A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church

Guest Sermon

Follow the Leader

Reverend Debra McGuire

November 24, 2019

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Luke 23:33-43

The prophet Jeremiah lived a little later than some of the prophets that have been mentioned in the lectionary recently.  Amos and Micah lived in the late 8th century BCE.  Jeremiah came along later than that and so lived to see the fall of the northern kingdom as well as the fall of the southern kingdom.  As far as Jeremiah was concerned, these kingdoms fell because of bad leadership.  He says “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! Says the Lord” and “It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them.”  So Jeremiah tells us that the Lord then decided to take over.  “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock….” “I will bring them back to their fold…” “I will raise up shepherds over them …” “I will raise up for David a righteous Branch…”  It's like my brother trying to teach me how to drive a stick shift when I was in high school.  “Move over, I got this.”

The leaders failed.

Lets talk about what it means to be a leader.  I looked it up.  The definitions were endless.

According to businessdictionary.com, a leader is “A person or thing that holds a dominant or superior position within its field, and is able to exercise a high degree of control or influence over others.”  

Mirriam Webster defines a leader as “a person who directs a military force or unit” and “a person who has commanding authority or influence.”

I hear the words dominant, superior, control, influence, force, authority.  But so much seems to be missing from those definitions.

According to Psychology Today, “Leaders emerging today likely possess a few key personality traits, including sociability, ambition, and curiosity—and these traits may be more relevant to the role than intelligence. Successful leaders also tend to embody integrity and emotional intelligence, characteristics that support cultivation of a fair, balanced, and satisfied professional team.” And “recent research on leadership skills confirms the increasing importance of inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery.”  Also, Leaders “establish what matters and why” “inspire others” “have high social intelligence”

There's still more missing:

So let's check with Brene Brown, author, social researcher.  “I define a leader as anyone who takes responsibility for finding the potential in people and processes and who has the courage to develop that potential.” And, “Daring leaders work to make sure people can be themselves and feel a sense of belonging.” (care about others, work to help them lead, belong)

And then there are others, for example, the great wise man Bruce Bochy,  described as a leader who “has intelligence, strategy, creativity, courage, heart and presence” here are some how-to's for leaders:

“Be for your players but not one of them.

Be tough, but not mean.

Be in control, but let go.

Be constrained but not limited.

Be a servant but not a pushover.

Know that the more you learn, the less you know.

Speak without responding, act without reacting.

Be proud, not arrogant.”

We checked the worlds of business, psychology, sociology, and sports and came up with many things.  What this shows us, is that there are many ways to be a good leader, and yet it is so hard for us to know which leader to follow.  For Jeremiah, the leaders were not up to snuff.

That brings us to the Luke reading for today.  Reading about Jesus on the cross is usually read on Good Friday.  It seems out of place today.  Until we think about Jeremiah slamming all the leaders in the first reading, and in the second reading we are reminded of just what kind of a leader we have.  From the Davidic line as promised in Jeremiah, Jesus' last breath even has something to show us.  There was only one person in the story who recognized that Jesus was the one to follow into the heavenly kingdom.  The people in the crowd, dividing his clothing, the soldiers giving him sour wine, one of the criminals hanging beside him – all wanting Jesus to use his powers on their behalf.  It's not us hurting you because you should be able to save yourself.  Using Jesus' powers to run away from their own part in dehumanizing him.  Using Jesus' powers to save himself and us.

But one man, the other criminal recognizes Jesus and admonishes the first criminal reminding him that you and I are here because we did wrong, but this man has done nothing wrong.  And acknowledging Jesus' as Messiah, says to him “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus' says to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Now there's a leader.  Jesus, a man who fought those leaders who were like the definition from businessdictionary.com, who had power, influence, authority.  Who recognized what we often call the softer science of psychology and intangible aspects of leadership like vulnerability, courage, compassion, empathy, ability to listen, being a servant.  Being a leader isn't about having the power to save yourself.  It's more about being faithful, having courage, and the followers of Jesus knew this.

What does it mean to lead so that people follow?

There is a great TEDtalk by Derek Sivers, called How to Start a Movement.  It's one of those 18 minute TED talks where you give the talk of your life in 18 minutes.  In it, Derek shows a very funny video of a movement starting.  Picture a large park wide grassy area with people sitting around.  It's a sunny hot day, and a guy stands up, takes his shirt off and just starts wildly dancing!  At first he just looks a little weird.  But after a bit, some other guy gets up, and joins the guy dancing, and copies his moves.  The first guy, gives him a high five, hugs him and really makes him feel like he's part of the team.  Then a couple of other people join in.  And more, and more.  And pretty soon, it's hard to NOT be someone dancing along.  The movement was started by one leader.  But it's the second person who is the most important person in the process.  The leader had the courage to begin, but after treating the second person as an equal and part of the lead, only then do others venture to get on board, until, suddenly NOT dancing is not an option.  And a movement is born.

Who else could we look up and find out what they had or have to say about leadership? Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, my mom, your uncle, Grandpa Jeff, Aunt Martha, your best friend's teacher's sister's second cousin twice removed, the person sitting next to you.  Good leaders are everywhere, and they're not all famous.  You probably are more of a leader yourself than you even realize.  Because all of us have many of these qualities but don't think of ourselves as leaders, maybe because we're not in traditional positions of leadership.  But if you have children, work with children, or are around children, you are a de facto leader because you are the grown up.  You are an adult in lives of kids and therefore lead because they are watching what you model.  If you're a coach of a team, leader in a musical ensemble, a school teacher, a business person, a spouse you are a leader.

Being children of the Covenant, children of God, made in the image of God, Imagio De, followers of Christ, we have so many of the qualities of good leaders.  Maybe not all of them in any single person, but each of us, together has them all.  There is not one of us who does not have the potential to be courageous, tell the truth, show compassion, feel empathy – “be with someone in their pain and don't look away.” (Brene Brown), behave with integrity, be a servant, love your neighbor.  

We each have the potential to be a great leader every moment of every day, every time we open our mouths, and every time we make a decision to help, to not cause harm, to open ourselves, to listen, to be silent with someone, and decide to behave as if someone will follow in our footsteps.

Let's pray…