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I sometimes wonder just how many arguments have been avoided due to Sat-Nav. It hasn’t removed them entirely. You may be familiar, as I am, with the argument about why a driver is following Sat-Nav even when they know there’s a quicker way. Perhaps it’s laziness, but it can be easy to follow the directions of a computer than trust our local knowledge.
We follow where we have confidence; when we have faith and when we trust the advice we’re being given. In the pandemic trust in authority has sometimes been in question. When we want a whole nation to follow advice trust matters. Only when we act together and go in the right direction can we achieve the safety and open society we long to see. On Friday the Government’s scientific adviser couldn’t have been clearer about the need to be disciplined in our lives and ensure we leave lockdown together.
Leadership that inspires faith and builds trust is critical to success.
In our Gospel reading today we see a leader who doesn’t hide the difficult reality that lies ahead. The suffering he will endure, and by implication the kind of persecution his followers will encounter.
Rejection and death – and a third day promise the disciples didn’t fully grasp. No wonder Peter takes him to one side to have stern words. It’s not the sort of talk that builds on the success and popularity Jesus was creating.
For Jesus there was no algorithm or short-cut to achieve what he’d set out to do. The mission of Jesus was a living engagement with the world. As he met the excluded and despised; as he sat with tax collectors and foreigners, women and children, he lived a journey that was unconventional, dazzling and dynamic. The dead were raised; the blind received their sight; and the Kingdom of God lived where he walked. Service stood at the heart of this mission of salvation.
In this Kingdom, the world was turned upside down, with the teacher and lord washing the feet of servant and pupil. The different reality Jesus held out before the disciples and crowds was bound together as both word and deed. Time and again Jesus called people into this story of renewal and new-life.
‘He called to him the multitude with his disciples’. And he tells them about the cost of this service. The price that many would pay if they chose to put their faith in him. A cross to carry and a life to lose.
It’s as though he’s saying: ‘don’t start on the journey; don’t even think about setting out – until you understand the suffering it may bring’.
The risk, the danger, is that people and institutions usually don’t like to change. Most people find it easier to stick with the privilege rather than take a towel and sit on the ground. Servant leadership may sound fine – laudable – but it’s not what we really want, is it? But if we don’t want it nothing will change. It’s hard to blame anybody for refusing to carry a terrible, brutal symbol of death. To hoist a cross on their shoulders and begin that journey.
When I was interviewed here at the Minster a couple of years ago I had to speak to the question: ‘York Minster – place of privilege or mission launchpad?’ As I answered at the time, it’s both. Of course there is privilege. Every day I open my curtains and look across at one of the most amazing wonders of European Medieval art: it’s a privilege. Or when I listen to the choir and the soaring music that fills this extraordinary place. Privilege.
Privilege and service can live together. The real question is, how do we use privilege to become service? How do we truly allow people to share in the central truth this building tells. Not as strangers but as friends; not as visitors but as people who belong to this story just as much as any of the rest of us.
Jesus challenged privilege which was hoarded. Privilege that was kept like pounds in the bank rather than advantage used to serve the poor. The poor in body, mind or spirit. It was his main charge against the rulers of his time;
‘But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees… For you lock people out of the Kingdom of Heaven.. you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them’.
The service Jesus lived, and the service we are called to share with him, can cost. It can be hard; it can be thankless; and we may feel rejected. But when we take our privilege and turn it to service, lives can, and are, changed. Our lives as well as the lives of others.
As we prepare for the Minster reopening, we look forward to a time when we can welcome people again. Not as strangers or the people who don’t belong – but as the people for whom this amazing place was built: Pilgrims – Friends – Disciples.
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