Gathering: The Inner Circle

READ: Mark 10:35-45

 

 

There’s a difference in the kinds of leadership experience that we may have, isn’t there?
For instance, I remember as a high school senior, I was the captain of my indoor soccer team.
That meant that I simply had to make schedules, be sure everyone knew what they were supposed to do and occasionally talk to those who were in charge.
Some years later, as a worship leader at a few different churches, it was much the same.
It basically meant that I simply had to make schedules, be sure everyone knew what they were supposed to do and occasionally talk to those who were in charge.
But I also remember working as the managing editor for a newspaper down in coastal South Carolina,
and with that title came the responsibility of being the hurricane coordinator for the news coverage teams.
That meant that while I had to make schedules, be sure everyone knew what they were supposed to do and occasionally talk to those who were in charge…
…I also had to watch as my family and every other residents except the emergency crews evacuated the island, and stay behind, riding out the storm in an emergency bunker and file news reports.
Being captain of the soccer team and the worship leader for a vibrant church were awesome roles.
Spending the night in an underground bunker during a Cat 5 hurricane was not awesome in any stretch of the imagination.
Praise God, in 10 years in South Carolina, I never had to endure a Cat 5 hurricane…

The inner circle
The brothers James and John have been listening to what Jesus has been telling the apostles.
Twice already, Jesus has not only alluded to his death, but also the glory he will receive.
Funny that these brothers aren’t focusing on the fact that Jesus — the Messiah, their savior — will be beaten and killed;
what they want to hone in on is what kind of seat they’ll have at the table when all this stuff is over with…
See, they want to be in the inner circle with Jesus, don’t they?
As the old phrase goes, “be careful what you wish for…”
And Jesus asks them as much.
He says in verse 38:
“You don’t know what you’re asking! Can you drink the cup I drink or receive the baptism I receive?”
Now, the cup is shorthand for Jesus’s destiny, as we can see in Psalm 11.6:
“Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.”
The brothers don’t get it.
And they answer, “We can!”
They can’t. And they won’t.
Just like Peter — the Rock — who chickens out three times and the rooster crows…
Just like all the other disciples who will save their own skin rather than stand up for Jesus at his trial and crucifixion.
In fact, who is at Jesus’s right and left hands when he enters his glory?
Two criminals on their own crosses…
Think about that.
Jesus knows James and John will suffer similar fates as Jesus.
And he tells them in Verse 40:
“You will drink the cup I drink and receive the baptism I receive, but to sit at my right or left hand isn’t mine to give. It belongs to those for whom it has been prepared.”
That suggests God is in control of those destinies.
I said destinies, and not as what will happen to them in life; but after life.
And even after saying all this, the other 10 disciples are angry at James and John for trying to get into the inner circle.
And Jesus teaches them a bit more here, beginning in Verse 43:
“You know that the ones who are considered the rulers by the Gentiles show off their authority over them and their high-ranking officials order them around. But that’s not the way it will be with you.
“Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.”
Heavy stuff.

Wanted: Leader
Now, if today, right now, I said to you:
“I need a leader. Who wants to be the leader?”
I would imagine no one would stand up or raise their hand.
At least not until I told you what you would be leading.
Because if it was to be the first be in line for a make-your-own-sundae bar or to claim a portion of some lottery winnings, you’d probably be up and out right quick.
But knowing what the church does, I might ask you to lead a ministry and to do some really hard, faith-requiring  work for the church.
For instance, I need a new director of Christian education.
You know, Sunday sermons for the kids, coordinating events…
I’m also looking for people for a worship team.
To help design and help design Sunday and/or Wednesday services and special services as well.
I need people to lead Bible studies.
I need people to help make visits or be a part of the Home Communion team.
There are all sorts of leadership positions that need people who want to grow in faith.
Now, I’m not trying to guilt anyone here, but it serves as a great example, doesn’t it?
We will lead as long as it’s something that we want to do or something that doesn’t take too much leading.
You know, making schedules, being sure everyone knows what they are supposed to being doing and occasionally talking to those who are in charge.
If John and James really knew what being in the inner circle meant, they never would have asked.
In fact, they eventually show Jesus that they’re not really interested in it after all, as they hide away during his crucifixion and even after his death.  


The ladder
Leadership takes work —
it should.
I remember working my way up the ladder in the newspaper business, and thinking, “Gosh, what does my boss do all day?”
Then I became that boss and quickly figured it out.
The responsibility of leadership is oftentimes nerve-racking.
Robert Greenfield, in his monumental book “The Servant as Leader” shows us that being a leader doesn’t mean simply sitting at the top and letting all the work increase on others for the sake of an increase in the leader’s paycheck;
instead, it means getting in the trenches with, or showing how to pull the sled WITH the team.
It’s an inverted pyramid.
Isn’t this what Jesus is telling John and James and the other 10?
“That’s not the way it is with you,” he tells them.
“If you want to be great, you need to be the servant of all the others.”
The opposite of this, ironically, is actually closing the circle. Making it smaller, tighter, so that no one else can get it.
CS Lewis says Inner circles exist not because of who is inside them but because of who is kept out.
James and John don’t realize it, but with their errant question, they are telling Jesus is that we don’t care about the other 10 disciples.
“In fact, we want to see the looks on their faces when they see us sitting beside you as you enter into your glory…”
That’s not the way.
That’s certainly never been Jesus’s way.
And that’s not the way Jesus teaches us, either.

A wider circle…
Pop Christian authors and preachers love to talk about widening the kingdom.
The kingdom is already as wide as it’s going to be.
Jesus gave us the whole kingdom with his work on the cross.
That leads me to say so often that we don’t have to expand the kingdom; we just have to expand into it.
But the circle of people we are called to LEAD?
Well…
That we can grow wider and wider until there is no more contrast or definition between who is inside the circle and who is outside of it.
Because we’re called to make that circle as wide as the planet itself.
To truly lead is to take that cup and enter into that baptism.
We do that so that others can be in the circle as well.
What is your circle?
Well, look around us today.
The circle isn’t so wide, is it?
Or maybe it’s just that there are opposing circles all over the place, I don’t know.
We’re not responsible for saving souls; that’s God’s job.
We’re just responsible for letting folks know about Jesus.
Through our walk — our example.
Through our invitation.
Through our leadership.
Through our sacrifice.
And through our witness.
How can you touch someone else’s life?
How can you bring them into the ever-widening circle?
##
In the last month or so, I’ve been spending a couple hours most weekdays downtown.
Walking around.
Meeting folks.
Learning their names.
Hearing their stories.
Sharing my own.
And inviting them here.
Maybe someday, they’ll come.
But maybe, too, if they saw more people offering directions to places like these — these inner circles — maybe something would change.
Maybe the seed that has been planted would begin to blossom.
And maybe that blossom is part of the vine.
Fortunately for us, we have the best leader in Christ.
The leader who says, “I may need your hands and feet in this world, but don’t worry, I got your back.”
We don’t usually have to give our lives for others today;
but are called by God to share them.
And to bring those who don’t know God into that circle.
Amen

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