January 18, 2004: True Leadership Embraces Service

Let us pray: Dear Savior, the easiest pathway to follow in life is to think and do only for ourselves. It is to become self-absorbed. This pathway is natural for us because it stems from the original sin, pride, me-firstism, that we are all born with. So, when we actually do put ourselves out for another, we make sure that everyone knows—again puffing up our pride. Today teach us that there is another way to live, a better way to live. Teach us the joy and value of true Christian service, which is nothing more than self-sacrifice born of Your tremendous love for us. Amen

TEXT: John 2: 1-11

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
One of the great truths of life, and certainly a great truth of the Christian Church, is that talk is often cheap, but actions really do speak louder than words. I’ve been in the Pastoral ministry 20 years this July. And while the College and Seminary gave me formal training for my office, in actuality I learned the nuts of and bolts of the ministry while growing up in my home church. I was greatly blest during those years to have a superb pastor who led by example.

Some Pastors like to hide out in their offices and do busy work instead of actively keeping tabs on their flock. Some Pastors talk a lot about evangelism in meetings, but have a hard time actually getting involved in people’s lives enough to actively pursue it. Likewise, some church leaders adopt the mindset: “Somebody else will do it” when the bathrooms need to be cleaned, light bulbs changed, furnaces checked, and when the elderly need tabs kept on them. Pastor Schulz, my home church pastor, didn’t adhere to any of those strategies. Instead, he led by example. He preached, he taught, he ran a church of 1200 members, he oversaw building programs, he was very active on synod boards, and yet you could also find him quietly making sure that even the smallest tasks got done. In short, he wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty. His was (literally) a “hands-on” ministry. And most of what he did, no one ever knew about, until he eventually took another call to another town and then we all learned the hard way just how active he really was.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been busy working with other circuit visitors of our synod on exactly how to foster better leadership in our churches. Since all those thoughts have been rolling around in my head, when I looked at today’s Gospel I saw with new eyes that:


Most of you are well acquainted with this wonderful little section of the Bible that outlines Christ’s first miracle. Jesus’ mother Mary went to a local wedding in the town of Cana. Jesus, and six of His newly called disciples were also invited. Some commentators posit the view that a relative of Mary’s—perhaps a niece or nephew was married. And that’s why the invitation was extended. The fact that Mary knew about the lack of wine three days into the seven day celebration—even before the newly married couple was aware of it, tells us that she was involved in helping along with the servants. I surmise that she was a loving aunt who busied herself to assist in a smoothly running affair.—And I’m sure all of you have aunts or uncles who do the same today.

In any case, they run out of wine—which would be a tremendous embarrassment to the young couple. Some ask: why? Were they lousy wedding planners? Perhaps. Or perhaps more guests came than had been anticipated. Anyway, there is no more wine. So, Mary goes up to her Son and tells him, “They have no more wine.” She knows her Son. She knows His divine power. She knows He can help—in some way. And like most mothers, she puts Him on the spot. “Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.” Here Jesus chides His mother a bit for her interference. Yet, she knows her Son, knows His kind heart, and knowingly tells the servants: “do whatever he tells you.”

Quietly, and without drawing attention to Himself, Jesus proceeds to give that young couple the most memorable wedding gift of all time. He tells the servants to go and fill 6 stone water pots with plain, ordinary water. Then, He tells them to take some of that water and give it to the person in charge of the wedding. Lo and behold, it becomes wine! And not just any old wine, but the very best that the fellow ever tasted, indeed, the best ever made in the entire history of the earth. The chief steward is amazed! Here they have about 150 gallons of extraordinary wine! He then takes the Bridegroom aside and makes that memorable statement: “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” Yes, this lesson clearly teaches us that Jesus is the Son of God Who can do miracles. He can change water into wine, just like in the Holy Supper He can change wine into His blood—for the forgiveness of our sins. But, what else does this lesson teach?


It teaches us that true leadership embraces service! Note well that Jesus is very low-key about all this. We mere mortals always want to trumpet our good deeds so that others may oooh and aaah over them. Not Christ. Instead, He quietly and without fanfare performs this miracle. Jesus tells us elsewhere that “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” His whole life was about serving lost sinners like us. In all His miracles He never sought to make a huge splash. In fact, very often He told the crowd not to tell anyone about them. Likewise, those miracles ranged from the grandiose—raising dead people from their graves—to the rather mundane—changing water into wine to help a young couple in need. Yes, Christ led by example. He even washed the disciples’ feet to show them and us that a life of humble service gives honor to God and uplifts our neighbor, thereby keeping the 2 tables of the Law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus tells us that everything we do out of Christian love is wonderful and honors Him. Recall His words: “Whatever you do to the least of these my brothers, you do unto Me.” Likewise, He tells us that even when we pray, we are to do it in a non-attention drawing manner. Our life is to be a humble one, a behind-the-scenes one, a personal one in which we quietly change hearts and souls with the application of His love and forgiveness.

To be sure, all people like to have their egos stroked. We like to be acknowledged and thanked. We crave recognition. This attitude certainly carries through into the Church, too. But, the heavy-lifting of saving souls and making sure people focus on salvation instead of thinking about dirty bathrooms is often a thankless job. If you truly want to be a leader in God’s kingdom, (and all of us are His ambassadors after all), then you must never forget that True Leadership Embraces Service. When Jesus died on the cross to save us, no one there thanked Him. That’s because the erstwhile believers were all too busy feeling sorry for themselves. And yet, Christ, our Leader, still saved our souls. He embraced serving us with His entire life! As you seek to follow in His footsteps, go and do likewise. Amen