Matthew 20:17-28, I Timothy 3:1-13
September 9, 2007
“Some are born to lead, while others are born to follow.” I’m sue you’re heard that expression in one form or other. But, what does it mean? I wonder. Does it meant that some are more motivational than others, or that some are more charismatic? Or does it mean that some are just more bossy? (I’m sure you could think of someone in that category!)
I think there’s probably some truth in that statement. “Some are born to lead, while others are born to follow.” But I would suggest to you today that such a statement supports a model for leadership that is different than the one Jesus gave for the Church. Who shall lead, and who shall follow? Who shall be first, and who shall be last? Jesus turned those questions upside down! “In the Church,” he said, “those who are called to lead are called to serve.”
One day the mother of James and John came to Jesus and she asked him, “Can my two sons sit and your right and left when you come into your kingdom.” (That would sound better with a good Jewish mother accent!) In other words, “Can they be your top guys?” “Can they have those positions of prestige and power?” And how did Jesus respond? He asked? “Are you able to drink the cup of suffering I am going to drink?”
Then remember how the rest of the disciples reacted. They became indignant with James and John – angry, even. So Jesus called them all together and he laid it all out for them – very clearly. He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it will not be so among you. Instead, whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave – just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:20-28)
Jesus was telling them, as Tony Campolo once phrased it, “This is not a power movement. This is a servant movement! And in my kingdom the last shall be first, and the first shall be last and whoever wants to be great among you must be servant!” – “Like me!”
Sometimes the Church forgets that. Sometimes we in the Church fall into the worldly understanding of leadership. Sometimes we too think that leadership means people who “lord it over others.” Sometimes we think that leadership means that those who are leaders can “do no wrong.” Sometimes we forget that the character of a good leader is not someone who is infallible, but someone who knows how to do the right thing when they have made a mistake. (Oh, if only some Presbyterian ministers could learn that!)
When we think about what the world thinks is important in this life, we think in terms of what one writer called “the big three.” “The three things that people in this world are concerned about” he said, “are Wealth, Power, and Prestige.” Well, Jesus gave a different perspective on all three. He didn’t say that there shouldn’t be people who have those things. But he warned his people about falling into the world’s understanding of them. He warned them of their pitfalls, and warned them about their powerful allure!
In a way, we’re talking about the last two of the “big three” today – power and prestige. In the world’s understanding, those are part of the realm of leadership. You who we have ordained and installed today are called to be leaders. And those offices do have a certain power associated with them, and they command a certain respect. But, Jesus tells us that in perspective of the Church, you are called to serve. “Just as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.” That makes it different than the world, doesn’t it?
Now, lest the rest of you think you’re off the hook, let me address you. The job of those leaders is not just to serve, but also to lead all of us in lives of service! They are to model for the rest of us that example of Jesus’ leadership. We are all those servants Jesus was talking about. Sometimes we forget that. Sometimes we forget that the church is not here to serve us, but we are here to serve the Church. That’s what Jesus taught! We are all called to serve! And those who are leaders among us are called to remind us of that.
In I Timothy 3 Paul told Timothy about the character requirements for leaders in the Church. And we read those today. Why did he give those requirements? Is it because we want leaders with good character? Are they expected to be better people than the rest of us? The answer to that is no! The reason he gave guidelines for the character of leaders is not because we want to have leaders with good character, but because we want to have a Church with good Character! And the way to be a church with good character is for the leaders to model it for others to follow! It’s easy to put the focus on the leaders. It’s easy to think they are expected to be a “cut above the rest.” But that would be wrong. The focus is not on the leaders, but on the Church! Those who are last are first, those who are leaders are servants! And that Servanthood is the model for the way we all should be servants too!
That’s a great challenge, isn’t it? Too often people in churches leave the work of the church to the leaders. That’s so often true that there is a saying in the Church that 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. But that’s not how it should be! The leaders are called to organize and oversee, but the work of the Church is the job of all of us!
Too often people talk about their life in the Church and they say, “I’m not getting much out of it.” Or sometimes they’ll say, “I’m not being fed.” But either way, the problem is that they’re not putting anything into it! They’re not doing any feeding. That’s all of our job. Granted the leaders are those who do a lot of that, but they are the examples for all of us to follow.
Think about when we baptize a baby. During that service, we ask one question of the congregation. Do you remember it? “Our Lord Jesus Christ ordered us to teach those who are baptized. Do you, the… who? The Sunday School Staff? The Elders? The Deacons? No, “Do you the people of the Church, promise to tell this child (or “this new disciple” in the case of an adult) the good news of the gospel, to help him know all that Christ commands, and by your fellowship, to strengthen his family ties with the household of God?” How many people here have answered that question, “I do”?
Do you see that? That’s what we’re all called to do. We are called to tell, to help, and to strengthen one another by our fellowship. I hope you’ll remember that the next time you think to yourself, “I’m not really needed at such and such an event!!!” We serve one another, and our service is essential to the life of the Church!
So you were probably expecting this sermon “Called to Serve” to be about those we have ordained and installed today. And it is. But that’s only part of the message. When we see those words, “Called to Serve,” I want us also to know that it is not just about them. It’s about all of us!! We are all called to serve in God’s kingdom, “just as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many!”
Help us, Lord, to be good servants in your kingdom. Help us to pray for and to encourage each other, and to live lives that upbuild your Church and promote your kingdom here on earth. Help us to remember the way you have taught us about service, that the first shall be last and the last first, and whoever would be great must be servant. And help us to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray, Amen.