Servant? Leader? Both!

“Servant? Leader? Both!”

Mark 10-45 Son of Man came to serve

Mark 10:35-45 (10:43) – October 21, 2018

Almost everyone is familiar with slogans and jingles. I could say, “You deserve a break today, so get up and get away to…”  What about “I am stuck on Band Aids, ‘cause Band Aid’s stuck on me.” Or, “It’s the most original soft drink ever in the whole wide world—Dr Pepper.” When I mention these jingles, you can almost see the product right in front of you. That is how vivid the slogan or jingle from Madison Avenue is. This advertising hook is planted deeply in many people’s brains and memories.

I am not going to mention any political party in this sermon, but currently, one political party today uses a slogan that bring images to many people’s minds today. (Either strongly positive, or strongly negative.) It is “Make America Great Again.” Again, a lot of people have vivid, strong ideas or thoughts about this slogan. Similar to the advertising jingles I just mentioned, “Make America Great Again” strikes deep in people’s brains and memories.

Greatness. What is greatness? Who is the greatest? That’s the argument among the disciples in the Gospel reading for today. I suspect that argument resonated deeply in their hearts and minds, too. The disciples all had a basic idea in their heads of what “the greatest” was supposed to look like, act like, speak like, and be like.

Our reading is from Mark 10, just a few verses before the beginning of chapter 11, where Jesus enters Jerusalem on Palm Sunday for the final week of His life. This is the very end of Rabbi Jesus’s three-year ministry. His disciples had been with Him, and learned from Him for three whole years. And, still, after all this time, the disciples are still bickering over who is going to be “the greatest” among them. How clueless, how thick can they possibly be?

James and John, two of the disciples closest to Jesus, have the presumption to march right up to their Rabbi and ask Him something outrageous, straight out. In the Gospel of Matthew, same question, except Matthew softens it a little by having the mother of James and John ask.

The question? “We want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” Talk about a self-centered and self-serving request! But, don’t we say almost the same thing to God, sometimes? Some of us might be looking in the mirror when we look closely at this reading.

In our modern world in this twenty-first century, we still repeat the identical demand to God: ‘Lord God, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.’ And then we ask God for our own way, what we want, e.g. healing for ourselves, our loved ones, a good job, a good spouse, a good house, a miracle of some sort, a special blessing, a way ‘out of a jam.’” [1] (In other words, some say prayers to a vending-machine-in-the-sky-God, or foxhole prayers said when things look really black, and there is no hope left.)

James and John wanted to be great! Whatever “great” meant to them. Oh, we know what “great” means to many people. Lots of power and control! Lots of people running, fetching, carrying for you! Being “great” meant lording it over everyone else, over all the little people. After all, James and John had a pretty good idea that their Rabbi was soon going to be proclaimed the Messiah. After all, hadn’t He told them so? Hadn’t Jesus been displaying the signs and miracles of His Messiahship for the past three years? Wasn’t that why Jesus was going to Jerusalem? As Messiah, they thought Jesus would become an earthly King. So, He would need right-hand guys to be His lieutenants. They figured they were those guys.

What is the matter? This picture does not jive with Jesus, that’s what.

Everyone else was pinning their hopes on Jesus, hoping that He would overthrow the Roman armies of occupation and restore the earthly kingdom of Israel. Then, everything would be hunky-dory, as far as the Jewish people were concerned. However, Jesus had no desire to become an earthly king, with an earthly kingdom, like King David.

People just did not understand. Not even when Jesus explained to the disciples that they needed to become completely of no account, like children, they still did not have any idea of what Jesus was talking about.

What is the overarching disconnect and problem here? “Power has been the perennial problem in human history. The reality of power is complex; its use and misuse in all human, social and political relations and interactions has been a question of utmost importance for all peoples.” [2]

Here, in this 10th chapter of Mark, Jesus clearly outlined His path and direction several times. Then, how did James and John get so mixed up, so close to the end of Jesus’s ministry? When people get focused on the wrong direction, they can end up in a very different place from where they started.

Listen again to Jesus’s words: “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”  I’d like everyone to notice: Jesus calls His friends to serve others. That is how they are to lead.

Jesus does not slam ambition and striving. Jesus does not call us to be Godly doormats, or worms under other people’s feet. He did not mean for us to be so heavenly-minded that we are of no earthly good or of no earthly use to others. In this passage, Jesus redirects our efforts of leadership. Our servant Savior teaches that true success requires a servant heart, and a servant practice.

Can you think of humble, thoughtful people who were chosen to lead, rather than those who proudly grasped for power?  Lording it over the people they lead? I can think of several who are particularly proud, high and mighty, looking down their noses at the “little people.”

Remember, Jesus said of His friends, “Can they drink the same “cup” of suffering and death he must drink, a cup that he himself will later ask be removed if possible? (14:36) Can they be baptized with the same baptism Jesus is to endure?” [3] Challenging words of Jesus, indeed.

Again, would we accuse Jesus of seeking for authority, status, honor, glory, or power? I think not. As followers of Christ, He modeled for us the style of leadership He wants us to use. We need to serve each other in love, not rule with a rod of iron or blunt force.

In Jesus’s day, all roads were dirt roads. People wore sandals. Whenever they went anywhere, people arrived with dirty feet. A household servant would show hospitality by washing guests’ feet. When Jesus and His friends were having dinner, there was no servant available to wash anyone’s feet. I leave us all with the vivid image of the Rabbi Jesus with a towel and basin. He’s a loving servant in the Upper Room at that Passover Seder, washing feet.

What kind of leader would Jesus want? Someone who is brash, proud, high and mighty, lording it over others? Or, someone who is humble, helpful, ready to pitch in, even available to wash other people’s feet? What kind of leader is Jesus? What kind of Christian are you?

Challenging words, indeed.

[1] http://www.sermonsfromseattle.com/series_b_having_the_hearts_and_hands_of_a_servant_GA.htm

“Having the Heart and Hands of a Servant,” Gospel Analysis, Sermons from Seattle, Pastor Edward F. Markquart, Grace Lutheran Church, Seattle, Washington.

[2] “Minjung and Power: A Biblical and Theological Perspective on Doularchy (Servanthood),” Kim Yong-Bock, at Religion OnLine.

[3] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2641

Commentary, Mark 10:35-45, Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2015.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Love, Humble and Obedient

“Love, Humble and Obedient”

 

crucifixion sketch

Luke 19:37-40 – Phil 2:8 – March 16, 2016

Have you ever watched a television show or a movie where there are two different stories going on at the same time? A few scenes of the first story, and it gets to an exciting or a suspenseful part; then the show switches to the other story. The second story goes on for a bit and just gets interesting, and suddenly the show changes back to the first story.

This sermon is going to do just that.

Like many stories, the first story we look at today does not start at the beginning. Instead, it interrupts in the middle of the action. Rabbi, or Teacher Jesus, wanted to enter Jerusalem on a Sunday morning. This was a special week. Observing, believing Jews from not only all over Israel, but from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast.

People were really starting to talk about this Teacher Jesus! Some people said He was the prophet Elijah who had returned. Others said He was John the Baptist raised from the dead. Even some in Israel said this Jesus might be the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

So, when Jesus planned His entrance into Jerusalem that day, He knew what people were saying. He wanted to show everyone—the friendly people in the crowds as well as those who doubted or actively disliked Him—that He was the Messiah. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He did NOT come in like a conquering king, on a white horse. No, He came in as the Anointed One of God. Humble, and riding on a donkey.

Let’s consider what the Teacher Jesus had been doing for a number of months. Jesus’ words and teaching had authority. He preached with power, which was different from the way the scribes and teachers of the day preached. He healed people, restored sight to the blind and made lame people walk—all of which showed God’s mighty power. And if this wasn’t enough, the Teacher Jesus even forgave sins! He certainly appeared to be from God.

We’re going to shift scenes now. Cut!! Now—instead of looking at a situation two thousand years ago, we are going back before the universe was created. Before God spoke and called anything at all into being. Before the beginning of all things, there was GOD. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There was community and fellowship within the Godhead even before anything else was created in the whole universe.

I’ll focus on God the Son. Fully God. He was always in existence. There never was a time when He was NOT. When God the Son took on humanity, when He became Jesus at Christmas two thousand years ago, the human Jesus had an actual, physical birthday. But God the Son always was, always is and always will be. It’s a mystery! I can’t understand it, much less explain it. This is a part of the God we worship and celebrate.

Let’s compare the two stories now. Take God the Son before the foundation of the world, all-powerful, all-knowing. Take Jesus the Teacher in Jerusalem, teaching, preaching, healing, even forgiving sins! Compare them side by side. These are all ways that we can describe God.

Jesus, as He comes into Jerusalem, is greeted by crowds of people waving palms and shouting ‘Hosanna!’ They quoted Psalm 118, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ This is a clear sign of what the crowds who greeted Jesus on that day were thinking. This was the way the people of Jerusalem had greeted the conquering king Jehu several centuries before. They greeted Him as Messiah, the Anointed One, who comes in the name of the Lord.

Consider God the Son, before the foundation of the world. The Apostle Paul tells the believers in the city of Philippi that He set aside His God-ness. He laid it aside. Jesus emptied Himself, willingly, of all things related to being God, to become Man. After being in on the creation of the heavens and the earth, after speaking the world into existence, after being all-knowing and all-powerful, God the Son became a baby. Think of a baby you know, a cute, cuddly, helpless little baby. God the Son willingly became like that.

We all know the Christmas story. Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a barn to a young, homeless couple. Jesus was Jewish, from Israel, an oppressed people-group, in an occupied country. Jesus was marginalized and shunted aside from the very start.

Think about Israel in the first century—occupied territory! People oppressed, terrorized by not only the Roman soldiers, but also by Herod’s soldiers. Looking through history, we can read the fear of occupation and domination from first-person, historical accounts. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a letter written during the time of the Underground Railroad, a diary from Nazi-occupied Holland or a personal account from a victim of human rights abuse from Guatemala today. Horror. Violence. Oppression.

God the Son breaks into this mess of a world. God over all the universe, the Word made flesh, became a baby named Jesus. He became powerless, most vulnerable, least of all. In this fallen world, where power and influence are everything, Jesus came to be with us as a helpless baby.

But I’m not done with the story—yet. Or should I say, the stories? Plural.

Jesus the Teacher could have hidden Himself. He could have just laid low for years, taught quietly, stayed on the outskirts, far away from large towns. But, NO. Jesus did just the opposite. Jesus decided to come to Jerusalem, where there were large crowds, many Jewish leaders, and also many Roman soldiers. He walked into this situation with his eyes wide open.

Some people—I’m thinking of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the scribes and other temple leaders—were awfully uneasy. For them, Jesus was their worst nightmare. Dr. Luke tells us in chapter 9 of his gospel that Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem. Our Lord Jesus made up His mind to travel that path. Certain death awaited Him. But He determined to go, nevertheless.

Let’s see what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 2. Jesus is described as humbling Himself. Humble? The people in Jerusalem that Palm Sunday morning certainly didn’t expect a humble, quiet guy. No! They expected someone who would take charge, rally the people, and mount a rebellion! They wanted someone who would turn things upside down!

Think about the world the Jews were living in. They were subjects of the Romans, the most powerful nation in the world. So the Jews did not like this oppression much at all. People would pop up, claiming to be the Messiah, the Anointed One, and attempt to rally an army to himself. These attempts never went anywhere. The Romans quickly put an end to any rebellion.

When the Apostle Paul wrote about the person and work of our Lord Jesus, he uses terms familiar to his audience. Paul communicates it in simple, matter-of-fact words. Listen to just a part: Jesus “made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, and coming in human likeness.” Even at that Passover dinner on Thursday night, Jesus did not lord it over the disciples. He washed their feet. He did not seek to dominate others, like the Romans did. So many people want power over others. Instead, Jesus wanted to serve. Just like the Apostle Paul describes here in Philippians, Jesus took the form of a servant. He humbly, willingly and lovingly decided to serve others.

Wow. I repeat, WOW.

Let’s get back to the story. Back to Jerusalem. While Jesus went through the turbulent events of Passion Week, with all of the confrontations and discussions, and especially Passover dinner on Thursday night, we see only a portion of the events of this week. Almost the highlights of the week, what you might see if you were watching a video or a television show in two parts, and at the beginning of the second part they showed you the story so far, up to this point.

Why did Jesus come to earth, empty and humble Himself? He did it for us. We can’t understand it. It is pure love from Jesus. And, we can praise God that Jesus did this, for us.

Remember the people on that Palm Sunday morning, the ones who said ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ They were looking for a savior, a conqueror. Jesus was a savior, He was a conqueror, all right. Just not in the way everyone else expected.

Paul tells us that Jesus became obedient, obedient to death, even the death of the cross. Jesus could have turned away. Jesus could have stepped aside. But He didn’t. We even hear it in what Jesus prayed in the Garden. He said to His Father, “Not My will, but Thine be done.” He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Jesus knew that some of that crowd who cried “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday morning would be screaming “Crucify Him!” on Good Friday morning. On Palm Sunday morning, He entered Jerusalem. Jesus was preparing Himself to be obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, one of the most horrible kinds of execution ever thought of by anyone, anywhere.

We can ask . . . WHY? Why did the God over all the universe, the Creator of the heavens and the earth come down from heaven and die a criminal’s death on a cross? It was LOVE.

Jesus shows us a love we could not resist, that melts our hearts. This is what causes us to fall at His feet in worship and praise. As the final step, the culmination of His amazing love for us, Jesus has been raised from the dead and exalted to the right hand of God the Father! Jesus receives the name which is above every name. Jesus Christ is Lord. Did you hear? Do you know? At the name of Jesus every knee should bow! Every knee of those in heaven, and those on earth, and those under the earth. Every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Praise God. Amen, and amen!

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey.  #PursuePEACE – And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!