Servant of the Servants of God

Beginning in the late-6th century with Pope Gregory I, every Bishop of Rome has taken on the title of Servant of the Servants of God.  As that great theological and historical treasure trove called Wikipedia tells the story, Gregory I took on the title in order to show his humility as being better than the newly appointed Ecumenical Patriarch, the Archbishop of Constantinople, John the Faster.  The trouble with humility, however, is that once you know you’ve got it, you’ve lost it, and once you try to show how good you are at it, you’ve failed.

Though there is great irony in the birth narrative of the title, Servant of the Servants of God, it still gets used with regularity, and not only by the man who happens to be sitting in Peter’s Chair.  I can’t remember if it was said by the Presiding Bishop or by Bishop Sloan, who preached the event, but I remember hearing that term get used in and around the Ordination of our new Bishop here in the Central Gulf Coast.  While I think that every Christian should probably strive for that title, there is a certain sensibility in its use for Bishops, as it is an explicitly stated requirement of apostolic ministry.

In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, we hear the story of how Jesus responds to his disciples arguing over who is the greatest among them.  “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”  While it is probably true that no one gets elected bishop without at least a little bit of ego, it is truer to say that one cannot be an effective Christian leader without being humble enough to reach out in loving service.

As time goes by, Jesus will model that behavior.  On the night he was betrayed, while he and his disciples were still eating, he got up, took off his cloak and knelt down to wash their feet.  Jesus, the Son of God, took on the job of a slave.  He who was first, made himself to be last.  This is an important reminder for clergy, for lay leaders, and yes, even for bishops.  Those who wish to be first, must be last: the servants of the servants of God.

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Thankfully, my bishop understands what it means to be a servant to the servants of God.


On Following a Leader

A Monday holiday, a post on Tuesday, a Wednesday in the car, means a meager week here at Draughting Theology.  I’m sorry for that because the texts this week are good.  They are short and sweet and packed with preaching material.  My Rector is pondering Jonah, which I find exciting; it a great story worth being unpacked from time to time.  To make matters worse, we don’t read Scripture in a vacuum, which is why I can’t be a member of the sola scriptura party.  The way I read the Bible is influenced by my life, by the life of my Parish, and by what is happening in the wider world.  I’m also not preaching this Sunday, so my thoughts are less about what I might say to my congregation and a much more general interpretation.

That being said, here’s where I am.  Last night, at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church in Daphne, AL, I attended the third and final Walkabout sessions for the four finalists for the 4th Bishop of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast.  Over the course of about three hours, I had the chance to hear from The Rev. Cn. Dan Smith, The Very Rev. Ed O’Connor, The Rev. Russell Kendrick, and The Rev. Chuck Treadwell as they attempted to cast a vision for the future of our diocese all while tap dancing around hot button issues and trying to put as good a face forward as possible.  Obviously, each of them is already a proven leader in their ministry context, otherwise they wouldn’t be a finalist in our search, but last night, along with Jesus’ calling of four disciples by use of two words, got me thinking about what it means to follow a leader.

Jesus said to them, “Follow me” and the damnedest thing happened, they dropped everything and followed him.  What was it about Jesus that led them to follow?  Was there already a relationship established between them?  Had they heard of his teaching and healing ministry? Or was there just that “je ne sais quoi” about him?

During the Walkabout last night, one of the four candidates led me to write this in my notes, “The room is silent as he speaks.  Authority seems to rest on him.”  Some people just have it.  When they speak, people follow.  Their authority is earned, sometimes even in a brief encounter, for many different reasons, but when a real leader is in your midst, everyone knows it.  Some react positively; they drop everything and follow her.  Others react negatively; they push back against him because they are jealous or because they don’t like the direction they are being led or they… whatever.  Either way, leadership is acknowledged and accepted or rejected.  As my diocese completes its discernment toward an election on February 21st, my prayer is that we will find a leader, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who will invite us to follow him like Jesus invited Andrew, Simon, James and John; an invitation to be co-workers in the Kingdom to the glory of God.

Almighty God, giver of every good gift: Look graciously on your Church, and so guide the minds of those who shall choose a bishop for this Diocese that we may receive a faithful pastor, who will care for your people and equip us for our ministries, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP, 818)