Year B, Proper 20 September 20, 2015 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”
Our reading from St. Mark’s gospel is very timely, a text for our time, for this very moment. It is about leadership. It is about how Jesus led, what He taught about leading to those whom He would leave the building and leading of a church to. He is teaching us. It is a text for our time because we are so desperately in need of leadership in our world right now. Who does the world look to, look up to lead us in the direction that we as a species need to go? The President of the United States? The Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank? The head of some multi-national corporation? Vladimir Putin? There is Pope Francis! He is a bright-spot, no doubt. Come to the Wednesday adult ed and read his encyclical… leadership par excellence in there. What about leaders for our nation? We’re in an election cycle and there is a dearth of leadership of any stripe. Where is a moral voice? We had a leadership failure closer to home, here in Oregon. Our governor resigned in disgrace or at least under duress; and we’re trying to recall elected officials right here in Lane County because we disagree with their votes? In our fair city, we have a mayoral election coming up and one of our own, Lucy Vinis has thrown her hat in the ring. There is leading that needs doing in Eugene. And we are talking about leadership here in our fair parish. We had a remarkable gathering of leaders last week after Mass. We’re in a continuing time of transition and most of that transition is in regards to how leadership happens here. By structure and developmental stage, much leadership here at Resurrection has come from the center. That’s been fine, but we are outgrowing the usefulness of that model and we are gradually transitioning to a place where the center leads less by doing, by a “follow me!” posture and more by supporting the leaders who are out there doing the work, who are out there and in here being the parish, being the Body of Christ in an aching and broken world. Leadership is amongst the resources most valuable to the parish right now. Rise up! Leadership…
What does it mean to be a leader? __________
Jesus Christ is a leader; our leader. In Eucharistic Prayer B, which we switched to today, we hear Jesus referred to as “…the firstborn of all creation, the head of the Church, and the author of our salvation.” The head of the church… How does Jesus lead us? _________
Yes! In this little passage by St. Mark, Jesus lays out His understanding of holy leadership. The first is, “Follow Me!” or from the scripture, “Take up your cross and follow me!” Leading from the front or the center. That’s one way. And it is a valid way, it is not all patriarchal oppression, though that is a moral hazard. I follow the Anglican way in part because I believe that we as human beings need authority in our lives, sources of authority sometimes represented by people in authority. It helps us, or it can. And the second way that Jesus leads and would have us lead is laid out just as clearly. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Jesus teaches leading as a moral activity, leading from the posture of a servant. I follow the Christian way in part because serving the least of these is central to our identity as a people and is intimately tied to our understanding of salvation. Follow me, and servant-leader… Let’s look at these ways that Jesus teaches us to lead.
Ductus exemplo. Lead by example. Follow me! This is leadership from the front. This is leadership as taking responsibility and using authority to get done what needs doing. Sometimes it is the “follow me!” model. You are out front, doing it and calling to others, “Come on! Join in, there is plenty of work for everyone.” Sometimes it is the rudder at the back of the ship, the teamster behind the team of oxen, “Haawww… pull ‘em right.” Steering, directing the flow of resources, energy and effort towards the goal before you. It is directive. It is controlled. It need not (ought not) be authoritarian, but authority and its application are important. How does Jesus lead like this? _______
Right, He’s the one out front, right? He led the march from town to town in Galilee, setting the itinerary and agenda. “Healings today in Capernaum, I’ll preach in Tyre on Tuesday.” He stood up front and taught. He directed the disciples to go and preach and heal and exercise demons. He decided to take the movement to Jerusalem, He drove out the money changers, got in the faces of the elders and scribes and chief priests and chastised them for their collaboration with the Romans, for their corruption in the face of God. His “follow me” out front leadership led Him (and us) to the Cross and to God and to salvation.
This form of leadership involves taking on responsibility. Taking up the yoke that the buck stops here, that you are responsible for whatever is done or whatever fails to be done. It means not leaving until all the dishes are clean, it means brining your prunes to church becasue that branch is in the way and it needs pruning, taking responsibility means making that phone call to check up because you know, he seemed kind of upset after that meeting. And it is in taking responsibility that we are given, that we earn the privilege of authority. Here at church, if you take responsibility for something, to see the 2nd Sunday Breakfast happen, to make sure the altar is set correctly, to serve on Vestry, if you take responsibility, you know what, you have a say in how it is done. You have authority here. Anyone here. You want to be a leader at Resurrection? Take responsibility for something and you get a say in how it is done. We should probably talk… but leadership is here for the taking. So, “Follow me!” Let’s get’r done. That is one way to lead, but not the only way, it is not the only way Jesus led.
Leadership is also a moral activity. The Messiah’s path to the Cross is the purest example of leadership as a moral activity. No one understood what He was doing. No one approved. His path led consciously to betrayal, abandonment, torture, crucifixion!!! And why? Because He knew that He was doing what God wanted. He followed the will of God wherever it led, and in following God’s will, following to the best of our understanding to the best of our ability, that will make you a leader because of the moral authority you will command. That is leadership as a moral activity, following what you understand to be God’s will and following it wherever it leads you. The ancient hymn in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi exemplifies this form of Jesus Christ’s leadership: “…he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend in heaven and one earth and under earth and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” He humbled himself, He became obedient, to the point of death! a most horrible death, an in that obedience, in that obedience to the will of God, to the needs of the world, to the needs of the people right around Him, He led them, and He continues to lead us to this day. Moral leadership.
This form of leadership that Jesus teaches is called servant-leadership. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” That’s how Jesus describes it, how He did it. In a more modern teaching of this form of leadership, we might say “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.”
This kind of leadership is open to everyone. From the child out back after church saying, “That’s not the right thing to do, I’m going to get my Mom,” to getting up at 4:45 to trudge through the snow to serve the breakfast shift at Egan… both and everything in between is servant-leadership. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name…” It is not about who is the greatest. Heavens, we should send everyone who participated in that debate on Wednesday a copy of this text. Three hours of that very same argument the disciples had! The courage to welcome the least of these, the most vulnerable, the most preyed upon… that is servant leadership. That was what Jesus was saying about welcoming the child. Children had no cultural worth in antiquity, but Jesus said they did and that including them was the will of God.
In following God’s will, in serving the most humble, in putting the needs of others before our own, God in God’s self is present. God. Present like God is present sacramentally in the Eucharist, eternally and actually. Those are the fruits of being a servant, the fruits of being a moral leader, and you can’t help but follow someone or follow someone’s lead when you find them doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing; when you find someone actually following the will of God. Jesus Christ did that so supremely, followed the will of God so fully that there are still some of us who believe that that saved the entire world, us included. Now there is some leadership to aspire to.
Leadership is going to be a theme here at Resurrection for the year. After church we are going to talk about how the church works, how it leads us closer to God, and how it enables us to in turn lead others. Join us, it should be good.
I’ll end with the words of the Collect of the Day for today, the Sunday closest to September 21st, or Proper 20. This collect describes what we need to pray for to be the kind of leaders we are called by Jesus Christ to be. “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” AMEN.