9/21/03, P15B

“So you want to win?”
Mark 9: 33-37

olks can get real upset about losing. A Dodgers fan was killed in the parking lot by a Giants fan on Friday just after a San Francisco win that put L.A. pretty much out of contention for the National League Wild Card Spot. The Giants fanatic was probably upset about losing. It appears that he will have a long stretch in prison to think about what he did. Hopefully, none of us get that out of control over losing.

Jesus was overheard recommending losing to his Apostles. He had overheard them discussing which one of them would become number one. Their concern seemed to be more about their power than that Jesus was going to be crucified and leave them. Several evidently thought they could become Jesus’ successor. But Jesus told them, “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.” (THE MESSAGE)

Perhaps there is some virtue in losing that we have missed?

The strangest thing is happening in Chicago this fall; the Cubs and the White Sox are both winning. Just when their fans had become accustomed to decades of consistent losing, suddenly they want to win. Most folks want to win and some will sell their souls to the Devil to win. But will Chicagoans enjoy winning as much as they have losing? They have been some of the most informed and loyal of all baseball fans, during their many years of consistent losing. Yet, in Atlanta we have clinched our twelfth consecutive division championship and we just take it as a routine thing. Our winning fans are considered to be some of the least informed and fickle. Is there some upside to losing?

This “blind ambition” bunch of disciples, in their pre-redeemed form, seemed consumed with personal desire for more power which probably led them to sling mud and try to push others down in order to get ahead; or at least that’s the way church politics is sometimes played in today’s political environment.

But Jesus said that the one who would become the greatest in His Kingdom must be willing to be the least. Jesus is seemingly saying that there is reward in being a Cubs/Sox fan; year after year of finishing the baseball season in the cellar. Or, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35, NRSV) Granted, this modesty would not win the California Governorship, but in Jesus’ somewhat upside down spiritual Kingdom it seems that we win by losing, the last become first, losers win.

“Be the servant of all.” says Jesus. (v. 35)

Then Jesus used a dramatic definition of who the least of all people were. “He put a child in the middle of the room. Then, cradling the little one in his arms, he said, ‘Whoever welcomes (embraces, ministers unto, helps) one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me--- God who sent me.” (37)

Our shared ministry of clergy and laity is a servant ministry. Ours is a helping ministry to everyone in need. We are not called to lord it over folks but to serve. We serve poor, and rich. We offer ourselves to both “the down and out” and “the up and out.” We offer them Jesus and the cup of cold water. We offer them salvation, education, food clothing, shelter and a challenge to follow a new lifestyle. We become losers in order to turn fellow losers into winners so that they in turn can serve others with the same service that first lifted them up.

This is a cornerstone doctrine and practice of the people called Methodists. As our current television advertising campaign promises: “Our hearts are open, our minds are open and our doors are open.” But even more than that, we are aggressively pursuing those out there waiting to be brought into the community of faith.

It is a noble goal to want to be used in the leadership of the Kingdom of God. Our church is seeking servant leadership as we plan for 2004. Drop me a note if you are willing to serve in the lay leadership of our church. We are not just offering you a title that will one day look impressive in a job application, or obituary, but we are offering you a place where your servanthood will be used to enable Christ’s Church to flourish.

The church does not need “church bosses.” We do not need any more disciples who would seem almost joyful that Jesus was going to die and leave a leadership void. But let me hasten to add that these same lackluster fans later trudged to the far corners of the Roman Empire seeking to reach every unenlightened corner with the light of the Good News that Jesus Christ died to take away our sin.

Several of the denominational leaders whom I got to know through the last two weeks of the “International Leadership Institute,” which our church helped sponsor, shared with me their history of being personally won to faith in Christ by a missionary who had been commissioned by a Methodist denomination. What greater example of submission is there than to have a modern day disciple of Jesus Christ respond to God’s call to give their lives to go to a less developed country to serve poor and often hungry children and adults who have been placed by the circumstances of life into a needy role? And, all of this to experience Jesus’ promise of being able to embrace God Almighty who launched the planets into their mathematically perfect places in His universe: And furthermore, to know that this Divine Embrace will last forever. I was reared in a home where my dear departed Mother kept a plaque on the wall that is so true, “Only this life will soon be passed: Only what’s done for Christ will last.” And here today I hold that plaque that has been handed off to me, and you. Is this not the ultimate victory?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
9/21/03, P15B