21st Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 10/18/15)
first reading: Isaiah 53:4-12
Have you been paying attention to politics lately? The national democratic party just had their first debate this past week. The Republicans have already had two. I have to be honest – I haven’t watched any of them.
It’s a dirty business most of the time. People are focused on doing whatever they have to in order to GET power, then doing anything to KEEP it.
This profession, often referred to as “public service,” is often no public service at all, just “self-serving” for those in it. They may be in leadership positions, but they’re not leading, they’re “lording over,” more interested in the power than in serving.
Jesus describes our situation pretty well when he says, “among the Gentiles… their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.”
He reminds power-hungry James and John, along with the jealous disciples, that they are held to a different standard. He reminds power-hungry James and John, along with the jealous disciples, that the world’s definition of leadership and God’s are two VERY different things.
Jesus says those who are leaders must lead by serving, to be an example of service, putting themselves LAST, so that others in the community can be built up.
Now, it’s easy for us to point our fingers at the politicians. But what happens when we stand in front of the mirror? It’s so easy to point the finger at someone else, what do we see when we point the finger at ourselves?
About this passage, the late scholar Donald Juel wrote,
“In the shadow of the cross we get a brief glimpse of a new community – in which relations are not governed by power and status, but by service and hospitality for those without status.”¹
Jesus wasn’t just saying, “If you want to be a great disciple/evangelist/pastor/bishop, act this way” – he was talking to ALL of us. He wasn’t just talking to leaders – he was talking to believers. He was talking not just of those in authority over others, although that was certainly an important part of it – he was talking to ANYONE who wants to follow him.
He was talking about the way you and I relate to one another as brothers and sisters. He was talking about the way in which we are to relate to one another and the world around us.
So what do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see a “lord it over” boss, or a “servant?” Do we see OUR lives as lives of service to Jesus? And not only to Jesus, but to the Church? And not only to the Church as a building or an institution, but to the PEOPLE who make up the Church – and to the people even outside the Church?
Jesus gave his disciples a little sermon here about what leadership is among us – how it is to be different than it is “out there.”
He tells us, “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.”
But what does this look like? Once we hear Jesus’ call to be servants, how do we live that out? How do we make sure that we’re not like those Gentiles so long ago? If we follow Jesus’ teachings, if we follow him in faith, then we also try our best to follow his example.
How did Jesus show himself to be a servant?
We know that he associated himself with those who society judged as unworthy – lepers, the possessed, women (including those of “ill-repute”). His inner circle consisted of fishermen and tax collectors – not exactly professions high up on the social ladder. He was always challenging the social and religious status-quo by being with the people he was with.
NO ONE could say Jesus lived in a bubble. He was constantly popping the bubbles, challenging his followers and religious authorities to see beyond their notions of what faith and worthiness were, and what “belonging” meant.
And in the process he got dirty. He made mud pies to heal a blind man (John 9:6), he spit and put his fingers in a deaf man’s ears and touched his TONGUE (Mark 7:33). And on the night in which he was betrayed, before he took the cup and gave thanks, he washed his disciples’ dirty feet. And of course, he died on the cross.
These are extreme examples, but they show us the lengths to which Jesus will go to love us – and the lengths he calls us to go to love one another.
What that means for us is that there are no tasks, no jobs in the Church or in our communities that are “below” us. What that means for us is that there are no people who are “beneath” us.
Last night our congregation hosted the first dinner/fundraiser we’ve had in years.² It was wonderful. Most of the people who were setting up and cleaning up, cooking and serving the food were council people. Those in leadership were literally serving others.
I don’t know any of us who worked last night who aren’t dog-tired today, but it’s a good tired. The tired that comes from serving others, from serving the Church.
Jesus first served us, and calls us to serve one another.
What our individual service looks like is different for each person and our abilities: volunteering at (or donating to) the food bank, giving someone a ride to the doctor, a phone call to someone who’s struggling, a kind word to a stranger, or even making a desert for the spaghetti dinner.
We often forget it’s not only the grand gestures that are important – most of the time it’s the little things we say and do that mean the most.
What it boils down to is loving neighbor in word and deed. Remembering that we are no better or worse than anyone else. Treating ALL people with the respect and dignity they deserve as children of God.
¹Juel, Donald. Mark: Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament. Augsburg, Minneapolis, 1990, p. 149.
²This was not a fundraiser to pay our bills. Our congregation has a fund we use to help those in our congregation or community who are experiencing crisis. We raised money so we can give it away…