Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Big Man on Campus

Scripture of the day: Mark 9:30-37
30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.

When General David Petraeus was The head of all international forces in Afghanistan he was involved in a 2010 think tank in the UK over the he did a question and answer session.  He was given a slightly over the top introduction from the director of the agency and in response General Peraeus gave the press a story on importance.

He said, “This was about 20 years ago when I was the aide to the Army Chief of Staff in the Pentagon and Colin Powell was the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
One of my fellow aides overheard the joint chiefs killing time before they were waiting for the arrival of a foreign dignitary. And the topic of conversation turned to examples of true importance. And what it really meant to be truly important.
And after a bit of banter, one of the chiefs offered what seemed to be quite a good opinion on this.
In my view, he said, true importance is a meeting with the President of the United States in the Oval Office, during which the President asks all of the other attendees to leave so that he can do a 'one on one' just with you.
"All the chiefs nodded at that.
But then another chief chimed in. 'Actually chiefs, he asserted, 'true importance is a 'one on one' meeting with the President in the Oval Office during which the President is so intent on what you are saying that he doesn't even answer the hotline when it rings'.
Well that had all the heads nodding in agreement. Until General Powell , a man who had, of course, as the National Security Adviser,  spent quite a bit of time in the Oval Office, settled the question once and for all.
"Chiefs," he said authoritatively, "true importance is a personal meeting with the President in the Oval Office, during which when the hotline rings, the President answers the phone, holds it out and says - Here Colin, it's for you".

Today in our new testament Scripture lesson, we see that the disciples had an argument with each other as to who was the most important disciple.  Our scripture says,
They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?”But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.
Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

You know we sometimes have a slightly glorified view of the disciples of Jesus, and it is times like this when they show their human flaws that I find encouraging. They were real people just like us with real concerns, real emotions, real lives and real flaws.

When a large group of people come together, often some people try to stand out. They try to show dominance, they try to take on themselves the role of the leader of the group. If you have been in any large group of people trying to do anything you know what I mean. Some people just love being the king of the hill.  For some it is a craving of power, or a need to find approval from others so they take the reigns. Some do it out of the need to get things done or to bring order out of chaos. But more than not many seek to be the big man on campus out of pride and power seeking. People like that often think highly of themselves.

A young preacher had just delivered in his own estimation, the best sermon of his young life. At the conclusion of the sermon, the worshipers filed out of the sanctuary to greet the minister. As one of them left, he shook the minister's hand, thanked him for the sermon and said, "Thanks for the message, Reverend. You know, you must be smarter than Einstein." Beaming with pride, the minister said, "Why, thank you, brother!"

As the week went by, the minister began to think about the man's compliment. The more he thought, the more he became baffled as to why anyone would deem him smarter than Einstein. So he decided to ask the man the following Sunday.

The next Sunday he asked the parishioner if he remembered the previous Sunday's comment about the sermon. The parishioner replied that he did. The minister asked: "Exactly what did you mean that I must be smarter than Einstein?"

The man replied, "Well, Reverend, they say that Einstein was so smart that only ten people in the entire world could understand him. But Reverend, no one can understand you."

Jesus in our reading today tells us about what it takes to be a real Christian leader. He tells us that if anyone in the kingdom wants to be first , he must be last, the servant of all.  Like always Jesus throws our preconceived notions upside down. Instead of pride, a Christian leader is to be humble. Instead of puffing himself up and being the center of attention, you should put the spotlight on others. Instead of seeking compliments, you should be giving them.  As a Christian we are not to be concerned about our rank, our status, our pride. We are called to serve. To serve Christ is to serve others. There is no seeking of status or glory in the kingdom.

And that brings us to Jesus and the children. Some people wonder about this passage, by bringing in the children and taking them in his arms, does it mean that we are to be like children? Some people question this, it seems a bit out of place in this context.  Jesus made a dramatic gesture by embracing a child to show his disciples who really is the greatest in the kingdom of God.  What can a little child possibly teach us about greatness? Children in the ancient world had no rights, position, or privileges of their own.  They were socially at the "bottom of the rung" and at the service of their parents, much like the household staff and domestic servants. What is the significance of Jesus' gesture?  Jesus elevated a little child in the presence of his disciples by placing the child in a privileged position of honor.  It is customary, even today, to seat the guest of honor at the right side of the host. Who is the greatest in God's kingdom?  The one who is humble and lowly of heart — who instead of asserting their rights willingly empty themselves of pride and self-seeking glory by taking the lowly position of a servant or child.

As children of God and believers in Christ, we are called to servanthood. What does that mean for us today?

We can be a servant today by:
By accepting others differences and opinions in love and acceptance…no matter what they are…instead of judging others and condemning them.
By looking beyond the things that separate us as people in the 21st century and look instead for our commonality. Be it politics, social class, upbringing or race.
And lastly by cherishing people over things, or words, or ideas.
Simply put, it is putting others first, and trying to humbly help whenever you can.

We are called to serve God and to serve God we must be servants to one another.

Today you are called to serve.  Let us be servants then, one to another.

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