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Called to Lead ~ Mark 1:14-20

I don’t know about you, but I’m still buzzed from this historic week. I still haven’t gotten back into the schedule after Monday’s holiday and Tuesday’s Inauguration. So those were two days I didn’t even put a pen to paper or think about anything else. What a changeover of leadership!

Once again, it is almost beyond expression–and yet I want to try to do it–try to put words to the deep emotion of thankfulness that I feel in the way that America changes leadership.

As partisan and ideological as we can get sometimes, which truly causes me such great distress–to see a peaceful transfer of such power and such authority as rests in our Presidents–it is magnificent!

And so today I want to give thanks for President Bush and give thanks for President Obama. And I know that each of those prayers is difficult for some of you. Well, get over it! For we are Christians – where fear of the future has no place in the gospel of love. And anger at the past has no place within the gospel where “all things work for good for those who love the Lord and who are called according to God’s purpose.”

And who am I–who are you–who are any of us to say that we know the mind of God, and who is called and who is not, and how the trajectory of history will move?  At times like this, these transfers of leadership, I stand in hushed awe–trusting that the God of grace who brought us safe thus far, will surely lead us home.

But it is momentous…this transfer of power and leadership. And still, for me, to see an African American President is something very breathtaking, very wonderful.

Well, this morning, we will ordain and install and welcome new leaders. And while that transfer of authority and power does not quite compare with that of the transfer of Presidential leadership, it is not without profound importance.

Both the President and our new leaders are going to take a sacred oath of office. Both the President and our new leaders will have to climb up on that high tension wire of discernment and decision and the inevitable reaction–inevitable reaction–to choice and to change that you will lead and that will come from the people.

There may not be 2.5 million stretched from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial, but soon we will ask from among these several hundred–all those previously ordained–to come forward. And that’s no small number. For those of you who are visiting, probably at least half to three quarters of this congregation will be standing up front. We will ask them to come and lay hands on you, the newly elected elders and deacons, in that annual rite of passage when we will presume–and it is a presumption of the highest magnitude–we presume that the Spirit of God, that Spirit that hovered at the waters of creation, that Spirit that parted the waters for the children of Israel during the Exodus, that Spirit that descended in the form of a dove at the baptism of Jesus and said “Behold, you’re my beloved child,” that Spirit that at Pentecost turned everything topsy-turvy is here today. In our midst!

And we’re going to “call it down,” we’re going to channel it, or focus it, or whatever we do to it or, more importantly, whatever it does to us. For we are in the presence of the Holy today. We are creating especially today a thin place, where heaven and earth are going to be very close, and power is given.

That’s what’s happening here today! We are claiming that the Holy Spirit is real. That the Spirit falls on all flesh, your flesh, and my flesh, man flesh and woman flesh, of every race, every creed, every color, every orientation and every perspective. I mean, this is no mere formality, folks!

Now it may be true that on this day, you and I may not feel the Spirit come upon us like our Pentecostal brothers and sisters may feel it on Sunday morning. You may not break out speaking in tongues, you may not all of a sudden start getting happy, or some of you may not get slain in the Spirit today. But then again, who am I to tell the Spirit what to do? So I’m telling you, if the Spirit tells you to get happy–get happy! Wouldn’t that be something in the halls of a Presbyterian church?

You know what Presbyterians do…we get so happy inside. Mmm!

And it makes me think, that if we believe that the Spirit is real and empowers and energizes these leaders, then it can empower you and energize you. And you. And you and you and you and you.  Empower you in the ways of grace and mercy and peace and joy. There is no one outside of the Spirit’s dominion. There’s no one outside of the Spirit’s ability to transform – even if it has to push through the cracks of the walls that we put up, to defend ourselves or to cover-up our misgivings or to separate ourselves from others.

That reminds me. This past Monday, Deanne, Meg and Sarah were driving home from a brief visit to the Washington D.C. area. And our van that they were driving in has a small crack in the windshield.

Actually, two small cracks. And we’re going to replace it–(although the guy who takes care of our cars said, “John, nah, don’t worry about fixing it until you get pulled over!”)

Anyway, Deanne, coming back on the turnpike, the Pennsylvania turnpike–that lovely stretch of road–said that when the van was being driven straight into the headwind, going west, that it would whistle! Somehow that wind was getting through the crack, and making a little whistle.

Well, you know by now, I hope, that in both Hebrew and in Greek the word for “wind” is also the word for “breath.” It is also the word for “Spirit.” And that somehow reminds me, that drive back home reminds me, that the wind, the breath, the Spirit of God can get through any crack in your façade. Nothing can really block it.

And this of course reminds me of that great line from the song of  Leonard Cohen:

“Ring the bell that still can ring,
forget your perfect offering,
there is a crack in everything,
that’s where the light gets in.

And that’s where the wind gets through. We don’t need perfect leaders. There’s no such thing as a perfect leader–just folks who are willing to offer the gifts, offer their cracks. It is enough.

These leaders that we ordain and install this morning, and every one of you, in one way or another, in one context or another–and there may be multiple contexts–I mean, you’re a boss, you’re a parent, you’re a friend, you’re a lover, you’re a student, you’re a teacher, husband, wife, friend. Are you alive? I think that covers just about everybody! You have decisions to make. You and I are all on this high-wire of making change, and trying to steer through the continuity and risk tension.

Those whom the world sees as powerless, and those of us who look at our own lives and feel as if we really don’t have control of what’s going on–well, guess again! You and I are making life-changing decisions all the time. And we need help. We need help of the community. And we need help of the Holy Spirit.

And that help comes as we open ourselves to the Spirit in prayer – asking the Spirit of Jesus to do for you what you can dare to ask, remembering always that what you want is not always what you may get because Jesus knows what you deeply need and Jesus promises to give you your daily bread, not a filet mignon.

Besides prayer, you have to cultivate your ability to hold things loosely. Because it doesn’t always work out the way you intended, and it’s only in retrospect that you can catch a glimpse of how the Spirit is moving.

You have to speak from your deepest truth – for only as you speak your truth in love can there be the creative breakthrough. With the Holy Spirit there is a profound connection between truth and power.

Telling the truth to yourself, to God, and to others will move you towards God’s truth for you. Of that, I am absolutely certain.

And just as the Spirit agitates you to face the tensions, so we must agitate and hold each other accountable to our very best. True leaders, and all those who are yearning to get real, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable to following through and pushing each other towards the light.

And you have to have a sense of humor – good gracious – because as my beloved colleague Clover is fond of saying, “If it isn’t fun, it isn’t worth doing.”

And you thought it was just going to be a ordination service today. And I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you, or all of you, are wondering, “What the hell did I get myself into?” Well, you got yourself into kingdom work. You have allowed yourself to be called.

And I wonder how it was back in the day, as the Scripture tells us, as Thomas read today, “after John was arrested” and Jesus started to proclaim “Good News,” exhorting the people to get a “new mind for a new age.” He passed along the Sea of Galilee and saw Simon and Andrew – fishermen – and he said to them, “Follow me.” And “immediately” they dropped their nets and followed. Isn’t that amazing? People don’t drop, don’t do anything immediately when I ask them. But if Clyde Loughridge or Cathy Ghiandoni asks, they do it!  That’s quite an authority! I wish I had that.

And then Jesus calls James and John and as the story unfolds–you know it–that he called others and many women to become leaders: Mary, Joanna, Lydia, and Priscilla, Euodia, and Syntyche.

What a collection of talent. Besides fisher folks, there were conservative tax collectors–that has almost an odd ring to it, conservatives and tax collecting, but they were there–Roman sympathizers, and far left revolutionaries. There were hot heads, there were doubters. There were Pharisees and kind of the equivalent of first century New Agers. There were women of various professions and reputations. There were young and old. They were all called–to become and embody a kingdom community, not according to wealth, or according to education, or according to gender, or to fill quotas, but called to represent the glorious diversity of God’s beloved. Not called to agree always, but called to seek the mind of Christ. Not called to be perfect, which is often times the enemy of the good. Just like our leaders, just like you.

And while our new leaders are called to embody Jesus in their meetings, so too are you called to embody Jesus in your homes and in your offices and in your schools and in your relationships. We are all called to witness to justice and truth and beauty and holiness in our relationships – not to be perfect, because none of us are– but just open, just open to the Spirit. Just like you, called to be open and prayerful and hopeful and honest.

The Spirit moves still – the presence of Christ along the seaside, or beside the highways, or within these walls or with an office cubicle, or around the dinner table – calling, finding, equipping, empowering – you.

The Spirit of God moving…and restless…full of delight and determination to shape your very life and our collective history and bend it towards a new Jerusalem…calling one and all, Presidents and paupers and everyone in between to join the parade, to drop their nets, to drop their fears, and to follow.

Amen.
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