October 21, 2018
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This past week, I’ve been reading Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brené Brown. She’s an incredibly inspiring author and researcher on shame, belonging, and vulnerability, whose TED talks have launched a movement for people from US Presidents to Fortune 500 CEO’s to Rocket Scientists and Pastors to be more vulnerable and live more full-hearted lives. She’s a big deal author and speaker and researcher, who spends a lot of time with Oprah and therapists. And she still has to remind herself, before she shares about her work and what she has learned, that the people she works with, and leads, and inspires, are people. Before she heads out on stage she whispers to herself “People. People, people, people.”
It came to her when she gave her first corporate leadership talk. She felt that familiar sense of not belonging, of being an impostor, and to try to calm her nerves, she “pulled back a small section of the heavy velvet curtains that separated the green room from the auditorium and peeked out.” She writes in her new book “It was like a Brooks Brothers convention—rows of mostly men in white shirts and very dark suits. ‘Oh, my God.” she thought out loud “These are all business people—executives. Or FBI agents.’”
One of the other presenters looked at her, amused, and asked, didn’t she know this was a conference for C-Levels? “You know,” he smiled, “CEOs, COOs, CFOs, CMOs, CHROs…”
The green room began to swim around her. He knelt next to her and put his arm on her shoulder. “You okay?”
And then, she dug deep, and from a place of vulnerability and courage, she told him the truth. “They did tell me it was a C-level audience. But I thought that meant down-to-earth. Like these are real sea-level people. Salt of the earth. S-E-A-level.”
Through a huge, booming laugh he said, “That’s brilliant! You should use that!” She looked him in the eye and said, “It’s not funny. I’m talking about shame and the danger of not believing we’re enough.” There was a long pause before she added, “Ironically.”
And then her new friend, looked at her, and gave her advice that has stuck with her.
“Look out into that audience again. These are people. Just people. And no one talks to them about shame, and every single one of them is in it up to their eyeballs. Just like the rest of us. Look at them. They are people.”
And when she looked at the audience, before taking the stage, she saw “a large bald guy turned to whisper something to the guy sitting next to him, and she knew him. They had gotten sober around the same time, and used to go to the same AA meetings. And then there was a tap at her shoulder, and she was told that a “woman was standing outside the green room door asking to talk to” her. It was her, neighbor, a managing partner at a law firm, and she was attending the event with several other partners and a few clients. She told Brene hello, wished her luck, gave her a quick hug, and left. Brene writes that “She may never know what it meant for me to see her that day. I appreciated the kindness and connection, but it was the simple act of seeing her that made all the difference for me. Yes, she’s a partner in a prestigious law firm, but she’s also a daughter who I know recently moved her mother from assisted living to hospice. She’s also a mother and a wife going through a difficult divorce. People. People. People. The audience leaned in so hard to what I was sharing about shame, unattainable expectations, and perfectionism; she thought they would fall out of their seats.”
When we think about leaders, we often forget that we are talking about People, folks with complicated families and medical tragedies, people with insecurities and vulnerabilities and bad days, people who sometimes don’t want to have hard conversations, or be creative, or stick to their diet.
And yet, in God’s infinite wisdom, the Reign of God, the continuing Mission of Jesus Christ is made manifest, by and through the power of the Holy Spirit, through People who are honest and vulnerable with each other, who care about one another, even when it’s hard.
And I think that is where our friends get in trouble in our scripture passage today from Mark. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, they’re on board with Jesus, they see what God is up to, and they want in. They want to be close to where the power is. They want to be important, to be leaders, to be apart of making the Reign of God break into the everyday.
Except, their understanding of how to do that, it runs counter to the kind of community Jesus is ushering into existence. They want to be part of making decisions, ordering folks around, organizing a tribe of people making something greater than the sum of people’s parts. And Jesus’ understanding of leadership is so very different from that. He challenges them to see how vulnerable they will become as they lead, but also to realize that leadership in the community will mean serving others, instead of ordering them around.
Our ideas of who a leader is supposed to be, it can feel a little overwhelming, especially in Church. And yet, when I read the Bible, over and over again, I see that God has some pretty interesting ideas about leaders. Usually, in scripture, the leader’s God chooses are the last people anyone would expect. Over and over again, the Holy Spirit works through people who don’t see themselves as natural leaders, who have to rely on God. There’s Moses with his questions of God and his trouble with public speaking, who has to rely on the Lord to give him the words, and Aaron to assist him. There’s King David with his personal failings, who as a child was easily overlooked and forgotten by his family. Jesus’ Mother, Mary is an unlikely leader, and yet from the Moment she sings out of God’s in-breaking Justice, through Jesus’ Ministry, through his death and Resurrection, she and a crowd of women lead the Church. God works through people.
One of the powerful truths about leadership in the church is that you don’t have to serve on a committee, you don’t ever have to volunteer a single hour, you don’t need to be a deacon or an Elder to be a church Leader. In the words of Brene Brown, a leader is “anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes, and who has the courage to develop that potential.” To put it in the words of Jesus, a leader is someone who serves their neighbors in love, and who is willing to partner with The Holy Spirit as she builds someone up.
That’s not how leadership is often portrayed in the world around us, is it? We have these myths of leaders who are brave and fearless, who make incredible things happen, and get everyone to fall in line with their vision and ideals. We live in a culture that sets up leaders to be pretty lonely, and isolated, and unhappy, and to avoid the messy realities of other people, and more than anything, to avoid the messy reality of being people themselves.
The call from Jesus seems to me, that to lead, to be a follower of Jesus, both require the courage to get in the mess of being human. And that kind of courage, it sure feels like our world needs some of that. Not the courage to double-down on being the rulers of our own brain-sized kingdoms, but the courage to be in relationship with one another.
If we embrace the idea that a Leader is someone who sees potential in others in this congregation, and will take responsibility for cultivating that potential, we have the opportunity to serve one another in a beautiful way. Cultivating what God has planted within others is Holy Work, and is surprisingly something that just about anyone can do. It can be as simple as saying to someone “Hey, I want you to know, I really appreciate what you did today.” It can be going up to someone at coffee hour and saying “I enjoyed what you sang in choir. It seemed like that song really was speaking to you. What did you hear?” Cultivating potential in one another can be simply saying to a friend “Thank you for always being so happy to see me when I arrive here,” or “I’m so glad you’re a part of this community.” These are small moments, but they show incredible leadership and courage, and are an act of service that, I promise you, is a beautiful, sacred gift.
We can encourage one another, ask questions of one another, in ways that build our community up. But it’s easy to slip into what is often known as leadership by consumption. Instead of cultivating and encouraging potential in others or a community, it’s easy to only call out what we don’t like, and ask for what we want to experience or consume. This week as I’ve been meditating on Jesus’ words to serve one another, I’ve thought about what would happen in our life together as a church if, when there are parts of our life together that don’t speak to us, when there is music or an event that doesn’t feed our souls, when we find ourselves scratching our heads, we asked ourselves “Who is this feeding, if not me?” The reality of doing life together is that sometimes, someone else is experiencing God in a new way, finding themselves be able to be home for the first time, in an experience that doesn’t enrich others. There seems to be wisdom, in those moments, of asking ourselves “Who does this serve?” And then maybe learning about that person’s experience. If something doesn’t serve anyone, that’s important to know.
Friends, I know there are fears and feelings that are going to emerge as we change. But I hope we can be a people who practice bravery, who can talk to one another. We’re at an exciting moment in our life together as a community. We’re growing, the Holy Spirit is active among us, and we’re being invited to be active in the world in new ways that lead to the building of the Reign of God. And this is a time when it’s important to check-in with what we are serving. Are we growing to pay our bills? No. Are we transforming music in worship to be edgy? No. We’re attempting to serve people by empowering folks to follow God’s call on their lives. Sometimes that’s going to fail, but if we are serving one another by cultivating God’s gifts in our lives, if we are honest and curious, we can discover blessings beyond our imagining.
There are going to be times when we are upset by a change. And I want to invite you to have brave conversations with myself, or our Elders, or Greg. We’re adults, and it’s important to be honest and vulnerable with one another.
And what I love is that this is a community that risks having brave conversations. For example, when we moved the Peace of Christ to the end of the service, it was a small shift, but I had a chance to hear feedback from many of you, and talk about it with our Elders. We heard that for first time visitors, it was nice to have an easy way to leave, if the idea of everyone coming to say hello felt overwhelming. It is a shift that allows folks to have longer conversations and get to know the community more.
What I loved about our experience of that change was that people also came and talked to me about what they felt they had lost. You gave me and the Elders the gift of sharing your experience. And when we had those conversations, I was able to share how, for some people, the passing of the peace can be deeply uncomfortable, and how scary it can be for visitors. And what emerged was empathy. There has always been a deep sense in this place of working to serve and love and accommodate one another, even when it takes some adjustment, and I thank God that we can have hard, honest conversations.
Beloved, let us remember that we are people. We are people who want to know that we are loved. We are people who have desires for how to worship, how to serve our neighbors, we are people who have a deep need to be in relationship. Through our prayers, In our Music, When we Partner in God’s Mission in the World, in our life together, may we be a People who serve one another. And as we risk cultivating the gifts God is planting in our midst, as we do new things and change, let us chose to continue to serve one another in love. Let us continue risk being curious about who is being fed by moments that don’t satisfy our desires. And may we be open to being surprised at our own Leadership, as we encourage one another’s God given potential.
May it be so,
In the Name of God Who Was, and Is, and Ever More Shall Be, Amen.
 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (pp. xii-xvi). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
 Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. (p. 4). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.