afternoon ritual. After listening to my dad preach his sermon in the morning, the afternoon went like this:

Step 1: Get out of that infernal dress!

Step 2: Eat mom’s delicious pot roast for Sunday dinner

Step 3: Rewrite dad’s sermon

Step 4: Deliver the newly rewritten sermon to the neighborhood dogs

This is the ritual I performed often – using dad’s ideas to concoct a sermon fit for the dogs. I did not know that I was following in the footsteps of such religious luminaries as St. Francis of Assisi who preached sermons to the birds and any other animal who would sit around long enough to listen.

I did however, find a great t-shirt years later that would epitomize my own ritual of preaching to the dogs. The shirt depicts a dog preacher in the pulpit preaching to other dogs saying, “And he said unto them, ‘Bad dogs. No! No!” Under the picture is the slogan “Hellfire and Dalmatians.”

My other favorite t-shirt from that site shows a woman lying on the floor unconscious. The shirt reads, “While preparing dinner, Edna accidently opens up a can of whoopass.” I think that’s closely related to preaching hellfire and Dalmatians – besides it makes me laugh every time I see it.

Another thing I didn’t know while I was performing my sermon ritual with the dogs was that the most important question I could later ask in my life would be: “Would you like fries with that?”

You might be a rock ‘n’ roll addict prancing on the stage,
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage,
You may be a business man or some high degree thief,
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

I think what drew me to perform my sermon ritual each week was not so much that it was fun to write and deliver sermons. It can be, but often it’s just torture.

What I liked was seeing all those people come up to my dad afterward and praise him for his sermon. I wanted that kind of praise and recognition. I wanted my own line of people telling me how much they loved what I was doing. As a kid, though, I had to settle for appreciative licks on the face from the puppies. I don’t need that kind of praise now, lest anyone try that after service.

I was like James and John in today’s gospel reading. I wanted a place of honor where people would notice me and respect me. Who doesn’t want that? We all seek praise and recognition. We love to hear that we’ve done a good job or that we’ve helped people. Our society is rife with praise seeking – we give awards for everything from Oscars to the best movie to Razzies for the worst movies. No achievement should go without honor in our society.

Martin Luther King Jr. called this need to be recognized the “drum major instinct.” We all want to be out in front leading the band with our baton and our big fuzzy hat.

Our craving for recognition starts young. As children we’re given stars or cookies or stickers or ice cream for good behavior or for achieving some academic goal.

That’s not to say that all praise is bad and we shouldn’t be given attention for the good things we do.

My other job is at the university where I do public relations for a parenting program that we’ve spread throughout the state. The program is called the Triple P – Positive Parenting Program and it is based on a system of positive reinforcement for children. The logic goes that parents only tend to notice bad behavior in their children and only give them attention when they are misbehaving. Triple P encourages parents to catch their children doing good things and praise them for good behavior.

Honestly, it’s a program that works. In the past six years the counties where the program has been implemented have shown decreases in some of the indicators of child maltreatment. Praise works! It can improve behavior and make families happier and more balanced.

It’s when we get addicted to that praise, or seek to be praised above all others, or at the expense of others, that we’ve taken a wrong turn. Listen to how James and John begin their conversation with Jesus. They come with a demand to be elevated to a place of honor within Jesus’ little organization. They say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask you.”

Wow, arrogant much, guys? How does Jesus respond to their demand? I can imagine Jesus was tempted to be snarky with his disciples and ask, “Would you like fries with that?” Or, perhaps in the Middle East he would have asked, “Would you like hummus with that?” I mean, while you’re asking for the world, you may as well have a little extra on the side, right? But Jesus, being Jesus and all, simply responds, “What is it you want me to do for you?” In short, he says, “How may I serve?”

Even when we come to Jesus demanding that life give us more recognition, more praise, more status, Jesus doesn’t scold us – he simply asks, “How may I serve?”

So, they ask, “We want to be your top guys. We want to sit at your right and your left in glory.”

When the others hear about this, they’re mad at James and John and you know why? Not because they, too, thought that might be a bit much to ask for, but because they didn’t think to ask first. They’d sure like those high positions of honor themselves!

But, Jesus warns them against seeking power and recognition for the world. When you get it a taste of that praise and power, you become a different person. Jesus points to the rulers of his day – and it’s true of those in our day – they lord their power over the people under them and become tyrants. Instead, Jesus says, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”

In essence Jesus is telling them, the most important question you can ask is not, “What’s in it for me?” but, “Would you like fries with that?”

You may be a state trooper, you might be a young Turk,
You may be the head of some big TV network,
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame,
You may be living in another country under another name
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Several years ago I completed a program through the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta to become a spiritual director. During the course we did an exercise using a modified version of a very ancient prayer called, “The Jesus Prayer.”

I talk about this, and offer the exercise, in my book Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. The Jesus Prayer is a breath prayer consisting of two parts – an address to God, and a supplication, or request to God. The traditional prayer is “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” You breathe in with the address, “Lord Jesus Christ,” and out with the supplication, “have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Instead of using these words, however, we were encouraged to meditate on the prayer that prays us – the prayer so deep within ourselves that it arises unbidden to our lips in times of deep distress, or deep joy. When I did this exercise, what came to me was this: “Holy God, how may I serve?”

My second thought was, “Would you like fries with that?”

While it was a snarky sort of response to my first prayer, it just seemed to come naturally as the next question – in my mind anyway. What it really was, though, was a defense against the first question that had arisen. You have to understand, I had been running away from serving God and my fellow human for a long time. I had avoided ordination. I had avoided serving in churches. I had simply said “No,” whenever I was asked to serve.

So, imagine my surprise when this arose as my deepest prayer. Now, I keep that snarky second answer as what I call my “mindfulness phrase.” Whenever I find that I want to run away from serving others, or do things that are simply self-serving and benefit no one but me, I say to myself: “Would you like fries with that?” It reminds me of my true calling – to serve, not to be served.

I invite you to make this your mantra as well. Whenever you’re feeling the need to be served say to yourself, “Would you like fries with that?”

Remember, we’re called to serve – and as Dylan reminds us, we all serve someone, no matter who we are in life, rich or poor, young or old, we are in the service of someone. We choose to serve the Lord whenever we say, “Would you like fries with that?”

You may be a construction worker working on a home,
You may be living in a mansion or you might live in a dome,
You might own guns and you might even own tanks,
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

I’m glad to say that I made it through my teenage years without ever working at a fast food restaurant. The closest I ever came was when I would spend my days in the office at the McDonald’s in Buford, Georgia as a child playing while my mother asked other people, “Would you like fries with that?”

That phrase, by the way, is what’s known in the service business as a value added phrase. By the time you hear someone ask, “Would you like fries with that?” you’re already being served by that person. They’ve already asked, “How may I serve you?” So, this handy phrase is also a reminder to us that we are called not just to dabble in serving, but to give our whole hearts, minds, and bodies to it.

It’s up to us to begin by asking that first question, “How may I serve?” In asking, we open ourselves to become servants, to doing God’s work in the world by serving others. I guarantee, if you ask this question, God will answer and will give you many opportunities to serve.

Those who have asked this question in this building have gone to far away places like South Dakota to serve poor people there, others have been called to stay close to home and serve people coming to this country as refugees from far away lands. Still others have been inspired to serve as deacons, board of trustee members, lay delegates, and even greeters at the front door.

We are all here to serve, no matter our station in life – all called to give out of the great gifts that God has given us. We’re all called to go the extra mile and ask, “Would you like fries with that?”

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride,
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side,
May be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair,
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

A few weeks ago I was talking with my oldest sister, Barbara, on the phone. Barb is a very conservative Christian whose head would probably explode if she actually were to hear one of my sermons or even set foot in a church like ours. During our conversation I told her about the UCC granting me privilege of call – recognizing my ordination.

“Dad would be proud,” she said.

“Really?” I replied, surprised. “I don’t think he would be proud, and not because I’m gay, but because I’m a woman.”

Remember, the Southern Baptist church, to this day, will not ordain women to be preachers because they believe that the Bible is clear that women are not to teach men – so they forbid it.

She thought about it and conceded that she didn’t really know how our dad would feel about his baby girl being ordained, some 16 years after he was. Then she told me something I had never, ever known. As a child, my oldest sister – my theological nemesis – every Sunday afternoon after church would go into her room and preach to her dolls.

“I always felt called to be a minister,” she told me.

I had no idea. I was floored by this news. The reason that my sister now works for the post office instead of preaching at a church is simply because some religious denomination told her she must be mistaken – that God would never call her to be a leader in the church. She asked, “How may I serve?” and the church told her “anywhere but in the pulpit.”

While it’s true that my sister and I could probably preach point-counter point sermons, there are many people who have been deprived of her call to serve, and that is a tragedy, not just for my sister but for the church.

What dream or call have you abandoned because someone told you that you couldn’t do it because of some stupid reason like you’re a woman, you’re gay, you’re transgender, you’re too old, you’re too young, or you’re too inexperienced? Whatever the reason they give, don’t believe them! I didn’t. I knew that the Southern Baptists would never have me – and it’s their loss. There are others out there who will gladly allow me to serve and there are others out there who will gladly allow you to serve.

You, my friends, are God’s servants. As Dr. King said, Jesus’ words mean we can all be great:

” … everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. […] You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

It’s okay to have that drum major instinct, King said, as long as we are drum majors for justice, drum majors for peace, and drum majors for righteousness. Don’t let anyone stand in your way – serve somebody today and every day. I challenge you to find someone this week and ask, “Would you like fries with that?”

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk,
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk,
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread,
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.