Hebrews 5: 1-10 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Mark 10: 35-45 October 21, 2018
“But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
Prayer: Help us become great in your realm, O God. Amen.
To begin, I invite your responses to this question: Who said this? “I want everyone to bear witness, I am the greatest! I’m the greatest thing that ever lived. I don’t have a mark on my face, and I upset Sonny Liston, and I just turned twenty-two years old. I must be the greatest. I showed the world. I talk to God everyday. I know the real God. I shook up the world; I’m the king of the world. You must listen to me. I am the greatest! I can’t be beat!”
OK? Who said that? Anyone? Yes! Muhammed Ali! One of the world’s greatest boxers who ever lived! Excellent! That was pretty easy, huh?
OK. Who said this? “Wouldn’t it be a beautiful world if just 10 percent of the people who believe in the power of love would compete with one another to see who could do the most good for the most people?”
OK? Who said that? Anyone? The two statements could hardly be more different, could they? As I said, the first quote is Ali’s boyish bluster from 1964, just after he defeated Sonny Liston for the first time. The second quote—is also from Muhammed Ali, something he wrote in his autobiography, The Soul of a Butterfly, in 2004, forty years later (https://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustrations_for_installment.asp?installment_id=93040705, retrieved October 19, 2018). Nice to know that some perspectives changed for Muhammed Ali over time. I think Jesus was hopeful that the perspectives of the disciples would change, too… after all; it’s been quite some time since they dropped everything and began to follow him. And, Jesus faithfully kept teaching them about God’s realm, about God’s ways that are often opposite to the ways of human beings. Prior to this passage, Jesus just got done teaching them that the greatest in the kingdom of God were people who become like little children. But, were they getting it?
Evidently not. Because when James and John approached Jesus, they still seemed to be holding onto old ideas about greatness, about having power, about having privilege and entitlement. They wanted Jesus to do for them whatever they wanted, and in this case, their request was that they would have the top two spots in the eternal realm of glory after Jesus triumphed in victory and conquered the existing powers that be here on earth.
Wow! There is so much that is off base with their request that Jesus remarks that they really don’t know what they’re asking. After asking a few more questions about how willing they really were to follow him to Jerusalem and the inevitable, and after observing the anger from the other ten for James’ and John’s arrogance, Jesus takes advantage of the moment. He calls them together, and once again, teaches them that glory in God’s kingdom doesn’t look like glory in the kingdoms of our world. As his disciples, they are not to be like all other powers they know… with lording it over others, their prestige and position and the bullying that comes with all that. Nope, they are to “transform the world, not from the top down, but from the bottom up.” (Taylor, Barbara Brown, Bread of Angels, “Trickle Up Effect,” Cowley Publications, 1997, p. 45) They are to become servants of all—servants of others are the greatest in God’s kingdom.
Sing: If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be a servant of all. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be a servant of all.
The trouble is, we over-expect the greatness that comes from our present practices of privilege, power, and entitlement, and under-expect the greatness that comes from God’s grace found in servant leadership. The political culture these days has totally lost sight of what greatness is from God’s point of view. God’s sovereign grace is underestimated in its power to transform, to bring peace, to cultivate new leaders.
What do servant-leaders look like? They are people who embrace both concepts of serving others by serving Someone greater and beyond themselves. In a spiritual community, no leader gets privilege, no leader cuts the line; no leader gets in first or takes the best seat. Whoever wants to be a leader must be a servant to all the rest. A true spiritual leader serves first, and by serving leads... through example. They are people who understand the importance of awareness, listening, empathy and building community. They understand that it isn’t about me; it’s about you.
William Cohen, a researcher in business is quoted as saying, “My research debunks the myth that many people seem to have ... that you become a leader by fighting your way to the top. Rather, you become a leader by helping others to the top (Cohen, William: The stuff of Heroes: The Eight Universal Laws of Leadership, quoted on the Trinity Western University Web site, twu.ca/Leadership/sl_quotes.asp. Retrieved April 9, 2003, https://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustrations_for_installment.asp?installment_id=3201, retrieved October 19, 2018).
So, I wonder if this becomes our chance to discover our true humanity, by serving others promoting their greatness. “Servant leadership I think means we have an ability to relate, cooperate, combine and create with God, with one another, and ourselves. This requires us to understand one another, empathize with one another, seek the well-being of one another and love one another as we love ourselves” (Wells, Sam, Faith Matters, “An Economist Bears Witness,” Christian Century, October 10, 2018, p. 35). Such is the way to be fully human. Such is the way to be fully in the seat of glory. Such is the way to transform lives.
I want to affirm our Servant Leaders in our congregation and in our community. There are way to many to list, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to call out names. But, let me say that many of you servant leaders come to our church on any given day; you come here to do ministry.
You come here to worship, to sing praise, to help others lift their voices in song, to practice faith, writing liturgy, using gifts and talents. You don’t do this for personal praise, but instead for the One who is worthy of our praise. I praise God for your servant leadership.When you come here and lead others in worship.
You come here and teach our kids and youth. You help form faith. You teach, you coach, you mentor, you cheer lead, you socialize. you love without fanfare, without seeking glory, without demanding payment. I praise God for your servant leadership in forming faith in all our people.
You come here doing mission and outreach, gathering and sorting diapers for needy children. You volunteer at the winter shelter, sometimes staying overnight assisting homeless people. You put soup together for hungry people who come here in need. Or meals together for those in Lancaster. You go to parts of our nation devastated by disasters. Or internationally to assist with orphans and children. There is no “look at me, I’m doing this ministry” attitude. Nope. You just serve God by serving others. You lift others up. You strengthen the community. You do it without calling attention to yourself. praise God for your servant leadership in mission and outreach.
You come here to work on our property and tend to our building concerns. You come here to beautify our grounds, to wash our windows, to repair our dings and scratches. No one seeks out recognition, but know this, all your ministry is appreciated. I praise God for your servant leadership in our building, facilities, and our grounds.
You come here to work on administrative details, handling money, raising and managing our financial resources, making policy decisions, working with our staff, working with me. You come here and do this ministry without expectations of glory, without wanting to sit at the top spots. I praise God for your servant leadership in the administration of our ministry.
You come here with open hearts and open minds, welcoming all with a deep sense of hospitality. You see someone you don’t know and you introduce yourselves. You publicly practice our motto “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here!” Because of you, the person seeking a safe place to worship, a place to grow in faith, a place to practice God’s extravagant love, a place to be loved extravagantly, a place of community without judgment—because of you that seeking person IS here. That person is welcomed here, that person is loved here. I thank God for your servant leadership in the ministry of hospitality.
And you do all this not because you want to earn a place in Jesus’ glory, but because Jesus already earned that place for you. Because his work of giving his life has touched your heart. Because Jesus made you his. He came not to be served as the Messiah, but as the Messiah, he came to serve, to give his life that we would know greatness in the realm of God. I praise God for your servant leadership and I praise God for Jesus’ servant leadership.
Sing with me... If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. If you want to be great in God’s kingdom, learn to be the servant of all. Amen.