Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sermon; 21 Pentecost, Proper 24B; Mark 10:35-45

What comes to mind when I say, “Leadership?”  Or when I ask, “What makes a good leader?” what do you think of?  Do you think of Peyton Manning or Dan Marino marching their team down the field for a last minute win?  Do you think of King Henry V's famous St. Crispin's Day speech before the Battle of Agincourt?  Or maybe you think that Brig. Gen. McAuliffe's one word reply of, “Nuts,” to the Germans was more than enough leadership.  Maybe you think of how Steve Jobs ran Apple as great leadership.

All of these are certainly examples of leadership.  And they seem to epitomize the skills and attitudes we value in leaders.  We value people who know what they want and go get it.  We value people who can articulate their vision for the future.  We value people with a “can do” attitude, who can also motivate people to action.

Churches do the same thing.  When searching for a priest, the traits they list are “inspirational, prayerful, able to motivate the congregation in forward thinking and/or actions, able to draw young people into the church, spiritual director, property manager and financial adviser.”  They will couch these traits in any number of ecclesiastical language, but they are all looking for someone stellar to lead them.  Oh, and by the way, it would probably help if your initials are J.C.

But Jesus is giving us another way to view leadership.  In his eyes, leadership is not a position of power.  James and John wanted a position of power in the coming kingdom.  That's what they wanted, but they didn't understand what it would take to get there.  They also didn't understand that Jesus, and God, had very different ideas about leadership.

On the one hand, Jesus critiques and condemns leadership as he saw it in the world around him.  The human leaders he saw were people who saw themselves as special and more deserving than everyone else of receiving special treatment.  The human leaders he saw tended to see the lower classes as nothing more than a means to improve their own social, political and/or economic standing.

But, as with most things Jesus addressed in this world, he turns the idea of a good leader on its head.  As my followers, he says, you/we are not to emulate the leaders we see around us.  Instead, we are to be servants and slaves to all, because this is what Jesus will do.  Jesus will feed people in need, ask people, “What do you want me to do for you,” wash the feet of his disciples and be executed like so many slaves before and after him for daring to speak out against the established way of life.

Leadership is kind of a tricky thing.  Many people have tried to quantify it.  Many people have written about it.  Many people study it.  And the question remains, “Are great leaders born or are they made?”

The answer, as you would suspect, is, “Yes.”  There can be an innate trait, or there can be learning over time that thrives in the right instance.  But not all leaders thrive in all instances.

For instance, good generals don't necessarily make for good presidents.  Great players and leaders on the field often don't make for good managers or coaches.  Just because a person was a good leader in one situation doesn't mean they'll be good in the next situation – Nick Saban, successful at LSU and Alabama, failed miserably with the Miami Dolphins.

Regardless of born or bred, Jesus is telling us that leadership need not be oppressive.  We need to remember the humanity of those we lead, and one of the best ways of doing that is by being willing to be their servant.  Leaders need to show compassion as well as strength.

Like it or not, we are leaders within Christianity, and the world is watching us.  Unfortunately, the message that is being broadcast about Christians and Christianity is less than flattering.  Christians regularly and publicly call for programs that harm women, children, the poor and the marginalized, make racist and hateful statements, and limit their approval to people of a certain demographic.

Many Christian leaders today have become no different than those Gentile leaders of Jesus' day who see themselves as more special and important than others.

But Jesus calls us to a different kind of leadership.  Jesus calls us to be servants and slaves.  If we were to take that seriously, if we were to be seen as followers of Christ who were actually caring, compassionate and welcoming of all, that would be a much better witness to the world.  It would also put us in a position to lead people to discipleship by our example.

This is what leadership looks like to Jesus:  feeding, clothing, nurturing, caring for, and serving others.  This is what leadership should look like to us.

If we are to claim the world for Christ, it won't be through dominating and domineering others.  If we are to claim the world for Christ, it won't be by lording Christianity over others.

If we are to claim the world for Christ, it will be through our willingness to be servant and slave of all.



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