Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Matthew 20:20-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Request of the Mother of James and John
20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons, and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”[a] They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”
24 When the ten heard it, they were angry with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. 26 It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
In the reading for today, Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Many of the world’s greatest leaders mastered this upside-down /inside-out thinking and made it a prominent feature of their leadership style. George Washington, for example, was someone who always lowered himself to elevate others. Whenever and wherever he could, Washington would pass on compliments, even ones that he had overheard, and would find ways of communicating to others his high value of them and his esteem for their virtues. Gary Wills calls Washington a “virtuoso of resignations,” someone who “perfected the art of getting power by giving it away.” [As quoted in The New Republic, 6 February 1989, 30.]
The word “leader” was completely understood as “servant” by Archbishop William Temple. On the last night of the Archbishop’s mission to Oxford University during World War II, a crowded congregation of students swelled St. Mary’s Church with the sound of Isaac Watts’ hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” Dr. Temple stopped the singing before the last verse and said, “I want you to read over this verse before you sing it. They are tremendous words. If you don’t mean them at all, keep silent. If you mean them even a little, and want them to mean more, sing them very softly.”
What are the words of that last verse? “Were the whole realm of nature mine / That were an offering far too small, / Love so amazing, so divine, / Demands my soul, my life, my all.”
In the gospel of John we read that Jesus took a basin and a towel and did the task of a servant—he washed the feet of his disciples. He explained this very unusual act: “I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that there are many gifts and ministries, but they all have a common denominator. They all are grounded in the ministry of Christ who took the form of a servant. Remember Paul’s words that he wrote to Philippi: “Have this mind among yourselves which you have in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, emptied himself, and took the form of a servant.”
Principled Christian Leadership, Servant Leadership, is not just needed for the church. It is needed in the workplace, in the home, in the wider world, wherever we are. Martin Luther, the German reformer of the church, said:
If you are a craftsman, you will find the Bible placed in your workshop, in your hands, in your heart; it teaches and preaches how you ought to treat your neighbor. Only look at your tools, your needle, your thimble, your beer barrel, your articles of trade, your scales, your measures, and you will find this saying written on them. You will not be able to look anywhere it does not strike your eyes. None of the things with which you deal daily are too trifling to tell you this incessantly, if you are but willing to hear it; and there is not lack of such preaching for you have as many preachers as there are transactions, commodities, tools and other implements in your house and estate; and they shout this to your face, “My dear, use me toward your neighbor as you would want him to act toward you with that which is his.”
Luther believed the ministry of a barrel maker is every bit as important and valid as that of a parish pastor. In no way could it be construed as inferior. In no way was the priest entitled to lord it over the worker. Who was the greatest? Both were great so long as they served their Lord.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster