In our narrative in Marks Gospel, Jesus has been making an adjustment in his teaching method. As he gets closer to Jerusalem, he begins to concentrate on spending more time with his disciples. He prepares his disciples for the work that they will continue when he leaves them. They do not understand this fully. They get it to some degree, but we are told that there idea of a heavenly Messiah has not matured. They have trouble getting past the idea that Jesus will not set up a kingdom in Jerusalem and rule the world. He knows that in time that understanding will come, and when it does it will be their turn to pick up this message and they too will need to pick up their cross and follow Jesus with the message of the Kingdom of God in contrast to the kingdom of this world. (Mark 9:30-37)
Jesus idea of leadership is to train the leaders to take on the work of the ministry. From this small band of disciples the whole world will be reached with the good news. His disciples in turn will gather leadership teams around them so they too can impart leadership skills into leaders that will in turn teach others to teach others to teach others…
Jesus method was recognizing the leadership potential around him. He called the fishermen and told them that now they would become fishers of men. He called his mis-matched group of disciples, fisherman, tax-collectors, artisans, religious leaders, men and women, young and old. This is Jesus method of evangelizing the world. This is also the Apostle Paul’s method, and it has been the method of the church for generations.
Jesus not only called servant leaders, he modeled the term servant leader. He washed his disciple’s feet at the last supper. He said the first will be last and the last first. He said that he did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45) That is his first leadership lesson. He is calling others to follow him and model servant leadership.
He then instructs these servant leaders to seek out, recognize, accept and equip new leaders for the work of the ministry. In Ephesians Paul encourages ordained leaders of the church to equip the laity to do the work of the ministry. It’s not only a poor development model to do the work alone; it is also a poor growth model. The work of the ministry is to be shared among the team of leaders so they can minister to all people. That gives us a lot of eyes to see who if anybody is missing and if anyone is falling through the cracks without the eyes of the church knowing about it.
There are many pictures of the church in the New Testament. There are two pictures of the church that give us a good idea of church structure. The first is this. In the daily office readings from a couple days ago we read in 1 Corinthians that the church is a spiritual building. “For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it”. (1 Corinthians 3:9-10 NRSV)
We are told that Jesus is the Cornerstone of this building, and it is built on the foundational stones of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 3:20). In 1 Peter members of the church are referred to as building stones, lively stones—in other words we move around, and we are fit into this pliable construct. It reminds me of a choral symphony playing and singing with all the pieces fitted in at certain places and certain times to make a joyful symphony. “Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and “like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house”. (1 Peter 2:4a NRSV)
The second picture is of an organic body. Jesus again, like the headstone of the building is in this picture the head of the Body, the Body of Christ (the church). Each of us has a part to play in this body. Some of us are mouthpieces; some hands, eyes, ears, and fingers. And, we are encouraged that each part is important, and the parts that seem most unimportant both Jesus and Paul would say no, give more honor to the parts that seem less important, and Jesus would say, we are called to be servants of all, and the leaders are called to be servants, and that means we elevate those parts that do not get enough attention or play. (Mark 9:36-37, 1 Cor. 12:23) But each part is important, and if each part is not doing its job in the body, the whole body suffers. Have you ever banged your little toe on something or hurt your little finger. It hurts like the dickens doesn’t it? You whole body suffers and cries out when that happens, and it hurts for a long time. That little toe or finger is important, and we realize how important they are to us when they get banged up.
It reminds me of a time when I was in school and was on the track team. At a district event with all the others schools in the district I was running the 220 yard dash and the 100 yard dash. I always ran with my eyes down. In the 220 we were running on a straightaway long track that went 220 yards. I was used to getting to the oval and running around the oval because 220 was half the distance of the 440 yard track. Well instead of going straight I turned on the oval track instead of going straight. Fortunately my coach was there, and he yelled at me and I turned and ran straight and finished the race I did win the event, but I was very close to the record, and if my eyes had been doing their job like the rest of the body, I would have broken the district record. A similar thing happened on the 100 yard dash. Again I ran with my eyes down, my shortcoming. I stopped right before the finish line because I thought I heard a click. The runner behind me pushed me over the line and I came in second. Again, if my eyes would have been doing their part in the body I would have won the blue and not the red ribbon.
It’s important when you have a gift, if you’re the ears of the church, are you listening to the Holy Spirit. If you’re a mouthpiece are you speaking with the voice of God? If you are the hands are you doing the work that God has asked you to do? If you are the eyes, are you looking into the things that God has asked you to look into? Are you watching out for the Church? Because when you let down your part, the whole church suffers and is short-changed.
So the message here is that we are all on a spiritual journey to our Heavenly Jerusalem. Just as Jesus and his disciples were headed toward Jerusalem on their journey, so are we headed to the heavenly Jerusalem, the City of God, otherwise known as heaven. The journey is an individual journey but it also intended to be a journey that we journey together. That’s why Jesus invented the church on the Day of Pentecost. The church is to be a safe place where we can grow and model servant leadership, a place where we can enjoy the freedom to make mistakes, to try new things, and to recognize the beauty of one another’s ministries.
This is the model that Jesus teaches us. Jesus is imparting his life into a small group so that they in turn teach others who will teach others who will teach others, and we too are called to equip and teach others servant leadership, team ministry, recognizing and equipping the church the Body of Christ to do the work of the ministry. Allowing the church to become like a choral orchestra making a joyous melody to the Lord, as we travel together on our spiritual journey to the New Jerusalem.
by the Reverend Dr. David Madsen
Year B 17th Sunday after Pentecost
September 20, 2015
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
490 Farragut Circle
El Cajon, CA 92020