I've been struggling with ideas for blog posts, so I thought I would share some of the sermons I'm preaching at St. Marks GMC. The sermon I'm sharing today will be preached there tomorrow. You are welcome to join us for worship at 9:30.
This message is based on Luke 7:1-17, when Jesus met the Centurion with great faith and when he brought a boy back to life for his widowed mother. I want to write about two qualities that are often not found together in leaders but were consistently modeled by Jesus.
One is authority; the other is compassion or humility. Usually, the quote from Lord Acton, "All power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." is the more likely scenario. When I think of compassionate leadership among humanity, I think of Abraham Lincoln. Consider his relationship with Edwin Stanton. Stanton disliked him and publicly called Lincoln, a gorilla, an imbecile, and a disgrace. Lincoln didn't let Stanton's remarks stop him from appointing Stanton as Secretary of War. Lincoln knew Stanton was a brilliant administrator who would help the nation through the Civil War and put his pride aside.
Lincoln understood the leadership model shown in the passage above. Jesus' leadership style highlights both his authority and his compassion. It is good to study these two qualities so that we can put them into practice in our lives. Let's begin our discussion with the interaction between Jesus and the Centurion, who had a sick slave.
The Centurion in our passage had a different attitude about the Jews than was the norm. Most Romans despised the Jews and considered their religion a barbarous superstition. This Centurion befriended the Jews and even built a synagogue for them in Capernaum. This man had significant power over his men and the Jewish people in the area he served. And yet, this man showed humility in his interactions with Jesus.
The Centurion had heard enough about Jesus and his works in Capernaum that he recognized who Jesus was, something even Jesus' disciples were still questioning (remember when Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were asking each other who is this man, "even the winds and the waves obey him?") The Centurion recognized Jesus' authority and submitted himself to Jesus' decision. Because of this, "Jesus was amazed."
In the last chapter of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples what authority he has, "I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth." Matthew 28:18 God gave Jesus authority to judge over sin, lay down his own life and pick it up again, and give eternal life. In our passage today, we witness Jesus' authority over sickness and death.
It's essential that we understand the authority Jesus came to earth with. It solidifies the understanding that Jesus wasn't simply a prophet but the Son of Man who came to redeem the world. No other prophet was given the authority to reconcile man to God. Jesus wielded great power over the earth and the people in it. Can you imagine having the authority to send people to heaven or hell? Or by simply speaking, healing over someone, they would be healed. With your words, tornados would go around us or cease altogether. Could you handle that kind of power and still be humble and compassionate?
What is your experience with people who have power in your lives? Have you noticed that many use that power to improve their own lives? They often take the opportunity to let everyone know they're in charge. When I think of abuse of power, I think of Putin and his determination to take over Ukraine, no matter how many lives are destroyed.
As good a man as John Wesley was, he abused his power in Georgia. When the woman he was dating chose to marry another man, Wesley advised against it. He said it was for the sake of her spiritual growth that she should stay single. When she married anyway, he refused to serve her communion. I suspect his words and actions were more about his feelings of rejection than any spiritual issues. Whatever the reason, he abused his authority.
When we return to the authority Jesus had, we never see him abuse his authority or hold it over others. When his disciples fought over the top spots in Jesus' kingdom, he told them, "You know that the rulers of this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you, it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matt. 20:25-28
He practiced that very concept when he witnessed the funeral of a boy and his grieving mother as he entered the town of Nain. Luke writes, "When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion." 7:13 The same thing happened when he returned to Bethany because of Lazarus. He spoke with Mary and Martha, and even though he knew Lazarus would be raised from the dead, he felt great compassion for the sisters and wept with them.
Remember, on the cross, his thoughts weren't for himself, but for his mother. He made sure she would be cared for after he died. If we ask God to make us more like Jesus, then we can expect to have both authority and humility. Compassion for others will be greater than expectations for ourselves. How easy it is to let authority go to our heads and for us to relish being in charge. Nobody but Jesus naturally wants to bend down and wash another's feet. But the one who physically or figuratively washed the feet of another is the one who is most like Jesus.