POLITICAL AUTHORITY . . . A rundown of who’s who!

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave–just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Reference: Matthew 20:25-28 )

This an interesting pairing – these verses and the theme “Political Authority.” It works because Jesus is warning his disciples not to fall into “position & power, pomp & circumstance” trap. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible note that Michael Sattler saw the connection between authority and this verse, and applied it to the situation of the historic Anabaptists. He said “. . . concerning the sword: whether a Christian should be a magistrate if he is chosen? This is answered thus: Christ was to be made king, but fled and did not discern the ordinance of his Father. So we should do as he did and run after him. Then we shall not walk in darkness. For he himself says: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” Matt. 16:24. He himself further forbids the violence of the sword when he says; “The rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, etc. . . . It will not be so among you,” Matt. 20:25.”

Historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites based their church structure on this very premise, that those who are seen as “leaders” if a faith group must actually be their servants – ministering to them, consoling them and tending to their religious needs. Now that is not to say the historic and modern Anabaptists/Mennonites are immune from power struggles. We/they are just as apt to abuse position and power as anyone else. And all the while claiming it is for the “good of the group.”

Now, this pairing of the “violence of the sword” with power and authority is interesting. It touches not only on servant-leadership but also non-violence and non-resistance – a tangled muddle all together beloved! For the historic Anabaptists it was not just who had the “say so” but who wielded the might to back it up – all the way to aggression and violence. The magistrates of that time could order the “sword” if they felt it was needed. Rest assured though, there are more checks and balances in place now than there were then.

Also be aware, beloved, that Jesus did not just “run away” from kingship (as Sattler tells it) but “ran towards” sacrifice and crucifixion – not very common on most lists of qualifications for leadership!

What then of us, who are not Christ but neither are we leaders. How does this apply to us? Should it apply to us? Interesting considerations. Jesus was speaking to his disciples after two of them had voiced the desire to be seated as Jesus’ right and left hand, in other words places of honor and leadership. So Jesus was speaking to who ever might seek leadership. But what if one does not seek this? Does this mean these verses do not apply? Again, interesting considerations. But this does not excuse us beloved.

As modern Anabaptists/Mennonites NOW understand this, we are to be helpers and servants to fellow believers as they are helpers to us. We all need help and it behooves us as being the “face of Christ” to help whoever is in need. Christ came for us and modeled that compassion. We can do no less! Selah!

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Jesus said “Do as I have done” . . . So, what will you do?

“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15 from John 13:1-20 )

Five years ago I wrote on this verse. And my curiosity got the best of me – I will admit that I have checked more often what I wrote five years ago; it is of interest to me how my perspectives have changed on something, but have not on others. As I looked back to what I said five years ago, it occurred to me I could have said some things better. So join me as I look over what I said, and note in the square parenthesis what I have added and expanded upon. I will see you at the other end.

“When Jesus took off his outer clothing he did not become any less than what he was. What he shed was the position and image that he had amongst his disciples. And what he was asking them to do was not hold position and power over one another and those they minister to. He was telling them that caring for people and tending to their needs does not lessen who they are and what they can do. This is a good message for [anyone]. Often we [people who work in the social services field] feel like we are servants to the one’s we take care of. [And often that makes us feel uncomfortable and used because we imagine ourselves in a more exalted position.] But if our Lord Jesus can take off his position and image in the name of servanthood, so can we. Furthermore, in comparison to our Lord Jesus we are all broken and needy people. That is a good message to case managers who may feel they have control over their clients’ lives. [And anyone else who has authority and supervision over others. Title and company position, or anyone who has prestige in any aspect of life needs to keep this in mind.] Just because we are the keeper of progress notes and charts does not mean we are any greater than the people and the situations we ‘manage’. [Job responsibilities, title, any of the things that ‘command’ respect in our work should not become a barrier to being there for the people we have oversight of. Pastors and other ministerial leadership people know this; everyone else should. I cannot count the number of brochures and mailings I have gotten in the last year on leadership and managerial skills. Few of them I would guess advocate such a humble and servanthood management style. But as I said, if Jesus did it, so should we. I have often visited a website entitled Working for Christ. The author’s main theme is that we should work as if we are working for God, and work as God would have us work.]”

Well, there you have it gentle reader. The above is what five years of pondering has produced. So what will you do? Will you emulate Christ in being a servant to others? Or will you hold tight to the image that you have created in this world? It is up to you. Shalom as you chose!

MY SERVANT – At least in hindsight

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon him; he will bring justice to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:1 from Isaiah 42:1-9 )

This is something I stubbornly maintain, that we read much of the Old Testament through the lens of the New Testament. If not for the New Testament, let us consider how one would understand this passage? That the writer of Isaiah is writing of God’s foretelling the coming of a person the like of which has never been seen before. And the like of which will probably never be seen again. Because this is the message that the people of God want and need to hear at this time – that God, despite all that has happened to them, has a plan and a Savior Messiah in store for them. But – and this you must hear clearly gentle reader – the writer of Isaiah NEVER says it will be the Son of God. It is the commentators who have read the New Testament and look BACK and say, “Well, all along it was going to be Jesus.” But that is NOT what the writer of Isaiah is saying!! And it bugs me to no end that we put words in the mouth of the writer of Isaiah!

Why? Because it lessens the coming of Christ. One of the main reasons that the Jews of Jesus’ time did not know or acknowledge him was because no one told them just what kind of Savior Messiah was coming! So it frustrates me that commentators state what is obvious to them but can only be known in hindsight.

Jesus was NOT what anyone who lived in New Testament times expected. So don’t tell me that Jesus was just was expected according to the Old Testament. Because not only does using this passage as a foretelling of Jesus lay down false impressions of Jesus, but it also makes assumptions about God. And this is one of the problems the Jews of Jesus time had with him – he did not deliver the “justice” that they expected. Jesus turned everything upside down, shook out all the “debris” that had accumulated (i.e. wrong ideas about what God was like etc) and then set faith back up to run as it should.

We, in this modern society, go about our business and expect that God and Jesus will fall right in line with what we expect. And many times we have actually made erroneous assumptions, just like the ancient Jews did. We have in a sense “tamed” God and Jesus. Made the Divine palatable. And rearrange scripture so it says just what we want and need it to say.

I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but I don’t want a tame God or Jesus. I like a God that surprises me. I don’t mind it all when I think I have been following Jesus’ foot prints and suddenly the Divine says, “Hmm, actually you need to be over here, because this is where I am.” That may seem strange I know. But consider, if God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit could be figured out by humanity, they wouldn’t be very Divine would they?

So yes, I am quite persistent in allowing human prophecy to be just that – trying to put into human terms what the Divine is trying to explain. I would never want the prophets to be “re-written” according to better understandings that have come only because we see and know that was not available to them at the time.

The prophets have passed on to glory and now know much more than we could ever know. Let their words stand, not for accuracy, but for attempting to explain something that humanly is far beyond all of us. Let us not be so complacent that we think we know it all. But let us be humble and journey together in this human worldly life so that we might all arrive at the world to come through the grace and mercy of a God who is patient beyond all understanding. Shalom for your day.

Footwashing; Divine Power and Humble Servanthood

“Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God”

Several days ago I talked about the power of God being able to create everything in the physical realm (the world, the universe, the universe beyond the universe, and everything beyond that!). And it was that power that the Divine who Jesus called “Father” gave to Jesus. Moreover, Jesus came from the remarkable Creator and would return to that remarkable Creator as an equal . . . because Jesus had the same abilities as the Divine that Jesus called “Father.” So you have this clearly in your mind, gentle reader. We are talking about THE most powerful being EVER! And what did the Almighty Being do as a final action for his disciple? Let’s read further.

“[S]o he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” (John 13: 3-5)

Again, let me set the context for this. The person who washed the feet of people who came into the household during this era was the servant with the least status, or I imagine it would be so. And note also it was with the towel tied around his waist that Jesus used to dry his disciples feet. We Anabaptist/Mennonites wash each others’ feet, but we do not use a towel that is attached to us – that is, there is a bit of personal space between the washer and the washee. And we are dressed in what is our Sunday/worship day attire, not stripped down to our skivvies.

I cannot imagine that level of close proximity and intimacy with a Divine Being. But Jesus wanted to prove a point, that we need to be willing to serve one another on a deep and personal level. And that is something we are not always comfortable with. Anabaptist/Mennonites do not wash each other’s feet because they are dirty; and many times it is NOT symbolic of being washed clean of sin. It is to remind ourselves that we are to tend to the others needs, opening up ourselves and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to one another. It is a reminder we all need every once in a while.

May you gentle reader humble yourself and be open to others, tending to their needs as (I hope and pray) your needs are tended to. Selah!

Discipline in the Church – Tending your “flock”

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. “   (1 Peter 5:1-4 )

It has been tough going the last week (at this writing). Between caregivers and clients I have been working my tail feathers off getting everything arranged. Some things are still in process. I read recently (don’t ask me where because I can’t remember) that rather than waiting for a job in ministry one should see how to put ministry into the job you have. This is not a new thought for me, but one I do need to be reminded of.

That kind of thinking helps when trying to do the best I can for the caregivers I employ and the clients I serve. I take just as seriously care for my caregivers because for many of them this job is how they “afford” life. And for my clients, the care they receive is the difference between comfort and security in their own home, and being in a facility. I take these responsibilities seriously.

And I do think of both groups as my “flock.” Actually, in exactly the way this passage from 1 Peter says it. The Lord knows (I do mean that reverently) I am not making money hand over fist. Going into my third year I see more and more this type of work is a calling, and not one that is a highly sought after job (I describe all that I do, and most people say they would not want this kind of job). And I know I am a gentle boss and coordinator, because everyone keeps telling me that. With all that, I am still not sure that I am capable of everything this job demands.

I hope, gentle reader, you have a flock – that is, people that you minister and serve. It does not matter what the job title or description is. If you want to be in servanthood in Christ’s name, you can find a place to be of use. Even when you are not sure you are useful. Maybe your flock is nothing greater than family and/or friends. But if you are there for them, and are consciously living a Christian life to be an example, you have a flock and are serving them.
May our Lord God bless you as you tend to and are a blessing to your flock. Selah!

Footwashing: Serving One Another

“The greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:25-27 )

I am writing this in the evening of the today I had an experience that I do not usually have – I was the caregiver for one of our clients. Normally I do not do care but that means I am not in the office and available if situations arise. But there was a situation where the scheduled caregiver became ill and the replacement could not get there at the time needed, so I covered for about an hour and a half.

It is interesting now working as a caregiver, because I approach the situation thinking, “As a supervisor, what would I want my caregiver to do and be aware of?” That makes me especially aware of each nuance and the attention to the smallest detail of care. It makes for good motivation to do the job well. In fact, I may use it in a training sometime.

Another aspect of this is the client is seeing how the care coordinator/supervisor of all the caregivers feels the job should be done. It is quite a responsibility maintaining the high standard that I want all of my caregivers to have. And to be quite honest, it is a responsibility that I find uncomfortable. If one of my caregivers does not do a superior job, well they just need to work better and harder next time. If I do not do a good job, well that sort of sandbags our reputation.

But it is also humbling, doing what I would normally have one of my employees do. And in that regard it reminds me of footwashing. I am personally being of service to my client. Me, the person who runs the whole shebang for all of this area. I am the one doing the dishes, cleaning the counters, and providing personal care.

The Confession says, “They thus acknowledge their frequent need of cleansing, renew their willingness to let go of pride and worldly power, and offer their lives in humble service and sacrificial love.” I was not the one being cleansed, but I did do cleansing. And being the one who is sent, and at the beck-and-call of the client necessitates letting go of prestige and position. And each time I go to see a client, whether it be as the caregiver or as the care coordinator, what I want is to be of service to them and support them in their needs. Being who I am, I do it with and out of love.

You may not be called upon to wash someone’s feet (although I have caregivers who do), but chances are that most days you will have the opportunity to be of service to someone else. May you do it out of love and love for servant-hood. Selah!

Footwashing – Being of service to another

“They [Jesus’ disciples] came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest. Sitting down, Jesus called the twelve [disciples] and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9: 33-35 )

I am a big fan of old movies. Some time back I watched a movie about an upper class family. As was the norm, they had servants to do their work, and so reveled in that luxury. As the movie unfolds, this family plans an vacation that begins with an ocean voyage; and so as to insure their enjoyment they bring along their servants, including a very humble and mild butler. There is a ship wreck, and the family and their servants are marooned on an island. But it so happens that the butler is very skilled at survival and sets up a comfortable living arrangement. However, because he has the skills and knowledge, he becomes the master – kind and benevolent, but definitely in charge. In the course of time, they are rescued. And once the rescuers step foot on the island, the butler – of his own choice – goes back to being the servant instead of the master. It was a very interesting movie.

We often think that the person who is in the servant role is there because he/she has the least understanding of things and who is capable of only the most menial labor. That is not always so. Even before I watch the aforementioned movie, I knew that servants are often more capable and aware than those who are the “masters.”

Jesus knew, and knows, everything. But he did not use that knowledge to lord it over others, but instead sought to inform and teach all that he met. If the almighty Lord can chose servanthood, who are we to belittle it or refuse it.

May you gentle reader use your intelligence and understanding to serve that you meet and know. Selah!