The issue of leadership is front and center for us all these days. We are in the midst of the political primaries where the candidates proclaim that they are the right leader for this age. And we have just ordained and installed new leaders, Elders and Deacons, for this congregation.
These women and men have been have been nominated by the Nominating Committee who discerned in them qualities of spiritual leadership: they worship and practice spiritual disciplines of prayer and study, they have a heart open to the compassion of the Lord, they have particular gifts and talents that seemed obvious to the committee (even if not so obvious to themselves). These leaders have been affirmed, confirmed and elected by you. Hands have been laid upon them.
But leadership is not easy. Leadership is hard and leaders stumble. It is often lonely, for a leader is set apart. There are many temptations. It can be hard to make a leadership decision when you are not 100% sure of your own mind. It is hard to stay centered in the midst when all the “stuff” begins to pile up and the tension mounts. Some leaders get too full of themselves and think it really IS all about them. Some leaders lose touch with those they lead, lose touch with reality, don’t know when to step down. Just look at Joe Paterno. He was a leader who did marvelous things for Penn State. He made a tragic and horrific mistake; if only he would have acted differently when it was reported that his coach had raped a boy. And his recent death has caused many to consider and re-consider his legacy. Leadership is hard
Leaders have a charisma. Charisma is from the Greek for “gift.” And “grace” for that matter. Leaders have a sense of timing, a quality of perceiving mood. Leaders take risks.
The first chapter of Mark is a passage that reveals several important things about leadership and also lays out how you and I, who are just living our lives, might grow in our ability to lead, or perhaps simply lead more balanced lives even if we are not candidates or being ordained and installed.
A stay-at-home parent leads a whole household. A teacher leads a class. A coach leads players. A teen may lead a younger sister or brother. A student may need to take leadership in her or his classroom. In your personal life you may need to change behavior, lead yourself, so to speak.
Let’s look at the text: Here we see Jesus coming out of nowhere. John the Baptist is looking for a leader, looking for the Messiah: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” (v. 7-8) BUT, in fact, as Mark reveals – John was surprised by Jesus. John was looking for the Messiah, but who knew if he knew that the Messiah was standing right there next to him? So lesson #1: don’t be too quick to judge others or yourself. You may have gifts you don’t realize!
But we know both from the stories about Jesus and our own personal experiences of the Lord just how amazing he is a leader: he stills the waters, casts out the demons, talks truth to power, challenges how we live, and gives up his life for us. As the Messiah, Jesus is the leader of all leaders. But he calls you “friend,” “sister,” “brother,” and he sees himself as your servant. He doesn’t put down or bully, or insist on his own way but rather builds up and equips. Now that is a man worth following, a model of leadership worth imitating.
So Jesus is baptized and then what happens? He experiences a confirmation of his call and identity. It is pretty dramatic too. I would love one of those “heaven-splitting” and “spirit-descending-like-a dove” moments; usually it is pretty fuzzy. The new Elders and Deacons had to settle for us laying our hands upon them and a prayer – and I tried to make it a dramatic prayer – but essentially, we are claiming the same descent of the Spirit: “You are beloved children of God, sons and daughters.” God is pleased with you. God is pleased with you! And so is Christ’s body, this church! The Spirit has descended on you.
Then what happens? The Spirit drives Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus is tempted. Every good leader, in fact everybody, every one of you – has wandered in the wilderness of doubt, of feeling overwhelmed, of losing her way, of wondering: “Why did I say yes?” “How am I going to balance this with all the other things that I have to do?” “I really don’t have what it takes to do what they want me to do.” What is the temptation of Jesus about but recoiling from this magnificent experience of being chosen – it is natural to feel letdown, it is natural to have question s-identity formation ain’t easy. But real leaders acknowledge their own turmoils and name their own demons. This is what Jesus comes to in the wilderness. Real leaders are honest with their own stuff.
John the Baptist is arrested and then and only then Jesus is ready to preach. Timing is everything! None of the exiting 3rd year elders have been arrested but they are gone. It is YOUR time now – it is time for YOU to come into your own and find your way and listen to what Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Isn’t it amazing that this moment might be YOUR time? Is your time?
The Greek word used here is “kairos” – and in the Bible, “kairos” is best understood as “pregnant time” – a moment that is full of meaning, potential, hope, change. It is holy time – not bound by a clock, not constricted by minutes or seconds. It is the kind of time when you lose track of time. It is the time of inspiration. You can’t mark it on your calendar. I can’t put on my calendar today “9:30-10:00 Be inspired.” Kairos time is God’s time and it will come when it will come – we can’t control it. And Jesus proclaims: “Folks, God’s time is here. Time and space is filled full of God. It is breakout time.” God is in the midst and so it is time to open up and be filled with it and be shaped by it.
So that’s my charge to the new spiritual leaders, to the church, and to all of you today. Be open to God’s spirit – and pray, a lot! It may mean that you lead us in a shake-up, or your life is shaken up. Remember: There are NO SACRED COWS when God’s spirit breaks in. After all, if the “heavens” can get torn apart, what makes you think that things on earth are neat and tidy? This can be the hardest part of leadership – and of life – because we like the status quo, we don’t like to rock the boat, or get into confrontations. But sometimes when the spirit says “move,” we have to MOVE. What time is it, in your life, right now?
Jesus proclaims: “The kingdom of God is right here and now, present – repent and believe the good news.” I say it again. “Repent and believe the good news.”
You know, “repent” means so much more then “I am sorry” (although it means that too at times.) The Greek word for “repent” is “metanoeo,” meaning change your mind, in fact GET a new mind. And here Jesus is saying to you and to me: “Get a new mind for a new age.”
It is God-in-the-midst time now – and you have to get a new mind to perceive it, get a new heart to feel it, get a new gut to feel the kingdom’s agitation, to believe and trust that what is happening is good – GOOD – because God has “boots on the ground” – God is present now. And therefore nothing is wasted.
“Jesus leadership” is about being open to God, getting a right mind to perceive the movement of the Spirit, and trusting “that all things work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to God’s purposes.”
And then there is one more thing that is essential for leaders to consider. We didn’t read the next verses of Mark 1, but what happens next is this: Jesus calls a community together (kind of like a “mini-Session”) – he calls James and John and Simon and Andrew (and maybe women too, but no one wrote down their names). He called together a community, because he knew that leaders need the accountability found in community. There are NO LONE RANGERS.
These verses in Mark 1 confirm that:
1. Leaders have charisma, a gift.
2. Leaders are confirmed by the spirit and by community.
3. Leaders get tempted – you have to come to knowledge of yourself – because there will be wilderness.
4. And finally, leaders perceive what is happening, get on God’s time, opening their minds and hearts and they trust, trust, trust, and then trust some more – that all that is happening will unfold towards goodness.
So, leaders, in fact everyone in here, lighten up and laugh, enjoy and have some fun. Church work does not need to be onerous! You can be joyful in serious work. And above all don’t take yourself or anything too seriously.
And what I say to the new leaders, I say to everyone of you – no matter what age, no matter what station, no matter what – IT IS GOD’S TIME right now – you and I have just entered into it. So get a new mind for it and trust that you too are a beloved son or daughter with whom God is well pleased. And this is very, very, very good news indeed!
So leaders, welcome aboard. I can’t wait to share the leadership of Jesus Christ with you.