Podcast Reflections

Sermon for Trinity 16 (2021)

Listen to a sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 19 September 20

Why does nobody ever ask: What does a person have to do to become an insignificant leader?

We are so geared up to aspire to ‘greatness’ that we miss the point that, for God, ‘greatness’ looks very, very different!

We should take comfort that the question of how to achieve ‘greatness’ is not just a modern question – even the disciples were exercised by that one.

Sadly, in our modern-day society, we are addicted to a ‘greatness’ model of leadership – but that is not the model Jesus wants us to follow.

For Jesus, leadership is about the fundamental essence of the person who is doing the leading – it is not about acclamation and control.

Instead of being ‘in control’ Jesus invites us to adopt the model he lives out before our very eyes – he invites us to lead others through our commitment to love and service.

Jesus invites us to allow him to shine into the dark corners of this world by setting our proud selves to one side and accepting the comparative insignificance we have as individuals.

Here are some questions that I feel we should be asking ourselves as we try to respond to God’s call to lead others into the life of discipleship –

  • Are we holding onto control as if our very lives depended on it?

That is a common fault in churches – one or two people make all the decisions because they are ‘afraid’ to relinquish their control.

  • Do we feel ‘safe’ enough to let go of our control?

Again, in church life, the few who exercise the greatest control do so out of a fear that by ‘letting go’ something ‘unsafe’ will be unleashed.

  • Are we enlarging the Christian family through our human concept of greatness?

So many of those who consider themselves to be ‘great’ in the life of the church are, in reality, the biggest stumbling blocks to church growth. Rather than throwing open their arms to welcome strangers and little children, they sit and tut that their personal spiritual space has been defiled in some way.

  • Are we deepening the relationships within our Christian family?

Yet again – those who wield the power usually do so in a way that is alienating and divisive. Everyone tiptoes around them because they might be offended by an alternative point of view.

In our gospel reading today Jesus is giving us a very straightforward lesson in the true nature of ‘greatness’.

He is telling us what ‘greatness’ looks like in his own ministry.

Jesus says: Whoever wants to be first must be last of all.

Jesus’ lesson in ‘greatness’ is not rooted in status and control – rather, it is rooted in our very ‘being’, that is who we really are – the person God sees as he looks into our hearts and our minds.

So how do we interpret Jesus’ words in this very ambitious world?

I would suggest that we think of that old, familiar saying about saving the best for last.

Being last has more to do with the idea that we have an opportunity to learn from those who have gone before us – it is about us being humble enough to hope that we might build on their imperfect efforts as we continue striving towards the perfection that God wants for us.

Jesus’ ministry – the ministry in which he wants us to share – is one in which he is a giver, a giver whose commitment to service extends to absolutely everyone.

In our reading today, Jesus goes on to model what such ‘greatness’ might look like. He calls a young child to come to him.

In Jewish culture, children symbolize God’s blessing; in the teachings of Jesus they also symbolize a marginalized, voiceless simplicity that must be espoused by us all – if we are to be true disciples.

By embracing that child Jesus is showing us, in one simple action, how we must behave when confronted by those who would challenge our self-importance and our need to control.

If we cannot step outside that shell of grandiose self-importance (both spiritual and material) then we are, in fact, alienating ourselves from the very presence of Jesus Christ that we claim to crave.

So there! That is what ‘greatness’ really looks like in the world Jesus would have us inhabit!

Are you brave enough to embrace such insignificant greatness?   Amen.