Sermon Pentecost 21 Year B
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was the third time Jesus told his disciples what was going to happen to him. He says that he will be handed over to the chief priests and scribes. He will be mocked, flogged, and killed. On the third day he will rise again.
James and John, along with Peter, have been closer to Jesus than any of the disciples. But they still don’t get what he is teaching them.
The first time Jesus tells the disciples what is going to happen is right after Peter has declared that Jesus is the Messiah. Then Jesus started talking about suffering and death and Peter took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Peter, the first to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, didn’t really understand what he was saying.
The next time Jesus talked about his upcoming suffering and death, the disciples were afraid to say anything. Nobody asked him about it. They were scared to ask their teacher a question.
The third time Jesus talked about his death and resurrection, James and John, sons of Zebedee, are the ones to come forward. They haven’t gotten the message any better than Peter did, but they have a different approach.
They know Jesus is the Messiah, but they still see the Messiah as an earthly king. They are bold enough to ask Jesus to give them the best seats at the royal banquet.
The other disciples are not very happy with the brothers’ request. It isn’t that the others understand Jesus anymore than James and John do. They just wish they had thought of it first.
Before we get started feeling all superior to the disciples who don’t understand Jesus’ teaching, we need to remember something about ourselves. Don’t we sometimes do the same thing James and John did?
I bet we can all remember a time when we have asked Jesus for the best seats. Maybe we have asked Jesus to get us a promotion at work. Maybe we have asked for the best grade on the test, or to win the purple ribbon at the state fair.
Maybe we have even mentioned to Jesus that we sure hope that our team wins the big game this week so that we can have bragging rights? Or maybe we haven’t asked to be number one. Maybe we have just asked to be ahead of our rivals, whoever they might be.
Whatever it is we have wanted, we have probably been just like the Zebedee brothers and said, “Promise you will say yes, Jesus. Then we will tell you what we want.”
Jesus uses their request as a teaching opportunity on leadership. He reminds all the disciples that the Gentile rulers are tyrants who lord their power over everyone else. He tells them that things will be different in his reign. Things will be different when he is the ruler.
Everywhere that Jesus is the ruler, the leaders will be the servants. Jesus will set the example for all of us. He calls us all to be servants for each other.
When I think about servants, my mind goes initially to Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey, two shows British shows on public television. They both tell the stories of two groups of people. The rich people own the huge mansions and live upstairs.
The servants wear starched uniforms and work downstairs. The servants do everything for the upstairs family. The rich people wouldn’t know how to prepare a meal or even dress themselves without the servants help.
This model of servanthood is not what Jesus is talking about, though. This model is like the model that the Gentiles have. Jesus is describing a very different kind of world where everyone is a servant. In the reign of God, all leaders are servants and all servants are leaders. We all help each other.
Robert Greenleaf wrote extensively about servant leadership. He said that if you are a servant first, then a leader, you will look to the needs of the people and ask how you can help them solve problems. You will be very different from someone who just wants to be a leader. That person just wants power and possessions.
Jesus is our best example of how to be a servant.
Jesus listens to our concerns, no matter how big or small they are. When we are servant leaders we listen to others. We hear their stories. We learn of their concerns. We give them our time and our patience. We recognize all people as children of God, our brothers and sisters in Christ.
If you are just a leader, not a servant, you tell other people what to do and walk away. If you are a servant first, then you stay and help them figure out the best solutions to their concerns. Then you help do what needs to be done.
We can do this for the people we see at home or at school or at work every day. We can see ways to help our family. It is a little harder to serve those who are farther away, the people we don’t see, but we can still help them.
One way we help others who are far away is to support fair trade. We help people earn a fair wage for the products they make and grow so that they can support their families.
Another way we care for others as children of God is by encouraging our representatives to support laws that provide justice for all people, especially those people who are most in need.
Jesus does not just tell us what to do and walk away. He promised to be with us always. He walks with us and helps us when we ask.
When we are servant leaders we care about others. We show respect for them by our actions. We show care and respect when we advocate for justice so that everyone can have enough to eat.
Jesus did not treat rich people better than poor people. He showed the same respect for everyone he met.
Jesus healed people everywhere he went. We don’t have the power to say a prayer and cure a disease like he did. But we do have the power to pray for others and show them kindness.
When we are servant leaders, we are healers. We can work to heal broken relationships. We ask for forgiveness and show forgiveness to those who have hurt us.
Jesus tried to prepare his disciples for the future by talking about what was going to happen when he reached Jerusalem. When we are servant leaders, we also prepare for the future.
We hold to the vision of a different way of living. We hold onto the vision of life in a world where Jesus rules.
We know that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. God trusts us to use our lives wisely. God trusts us to use the earth wisely. God trusts us to be wise in our relationships with each other.
Servant leaders are good stewards. Stewardship has always been a part of the servant’s job. The servant knows that everything belongs to the Lord. Nothing really belongs to the servant.
Jesus tells us that things will be different in the world where he reigns. Like James and John, and all the disciples, we are called to be servants to one another.
We know Jesus spoke the truth to the disciples. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ reigns at the right hand of God. Let us pray that the reign of God will come also to us. Amen.