Ordination/Installation Sunday - 2022

Old Testament - Micah 6:1-8

New Testament - Mark 10:35-45

 

The Ark

 

INTRODUCTION: Power. Is there anything more alluring and appealing in this world than having some social clout and pull?

 

After all, there’s just something about power, there’s something about being in a position of authority that makes power, understandably so, easy to desire and crave. 

 

From 2009 to 2018, Forbes magazine actually published a highly anticipated list each year of the most powerful people in the world. But even before that, starting in 2004 and continuing even today, Forbes has also published a list of the most powerful women in the world.  

 

In 2021, the philanthropist MacKensie Scott, Jeff Bezos’ former spouse, topped the list. And with a current net worth of roughly 30 billion dollars, well, probably a smart pick, right? For money and power, well, they often go hand-in-hand.          

 

So we can be honest, I think. Power, understandably so,  is easy to crave and want.  Or, as Ross Perot squeaked to Charlie Rose in an old 1994 interview: “Power is wonderful, and absolute power is absolutely wonderful.”

 

Well, Perot is just being candid with such a comment, isn’t he? For truth be told, power is darn right cool and pretty sexy on top of all that. For with power comes prestige, with power comes respect, and with power comes the ability to even have some sway over other people’s lives. 

 

Yep, if we’re honest, we’ll admit there are very few things in this life more alluring and desirable than power.

 

ONE: Of course, as we all know, there is also a dark side to power as well, isn’t there? 

 

Sure, power is sexy and glamorous, but in our quest for power we can also end up losing a big part of ourselves in the process. Whether it’s Macbeth with his wife’s help in Shakespeare’s famous play seeking to become King of Scotland by committing one hideous murder after another, or some modern day corporate big-wig scheming and conniving to outmaneuver fellow colleagues in a quest to be named the next CEO of a multi-billion dollar company, our pursuit of power can cause any of us to behave in ways that are far from kind and charitable.

Why, for proof of the cost that power can have on us, just consider the words of the mighty Napoleon who once said, “Power is my mistress…Although you say power has come to me of its own accord, I know what it has cost me – the sufferings, the sleepless nights, the scheming.” 

 

No wonder Lord Acton, years before Ross Perot ever got around to proclaiming the wonders of power, could famously declare, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” 

 

So, there’s a dangerous side to power as well. In our quest to obtain it, we can also end up committing some pretty unseemly acts.   

     

TWO: And we can see a degree of that unseemliness in the request James and John make of Jesus in our reading for today, can’t we?

 

Fresh on the heels of Jesus announcing that in Jerusalem he will be mocked, flogged, and killed only to rise again three days later in power, James and John are ready to make sure they’ve got special reserved seating for the post-resurrection world that is to follow upon Jesus’ rising. 

 

“Master,” the two brothers say to Jesus, “we want you to consider doing us a little favor. Make sure that in your glory the two of us are flanking you – one of us on your left, the other on the right.”

 

What they’re asking for, of course, are select positions of power and influence in Jesus’ inner circle. Yep, wanting to guarantee they have some high ranking cabinet positions once Jesus’ new administration gets up and running, James and John make what can only be described as a pretty crass plea for power. 

 

There is a story that a follower of Mohatma Gandhi once asked him this question: “Teacher, what would be your first act upon discovering you had the power to shape the destinies of humans?”

 

To which Gandhi, after remaining silent for a moment, reportedly replied, “I would pray for the courage to instantly renounce that power.”

 

Well, James and John sure didn’t have that concern when it came to power, did they? Nope. Fully expecting Jesus to return in glory, the two brothers decide it’s time they start jockeying for the best positions of power.

 

Perhaps they see themselves leaning over and whispering advice and counsel into Jesus’ ear while he’s seated on some giant throne, and when the need arises, maybe even getting to pass out a few important decisions themselves.               

 

“Master,” ask James and John, “give us positions of power and might in your glory.”

 

THREE: But then Jesus in his typical way ends up turning James and John’s request for power into a teaching moment about what constitutes real power and true greatness.

 

Pulling the disciples together, Jesus announces that power and greatness aren’t to be found in the ways normally expected, but rather in just the opposite.

 

“You’ve observed how godless rulers throw their weight around,” says Jesus, “and how when people get a little power it goes straight to their heads. But it’s not going to be that way with you my followers.

 

For whoever wants to be great, must become a servant. And whoever wants to be first among you, must be a slave to all. For I have come not to be served, but instead to serve.”         

 

And so just like that, Jesus leaves us a bit speechless by turning all our notions about power inside out and upside down. 

 

Understandably so, we naturally think power is all about having prestige and being able to influence and rub elbows with important people in important places and getting our names printed in Forbes magazine only to have Jesus turn around and tell us it’s actually just the opposite.    

 

No wonder Mark Twain was once able to say the following: “It’s not what I don’t understand in the Bible that bothers me; it’s what I understand all too well.” 

 

And we get Twain’s point, don’t we? For more often than not, when Jesus sits down to really spell things out for us regarding what it means to be one of his followers, he’s rarely vague or nebulous with his language.

 

“Whoever wants to be great must become a servant. And whoever wants to be first among you, must be a slave to all.”

 

FOUR: Years ago, The Christian Century ran a little survey to ascertain what authors ministers tended to read for themselves. And at the top of the list was the prolific author and renowned Catholic priest named Henri Nouwen. 

 

Beloved for his various books on Christian spirituality, Henri Nouwen was a highly sought after professor and lecturer, eventually landing teaching positions at both Yale and Harvard Divinity Schools during his impressive career.  

 

But then one day Nouwen, with his career and fame well established, got an invitation from a friend that would forever change his life.

 

Turns out, Nouwen’s friend invited him to become part of a very unusual community known as L’Arche (the Ark) Daybreak in Toronto, Canada. You see, the Ark community was a residential home for people with severe intellectual and physical disabilities. And so after accepting his friend's invitation,  Nouwen was assigned the task of living side-by-side with and caring for one of the residents at the Ark named Adam. And when I say side-by-side, I mean side-by-side.

 

Nouwen, the famous author and lecturer who was known the world over, had to wake Adam every day at 7:00 am so he could take off his pajamas and dress him in his bathrobe.

 

Then he had to walk Adam to the bathroom, shave his face, give him a bath, comb his hair, dress him for the day, walk him to the kitchen in order to make his breakfast and feed him, brush his teeth, and then put on his coat, hat and gloves so he could wheel Adam across the street to the building where he would spend the day until 4:00 pm. After that, Adam was returned to Henri’s care for the remainder of the evening.   

    

Well, as you might imagine, since Adam had never read any of Nouwen’s books and had no idea just how renowned he was, the experience of caring for Adam was a transformative one for Nouwen. 

 

For Nouwen, after all, soon realized that Adam could care less about Nouwen’s status as a famous and highly respected writer. All Adam wanted to know was that Nouwen loved him and that he would be back each morning to take care of him all over again.  

 

Well, is it any wonder that in a book he would later write about his experiences with Adam, Nouwen would have these words to offer:

 

“While I tended to worry about what I did and how much I could produce, Adam was announcing to me that ‘being is more important than doing.’

 

While I was preoccupied with the way I was talked about or written about, Adam was quietly telling me that ‘God’s love is more important than the praise of people.’

 

While I was concerned about individual accomplishments, Adam was reminding me that ‘doing things together is more important than doing things alone.’ 

 

Adam couldn’t produce anything, had no fame to be proud of, and couldn’t brag of any award or trophy. But by his life, he was the most radical witness to the truth of our lives that I have ever encountered.” 

 

Well, it’s easy to hear Jesus’ words about real greatness almost oozing from the lives of both Adam and Nouwen, isn’t it?

 

CONCLUSION: So once again Jesus is at it with his strange and odd view of life. Yep, Jesus sure has a funny way of seeing the world, I think.

 

Because for him, it’s better to give, than to receive; it’s better to be last, than to be first; it’s better to lose our lives, than to try and cling to them; and it’s better to serve, than to be served.    

And the strangest part of all when it comes to such odd advice? Well, according to Jesus it’s in doing those very things that real power and greatness are actually found. 

 

Turns out, Jesus isn’t necessarily opposed to people having things like power, clout, prestige, and influence. He just thinks they’re to be found in very different places than we tend to look.  

 

To the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.