I watched Pope Francis arrive at D.C.’s Capitol Dome to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday…in a Fiat – a Papal Fiat! Popes are accustomed to issuing fiats – or bulls - orders that must be followed. This was the first time I saw a Fiat issuing a Pope to the front steps of the United States government!
Now, honestly, I wasn’t going to watch the address, but there’s something about this man’s humble manner that made me want to listen. It was a well-spent 45 minutes!
Pope Francis embodies what Jesus said about a leader being the first in line to serve others.
So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45(NLT)
If you have ever played darts you know the idea is to hit the center of the target. Some small places on the target (the bullseye) are worth lots of points, and some are worth a lot less. One thing is obvious; if you want to play with excellence, you don’t aim at the low scores!
Aiming at the low score is a great definition of the word pusillanimous. Those who act pusillanimously take whatever they can get without too much effort. You can throw a dart backwards and get a few measly points!
By comparison, those who are magnanimous (people of great soul or spirit) aim at the bullseye every time; they’re concerned with excellence – doing their absolute best.
This is the essence of the living the Christian life as it was intended, doing your utmost in everything, instead of just settling for what you can get cheaply. That’s taking the low road of self-indulgence.
In Mark’s account, James and John had asked Jesus for a promotion; Jesus told them they didn’t know what they’re getting themselves into. He reminded them of times he forecasted persecution and hardship, and asked them: are you able to bear that? They said “yes,” but they really didn’t understand; their eyes were glued to the prize of being right and left hand men to the King.
Pusillanimous! Easy reward! Instant gratification!
By contrast, in Paul’s letter to the Hebrew Christians he speaks of the magnanimous sacrifice of our great High Priest, Jesus. It is the incredible upside-down-ness of the Kingdom of God that is presented – where the first is last, and the meek will be mighty.
It is the King who dies for the sinner; the Master who serves the slave.
The Principle is: IF YOU’RE GOING TO BE GREAT, LEARN HUMILITY; SERVE! AND START WITH EACH OTHER!
In short, Jesus says, Don’t be Pusillanimous; Be Magnanimous!
But that’s Counter-cultural!
We live in a society that says forget others – get what you can; if you follow Jesus and serve, it means you will swim against the tide.
That takes work.
If you’re going to live the way Jesus taught the disciples you will have to wage war on your own tendency towards pusillanimous second-rate living.
I have to fight that battle every single day. Consider:
· When you take a course in school – do you set your sight on learning…or do you just want a grade; beef-up your GPA?
· When you go to work – are you building, producing, adding to value in society…or are you there for a paycheck?
· When you are asked to be a leader or worker in the church organization – do you take it seriously, or is it just allowing the committee to plant your name in one more slot?
Pusillanimous living builds a resume; Magnanimous living builds character!
And the choice is ever is to be magnanimous or pusillanimous!
The Application of this Truth – Be a Kingdom person!
To follow Jesus magnanimously means you must keep the Kingdom of God as priority.
Jesus did, and the writer to the Hebrews said Jesus became the source of eternal salvation.
For us, individually and corporately as a church body, it means we probably need to scrap most of our schedules and to-do lists in favor of what Jesus told the crowd gathered to hear his Sermon on the Mount:
Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness…Matt 6:33a
Our baptismal covenant points us in that direction in practical ways that are not hard to understand.
This morning we will come to the water to be once-again reminded of why we do what we do; we come to remember and renew our vows of being magnanimous, Christ-honoring people.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!