Christ the King, Palm Coast, FL ~ Pastor Jay Zahn ~ 3 John 9-11 ~ Sunday, February 16, 2020
Year after year, Bethune Cookman University in Daytona Beach trains up one of the best in the nation. “Often referred to as the epitome of pride. Pride in themselves, pride in perfection, pride in performance, and pride in the institution they represent. They are the one and only Bethune-Cookman University Marching Wildcats. The only band that’s guaranteed to show-up and show-out, anywhere and anytime.”
https://www.cookman.edu/BCUBand/performanceResume.html The students who set the tone for this world-class marching band are known as “The Five Horsemen” – take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6su0gG5HoT0
Not every marching band has “The Five Horsemen,” but every marching band has at least one drum major. Drum majors exemplify the group’s marching style with a critical eye for posture and form as their own technique sets the example for the entire group. They’re out front and the rest of the band is expected to follow in their steps.
In a sermon back on February 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr talked about the role of drum major. He used the role as an illustration of something about the human heart, something he termed the “drum major instinct” in all of us. I’ll let him explain in his own words, “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. … this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.”
A man in the words of our reading this morning provides an example of the drum major instinct in church life. His name is Diotrephes. Leadership in the church is important…it’s necessary. If you’re going to aim to set an example, to inspire others, where better than among the people of God? Diotrephes takes the lead in the church where he’s a member but he lacks a servant spirit. Diotrephes asserts himself in order to solidify his own sense of self-importance and self-esteem. The apostle John doesn’t mince words in addressing the damage that Diotrephes is doing. Listen again…
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. There’s the drum major instinct showing out in a bad way! Diotrephes was a dominating, controlling leader. He was scared of losing power because of how much it would cost his pride. He was so controlling that he even refused the influence and input of the apostle John. The concern goes beyond just interpersonal conflict. At this point in history, the New Testament was still being written and John was one of the human writers through whom the Holy Spirit worked to record God’s Word for the ages. To say “no” to the apostle’s request for an audience with him is Diotrephes essentially saying, “This is MY church and I don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say, even if the message and messenger is from God himself!”
That’s why John says, So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Imagine a drum major spreading rumors about other band members? Slandering the good name of the band director? It’s counterproductive to and destroys the health and unity of the group. Diotrephes’ drum major instinct is being exercised in these very types of destructive ways. Anyone who dared question him would feel the wrath of his words, sometimes face-to-face, but especially behind their backs. Diotrephes had no qualms about ruining anyone’s reputation, even that of the Lord’s own apostle, in order to protect himself and his power. You see it in the way he treats the missionaries John sent to serve the congregation: “He even refuses to welcome other believers.” In fact, things had gotten so bad that even those within the congregation, if they didn’t fall in line with Diotrephes’ agenda he: “puts them out of the church.” This is the drum major instinct gone dark, turning Diotrephes into a dictator that drives people out of the church for not doing what he wanted, even though what he wanted was against the Lord’s will!
In his sermon on the drum major instinct, Martin Luther King shared this insight: “If this instinct is not harnessed, it becomes a very dangerous, pernicious instinct. For instance, if it isn’t harnessed, it causes one's personality to become distorted.” And he proceeds to share several examples, like: “If it isn't harnessed, you will end up day in and day out trying to deal with your ego problem by boasting. Have you ever heard people that … really become sickening because they just sit up all the time talking about themselves?” “And then it does other things to the personality. It causes you to lie about who you know sometimes.” “And then the final great tragedy of the distorted personality is the fact that when one fails to harness this instinct, he ends up trying to push others down in order to push himself up. And whenever you do that, you engage in some of the most vicious activities. You will spread evil, vicious, lying gossip on people, because you are trying to pull them down in order to push yourself up.”
Have you ever done that? When you look deep within yourself do you see a Diotrephes-type spirit staring back at you? Wanting to rise to the top, but getting there by putting everyone else down? Protecting your power by pushing good people and their loving concerns, cares or encouragements away or aside? So afraid of losing control that you won’t listen to any critique, even when it is constructive and spoken from a heart of love? Any of this sounding familiar? There is a part of us that is very, very dark. The bible calls it the flesh, the old Adam, the sin nature. It is the Diotrephes drum major instinct inside each of us. No matter how well you know the Lord, how long you’ve been walking with the Lord, how close you are to the Lord, that sin nature is still in here. That means you still have these dark Diotrephes tendencies deep down in your soul. So here’s the crucial question: Are you fighting against the Diotrephes within, or are you fighting against anyone who would dare criticize and call you to turn away from his power and influence over your heart?
Because that’s what John is urging you to do! “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good” (v. 11). You got to know John’s background to understand just how significant his statement is. Earlier in his life, John along with his brother James showed they too had a drum major instinct. At one point they put their mom up to asking Jesus, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom” (Matthew 20:21). John wanted to be out in front! He and his brother James also had a reputation. They were known as the sons of thunder. They were powder kegs with short fuses. And, they come by it honestly! They learned it from their dad. (Who probably learned it from his dad.) Knowing that about John helps us more fully appreciate the transformation John had personally experienced. That change so powerful, so profound in his own heart and life that he can write to Diotrephes, not as a controlling egomaniac protecting his own power, but as a deeply concerned compassionate pastor! What John says here isn’t returning fire for fire. He’s speaking truth in love: “I’m going to come to you. I’m going to point out what you’re doing.” Why? Because John not only wants the truth to carry the day and set the record straight, more importantly, he wants divine grace to intervene and heal what is wrong in Diotrephes. He wants to point out the sin, to lead to repentance, to pronounce forgiveness, and bring healing transformation.
Where did John get that kind of attitude? He gets it at the foot of the cross, where he saw the culmination of what Christ came to earth to do! John’s transformation didn’t come all at once though. It came from his time spent with Jesus. Listening to what Jesus taught. Learning from how Jesus lived. Walking with Jesus through life, its ups and downs. It come from watching Jesus lead and the way Jesus led by following his Father’s plan. And then witnessing with his own eyes all that Jesus went through for him. The patience he showed John. The heart he had for John. A heart that took him to the cross to suffer and die to forgive and heal all the ways John had acted out on his drum major instinct in destructive ways. Through it all, little by little, slowly but surely John became more like Jesus!
In his sermon on the drum major instinct, Martin Luther King Jr. says very strongly that this instinct isn’t inherently evil. You see, Jesus had it too, and he used it for great good. You hear it in the way Jesus responds to John and James’ request for positions of power in his kingdom. Jesus teaches, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28).
I love how MLK Jr. explained what Jesus means and how it applies to the drum major instinct within. Listen: “One would have thought that Jesus would have said, ‘You are out of your place. You are selfish. Why would you raise such a question?’ But that isn't what Jesus did; he did something altogether different. He said in substance, ‘Oh, I see, you want to be first. You want to be great. You want to be important. You want to be significant. Well, you ought to be. If you're going to be my disciple, you must be.’ But he reordered priorities. And he said, ‘Yes, don't give up this instinct. It's a good instinct if you use it right. Yes it's a good instinct if you don't distort it and pervert it. Don't give it up. Keep feeling the need for being important. Keep feeling the need for being first. But I want you to be first in love. I want you to be first in moral excellence. I want you to be first in generosity. That is what I want you to do."
What would happen if each of us acted on the drum major instinct within like that? What would it look like to take the lead in Christian love? Think about the amazing freedom of being the one who takes the lead in showing Christ-like love rather than stuck waiting around for someone else to step out front! Can you see the life-changing power of taking the lead in being so forgiving, that we build this environment of safety where people want to confess their sins and get the help and find the hope and experience the healing they’re longing for? To be the kind of people who set the example of doing what is godly and doing it for the right reasons, out of love for God and neighbor, because we believe with our whole being that God’s will, his commands, really and truly are what’s best for our lives and our life as a community! To be a congregation of people who are so appreciative of God’s rich blessings in our lives that we eagerly give back of what God has given us to bless others? A people so free from fear that we’ll be without, a people so full of faith in God and his ability to provide that we overflow in helping meet needs, not because someone is guilting us into it, but because the grace of God has so healed our hearts, that we take the initiative and ask: “How can I help?” Can you imagine what it would be like to put the drum major instinct into action like that? Yes, you can! Because this is what Jesus has done for you and more! Because he has, because he does, as you follow him, following his lead, imitating his heart; and as we do so together as a Christian congregation, we want to be, we can be, we get to be this kind of community! A people where Christ-like love is more than a sound bite. It’s our way of life, the heartbeat of who we are and what we do! Yes, Lord, move us to focus the drum major instinct within to light the way in leading others as we walk in the light of your love as you lead us! Amen.