Proper 26

I have been writing a lot of cards recently.  Two young women I know in Council Bluffs were confirmed a couple of weeks ago.

Many of my friends are preparing for their priestly ordinations.

The invitations for our own Beth Preston’s ordination are being printed.

As I sat at my desk thinking about what I might write on cards of congratulation, my mind has turned to Christian leadership.

Today the Prophet Micah gave a scathing rebuke of the leadership in his time.

In his convicting prophesy we hear the frustration of a man witnessing the abhorrent abuse of power.

We see a man who knows God’s nightmare.

Micah says God’s nightmare is whenprophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry “Peace”
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths.

 

God’s nightmare is when a country is so corrupt that

 

Its rulers give judgment for a bribe,
its priests teach for a price,
its prophets give oracles for money;
yet they lean upon the Lord and say,
“Surely the Lord is with us!
No harm shall come upon us.”

 

Maybe your mother didn’t entertain fools

 

Well hear now that your God does not tolerate bad leaders.

So as I write these letters of prayer and joy to the leaders God is raising up in the laity and clergy my heart is gladdened.

 

All of these people from the confirmands to the ordinands are responding to a calling.

Some to more responsibility as lay people some as ordained.

But all seek a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit so that might better lead.

 

How might we live out God’s dream for us?

 

That is the crux of today’s Gospel reading.

What is Christian leadership?

 

Jesus looks with disappointment at the Pharisee’s and Scribe’s leadership.

 

He likes what they teach: the law of Moses.

 

But not what they do.

 

In showing us the hypocrisies of the Pharisees actions, Jesus shows us what it might look like to be a Christian leader.

 

Jesus points out three flaws in the Pharisee’s leadership.

First, the Pharisee’s have lost sight of the spirit of the law.  They have loaded up their listeners with the impossible task of keeping every rule. Their zeal for studying the law has made them blind to the fact that

 

There is a way to keep the law and keep it simply, “love the lord and your neighbor.”

 

In Christ we have a person shot through with the laws of Moses and Prophets.  His actions and life represented a perfect embodiment of keeping the law.

 

In a complicated culture, the Christian Leader needs to ask: is this about love?

 

The next lesson is one of vanity.  Jesus calls out his opponents for turning prayer aids like the prayer fringes and the phylacteries into vain embellishments.  These causes Jesus to ask, in effect, is this faith or just flash?  Is this piety or pomp?

 

How do people know you are Christian?  Jesus condemns the scribes and Pharisees for wearing the symbols of their faith but not practicing its tenets.  For us this begs the question: would anyone be able to tell who we are and whose we are if it weren’t for the symbols we wear?

 

In a world high on digital devotion but low on substantive service, the Christian Leader needs to safeguard themselves from empty piety and be the healing hands of Christ in the world.

 

The third lesson is perhaps the most paradoxical.

The way up is the way down.

On Wednesday we had an All Saints’ Day service.

It was a time we remembered the great “holy ones” of the church.

If ever there were examples of Christian Leadership, these were they.

 

In a world that keeps us focused on moving up the ladder moving from promotion to promotion so that one day we can be “the boss” Christ invites us to be the servant.

 

If Christ is the greatest among us then our call is always into the messiest parts of the world.

 

Christ, the only son of the Living God, attended to by the seraphim and cherubim, came to be with us in our brokenness, our pain, and our mess.

 

The Christian leader follows Christ not up the ladder of success but toward servanthood at the margins of society.

 

If you want to be great in the church, you need only be great in service.

 

There is a need now for Christian leadership.

 

The hungry need you.  The wealthy need you. The young need you.  The old need you.

 

The Earth is groaning for us to step up as Christian leaders not only in the church but in the community and in the world.

 

I invite you, therefore, into a season of discernment.

 

Still in the afterglow of All Saints’ Day and in solidarity with those who have been recently confirmed and with those will be ordained, how can you be a Christian leader?

1: Keep it simple. If it’s not about love it’s not about God.

 

Where can you sew the simple seeds of God’s love?

 

2: The most powerful symbol in Christianity is not the cross on a necklace nor a fish on a car but a Christian about their Father’s work.

 

How can you be a living symbol of Jesus’ work in the world?

 

3: The way up is the way down.

 

How is God calling you into service in and outside of the church?

 

As you wrestle with these questions, know that I am praying for you.

Know that all the Saints are praying as well.

And when we are done with the work God has given us I pray that we might all hear the greatest compliment can hear:

Well done, good and faithful servant, well done.

 

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