James and John, sons of Zebedee (Zebedee means thunder), so these two sons of Thunder had a reputation for being in leadership roles, for being out in front. In fact they were in business with their father. He managed a fleet of fishing ships, and these two were probably in management roles from the time they were teenagers, figuring they were important to the business because of their connection to their father, and vice versa. So this was not something they dreamed up overnight. It seemed the right thing for them to do, to go and talk to Jesus, and to make sure he is aware of their skills work history.
And, so they do. They tell Jesus that they want to have a high leadership role in this kingdom business, they want to be on the ground floor, to assist Jesus in leading the kingdom business into the future. “Jesus, it’s a natural fit. We have experience in leading people, and our resume speaks for itself.” When the other disciples heard about this they were really ticked off. “Just who do these two guys think they are?” Well, for one thing they thought of it before Peter and the others did. Yes, they are really angry, but would they have done the same thing if they would have thought about it first.
What they don’t realize is that James and John, and all the others in what we can call the first House of Bishops will drink of the same cup and be baptized into the baptism of death as Jesus will. I don’t think he is putting James and John down here. He is using this situation as a teaching opportunity. Jesus is saying this is how it works in the world, but at the same time it does not mean that Jesus does not recognize their leadership gifts. All of these bishops have leadership gifts, gifts that vary from one another. Some are more gifted in leading leaders, some in pastoral care, some, like Judas Iscariot, in finance, and other like Luke in medicine.
How many times in the Gospels do you see that Jesus takes Peter, James and John with him and leaves the others behind? We see that when Jesus enters Jairus house to pray for his daughter, and on the Mount of Transfiguration. Peter was always one for speaking and being in charge, even when he didn’t know what to say. They were kind of like Archbishops. Jesus picked these 12 men to be the foundation of the church, and not only these 12, but also many of the women disciples. They are listed, but not in the same way the men are. That’s because even the writers of the gospels were servants of their culture and time. They were misogynists.
But, he did not condemn James and John for their inability to discern the situation, and their lack of understanding as very negative. He looked at them and recognized their skill sets, in that they are leaders and they are simply doing what is natural.
I was listening to a survey about leaders of large corporations this past weekend, and the survey was about how many top executives were narcissists. At first glance they tended to think all of them were to some extent, until they studied them further. They realized that what was looked at as narcissism was traits of leadership that gave these men and women a sense of ownership to set the right vision for their corporations. They recognized a strong sense of who they were, and how comfortable they were in their leadership roles, and the ability to grasp the reins of business and drive it forward. Yes, they did recognize some narcissistic leaders, but just as many were just sure of themselves as a person and exuberated excellent skill sets.
We don’t know if James and John were narcissistic, but I doubt it. If they were, I’m sure Jesus had a way of putting them in their place. Just the calling, to go out into a dangerous world, as it was for Jewish people in the time of Jesus, and to make disciples when they know the punishment will be persecution and possibly death to them and the other disciples, yet they left their fishing boats and the comfort of managing a fleets of workers and boats to follow Jesus.
There are a lot of disciples in this small church. One of our goals for 2019 is to grow in numbers and in faith. The question and tension is this: “How do we maintain good outreach ministry while we are trying to add numbers to our church, and how do we grow our church while we are doing out-reach. I believe we can do both, and there will always be a tension between outreach and in reach. We need help. I need help and so do you. We are a small church and you might say we have a lot of irons in the fire. We need to evaluate what we deem as important, and what is not so important, and what we can leave behind and move on in order to be an effective church and do effective ministry.
I promise as a leader of this church I will do this, in concert with other leaders of Episcopal Churches in this diocese and other churches we have fellowship with. But, first of all it needs to start here. It starts in this church. What are your gifts and abilities? Right now we have a Stewardship Campaign going on here. Like I said before, some of you are involved in a lot of different areas, wearing many different hats, just as I am. We have a lot of irons in the fire.
Sometimes if you wear too many hats you are in danger of being a jack of all trades and master of none. Lord help us not to be that way, but to concentrate on things we do well, and to look for others to do things that we don’t do so well. That’s good leadership, not to think that if I don’t do it myself, it will not be done or will not be done right. You can’t take a whole bunch of things and think that this is how I will get done. No, it probably won’t get done that way either. You must concentrate on the things or short list of things that you do well and pursue those gifts that come along with that commitment. You must find your level of expertise and the place you feel comfortable to do your thing, and all of you do have a thing or two that you are good at. You might not know about everything yet, but I do believe that there are unique parts for each of us, unique roles to play and special works to be done.
I will encourage you, and other leaders will encourage you. We need people to step up. There are other leaders that are not in this church right now, but I think they will be here, and it will be our job to recognize why God has sent them our way. They are going to step up for St. Alban’s. I truly believe this.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen