Kid’s Moment – play follow the leader. Good leaders. Bad leaders. Who will you follow?
Christianity has always had a predicament with our Savior – he doesn’t look glorious, or act it, or appear ir, or advocate great glory.
We picture a grand and glorious military leader, coming with an army of angels, to vanquish all enemies and sit on a throne of glory forever.
But scripture gives us a backwoods carpenter, with a ragtag bunch of rejects and fishermen, inviting children, thieves, and our enemies to come eat dinner with him.
We picture a miraculous birth, with kings bowing down and crowning an infant with precious materials. We picture angels filling the skies and a supernatural star pointing to the glowing child.
But that’s the story of a baby born to an unwed teenage mother. She is homeless and giving birth to her boyfriend’s son crouched in a barn among the animals. Dirty, rough shepherds welcome the child.
We picture a child who grows strong with God, who impresses all those around him, who – so say some stories – speaks wisdom before he can even walk.
Yet that child is a refugee, moving place to place with his parents, and siblings, seeking somewhere to call home.
This tension is in the Bible. It is in our tradition. It is in our lives. Theologians call it High Christology versus Low Christology – focusing on the divinity of Jesus versus focusing on the humanity of Jesus.
It is very hard to follow a suffering, nailed, murdered, weak God. It is very hard to follow a God who is found in fallible flesh, who tells us to meet peace to violence, who welcomes in enemies and friends alike, who is poor, powerless, and a slave.
The stigma of that word is fading as we forget what slavery is like. Recall in your minds stories you read or heard of about the slavery of Africans – the long, laborious days in fields or houses without pay. The starvation. The beatings. The abuse of body and soul and mind. Recall modern slavery – found in human trafficking. Where little children are used for sexual pleasure. They do not have any rights. They do not have security and family. Recall slaves were bred like animals, sold on auction blocks, and branded like animals. Like animals they lived. Like animals they died. Like animals, their owners buried or refused to bury them.
Our God identifies, places God’s self, with slaves.
“Whoever wishes to be first among humanity must be a slave to all.”
Who is the first among all humanity? Jesus. A slave to all.
“Who wants to be great among humanity must be a servant to all.”
Great humans are servants. A step above slaves in our mortal world – and step below slaves in God’s world. Servants retain some autonomy and respect.
Slaves do not.
James and John, humans just like you and I, picture Jesus regally. They have heard several times now that he will be going to Jerusalem for his glory. He will die, yes, but the brothers have either ignored that part or they are already rushing past the messy death into the resurrection. They are picturing Jesus as King – with a throne, and lesser thrones on his left and right for his two main assistants. They’re picturing a glorious time and day. They’re picturing our same world where Presidents are above the law, clergy get away with child molestation, and billion dollar arms deals are more important than the genocide of Yemenis. They’re picturing Jesus as the new King over all of this – this same world we know – and they want to be on top with him.
The brothers haven’t realized that this hierarchical world is not the world God is making. This is our human world. God’s reign is a reign unlike that of the governments we see now. God’s reign is reversed… with the most important person being the slave – and the most slavish of all being God, God’s self. Servant-leaders are the great. People who love deeply, serve humbly, inspire others to works of kindness and justice, and who do this without seeking reward and lauds.
Jesus looks at James and John, and I think he has to speak sadly, “You do not know what you are asking to sit at my right and my left when I am in glory. Can you drink the cup I drink – and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?”
The brothers assert, “We are able!”
Do they know what they have asked?
They have asked to be at Jesus’ left and right when he hangs on the cross. To be crucified with him. To be scorned and rejected and murdered with him. They have asked that the cup Jesus prays over in the Garden of Gethsemane not be passed, as Jesus wishes were God’s will, but to let them drink it. To drink the toxin of the world and the sins of our violence, selfishness, and cruelty. The brothers have asked to be baptized — to be submerged — as Jesus will be again. To go into the grave, dead, cold, and without proper burial rights.
“You will get the cup, and the baptism.” Jesus replies. You will get the woes of the world and you will die. You will get the hope of new life after the grave… but they won’t hang with Jesus on the cross.
The other disciples hear James and John are going to get the cup and baptism, and are angry. They want glory too! They’ve left everything for Jesus, too! The disciples, including James and John, still don’t get it. How often WE don’t get it today! “Jesus, make us great rulers over others!”
But Jesus replies… “Those you recognize as your rulers lord it over you. Your ‘great ones’ are tyrants.”
Tyrants. Most people who are rulers, government authorities, or who have power one way or another… are tyrants. You’ve heard it said before that absolute power absolutely corrupts. Jesus is saying just about as much here, too. The more power and authority someone has, the greater the temptation to use that power for personal gain.
When the Devil tempted Jesus, he tempted Jesus with saying ‘Use a little power to turn these rocks into bread.’ For Jesus was so hungry. Just a little power. And Jesus refused. It was just a little wrong use of power for a little bit of immediate good. Grey area. The devil then told Jesus to step off a high spot and let the angels save him. A bit more abuse of power – but for a much greater good. Let God prove to you, Jesus, that God is with you. Finally, the devil offered the world — all the world. Its kingdoms and countries. Its cities. It citizens. Its animals and plants. All the power. All Jesus had to do was worship the devil.
So many in power get there because of the being they are worshiping: worshiping money, or strength, or themselves.
If you are worshiping the God who said, “Be a servant, be a slave, walk humbly, do justice, love God and your neighbor,” you are not likely going to make it far in most of politics. It is hard to be humble when you need to raise money for your platform. Hard to love your neighbor when you’re publishing and speaking bad things about them. It is hard to do justice if you, yourself, are cheating the very laws you are supposed to enforce. It is impossible to be a servant of the people without true love in your heart. 1 Corinthians 13!
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Without love, a leader is a tyrant.
There are good politicians. There are good leaders. There are good clergy. But being in a position of power is an immediate temptation to use that power for evil.
And far, far, far too often… we succumb to leading without love.
Jesus says he comes to be served. To lead with love. Not to have servants and slaves. Not to have people waiting on him hand and foot. Not to continue the human story of those in power abusing, harming, taking advantage of those with less power. But that Jesus comes to be a “ransom” for many.
Ransom. Liberation. Jesus comes to liberate many. To liberate us from thinking violence is the only answer to violence. To liberate us from following tyrants. To liberate us from the sinful systems of our world. To show us that it IS possible to life a moral life, it IS possible to receive God’s forgiveness and turn your life around, it IS possible to live a different way than the world around us.
Jesus liberates us from assuming business as usual, with tyrants abusing slaves, with governments being uncaring and having deaf ears, with our leaders failing us — Jesus liberates us from thinking this is the only way the world can be.
Dream bigger. Live more fully. Love deeper.
Tim McGraw sings a song called “Live like you are dying.” He sings about a man who realized, after looking at x-rays and talking with his doctor, that “This might really be the real end,” of his life. How do you handle news like that? You know the lyrics to the chorus:
I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fumanchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying.”
That is the life Jesus invites us into now.
To live because we are dying.
For tomorrow IS a gift.
“What you’d do with it
What could you do with it
What did I do with it?
What would I do with it?”
We do not have to live dead – live in slavery to a cruel world, live in fear of tomorrow, live in bondage to sin and live thinking this world is beyond hope, beyond repair, and cannot be changed into the reign of God.
We can choose to live into our life of dying – and to embrace the liberation Jesus offers us. We can live each moment for the precious second it is. We can live in the new reign of God that God gifts us in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that shows us the New Way. Shows us the Way of Peace. Shows us the way of Forgiveness. Shows us how to live while alive.
We ARE the great leaders among humanity if we CHOOSE to live and love boldly – as servants, caretakers, and neighbors of all people.
Go and be the church – the hope and liberation for many! Go and be servant leaders!