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Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Show and Tell

The Giver of music was giving gifts. She called all the instruments and gave each one its sound. The trumpet received its bright blast; the pipes their rich, rumbly roar; the drums their boom. The baton, however, received only silence. It asked the Giver why it had no sound. She replied, “I’ve given you a gift no other instrument has: to guide the music and bring all the instruments together. All on their own, they would make noise and confusion. With your silence, baton, they are a symphony.”

We’re thankful for the gifts we have, even the gifts to be silent, wait, allow others to play.


Jesus and his disciples are on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus has just said (for the third time) why they’re going, namely that he’ll be put to death and raised again, and the disciples just don’t get it. James and John finally start to understand that this is a good thing, at least, and they want the places of honor when Jesus comes into his glory. They ask to be second in command. Jesus says, “You still don’t know what you’re asking. This glory is not glorious. You get there by walking with me through suffering, loss, and death.”

If it’s leadership we want, Jesus tells us how to be a great leader. It’s not something you can attain to or achieve; rather, you find your way into it through work and service. You don’t seek glory, you fall into it. If we seek anything, we should seek chances to serve and be unimportant – that’s Jesus’ way. He shows us that way by serving all people. He gives himself in order to free us from death, to free us from our need to justify and preserve ourselves, to lead us into life.

Today we’re celebrating Heritage Sunday, when we celebrate our own history of leadership and service. We celebrate this history stretching back to Scotland, when we remember the pipes and the hills and give thanks for the freedom to seek truth and live faithfully. The Scottish Presbyterians were committed to living rightly. They reformed how to think of the church and care for people in need, especially with hospitals and schools. The Presbyterian tradition of service by sharing and lifting others up came across with so many who became pillars of this community (and this nation).

One powerful piece of this tradition is that we acknowledge where we’ve missed. Today I’m aware that Jesus seems to call us away from the kind of status we’ve often held, and I would repent of the ways we’ve used our power to reinforce ourselves. But I hear an additional layer in Jesus’ conversation with his disciples. I think we could ask what to with the power we happen to have – again, the Presbyterians had status in this community simply because we spoke English when we arrived – and we know we should use it to serve others. So I give thanks for when we’ve gotten it right, when we’ve been servants of the community. Leadership at its best makes the world better for all. We celebrate the great servants and leaders of our community and the gifts they gave us, for this church (the building and the institution), and most of all for our heritage of service.

Jesus invites us to think about what this institution is for – what we can do at our very best. When I think of what this church has been at its best, I think of instruments of God’s work in this community, people who have led us and others to serve the world. Our power, community status, and privileges can challenge us to be faithful, because they give us something to protect (as if Jesus hadn’t freed us from the need to protecting ourselves). But at our best, what we are – what we have always been – is stewards of what we have, people who use what we have received to serve others. What we’ve received is abundant: the natural resources of this place, the material resources we own, the talents and skills we each bring to this community – and yes, our status in the wider community. At our best, we serve even when that service puts our status at risk, because we trust the story of Jesus who did the same.

We still have a great inheritance. A beautiful building on a visible corner, the names of so many great leaders behind us, the history of making a difference in the community. We’ve tried to use our gifts faithfully, to use our resources primarily to make the community and the world a better place, to improve the lives of the people we share this world with. We share ourselves We give away the fruit of our place in the community – our gifts, talents, and education – to share with those who don’t have our privileges. We seek to make life better, not just now, but to help people improve their own lives.

This long-term improvement of life is a Presbyterian idea. The Scottish reformers proposed it as the proper use of the resources of the medieval church: to endow schools that would equalize society. Presbyterian Andrew Carnegie had the same goal when he gave away his fortune (made from steel) because money is only useful if you can help someone with it. He focused on education, and he’s famous for building libraries (the three in our communities among thousands of others). His goal was not just charity, but soc transformation, to give people the opportunity they wouldn’t otherwise have had.

So at our best, we’ve given, served, and offered what we have freely and graciously. We’ve tried to do a kind of work that is harder than just helping people get by. That harder work is to give opportunity, the careful help people need to grow and develop. To seek to make the world more fair and equitable, even at some cost to ourselves. To try to teach others. To use our position to transform society as a whole.

Jesus challenges us to keep doing that, to keep changing those social structures. To support education, to make friendships, to claim our place in community leadership. That’s all stuff we already do; today we remember why and what for. May we continue giving away our power, status, and opportunities. May we imagine a world where we who have power and status, and those who don’t, come together as equals – brothers and sisters in Christ. May we share what we know, need, and hope for. May we claim the gift of service and open yet another piece of the kingdom of God.