notre dame montreal

Sermon preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
21st September 2003

Leadership and Greatness

Back in November 2002 the nation tried to decide who the greatest Briton was, ever. We decided that it was Winston Churchill, a great Briton and a great leader In the gospel reading today, Jesus starts off by telling the disciples that he will be delivered into the hands of men and then He will die, ultimately to rise again. Shortly after this declaration the disciples are talking amongst themselves as they go along he road to Capernaum about who among them is the greatest, clearly out of earshot of Jesus.

It seems logical to conclude that they too were probably linking greatness to leadership and arguing about who should take over when Jesus was no longer with them, arguing about who was going to be the next leader. Who would prove to be the best leader? Who had the most status and clout, which one of them would be able to take them on? Who had the best links and network of contacts? Who was going to win the internal power struggle? Bit like politics today some might say

But was it wrong of the disciples to be discussing who was the greatest among them? Is it wrong to be proud of our achievements? Is it wrong to celebrate success? Sometimes we actually go the other way, rather than being proud and celebrating success we try to deny we’ve had any hand in it we sometimes say we were lucky. We sometimes try to point to someone else who should take the glory,  'it was a team effort and I really didn’t do anything.'  We often try to play down our impact and influence on things going well. We rarely say we planned hard and executed well and therefore got the rewards we expected.

But it is good to celebrate success and achievement, to recognise hard work and results. So why were the disciples so sheepish when asked by Jesus what they had been discussing? Probably because they’d begun to get the balance wrong. Because it’s very easy when we start talking about who is the greatest to begin to put self at the centre and everything else at the periphery, to begin to boast about our own strengths and forget about others and especially about God, who gives us the gifts to succeed in the first place. To begin only to consider our own achievements. To magnify ourselves and to diminish the achievements and gifts of others. To magnify ourselves and diminish God. It could be argued that there is a real lack of leadership in the world today.

People talk the story of leadership but they don’t act it out, often forgetting leadership involves management and administration, the poor relations of leadership today. Mixing up real leadership with marketing hype and spin. Leadership involves taking others with you not leaving them behind. Being transparent open and honest – helping everyone achieve their potential. It involves being connected with those you seek to lead and acting out the story with them, not just telling them about it and expecting them to act. And when leaders don’t act real leadership out in their lives, become disconnected from those they seek to lead we begin to ignore them or see them as irrelevant.

Jesus points out that true leadership involves not only taking others with you but putting them first and serving their needs rather than having our own needs met because of any particular status we have. To become the servant of others, being connected to those we seek to lead so that they may follow our example. And in this sense we’re all called to be leaders, to act out the story of Christian leadership, wherever we are, whatever status in society we have and help others achieve their full spiritual potential. We shouldn’t just leave leadership to others but should all take our part.

Jesus emphasises this by using the illustration of the child. Children in the times of Jesus came very low on the social hierarchy, even behind women. A child had no rights, no status, could demand nothing and could expect nothing. A child was certainly not seen as a social or religious leader. To God, leadership is not about the status that the world would confer on us, how great we appear by the world standards. For God, leadership is about becoming like a child, obedient to the Father to do his will. It’s a major opportunity for the Church because where leadership exists, followers come. As we become as children, as we serve others through the power that Christ gives through His Holy Spirit, so we step up to that leadership challenge.

You could even say in the style of Winston Churchill, never will so much is required from so few – will we pick up the leadership challenge?