“Come to Serve”
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!