The Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton
Let us pray. Tell us what we need to hear, O God, and show us what we need to do to become disciples of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today’s Scripture Lessons talk to us of leadership. We’ve seen a lot about leadership in the last several years. Many books and articles written about it. I like the little piece that came to me some time ago from the Daily Moments of Zen Booklet. And it goes like this: Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just get out of my way!
Maybe that makes for a leader, knowing when to have others get out of your way. What was God’s criteria for leadership? Well, to be honest, judging from the Biblical evidence, it’s hard to say. Given the rag-tag bunch of people that God called to be leaders and that movement to redeem the world, it’s hard to say by what criteria God used to call anyone to do anything.
We begin, of course, with the first man and the first woman, Adam and Eve, who despite having everything, managed to get evicted from a very prestigious address, One Garden of Eden Plaza. And then managed to mess up things so much that they got us into the mess we are in today. Some call it Original Sin. So much for them.
The ostensibly last good man left on earth before the Flood was Noah, who apparently in addition to collecting two of everything, also packaged two whisky bottles. For after the Flood and he landed on Terra Firma he proceeded to get drunk. So much for him.
Abraham and Sarah? Forget about it! These old shriveled up people? Are they the ones who are to produce children whose descendents will be more numerous than the stars? Forget about it?
Jacob and Rachel? More patriarchs of the faith? Well, for most of Scriptures, they are liars, deceivers and cheats. Jacob, whose very name in Hebrew means ‘deceiver’, spent most of his life trying to get over on people and not the right way. And his wife, Rachel, well she’s recorded in Genesis 32 as having stolen valuable gods from her Uncle Laban’s house, lied about it, sat on them under her seat on the camel, apparently taking them as bargaining chips for the later divvying up of her property.
Moses, as far as I’m concerned, he was a collaborator with the enemy. He certainly was a murderer. And the Scriptures say he was slow of speech. Many think he was a stuttered. I find that amazing. We usually think of Moses going before Pharaoh in the form of Charlton Heston. ”Let my people go!“ If Moses were a stutterer, it probably went more like, ”let…….let…..my people go.“ And Pharaoh laughed.
But those people went!
Why did he choose Moses? Why did he choose Rahab, the prostitute? Why did he choose David? I know, we think of King David, in terms of his glorious kingdom and those wonderful psalms that we sing. But this was one, of course, who succumbed to the sin of adultery. And following that, he ordered a military hit on the husband of his lover.
And that’s just the Old Testament!
And some of them, by the time we get to the New Testament, we find Jesus, in today’s Gospel Lesson, Jesus continuing in that great tradition. Jesus, the Son of God, the manifestation of God on earth, we Christians believe. We find him continuing the rather strange selection process for leaders in his religious reform movement. Simon, later called Peter. That’s a surprise. When Jesus named him Peter, meaning ‘Rock,’ I can still hear the derisive laughter of all the other disciples to this day? ”Simon? Rock? He’s more like rubble than rock. More like pebbles, always crawling on his face. Always getting it wrong. Certainly unstable.“ And if that weren’t enough the Scriptures say that he was a fisherman, along with his brother, Andrew, and his partners in the business, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. There was just one problem: they never caught any fish! The New Testament never records them having catching fish outside of the divine intervention of Jesus! They were bad fishermen. Failed entrepreneurs. Jesus looked at them, and said, ‘you’re just the kind of people I want. I want you. Follow me. I want you to be one of my leaders.“
How did Jesus pick the leaders? I’ll tell you how. I found a document. This was a historic document from the Jordan Management Corporation in Jerusalem, England (!)….well, wherever Jerusalem is. I have to put on my glasses because it’s old papyrus. It goes this way:
”To Jesus, Son of Joseph Nazareth, in Galilee. Dear Sir:
Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have taken our battery of tests. We have not only run the results through our computer, but we’ve also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all the tests are included. You’ll want to study each of them carefully. But as part of our service, we make some general statements
It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue to search for persons of experience and management and proven capability. Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities for leadership. The two brothers, James and John, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel it is our duty to tell you that Matthew, the tax collector, according to our background check, has been blacklisted by the Jerusalem Better Business Bureau. James, the son of Alpheus and Thaddeus, have radical leanings, and they registered high on manic depressive scales.
Only one of the candidates shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness. He meets people well, and has a keen business mind. He has contacts in high places, and is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and your right-hand man.
All the other profiles are self-explanatory. We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely yours, Jordan Management Consultants“
And so there you have it. Going against the grain of human wisdom, God chooses ner-do-wells and flunkies, opportunists and cheats, prostitutes, liars and murderers, and people who just haven’t measured up. And he says to them, ”I want you.“ And amazing, they all ultimately did surprisingly well.
What’s going on here?
Perhaps, even as today’s Gospel lesson, we can pick out three essentials for leadership. The first is apparently is a leader must be chosen. You don’t inherit it. You don’t aspire to it. You probably don’t even deserve it. You’ve just been asked. And I Samuel 16, the account of the choosing of the King of Israel, Saul had fallen on the skids with people. Time for a new King. So the High Priest, Samuel, as called to the House of Jesse in Bethlehem. And it’s only thousands of years later that we get the significance of the King coming out of Bethlehem. And Samuel, the High Priest, goes to the house, and he talks to Jesse with his seven sons, and said, ”A King is to come out of your family.“ And Jesse paraded out the first-born, a Benedad. You must picture him. A Benadad had gone to St. Alban’s School, Harvard University, Warden School of Business, very high qualified, high leadership potential. Looked good. But Samuel said, ”The Lord has not chosen this one.“ A bit taken aback, Jesse parades out Shammah, the second born. He couldn’t get into St. Alban’s. He had to settle for Sidwell Friends, Brown University, Fletcher School of Diplomacy. He parades in front of Samuel, but Samuel says, ”The Lord has not chosen this one.“ And seven of the sons paraded by. And Samuel said, ”Are these all your sons?“ Jesse said, ”Well, there is one more. But I’ve got to tell you, Samuel, I don’t think so. He went to Vo-Tech. We’re trying to get him into Community College, but he just doesn’t seem to be into it. No leadership ability. To tell you the truth, he just likes to be out there wallowing in the mud with those sheep and strumming his harp. You don’t want to see him.“ Samuel said, ”I will not leave until I do.“ So they washed David up, combed his hair, fixed him up for this religious company. And Samuel said, ”You! You’re King of Israel.“
I don’t know what qualified David. But we do know the next Scripture, in I Samuel 16, there is this line, ”God does not see as human beings see. Human beings look on the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.“ And looking at his heart, he was chosen.
We look at the unlikely list of candidates, and we see failure. But God looks at them and sees success. We, in our processes, see questionable pasts, but God sees a certain future. God sees beyond what has been. God sees beyond what is and looks at what is to become, calling people to become who they really are, their true selves. Not the false self that they spent a life-time projecting onto the world, but that God-centered self, that divine spark at the center of every human life, that connects up with God and becomes great.
When I think of that I think of my father on this Father’s Day. My father, I’ll just say, well of over 70 years of age today, he just retired this year. He retired Sutton’s Auto Repair. I wish I could commend you to take your automobiles there. But we had a celebration at his retirement today and said to my father, ‘it’s time to rest.’ He is an auto mechanic, but I don’t really think he’s just an auto mechanic. It’s dawned on me increasingly this year, as I see him in retirement, and I see what he has done throughout his life, that he’s not an auto mechanic. He’s a fixer. My father fixes things. My wife and I have a new home now, and things are always going wrong. It’s a new-old house. My father’s coming around. He’s always fixing stuff. He’s fixing the toilet. He’s fixing the garbage disposal. He fixes the windows that quite shut right. And I think about all the things he’s fixed throughout life. Even fixing human beings, like my brother—and me, so that we could have education and schooling, and become all that we need to be.
Yes, he’s an auto mechanic. But that’s just to put bread on the table. He has calling, a vocation, and it’s called ‘fixer’. He has taught me that a vocation, that which God calls you to, is big—bigger than you know. It’s probably impossible, but it’s holy.
Is God calling you? Calling you to come home? To come or return to that which you truly are? Hold that thought for just a few moments.
I said there were two other qualities. The second is Jesus and God calls people and gives them authority, not power. This Gospel lesson today says Jesus summoned the twelve and gave them authority to preach Good News, to cure, heal diseases, to mend all that is broken, and to drive out evil. It’s a great calling, and they needed authority to do it. We tend to think of it in terms of power, but that word was not used. Power is used in the New Testament. When associated with God, that Greek word dudamis (?, occurs over 120 times in the New Testament. But that power of God is not human power that we normally think of as power-over, the ability and use of one’s force to force one’s will on other. Power is grabbed for. Power is wielded. Authority, on the other hand, is only granted. Authority is given, is earned. Jesus gave them authority because they were worthy of it. And that authority had little to do with the trappings of power. In Jesus’ day, the powerful, indeed, had all the power that the society could give them. His enemies and attractors had social power, religious power, ecclesiastical power. But little authority. Jesus, on the other hand, had little power, no title, little money, no social standing. But authority? The people said, ”He teaches not as the regular religious leaders. He teaches as one with authority. And eventually, all the authority in heaven and earth will be given him.“
And the third and the last: Not just having been called and being given authority, but also to empty oneself. The Gospel Lesson said, ”Jesus gave them this mission.“ And then he said, ”Take nothing for your journey. No gold. No silver. No wardrobe. No staff. They obviously we not Episcopalians. You can’t do anything without a staff in the Episcopal Church! Take nothing,“ Jesus said, ”empty yourselves, get rid of the baggage.“ Why? So that if you are successfully emptied in humility, you are then in a position to receive the gifts of those of those you purport to help. And when they see that in your humility you are ready to receive and listen, then they in turn will be ready to listen to you. It’s the emptying that leaders need to have.
Jerry McQuire, a great movie about six years ago, is about a sports agent who suddenly had a pang of conscience. One night Jerry McQuire wakes up and realizes that he is not the person he is called to be. He was not leading a moral life. He thought he was a fraud, and he was. And so he got up and went to a computer. And he types out a five-page mission statement for being a sports agent. : We should be less concerned about money,“ he writes, ”and more concerned about our mission. We should have fewer clients,“ he writes, ”and better serve the few that remain. He prints up a hundred copies of that mission statement, and in the middle of the night he puts them in the mailboxes of all his colleagues in the firm. And when he comes to work the next morning he’s filled with trepidation. How will his fellow sports agents react to that missive? Will they think it is foolish, a sign of weakness? Will they think he’s gone off his rocker? As he enters the firm, the place erupts in thunderous applause. They all seem to agree. He touched something deep that was true they knew in their hearts. But even in the midst of the applause, we hear the whispered exchange between two of the colleagues, one asking the other, ”How long do you think you will last?“ And the other replies, ”I give him about a week.“ And sure enough, within a few days, Jerry McQuire was fired. And that was the best thing that ever happened to him in his life. He found himself. He gathered up a few things from his office. Not much. Just a box and some goldfish. He asked, ”would anyone join him?“ and one young woman, a secretary, did. Now you have a team. You have two. And sure enough. He and she fulfilled their vocation and became the people they were called to be, doing the work they were called to do. Despite many failures, they ultimately succeeded.
And so there you have it. God’s criteria for leadership: Give up rank and power. Give up a sense that you are qualified. Accept the calling. So many of our selection processes say that they want leaders, but what they’re really set up for is to find good managers. We need managers. The world is full of them. But rarer is the leader. Managers do things right. But leaders do the right things. We are looking for leaders today to do right things in our society. You and I know this past week