The outcome of the in/out referendum is an enormous political shock that is reverberating around the world – voting trends give a picture of a divided
divided between those who are cosmopolitan and those who are traditional;
between the young and the old; between cities and countryside; between the
wealthy and the poor; between and England/Wales. Such a huge political decision which ends a 46 year
political union, which has toppled a Prime Minister and shocked the political
classes, leaves us to wonder at the disconnect between those who lead and those
whom they lead. For those who are elated and delighted at the outcome the
narrative of victory is one that tells of: freedom from out of
touch elites who rule from Westminster and Brussels; power to take back
control of our borders; power to change our country for the
better Scotland/Nr Ireland
For those who are despairing at the outcome there is shock, anger and disorientation – the United Kingdom they thought they believed in has been radically changed over night; they are fearful of the future and what it holds. For instance, they wonder at the impact on our economy, on our unity as a U
and on our standing in the world. Those who live here among us as friends from other countries face an uncertain future too. nited Kingdom
There is something quite key for me in this referendum outcome however about a gap between those who feel they have the power and ability to self-define, to make decisions, to have choices, to thrive in a global competitive market and enjoy a multi-cultural diverse country – and those who feel disenfranchised, left behind, forgotten, threatened and not listened to. It is those second voices that we have heard loud and more clearly than the others in the United Kingdom this last week.
For those of you who gather here today, to welcome Councillor Sally Bragg as Mayor, you may well be questioning your response to this new political reality. How do you respond to those you serve, how does your political party? How do you keep your nerve? There are far-reaching questions to answer for the whole political establishment.
The Bible passage that we have just heard from Mark’s Gospel (see below), presents to us a situation in which 2 brothers, James and John, come to Jesus and say: ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’. Imagine the nerve, coming to someone with such authority and power and saying that! Surely Jesus will send them away and rebuke them for their nerve? Not so, instead of sending them away with a flea in their ear, Jesus asks them, ‘what is it you want me to do for you?’.
Jesus tells James and John that he can’t grant them their request, one to sit on his right hand and one on his left in heaven, for it is not his to grant. But he goes on to tell them what he can do for them – they can share in his baptism and inherit the kingdom of God.
Jesus’ disciples are indignant – why is Jesus granting James and John such wonderful things! They don’t at first understand Jesus’ model of leadership; they think that there should be a pecking order, that they should get more than James and John. Jesus responds by reminding them (which is the part of the story we’ve heard) of what leadership and greatness looks like in God’s kingdom – serving others makes you great, humility and self-sacrifice reflect God’s love for us. Jesus talks directly about the secular political leaders of his day – and how they misuse their power to subjugate their people. His alternative way of leading is about service: ‘whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant’.
Jesus’ model of leadership has much to teach us today as we reflect on political leadership. Political leadership, if it is to be any good, has to take seriously the duty to serve. In your Mayoral year, Sally, you no doubt will learn something of the joy of what it means to serve your community, as you step aside from party politics and visit, support, encourage and listen. I’m sure that past Mayors will agree that the experience is a life-changing one that brings a new perspective and enables a deeper understanding of the communities that you represent. As you go around and listen, visit and meet, you may want to bare Jesus’ words in mind: ‘What is it that you want me to do for you?’
At this time of deep division in our country, it is important to listen to one another and to have compassion for one another – it is essential that we take each other seriously. Jesus did not laugh in the face of James and John as they came to him with a serious request and neither should we laugh in the face of others as they present their desires, hopes and dreams. But what we do need to do is to take the time and effort to present the political and economic realities that we face, and not to paint false visions of future happiness out of lies. It’s hard work to tell people the complex reality of the world we live in; it’s much easier to paint in black and white and we’re all guilty of that. Jesus tells James and John clearly what he can’t do for them and then he goes on to say what he can do. Public servants too must be honest about what they can and can’t do for their people – the alternative is a continued erosion of trust in all authority figures.
The new world we all woke up to on Friday morning demands that together we must tread boldly into the future. To do it well we must do it with a humility which teaches us to put the other first. With Jesus we must all learn to ask one another: ‘what is it that you want me to do for you?’
As you represent Rugby as Mayor this year Sally, in what is a new political reality, my prayer for you and those you serve is that you will listen and you will be compassionate across old political divides and allegiances and I trust that in so doing you will be a great blessing to
Mark 10: 35-45
The Request of James and John
James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’