January 19, 2020 Sermon
I thank you for extending me the call to serve as your interim bass player and pastor for the next six months and counting. I say “and counting” because my first call to be an Interim Pastor was at Westminster Presbyterian in Odessa, Texas in 2010. It was a 9 month call that wound up taking 10 months. When I accepted the call to be the Interim Pastor at Faith Presbyterian in Baytown in 2011 it was a one year call that wound up being 6 and a half years. (after the 1 year as interim grew to 2 years, they called me to be the installed pastor from which I retired on December 31, 2018.) This time last year I preached my first sermon as the Interim Pastor of Faith Lutheran in Dickinson. It was a six month call that grew to a 12 month stint…so that’s why I say, “and counting.”
I walked in this morning with the aid of this make-shift shepherd’s crook. I fashioned it by joining the bottom part which was a part of my wife’s Dad’s walking stick and the top part which was my Dad’s cane. For me it represents the joining of our two families, but also I think it represents our time together as your temporary shepherd. I’ve been a Presbyterian all my life until this time last year when I began a ministry as a Lutherterian. I will leave it here in the sanctuary as a reminder that the day will come when I will walk out with it. It will serve as a visual reminder to you and to me that I am your temporary shepherd. Just don’t call the person you eventually call your permanent shepherd. We all know that the only thing that’s permanent is change.
Read John 1:29-42.
Good leaders are hard to find. I thought you might enjoy a few excerpts from actual military fitness reports taken from the files of the British Royal Navy and Marine Corps. Here is how they evaluated some of their recruits: ”His men would follow him anywhere,” says one evaluation, “but only out of curiosity.” “He would be out of his depth in a . . . puddle.”. “He is technically sound, but socially impossible.” “This man is depriving a village somewhere of its idiot.” “This officer is really not so much of a has been, but more of a definitely won’t be.” “This young lady has delusions of adequacy.” ”She sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them.” “This officer should go far and the sooner he starts, the better.” “On my last report I said he had reached rock bottom. He has since begun to dig.”
These would not make good leaders. This morning I want to invite you to think with me about leadership styles. It’s an important theme in business circles today. It’s an important issue in church circles. What style of leadership is best for a new year that we are beginning? Jesus called disciples to follow him. How did he choose to lead?
King Herod gave us one model for Leadership. He was called Herod the Great by his subjects, but that was because they had little choice. Herod was the king of a small territory consisting of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. He inherited his throne from his father who had been appointed by the Romans to keep a tight rein on these contentious people called Jews. Herod was a petty tyrant and a petty man. He was about 73 years of age when the magi came to him with the news of an impending birth of a king of the Jews that wasn’t him.
When the magi from the East came to his court to see what they might learn about a mysterious star they had been following Herod instructed them to return to him when they found the child they were seeking. When they didn’t return Herod flew into a rage that resulted in Herod ordering the slaughter of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity that were two years old and under. Herod was an insecure man, a rigid man, an intolerant man. All Herod knew was the rule of force. He was a bully, a dictator, a despot. There are leaders like that in the world today. Some of them lead nations, some of them lead businesses, some of them lead churches, and some of them lead families. That is the only way they know how to lead is by abusing others. They like to make sure that others abide by their rules no matter how petty those rules may be. Here’s an example of that type of leadership. It all began a few days before Christmas. Two employees of an electrical cable plant in New Jersey donned red Santa Claus hats and wore them to work. It was a harmless enough act, perhaps a simple gesture of holiday spirit. However, a plant manager noticed the hats and called for them to be removed. They were “inappropriate for the workplace,” he said. The next day, in what became a symbolic show of support, 100 coworkers of the two original hat bearers arrived at work wearing red Santa hats. Not to be outwitted, the manager suspended all the employees. It took the intervention of the union to get the hats off and the employees back to work. The case went to arbitration. The arbitrator’s finding was insubordination by the employees. “This is a tale,” notes Joline Godfrey, a person who studies workplace behavior, “of rigidity run amok, a tale of a control freak with too much authority and too little comfort with self or others.” (1) That sounds like Herod: “too much authority and too little comfort with self or others.” That’s one style of leadership-insecure, intolerant, inflexible, and dictatorial. Do you believe in that kind of God? Some people have a really messed up picture of God in their minds and hearts. They have a picture of God that doesn’t vary too much from this profile of Herod. Their picture of God is of one of whom they live in constant fear of offending. For them God is a god whose disapproval is deadly and whose punishment is swift and without mercy. Some religious groups paint a picture of this kind of God.
There is HOWEVER, another style of leadership. It’s called Servant Leadership.Servant leadership is the opposite of Herod’s approach to things. Servant leaders identify with the people whom they lead. They do not lord it over them. Instead they are willing to get their hands dirty working alongside their people. The reality TV show Undercover Boss highlights this type of leadership. Businessman Harvey Mackay, author of the book Swim with the Sharks, tells about such a servant leader, Philip Pillsbury of the Pillsbury milling family. Mackay notes that the tips of three of Philip Pillsbury’s fingers are missing. That’s the mark of a journeyman grain miller, notes Mackay. “(Philip) Pillsbury had an international reputation as a connoisseur of fine foods and wines,” Mackay says, “but to the troops, his reputation as a man willing to do a hard, dirty job was the one that mattered . . . and you can be sure everyone was aware of it.” (2)
Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner magazine is that kind of servant leader. We are told that Jim actually takes home a smaller paycheck than the shipping clerk, because the shipping clerk has more mouths to feed. The decision to develop a salary schedule based on need rather than position was based on the “Leadership in servanthood” model. I doubt if many corporate leaders will take servant leadership that far. But it is a fascinating concept. The thinking is that today’s better educated workforce cannot be pushed, it must be led. You don’t lead by coercion, but by example. You drive cattle, but you lead sheep.You know where I’m leading, don’t you?
Who was the greatest example of servant leadership who ever lived? Jesus. He stepped down from the throne of heaven and dirtied his hands with the affairs of humanity. The tips of his fingers are not missing like Phillip Pillsbury’s, but Jesus’ servant leadership is exhibited in the scars left by nails in his wrists and from the spear in his side. It was exhibited when he took a towel and a basin of water and stooped to wash the feet of his disciples before he shared his last meal with them.
Tomorrow is a National Holiday honoring a man who exercised Servant Leadership. The night before he was assassinated Martin Luther King Jr. spoke these words.
“Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” King also wrote, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” (3)
God is not a God of whom we need to live in fear. God is not an insecure dictator, an intolerant tyrant. God is pure, unlimited, unbounded love. There is nothing but mercy in God. We can approach God like a loving parent in confidence and joy and in the assurance that God will never turn us away.
There is much we do not understand, but God is a God of love, mercy, hope and peace. God does not coerce by force, but leads by the example of love, the love showed by Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary. If you want a leader for your life, if you want a Lord for your life I can recommend no one better.
What does it mean to follow that kind of leader? What did he command those who choose to follow him do? When he was asked what the greatest commandment was he gave two: to love the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength and to love one’s neighbors as oneself. That was the Great Commandment. How do we do that? We do that by following his Great Commission–to make disciples of every nation, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to obey all that he had commanded them—like loving the Lord with all one’s heart, soul, strength, and mind …AND loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.
When Jesus says to make disciples of all nations the word “nations’ is ethne–the word from which we get ethnic. I can’t make a disciple of a nation. I can make a disciple of a person from a nation. Today ends a National Week of Prayer For Christian Unity. We are one of the “nations” to which Jesus referred when he gave his Great Commandment. We are a nation of immigrants. We are a nation of nations. Today, disciples of Jesus have been made from every nation on earth. Our calling is to make more.
Jay Leno, the comedian and car collector who used to host the Tonight Show once was a pitch man for Doritos. The commercial featured Jay with a bag of Doritos and his line was, “We’ll make more.”
Servant leadership is the kind of leadership that Jesus exhibited to those first two disciples the day that John the Baptist pointed Jesus out and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” Those two almost immediately brought one more. They grew to 12. They have grown to millions-millions who now follow this suffering servant leader.
Jesus pitch to us is to make more. Disciples are not born. Disciples are made. I used to teach racquetball. My goal was to teach my students how to play. Over the years I have taught teenagers to play guitar. I even once took on the task of teaching ukulele to a dozen 5 year olds … all at once. Learning to play involves mental and physical action. We have to use or minds to learn the rules of play. But we have to do more than study the rule book. We have to play. We have to use our muscles to play. We have to engage our hearts to love to play. We have to engage our souls to want to play and keep playing. We have to play by the rules.
How and when did you become a disciple? Who was instrumental in extending the call to you to follow Jesus? Following takes commitment but it takes more. It takes moving. It takes more than making a decision. It takes more than making believers. James 2:19 says the “You believe in God? Good, the demons believe in God and shudder. Being a disciples takes following up on that decision by…following. I began following Jesus some 48 years ago. I may have retired from being a full-time Presbyterian Pastor but the only time I will retire from following Jesus is when I see him face to face. Until then I, and dare I say we, have a calling to obey his Great Commandment by doing our part to fulfill Great Commission to … make more—to make disciples
Song by Pastor Jim Gill:
Make disciples, don’t just make- believers.
Go beyond being only a receiver.
Count the cost before you vow.
The call is yours and the time is now.
Follow me was his call,
and the people came from miles around
to see the miracles,
upon the hills. and by the sea
to be healed and to hear him preach.
Make disciples, don’t just make decisions.
No rash commitments, that lack the vision.
Count the cost, before you try.
take up the cross, and learn to die.
die to self, and die to sin.
Then rise again to follow him
who led the way despite the cost
who led the way upon the cross.
Follow me was his call,
and the people turned and ran away
from the miracle,
upon the hill, of Calvary
he showed his love for all to see
and he says, follow me…
You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go God is sending you. Wherever you are God has put you there and has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in his grace and love and power.
And 2. Contemporary Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers, & Writers, Craig Brian Larson, ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996), .
Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963