Blogging the Bible 263 – Mark 9-10 – Glory and obscurity

Over the last few months, I’ve realised quite deeply that the people who’ve inspired me and who have shaped my idea of what Christian ministry can be are not famous.
If I were to pick out three, then one would be a Bishop – the late Jonathan Bailey, the last Bishop of Derby. Out of a deep faith in God and love for people came great wisdom and quiet leadership – clear and uncompromising at the heart, but open and inclusive.
Another is the college chaplain who helped me to find faith and discover what it means to live with God, Brother Christian SSF. He simply gave time, care and love to everyone who came to him – as well as leading worship with imagination and deep spirituality.
The third is Canon Michael Farrer, who I first knew as the Vicar of an unglamorous, wonderfully ordinary church in Cambridge – not one of the big student churches, but one where a few students could find a loving welcome and a place in the church family alongside a wonderful group of non-studenty people. I have never known anyone so deeply soaked in prayer as Michael, or anyone so committed to giving his great intelligence, education and thoughtfulness to the work of the sacred ordinary.
Of course there are many others who’ve inspired me in different ways over the years, but these three stand out. Why do I mention them? Well, I’ve been spending time over the last weeks reflecting on my own ministry, and what I truly value in it. And these two chapters have a lot to say about ministry, leadership and greatness.
They start with a vision of quite overwhelming glory, the Transfiguration. (9:2-8) For an instant, Jesus’ closest friends see him without the down-to-earth filter of his humanity, and they are dazzled. Perhaps that sparked their thoughts of greatness and the argument on the road about which of them had most of it. (9:33-37) But Jesus shows them another vision of what leadership is. The greatest in the Kingdom is the one who puts himself or herself last and focusses on serving others. When John tells him of how the disciples have tried to stop someone else from using Jesus’ name to cast out demons, Jesus doesn’t react with the expected indignation that his name is being used by someone who’s not fully one of his followers – good is being done, and Jesus’ name isn’t a trademark. Elsewhere we read of Jesus saying, perhaps as something by which to judge ourselves, that whoever is not with him is against him. Here, when it comes to doing good and thinking about others, Jesus tells us instead, ‘whoever is not against us is for us.’ (9:40).
Jesus is not into empire-building or control of the good others do. Nor should we be.
Greatness is in service, and wisdom is in childlike acceptance of God’s kingdom.

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