Mark 12:38-44 “Servant Leadership” 11-7-21
[prayer] “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to You, O’Lord my rock and redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
By a show of hands how many of y’all have ever eaten fast food? (Pause) How many of you when you go to a fast food restaurant like to buy a combo? You know a drink, fries and a sandwich combo? (Pause) Well if you like buying a combo then you are in luck because this morning’s sermon Scripture is a combo. It is a combo message about what makes a good leader and what it means to be a true servant of Jesus Christ.
So let’s start this way. Several years ago. When I was running more regularly I was jogging on the Greenway in Matthews. I was running down a portion of the trail that ran along side a creek. I turned a corner and there in the middle of the trail was a massive alligator snapping turtle. I had never seen one in real life. They don’t have those in Alabama outside of a zoo so I never encountered one as a Boy Scout. Suddenly, right there in front of me was the real thing; and it had its mouth wide open. Now, I’m not an expert, but I’ve seen the stuff on TV about how alligator snapping turtles can break sticks and bones with a single chomp of its mouth. While I could probably have run around it, this time I decided, “Nu uh. Not me. Not today.” Then I took another trail to finish my run.
The truth is there are dangerous animals out there. There are dangerous leaders out there too. They are running their mouths’ wide open and doing a lot of damage along the way. In this morning’s passage Jesus is in the temple warning the people about the leadership of the scribes. Jesus tells us to beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes; who like to be warmly greeted in the marketplaces, and who like to have the best seats of honor in the synagogues. These leaders like to be seen. These leaders like to be heard. These leaders like to enjoy the perks of being famous without giving anything of substance back in return. They Know God’s word, but they don’t carry God’s word in their heart and show God’s word through their actions. They talk the talk, but they fail to walk the walk, and in the process people get burned. People are turned off from faith in Jesus Christ because of the hypocrisy of “religious people.” There is nothing wrong with being religious until your practice of religion runs people away from Christ and kills ministries which seek to spread the Gospel and provide support for the weak and needy. Do we talk the talk or do we walk the walk? (Pause) In this passage Jesus is scolding the scribes for not doing both.
So let’s ask a question. This is a question for everyone of us. Are we bearing fruit? In the previous chapter of Mark’s Gospel there is a story about Jesus and a fig tree. Jesus was hungry and looked for a piece of fruit, but there was no fruit to be had on the tree. So Jesus cursed the fig tree saying, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again” (Mark 11:14). When Jesus returned to the tree it had withered down to its roots (Mark 11:20,21). The scribes were not bearing fruit for the kingdom of God. In fact Jesus accuses the scribes who often acted as lawyers of mismanaging the estates of widows in Jerusalem for their own profit. Jesus said the scribes, “devour widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40). Now, let me remind you that widows in the Ancient Near East were in dire straights. It was a patriarchal society. Without a father, a husband or a grown son to take care of them, women were in a very tough situation. Men handled the business of the day. Men fought off adversaries - sometimes literally, fought off their enemies. Men ran the house and looked after the family. Women were not taught or allowed to hold that position. The scribes were acting as lawyers and taking advantage of widow’s situations in Jerusalem. Jesus was not having it, and Jesus promised they would receive their greater condemnation (Mark 12:40). My sisters and brothers as the body of Christ are we being fruitful for the kingdom of God? Has our leadership; has the example we set; has the way we live our lives for the Gospel brought people to Christ? (Pause) Have we brought people to church? (Pause) Have we raised up disciples? (Pause) Have we built up and challenged one another so that we might all offer a better witness of Christ’s love to others? (Pause) How long has it been since we did bring someone to Christ? (Pause) If it has been two, three, five; ten years it has been too long. Here’s a test. Has the example you have set for Jesus run people off from church? (Pause) Has the example you have set soured others on their love for Jesus Christ? (Pause) Are we bearing fruit or are we asking God to curse our congregation the way Jesus cursed the fig tree because we are living an example more like the scribes than Jesus and His apostles?
What we do and what we say matters. What we do and what we say matters. What we do and what we say matters. (Pause) Here’s the proof. (Pause) After Jesus had scolded the scribes Jesus walked over to where people were giving their tithes and offerings. There were many rich people who gave out of their excess. Then a widow woman came up who gave her last two small copper coins. Where the scribes had been devouring the estates of widows for their own profit, this widow gave her last two copper coins, trusting in the Lord for her next meal. (Pause) Jesus saw this widow woman. Jesus watched this woman. Jesus looked at this woman and knew. This woman was not just giving two small copper coins. This woman was giving everything she had. (Pause) My brothers and sisters that is servant leadership.
Servant leadership is not about fancy robes, or sitting in the best chairs, or the title of manager, director, pastor or reverend. Servant leadership is about leading by example. This widow woman probably did not know anyone was looking, but Jesus saw her. Jesus saw her, and God knew. This woman was an example Jesus meant for them all to follow. The great and first commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). This widow woman has given all of herself, everything she had to live on to God. This woman is living her example, and receiving no praise or reward from others for her gift to the Lord. She is the opposite; the antithesis of the scribes. Where the scribes were interested in being seen, being recognized, and being treated well for their place in society, this widow woman gave all she had to God and was largely ignored by everybody else - except Jesus. God saw her, and God praised her. Jesus had just scolded the scribes. If there were any scribes still standing nearby Jesus had just shamed them. Jesus shamed them because for all of their knowledge and for all of their pomp they produced very little fruit for the kingdom of God. The scribes were more interested in getting than giving. The widow woman had given everything she had and to the widow woman came the greatest reward.
My sisters and brothers, are we interested in getting or giving? (Pause) Are we more interested in bearing fruit for God’s kingdom or in having things our way? (Pause) Having things our way is about wanting to be seen as in control, or wanting to feel in control. I get it. Churches are not palaces for saints. Churches are hospitals for sinners. We are all sinners. We are all sick. Many of us feel out of control and trying grasp much more tightly to be in control at church. Either by accident or by design we push one another, or step on one another in an attempt to make ourselves feel better. When we behave this way we are no better than the scribes in this morning’s passage. When we insist on having things our way we do more to run people off from church than to bring people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. We become the hypocrites so many atheists complain about and use as an excuse for not coming to church. I believe, through this passage, Jesus is calling us to follow the example of the widow woman. Jesus is telling us, lay aside what you think you need to be comfortable. Lay aside what you think you need to feel safe. Trust in Jesus. Trust in God. Relearn the lessons of God’s faithfulness first hand. God will take care of you. God will take care of you. God will take care of you, and if we are all putting our lives into Jesus’ hands by living out the great commandment and the second to love our neighbor as ourselves then we will take care of one another as well. We will check on one another when we are sick. We will cheer for one another out on the rec fields or up at the high school. We will share one another’s victories and pick one another up when we fall down. Through this love others will know there is a God and by watching us they will see the goodness and love of the God we claims as our own.
In the name of Jesus Christ,