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!

Come to Serve

“Come to Serve”

Mark 10-45 serve all

Mark 10:34-45 – October 18, 2015

It’s October in Chicago, and sports teams are a common topic of conversation! Look at the Cubs: a great number of people are rooting for them in the National League championship games, and not just in Chicago, either! Not to mention the Black Hawks, the defending Stanley Cup champions. A lot of people want to get close to these very important people. Just to rub shoulders with greatness. Being close to someone on top.

This is similar to what was happening in our Gospel reading for today. James and John took their Rabbi Jesus aside, to ask Him something privately.

Now, I wanted to make sure that everyone here was aware that lots of people saw Jesus as an earthly King. Everyone recognize that? Because, it helps us to make sense out of what James and John are asking Jesus. The closer that people are to a king or a ruler, the more important they are. The more power and importance they hold. It’s like rubbing shoulders with greatness. The whole reflected glory thing.

So, James and John ask their Rabbi to let them sit on His right and left hands, when He gets to glory. In essence, to be His right hand (and left hand) guys! They not only want to be considered important by everyone else, they want their own share of Jesus’ reflected glory!

That isn’t how it works, friends. Have I mentioned before that these disciples just don’t get it? We can see from their repeated words and conversations that they just don’t understand Jesus and what He is consistently and persistently teaching.

Let’s break it down. Jesus doesn’t get mad. Instead, He patiently goes over the same ground, again. Repeats what He has said a number of times before, and now He adds a new twist. A further caution about traveling with Him, all the way to the Cross.

As we continue to consider this section from the Gospel of Mark, we slam into the horrified reaction of the other ten disciples to what James and John had asked of Jesus. If your brother or sister or good friend had gone behind your back, and tried to get preferential treatment, don’t you think you might have gotten angry, too? Sneaking around and trying to do things under the radar is not okay. No matter how James and John might have justified it.

Jesus turns from this private conversation, and calls all the disciples together to give them a short recap on the Gentiles—the Romans—the worldly way of dealing with pre-eminence, greatness, and authority.

I’m going to take a detour and tell you about a church I attended for a time while I was at seminary. Smaller church, here in the north suburbs of Chicago. The church was going to have a clean-up day in the nursery and small children’s area, after the morning worship service. The Sunday school and children’s ministry people had been planning it for a number of weeks. A number of people had dressed for church with their cleaning clothes on, blue jeans and t-shirts. People even sent out for sandwiches for a quick lunch.

My husband Kevin approved of the clean-up; our children weren’t that far beyond that age group. We couldn’t stay after service that day, but said our good-byes to the cleaners. On our way out, we ran into the associate pastor. She had delivered the sermon that morning and worn her robes up front in church. However, she had transformed; she had changed into blue jeans and a sweatshirt. She had a bucket and a spray bottle of cleanser in her hands, and cheerfully wished us well as we went off to the next event.

My husband’s opinion of that pastor rose at least 75 percent that day. Maybe more. He told me how impressed and pleased he was to see that she was willing to go to work without blowing her own horn. Willing to get her hands dirty for the church, and not just look pastoral and holy up front in the sanctuary. She was willing to be a servant, as well as a leader!

To get back to Jesus and the disciples, Jesus reminds them about the common attitude of the day. How the Gentiles, and especially the Romans, thought about leaders. How these worldly people wanted to be “first” and “greatest,” “lording it over” their underlings. These puffed-up people often seized authority as tyrants! Not the way Jesus acted, at all. Jesus reminds them that the Kingdom of God is decidedly different from the pagan kingdoms of the world.

How did Jesus say we ought to lead? How did Jesus say we ought to be “first” and “great?” I’m going back to what I preached on, two and three weeks ago. Remember how I said that the disciples just did not get what Jesus was telling them? Here, He’s telling them again. Just as Jesus embraced and welcomed children, and raised up vulnerable, disregarded children as an object lesson for the disciples, in the same way Jesus repeats what Godly leadership looks like.

Here Jesus is challenging all of society’s expectations! All of His followers’ expectations and understanding, too! How to be great, in God’s eyes? To be a leader? To be first among your fellows? Jesus said: be a servant. Even more, be a slave, working for others with no expectation of reward or honor.

Not only did Jesus turn society’s expectations of heavy-handed leadership on its head, He also was going against all ideas of political domination. If a Jewish leader were truly humble, and a true servant-leader, what would that do to Roman authority over a conquered province? Could it even affect or subvert the imbalance of military power over the subjugated people of Palestine? Imagine, all with non-violent methods, using servant-leadership.

Which brings me back to reflecting on Jesus’ words in verses 43 and 44: “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.” Just as one of my fellow ministers said in the online sermon board I follow, she is more than willing to scrub toilets, print the Sunday bulletins and make grilled cheese sandwiches for her church’s weekly soup and sandwich supper. But, getting back to where I started this sermon, this concept of leader as servant of all turns all worldly ideas of leadership upside down!

Can you imagine someone of Michael Jordan or Donald Trump or Oprah’s stature scrubbing toilets? Or washing dishes? What about Pope Francis? Is it easier to think of the humble, genuine Francis doing menial labor? I suspect so.

It isn’t only servant-leadership.

Some people here might be saying to themselves, I am not a leader. I don’t need to consider this, because Jesus is only talking to people in leadership positions.

But, what about regular folks in the pews? To follow Jesus means having a whole paradigm shift on doing relationships. What is your idea of relationships? How does it square up with the examples worldly society raises up?

Here’s a challenge. I invite all of you—each of you in the congregation to think of one specific circumstance in the coming week when you might step aside from being number one to let somebody else go first. It could be getting in line at the grocery store, letting someone pass you while driving on Waukegan or Golf or Dempster, allowing a husband/wife/friend get a word in a conversation, or complimenting someone for doing a task better than you or I could.

There are lots of ways to be a servant. Be kind. Be helpful. Be of service. Let others go first, cheerfully! Why? Because Jesus told us to. Jesus showed us how to do it. Let’s follow His example!

Alleluia, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my daily blog for 2015: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind .  Thanks!