6 Pentecost, June 26, 2016 1 Kings 19: 15-16, 19-21
Emmanuel Church Boston Galatians 5: 1, 13-25
The Rev. Nancy E. Gossling Luke 9: 51-62
In the name of the One who creates, carries, and sings. Amen.
I had the great joy to be with your rector, Pam Werntz, and your vestry leaders for their vestry retreat last month. We spent time together Friday evening and most of Saturday at St. Joseph’s retreat center in Cohasset. The retreat center is perched upon rocks, overlooks the ocean, and has a horseshoe shaped beach abutting the property.
There were chairs everywhere: inside the house, outside on the porch, and scattered all over the lawn. Seabreezes cooled our bodies, calmed our souls, and enlivened our spirits. It’s hard to work under such difficult circumstances. And yet, we were there to work. Our goals were twofold: to get to know each other better and to work on leadership development at Emmanuel Church.
Our theme for the retreat was music: how do we sing the song of God’s love from one generation to the next? We talked about leadership qualities, and what models we have in our religious, political, and business environments. In your opinion, what makes a good leader?
Here’s some of what your vestry leaders said:
- It’s a two-way street; a mutual, and symbiotic relationship between leaders and followers.
- A leader taps into the desires of others and draws them out.
- Leaders inspire people through their values, love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and mercy.
- They have a curiosity about people & the world.
- They have clarity of vision and purpose.
- They transcend their own character flaws and fears.
- They are prepared, show up, and meet followers right where they are.
- They keep their judgment of others in check, and can reel in their own pride, temper, and beliefs in order to listen to others in an accessible and open way.
- They can articulate a vision that may not be shared by the whole group but provides an impetus for action.
In my opinion, leadership that does not change is not good leadership. Nor is leadership that is not shared with others, good leadership either. To be clear, leaders may hold identifiable positions in an organization, which give them power and authority, but there are plenty of leaders that aren’t as easily identified. And all leaders are not good.
For example, at Emmanuel Church you have a rector, a deacon, and vestry members who share the leadership of this parish by virtue of their positions. They are leaders who have been elected by you or appointed by the bishop to use their various gifts to sustain Christ’s Church and spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
In today’s religious climate, by virtue of your presence here today, I would argue that you also are a leader. There are leaders in these pews right now who are nascent leaders, who are listening, and learning, and preparing to step into the shoes of someone else, somewhere, someday. Grace Nelson Morrison is one of these nascent leaders. And there are people here who may never hold an office with a title, but lead by their example. They welcome the stranger, care for the sick, and encourage the faint-hearted. In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul says leaders have these qualities: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
Healthy leadership is like a baton pipeline. At the vestry retreat, I asked your leaders to imagine themselves as an orchestra, led by a Conductor, who is holding a baton. I asked them, “Were they receiving the baton, carrying the baton, or in the process of passing the baton of leadership to someone else?” Today’s lessons from 2 Kings and Luke can teach us about this baton pipeline.
Take the 1st lesson for example. Elijah is trying to pass the baton to Elisha but he wants to avoid the tension of that transition. He wants to sneak off into the night. Twice he says to Elisha, “Stay here, while I go there.” But Elisha is not so easily shaken loose; and so he insists that he wants to walk alongside Elijah for awhile in order to learn from him. Elijah then asks, “What can I do for you before I go? What do you need from me? How can I help you carry the mantle of my leadership after I’m gone?” They both face the challenges of leadership transition head-on.
Jesus knows this too, as he prepares to leave his disciples, with his face set for Jerusalem. As a leader, Jesus sent messengers ahead of him to prepare the way; however, in today’s gospel, the Samaritans refused to receive the baton; and James and John wanted to “command fire to come down from heaven and consume them.” But Jesus rebuked them.
While Jesus does not condemn or judge those who say “no”, or “not yet”, he also challenges them. Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, said Jesus, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay his head. Being a leader involves sacrificing some of our freedom, and while “Christ has set us free,” it also begs the question, freedom for what? St. Paul answers in his letter to the Galatians, “For you were called to freedom brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become servants to one another.” South African freedom hero Nelson Mandela said: “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
Leadership means that we are part of the baton pipeline from generation to generation. As Christians, “we have built the Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” As leaders and followers of Jesus, as people in the Jesus movement, we can receive, carry, and pass the song of God’s love to others; or we can picket the work of the pipeline, refusing to accept our part. Leadership means sacrificing some of our time, talents, and treasure in order to sustain Christ’s Church right now. It means knowing that Christ is here with us, and that the Spirit of God is moving among us.
As Christians, our Conductor is God, the baton is Jesus, the orchestra is you, and the song of the Spirit is Love. We’re in this together. We are all leaders in this Church as followers of Jesus Christ. In baptism, by water and the spirit, we receive the song of God’s love individually, and we sing the song of God’s love together. We are part of the Christian pipeline, passing Jesus along to others as part of our covenant with God. But Jesus warned his followers “not to look back” and hang on to the dead, or linger with farewells too long. “Go,” he said. “Proclaim the kingdom of God.”
This leadership baton has been received, carried, and passed from one generation to the next. This is what Elijah did with Elisha. This is what Jesus did with his disciples. This is what St. Paul did with those in the early church. And this is what you are doing here at Emmanuel.
How do we sing the song of God’s love from one generation to the next? As members of God’s orchestra, receive the baton of Jesus, carry it, and keep passing it along to others. You, my friends, are part of the Christian pipeline! And today we welcome Grace Nelson Morrison into this sacred work.