“The Heart of Jesus & Christian Leadership”
a Sermon by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
22nd Sunday After Pentecost, Year B – Oct. 21, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Richmond, IN
In this week’s gospel lesson we have James and John, the Sons of Zebedee. They
are also known as the the Sons of Thunder. And we can see why. They are bold. They
are audacious. They have the nerve to ask Jesus that one sit at his right hand and on at
his left in his glory. They want to the prime places of honor.
They miss the point of discipleship. All of the disciples, at one point or another, miss
the point of discipleship. They need to learn how to be disciples. They need to learn
what it means to be a follower of Jesus. And it’s not about seats of honor.
Jesus asks James and John if they can drink the cup he drinks? Can they be
baptized in his baptism? In other words, can they live as Jesus lives?
Can they preach the good news? Can they serve the poor and the sick? Can they
be prophetic voices against unjust systems of abuse and oppression? Can they love
God and their neighbors as they love themselves? Can they learn what it means to be
There is a wonderful little book by the late Henri Nouwen titled In the Name of
Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership. In that book Nouwen wrote:
“We cannot bring good news on our own. We are called to proclaim the
Gospel together, in community.”
Nouwen’s reflection goes to the heart of following Jesus – the heart of Christian
discipleship. If we are to proclaim the Gospel together, in community, if our words and
actions in such proclamation have authority, then we are to pray, discern, and deliberate
together, in community, God’s purposes – not our own. Christian leadership, Christian
discipleship is not about us. It is about God as revealed in Jesus Christ.
The main structure of Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus are instructive. First we must
be rooted in prayer – for this is how we commune with God. Next, we must recognize
that it is not a popularity contest. Nouwen stresses we must move from ‘Popularity to
Ministry.’ This means we should know God loves us and that in fulfilling our mission we
must each carry out the ministries we are given out of that love in community and
service to others.
Finally, it is not about leading from ourselves but, rather, being led by God. It is not
about our power or maintaining control. It is about being led by God to serve in humility.
To do this we need to recognize we always have more to learn: we should be steeped in
prayer, study, and discussion as community to discern the will of God in order to best
In the Society of Saint John the Evangelist’s Rule of Life they write this in their
chapter on The Witness of Life in Community the following:
All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and
interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our
basic needs are met. Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city set on
a hill which cannot be hid; […]
If our call as disciples is to be the light of the world, then we can only bind those
things which bear witness to Christ and loose those things which are not of God. For
what we speak and how we act tells the wider community, and the world, what we
believe and what we value. As the Church it determines our vision and whether or not
we live into our mission.
In addressing the Church in Rome, Paul wrote: Owe no one anything, except to
love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
Paul reminds them of Jesus’ second part of the Summary of the Law: “Love your
neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling
of the law. (Romans 13:10)
Paul is reorienting the cultural norms of Roman society for members of the Church
in Rome. To ‘owe nothing except to love’ eliminates the need to live by the structures
inherent in the Roman cultural ethic of social status, power, money and debt so
pervasive in Roman society – and ours. Love is the only measure of value to God.
Showing love within the Jesus group AND loving our neighbors.
For the Church in Rome it could be liberating. It can be liberating for us as well.
Followers of Jesus are called to live a better way, free from the cultural norms which
assign status, power, and wealth as a measure of worth. Paul was inviting and urging
Christians to know the heart of Jesus and live from that knowledge.
In another passage from In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen wrote:
The knowledge of Jesus’ heart is a knowledge of the heart. And
when we live in the world with that knowledge, we cannot do other than
bring healing, reconciliation, new life, and hope wherever we go. The
desire to be relevant and successful will gradually disappear, and our only
desire will be to say with our whole being to our brothers and sisters of the
human race, “You are loved. There is no reason to be afraid. In love God
created your inmost self and knit you together in your mother’s womb”
Knowing the heart of Jesus changes everything. And the heart of Jesus is love. It is
our guiding principle as followers of Jesus. It is established as the norm for Christian
community. To accept that we owe nothing but love means we accept that we are
dependent on God and God’s grace. To accept we owe nothing but love transforms our
view of community and the world. AMEN.