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Engage: Connect, Grow, Serve #5 - Lead

Engage: Connect, Grow, Serve #5 - Lead
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • September 13, 2015 • Rev. Donnell T. Wyche, Executive Pastor

Good morning and welcome! I’m so glad you are here with us this morning. If this is your first time or 100th time, we are grateful that you are here today in our community. Whether you arrived here this morning because of an Internet search or you already knew the way, we are grateful that you are here. And our prayer for you today, is that that you would experience welcome, acceptance, space. And we pray that you encounter the loving presence of the living God during your time with us this morning!

This is the fifth and final part of our Engage sermon series. We launched this series to encourage us to increase our awareness of God, to connect with each other and grow together as a community of faith.

In some basic way, we are all leaders, but we don’t alway recognize the ways in which lead others. We have a congregant who is great at inviting others to church and doesn’t ever come to church alone. But if you sat down with them and explained that they have a huge leadership gift and that’s why it’s so easy for them to bring others to church, they might defer and just say something like, “I just love my church!

Which is true of course, but it’s also no trivial task to invite people to join you at church. Yet this congregant does, every week, and never sits alone. I’m impressed. I want to be like them when I grow up!

Introduction - Can We Sit at your Left & Right?- Upsetting the equilibrium (Oops!)
What images do you conjure up when you hear the word "leadership"?  Do you a see a world leader, the president, a CEO, a manager, the go-getter, or the confident extrovert?

We sometimes uncritically import images and definitions of success and leadership from the culture and they fail to translate when applied to the Kingdom of God. The disciples tried this around us all the time and sometimes we do so uncritically.

The culture tells us that leaders are obsessed with power, wealth, fame, and status.

When the disciples used the criteria for leadership they imported from the culture, assuming that it would work the same way in the Kingdom of God, they encountered a paradox. If you have a Bible, turn with me to Mark 10:35-45,

Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” (Mark 10:35)

I love how James and John setup their request. “Before you hear what we have to say, Jesus, you have to do whatever we ask.”

The scriptures talk about us being childlike and this is a perfect example of the freedom of a child to ask whatever they want without considering the impact of their request. Oh, that we should be so free!

When my children want Sushi and Pizza for dinner they don’t care that we get Sushi from our favorite Japanese restaurant from the Eastside of town or that the pizza they love comes from a spot right downtown. They have no concept of the cost, time, energy, effort it takes to grant their request. They just know what they want and are free to ask.

“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked.   (Mark 10:36)

And I love Jesus’ response too, he entertains their request. I mean, if we stop right here and consider that God is fully discoverable in the person of Jesus; or put another way, Jesus reveals just who God is to us; what would you know about God from this interaction so far? Jesus reveals a father who is willing to entertain our demands. We are granted the same permission to ask, just like a child, without regard for what it will take to fulfill our demand! It doesn’t mean we will get what we want, but it does say that we have permission. Sit with that for a moment, is that picture of God you have?

They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” (Mark 10:37)

Now that he knows what they want, he understands that their request is fashioned in the way of the culture, it’s patterned on the way power and authority works in the Empire.

“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said.

He immediately redirects them, “You don’t know what you are asking.”

“Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38)

He then asks a directed question, "Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am?"

In their disregard, maybe their misunderstanding, they ignore his warning, his gentle redirection. Instead of hearing Jesus, they double down...

“We can,” they answered.

In response Jesus says,

“You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”  (Mark 10:39-40)

As I enter into the text, at one level, I can’t really blame James and John for asking for what they thought would be positions of power and authority. “You have not because you ask not, right?” But this seems different, it’s almost like they are seeking the gift, not the gift-giver.

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John.  (Mark 10:41)

Then the rest of the disciples discover what James, John and Jesus are discussing and become indignant. It isn’t clear from the text whether this indignation arose because James and John beat them to the punch or whether they were disappointed with James and John.

Jesus decides to use this situation as a teaching opportunity, he reveals the paradoxical way leadership works in the Kingdom, gathering them together he explained,

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

Peter the Unlikely Leader - Analyzing the discrepancy (Ugh)
Peter was one of the ten on the outside of James and John’s power grab and as we look back at Peter’s story, we are reminded that Peter wanted nothing to do with Jesus. I think Peter’s journey with Jesus gives us a way forward whether we want to lead and be great, or whether we just want to faithfully follow Jesus.

In his lifelong research, Joseph Campbell discovered recurring patterns and themes running through the hero myths and stories from cultures all around the world, what he calls the “Hero’s Journey.” His research revealed several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through.  This is consistent from culture to culture. This concept is so apparent, he names it,  “The Monomyth.”

And you all are familiar with "The Monomyth," without having ever known that it existed! It shows up in our major cultural movies (like Stars Wars, Spiderman, The Princess Bride, Finding Nemo, The Lord of the Rings) and you can even see echoes of it in the life and times of Jesus.

"The Monomyth" is such a big and important concept that I will likely to come back to it again and again. I make mention of it because it helps us enter again into the story of Simon Peter as he has his own Hero’s Journey when he decides to follow Jesus.

There are 17 stages to the Hero’s Journey, but I want to briefly focus on just three major stages: leaving home, initiating the journey, and the return.

Leaving Home - The Call to the Special World
When we first encounter Simon Peter in scripture, it’s right as he is called to leave home and enter the special world. Jesus meets him as he was–casting out his nets. Peter didn’t have any formal training and he had no idea that following Jesus would place him at the center of a worldwide renewal movement. He was just at work doing his job when he received his invitation to leave the ordinary world and follow Jesus into the unknown. (Luke 5)

Now, before we go any further, it’s important that we understand this invitation to the “Hero’s Journey” is open to us all. It wasn’t specific to Simon Peter or the disciples, we are all invited to leave the ordinary world and enter the special world of the Kingdom of God. Remember last week when meditated on the Lord’s Prayer, there was a line in the prayer that invokes the special world and invites it to come into our ordinary world, every time we pray,

“your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.”

We welcome and invite a world where God’s rule, reign, and authority is at work in our ordinary world. When God shows up with his Kingdom and heals the sick, delivers the demon possessed, and releases us from bondage, we enter the special world. You can think of it this way, “We are just trying to live life within the Kingdom of God."

The Journey - All of its ups and downs
One of the lessons that Peter learns early on his journey is to be himself. As I look back on Peter’s story, I see that “Peter is accepted, but is called to a different kind of life.”

It’s as if Jesus is saying, “I see you. I believe in you. I know you.”

There’s something powerful that occurs when we understand that we are all on a journey of discovery–learning to see ourselves in the beautiful light that God casts, that we are channels of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

As Peter makes his way on his journey, he makes mistakes, like when he speaks up during the transfiguration and God invites him to be quiet.

He learns to listen to and watch Jesus, especially as Jesus operates within the special world. It’s Peter, James, and John who are invited by Jesus to witness the healing of Jarius daughter. You can surely bet Peter learned something significant that day – that maybe the world isn’t just what you can see, hear, and touch, maybe there really is a kingdom that’s breaking into this ordinary world.

Any of us on this journey with Peter will have what we in the trade like to call a “dark night of the soul.” It’s either a significant test or challenge that we have to overcome.

Peter had bragged about how loyal he was, how he would never leave or forsake Jesus, even if others did. As Peter denied Jesus three times as Jesus predicted, he had to confront who he thought he was.

After the resurrection, Jesus forgives Peter just as he forgives each of us.  (John 21)

After his redemption Peter “returns home” as he helps to lead the early church. And this scene in Acts 3 that I will close with.

One day Peter and John were going up to the temple at the time of prayer—at three in the afternoon. Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate ... When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them. Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God. (Acts 3:1-10)

Once Peter agrees to leave the ordinary world, he never returns to it. He accepts his new identity as a child of the King and he learns how to live his full life within the Kingdom; just as we all are invited to do. For Peter this all unfolds slowly. His transformation doesn’t happen all at once, it’s step by step.

This is why I love Peter, he’s really one of us. He’s just trying to find his way in life, discover his calling and purpose, and learn to increase his trust, which will loosen fear’s grip on him.

We Lead by First Faithfully Following
Peter instructs us that we lead by first faithfully following Jesus. Our leadership starts with our willingness to believe something about us; we aren’t who we think we are. Jesus tells us who we are and he calls us “his friends.”

There’s an invitation for all of us to lead, even if we don’t think of ourselves as “leaders.” When we share our stories, and create space for others to share theirs, we lead and become his witnesses, and we can change the ordinary world.

This brings me to my practical tips for this morning...

Practical Tip

  1. Share your faith story with someone (testify)
  2. Listen to someone’s story
  3. Pray for someone
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