Sermon from Sunday 17 October

Turning the world upside down with servant leadership.


Reading(s): Mark 10:35-45. This sermon was given by Warwick Heathcote at All Saints, North Baddesley.

We’d all like to be special, to be favoured - to be loved - to be important! And clearly as we hear in our gospel reading the disciples were no different.

The brothers James and John seem to have a strong appetite for prestige and power. They ask Jesus for the premium seats, the ones right beside him when he is enthroned as king.

I have wondered when we hear of the other disciples being angry with James and John , if they too might have had their eye on the premium seats!

Their request however does show some awareness in some kind of higher purpose for Jesus . But in spite of that they apparently still do not understand what Jesus has tried to tell them. They certainly do not seem to have understood what Jesus has said about servanthood.

The words of Jesus about servant hood can also be a challenge for us who live in a culture that encourages self-promotion that worships fame or celebrity, a society that values only winning and being “number one! Some of you may recall the television game show “the weakest link” where Anne Robinson seemed to take great pleasure in saying to the loser “and you leave with nothing”! Giving the impression that if we are not winning - then what's the point?

Activities that used to be just fun for children are now pressure cookers of competitiveness while their parents scurry around trying to make the "right" connections and arranging admission to the "right" schools meanwhile the children, poor little things are overwhelmed by multiple lessons and activities selected to groom them for the "right" universities and careers.

This rush to the top creates a huge imbalance in our society. But Jesus shows us a different way of being, a way that values the individual and their efforts. It's not only a way of being but also a way out of the cultural madness – for want of a better word - that surrounds us.

In a culture that tells us that if we are not the best we are worth less. Jesus tells us that our true worth lies in relationships, relationship with God – and with each other - and the work we are called to do. By being faithful to those things we find our real worth as human beings and as children of God.

When we really see each other as worthwhile, valuable, individuals with dignity and a place in the world. It becomes easy to be servants to each other valuing - and encouraging each other - recognizing each other’s gifts and helping each other live out our individual callings in our communities and the world.

The disciples appeared to miss the point about the kingship of Jesus this in spite Jesus having told them repeatedly of his approaching execution and resurrection they just do not get it!

Yet their failure to understand is a cause of hope for us. For each of us is sometimes blind to what discipleship requires. And just as Jesus did not give up on them and he does not give up on us.

One way his kingdom appears upside down in conventional expectation is in the area of leadership. Now when I say the word “leadership,” do not close your ears. Do not say you are not a leader or that you are a leader no more. For each of us is repeatedly invited to leadership - sometimes in modest - informal ways we barely notice - and sometimes perhaps in ways that involve titles and prominence.

Which brings to mind Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in when he reminds them that “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6)

Jesus claims the role of servant by word and deed. He says he has come “not to be served, but to serve” (10:45). And at his final meal before his death he scandalizes his followers by kneeling before them to wash their feet as though he is their lackey and not their lord.

There’s a favourite story from the long ago American civil war which bears repeating as for me it succinctly expresses “servant leadership”.

A group of exhausted soldiers were struggling and straining to repair a small defensive barrier. One of them shouted orders at the others, but made no attempt to help.

Quite suddenly a civilian came by on horseback. He asked the soldier in charge why he wasn’t helping in the effort. The solider responded, “Sir, I am a corporal!”

The stranger apologized, dismounted, and helped the exhausted soldiers in their work. Once the job was done, he turned to the corporal and said, “Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief and I will come and help you again.”

With that, George Washington got on his horse and rode off.

George Washington found himself in a situation that invited him to demonstrate servant leadership. You and I also face opportunities to exercise that leadership. It may be a casual encounter as it was for Washington riding by that day. Or it may be far more intentional,

But whatever form it takes, servant leadership happens when we place the welfare of others ahead of our desire for power or prestige or possessions.

The servant leader places others before self and acts on that basis and thereby changes the world for good.

This is not to say that the servant leader lacks ambition. The persistent servant leader is probably someone with strong ambition who chases after a bold vision and refuses to take no for an answer.

And as with so many things about life in the Spirit – this – too - is full of paradox - it is only when we are - free of fear - free of the desperate need to "be number one" - that we find our real selves - our real self-worth - our real vocation - our real gifts - and our real reward. - Amen