[Editor’s Note: The reason I’m publishing my sermon early is that I want me to be me and Matt to be Matt. For those just joining us, Matt is my pastor at Christ Congregational Church, and I never want him to think that I’m just stealing his ideas. However, I don’t mind in the slightest if he steals mine. :P~]
There are some times when I’m reading the Lectionary and I just bust out laughing. Like, snot and tears everywhere and choking to keep it together. This week it was the conversation between Samuel and God, where Samuel is talking to God about the people rejecting him as king. God tells Samuel clearly that it’s not him they’re rejecting. It’s God. Then my sermon title came to me in a flash and I nearly fell out of my desk chair, just shaking with the hilarity of the moment.
Last week, I preached on Isaiah being called to serve God, and his emphatic “HERE AM I, SEND ME.” This week, the focus is on what to do if you stand up and the people say, “not so fast…” Or worse, the people have been happy with you for a long time and now, they just aren’t. But instead of being willing to stand in the rain and get wet, they just want the relationship to end altogether.
Does this in any way resonate with you? It should. It happens all the time. I am still reeling from it happening to me, so as you can imagine, I cannot help but take these scriptures personally and try to learn from them. The scriptures put together by the Lectionary are all designed around this theme, because it repeats over and over. Congregations get unhappy with their leaders just like they do with politicians. People also run away from their leaders because they know they’re right and hide in shame, anyway. Both of these things are equal in their power to disrupt leadership, but at either end of the spectrum. Let me give you a few examples taken straight from our scriptures today:
- In the Samuel reading, the people get so mad that they just stomp off and follow someone else.
- In the Genesis reading, Adam hides from the God who created him because he is so ashamed that he and Eve have done something that God expressly asked them not to do. He is not unhappy with the leadership so much as he is unhappy with himself. It reminds me of Monty Python and the Holy Grail… “is there someone else up there we could talk to?”
- In the Mark reading, Jesus has come home to a large crowd that thinks he has lost his ever-loving MIND…. that he has Satan in him because only Satan can cast out demons. Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms that they have lost their minds, instead. No wonder Jesus said of his hometown, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” because his own people were the first to become unhappy with him. [Editor’s Note: NOTE TO SELF]
- In the Corinthians reading, Paul is heading into such strong opposition that he fears he is failing spiritually, ecumenically, grammatically…. perhaps even physically. The context of this passage is that he can feel he is near death (some believe this is due to epilepsy), and his words have urgency. Please, people. Believe. Carry my message forward. PLEASE!
- In one of my favorite Psalms of all time, David pleads with Israel to wait upon God… to believe that God’s leadership is right and true. He knows this to be the case as he as often walked in darkness himself, and even though his time is long before the Christ, has seen redemption through Jehovah, the God he loves.
As you can see, it’s a pattern that will repeat until the end of time. The question for pastors in these scriptures is, “NOW WHAT?” How do we deal with both the people’s feelings of unworthiness in reaching out to God for help, and at the same time, seeing the flaws in our own leadership? Because come on. Leaders aren’t always right, and are sometimes too proud to see that reality. They are reticent to see the times when God isn’t speaking through them so much as they are taking too much license with what they have been given.
If you are not religious, think of all the politicians that claim God is speaking through them, and yet their policies clearly scream ego… that if they were really listening to God and not themselves, it would clearly be a different calling to ministry- using that term because politicians all over the world are called exactly that- ministers.
Again, where is the balance? We’re all in this together, in a sense. Both the religious and the spiritual, the born again and the atheists, because it’s all the same problem. Issues in the church are just a microcosm of what happens in the electorate, and that is true for the United States as well as all other countries who have democracy, and those that have monarchy.
You might think, “no. You are totally wrong. It’s not my problem. It’s my leaders. They’re the ones with the problems. Not me.”
Are you sure about that?
If you are religious, how are you running away from your leadership? If you are not, I ask you the same question in a different context. Are you expressing your unhappiness? Are you sitting in your own unworthiness? Are you hiding from the fact that you do have power to promote change… it’s just that you’re not using it? Are you just tuning out because it’s easier? Someone has to stand up and say, “HERE AM I; SEND ME!” Will it be you?
If you need real-life examples of this, let’s look at the Catholics. I am flabbergasted by all the changes since Pope Francis came into power. He listened to the people’s distress with all of the problems inherent in the leadership trying to live in a 21st century world with a 19th century attitude and said, “enough is enough.”
I am waiting for the Anglicans to have that sort of revelation, because they are the ones that stomped off mad. They are the AntiFrancis. They are content to sit in their own stubborn beliefs that are eventually going to lead to their demise. They are secure in their own authority, the one that says the Bible doesn’t change as we do. They have ceased to look at the Bible as a living document, and their stagnation is evident… maybe not in terms of their numbers, but in the way that their views are slowly becoming antiquated and they are coming down on the wrong side of history. I mean, come on. They have a problem with women bishops. Please. If ever there was an example of leading through ego and not leading through God, it’s them.
Pope Francis is determined to stop that kind of death, and the people are heartened and strengthened by it. The church is showing new life as more and more parishioners see that faith does have relevance in their lives as long as it moves forward with the context surrounding them. When the people cry out for change, they’re leading from the back, and because of Pope Francis, it is working.
So again, what kind of leader are you?
Do you believe, in the one true edge… by fastening your safety belts and stepping towards the ledge? Or are you content with letting your leaders decide your direction without your input? Worse, are your leaders crying out to you because you are wrong- either in the church or in politics, and you are forcibly running away from conflict? It’s not unprecedented. People have left churches, left countries, left relationships because they didn’t have the fortitude to get down and dirty and figure it out. How do we know when we are speaking from a place of soft power, and when we are broadcasting God as ego? That is not limited to leaders. That is everyone, everywhere.
If you are not religious, how are you rejecting President Obama, or any other president that comes to power? By rejection, I do not mean that you have to like your leaders. Affecting them is not committing to liking them. Affecting them is a call to leadership whether you agree with them or not. Rejecting them is not hearing them at all. I am using President Obama as an example not because he is the politician I like, but because he is president right now. There will be others, but we are talking about right here. Right now. Are you affecting change, or rejecting it?
If you are religious, how are you rejecting God? How are you rejecting the life lessons we have to learn from Samuel, Adam, Mark, Paul, and David? How are you mistaking your own ego from the light of Christ shown through you? How are you not submitting to the higher power that runs through us all? Because in the end, in order to lead, you have to get your own ego out of the way.
Are you willing to listen when God says, “it’s not me. It’s you?”
To me, that is the very essence of the Pentecost season. Pentecost was revealed to us through fire. Our job is to learn not to throw water at it, but learn to walk in it without getting burned.
Andy Doyle, my bishop in Texas, wrote a gorgeous prayer with which I’ll close that talks about this very thing. I ask that you sit with it for a while, because it brought me the fortitude to keep walking my path; to be a leader inspired by Christ and not by myself:
We pray for thy holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in any thing it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it; for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior.