"The Challenge of Being Large and in Charge."
Preached by the Rev. Chester Hines at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 18, 2015
Our Father in Heaven, help us to be mindful that you call us to serve others. Amen.
Today’s gospel reminds me of two historic incidents in our country’s history. The first occurred during the inaugural speech of President John F. Kennedy. During that speech, he celebrated the freedom of America and he challenged all Americans, especially the youth of the country with these words: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country. These few words are a challenge as much today as they were fifty four years ago. They inspired and moved a nation to step up and take on leadership roles; to become involved in the fabric of the community in which they lived.
I contrast that challenge of President Kennedy with another more tragic incident in our country’s history which is the shooting of President Ronald Reagan. Our capitol and nation were shocked and stunned. Vice President George Bush was not immediately available. The White House was not clear on what was happening. General Alexander Haig, who was at the White House, stepped in and confidently asserted to the press--"I’m in charge here!" He thought he was providing crisis leadership. What the country saw was a man hungry for power.
These two contrasts can help us to see how Christ worked and operated during His time. He never stated that he was large and in charge. He was never boastful or prideful with his leadership; as a matter of fact he moved to put others in positions of leadership and power. Christ never characterized himself as a leader and didn’t have to because there was something about Jesus that made people know he was a leader.
Jesus had just finished telling disciples that He is going to Jerusalem, to be betrayed, rejected and killed, v. 33-34. But it appears, James and John, the sons of Zebedee are more concerned about moving up in the organization. All they can see is their position on the totem pole. They want more, they want to be higher than the others. Jesus is about to die for sin and they are playing “who’s on first?” They had not grasped the idea that their leader, the Lord Jesus Christ, was headed to the cross. All they could see was the crown (and not the crown of thorns). They wanted the crown without the cross. They wanted the glory without the pain. They wanted the reward without having to pay the price.
The problem with the disciples is the same problem that many of us have today. We want to finish first. We want power, position and prestige. We are filled with pride. Our community, our city, our country is at great risk because of our pride. We are at the first stages of the long political process of electing the country’s next president. Listen to what the candidates are saying, it’s all about the “I”; I will do this, I will do that. Very rarely do you hear from any candidate about the “we”; the concept of working together for and with one another what can be accomplished. What would our nation look like if we served each other rather than taking from the masses to support the few?
Jesus knows and understands what his disciples are asking but he also understands they do not realize what they are requesting. In his own way he asks them if they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice; are you willing to take this cup from me? In today’s vernacular I can hear Christ saying, oh, you want to be me; okay are you willing and ready to be punished and die on the cross for the sins of your fellow being? Are you ready to take on this leadership role and all that comes with being a leader? I can image Christ continuing on and telling James and John that God did not send me to be served but for me to serve others. And coming forward to our life and times, God sent Jesus to teach us through our Christian faith that we are to serve others and follow his mandate in leading the people to God. A true leader is not concerned about position and title for they are aware they can lead from any chair, any position, any place. A true leader in the church serves God through Jesus Christ by doing, and saying and acting in the ways that Jesus Christ commanded. A true leader moves and walks in the direction where they know they will be challenged by the community and societal and environmental forces. They do this because they know that this is where you will find the greatest need and call for Christ’s intervention. A true leader does not does not desire the chair next to Christ for they are working with all their heart, for Christ and not for human masters.
There was a person who called a preacher and indicated he wanted to be a member of the church. But, he had parameters regarding membership. The person indicated they did not want to commit to coming to worship every week. They would only study the Bible when they wanted or time permitted. They did not want to visit the sick and shut-in; and they didn’t want to serve as a teacher of on any committees and certainly did not want to serve in any leadership positions. The minister commended the person for their desire to become a member of the church but indicated that the type of church the person was looking for was located in another part of town. The minister gave the address of the church to the aspiring church member and the person wrote it down and hung up. When the person arrived at that address, they came face to face with the result of their own attitude of not wanting to be involved. There stood an abandoned church.
In our community, in our city, in our nation, all around us people are trying to make a name for themselves. In one way or another, we are all involved in this process. There is the continuing jockeying for position and power. If they could just meet this or that person of power and resource; if they could just make a presentation to this group of people; if they could just be invited to that organizational meeting. If these things would happen then all the doors would open and everything they are attempting to accomplish would fall into place. But God tells us that everyone who exalts themselves will be brought low and everyone who humbles themselves with be raised up. God blesses the person who serves where they are and who allows God to determine the course of their lives.
When parents have children, they learn what giving and service are all about. When that child is born you give and you give and you give. When that child grows, you give and you give and you give. Often, even after they reach adulthood, you continue to give and you give and you give, often receiving nothing in return. The Lord wants us to know that the path to the top leads through the bottom. If you really want to reach the top, you must start out at the bottom. If you really want to be a leader, you must first learn how to serve.
The idea is this: if we seek true recognition, if we want to be recognized and respected, we must give our life over to Christ and become selfless human beings. We must live our days serving others. It means being willing to get none of the glory. It means being willing to do the most servile and menial of tasks with no thought of receiving recognition or thanks. If we want to come out on top, we must first start by humbling ourselves before Christ. In all that we do, it should be for the glory of God.
I leave you this morning with the parable of the pencil by Dennis Selfridge of the Mission Wesleyan Church. The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box. "There are five things you need to know," he told the pencil, "Before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be." "One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone’s hand." "Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you’ll need it to become a better pencil." "Three: I have made you so that I will be able to correct mistakes you might make." "Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s inside." "Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write."
The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart. Now remember the pencil is like you. Always remember it and never forget, and you will become the best person you can be. One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in God’s hand. And allow other human beings to access you for the many gifts you possess. Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems, but you’ll need it to become a stronger person. Three: God will be able to forgive mistakes you might make for God is a forgiving God and calls us to be a forgiving people. Four: The most important part of you will always be what’s on the inside. And Five: On every surface you walk through, you work to honor and glorify God. In doing so, you may or may not leave a mark. No matter what the situation, you must continue to let go of self and let God be the focus of every endeavor.
Let us proceed with our life on this earth having a meaningful purpose in our heart. Christ in the world always seemed to be moving to greater and greater challenges. And this is the path we have been given as Christians to be able to move to greater and greater challenge and continuously seek ways to serve others. There are many places right here at Christ Church Cathedral for you to serve, are you serving in them? There are people all around us who need to know about Jesus, are you telling them? There are needs on every hand, are you seeking to meet them? Are you being a servant of God by selflessly serving others? If the Lord has touched your heart about your service, today would be a good day to start. Amen.