Toorak Uniting Church

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Unlikely choices in God’s service

Rev. Robert McUtchen
Matthew 4: 12 – 23
23 January 2011

What do we expect of anyone who is to take a position of leadership, or even service within the church, or for that matter society? The way humans organise and govern themselves is a fascinating study. History reveals ebbs and flows between democracy, theocracy, monarchy, constitutional monarchy, and republican democracy. As a young undergraduate, my first reading in politics was about democratic ancient Greece, and Plato’s Republic. Biblical Israel was ruled by Judges, until the people demanded a monarchy so they could be like everyone else, ignoring the prophet’s warning that kings robbed you and sent your sons to fight and die in pointless wars. (1 Sam 8: 10f). I am fascinated by contradictions between aspirations towards democracy and simultaneous desire for powerful decisive leadership which is almost the reverse of democracy.

Strange that we want democracy, Government by the people, for the people – while needing to simultaneously place our trust (and fate) in the hands of an individual. As though the old Messianic expectation lingers on. The cult of personality has become a factor in the way leaders are selected and remain in power. Barak Obama was elected with the expectation that he would unite and lead the USA to a new era of shared care and a different kind of world leadership. Footy coaches are appointed carrying heavy burdens of expectation. Is it just me, or is there greater ruthlessness about whether a coach remains when the team loses? When a company struggles the CEO or Managing Director is in the gun – or is hailed as the Messiah when appointed to revive a struggling business. So much expectation invested in the supposed ability of one person to change the fortunes of an organisation. Yes – they do have a role in shaping direction, but its not all their work – they depend on the collective wisdom of countless unsung servants. Is this expectation consistent with the models of leadership Jesus and the apostles would practise?

What do we as a community really think about leadership? Contrast God’s way, where a leader is servant of all, nurturing abilities and gifts of the community, working to harmonise and unite individual qualities into an orchestra of diversity, all working for the common good. Jesus said he came not to be served, but to serve? Wonder what the world would be like if our leaders were focused on drawing the talents of community and government together, rather than being the hero who fixes everything by themselves.

My musing was stirred as I read about Jesus calling of the first disciples. The disciples would have vital roles in leading the new Christians. What qualities of leadership would these men need to have? Why Jesus, with no known connection to the fishermen of Galilee, should select so many fishermen among his disciples?. Research suggests Galilean fishermen were an unusual group, clannish, operating in a highly taxed and regulated industry, at the bottom of the food chain after middlemen and taxes had taken the larger share. Fishermen were not known for their education or refinement – after Jesus arrest Peter’s Galilean accent gave him away. Peter may have been a man of character, but you wonder how he would fared before a modern day personnel consultant! It is clear Jesus had confidence to call unusual people, yet from the unlikely group of disciples that the Christian church would grow.

If we ask what made the extraordinary development of a world wide movement two elements are involved.

One is the natural ability of the 12 – but that is severely qualified. Peter spoke before he thought. Among the others petty squabbles over who was the greatest, or how Judas minded the money. They were cowards and ran away when Jesus was arrested – Peter denied Jesus. After the crucifixion they hid for fear of arrest. Another element must be the power of the Holy Spirit, which transformed frightened and tongue tied men into courageous speakers who confronted the very people they lived in fear of as we read in Acts.

Within the church is a need for men and women to serve. Popular ideas of leadership, as I have described, can discourage many from positions of leadership and service. A sense of lacking confidence, the charisma to lead, or even to serve are frequent excuses not to share in church life beyond sitting in church. The calling of the disciples is a reminder that in God’s service a different set of requirements apply. The greatest quality is a desire to serve. Like it is the awareness that by oneself no-one cannot succeed, and dependence and trust that God will enable and equip each person who offers to serve.

Jesus approached the fishermen and simply said – "Come" – the call may come unexpectedly – but come it will as God seeks people to do his work. When that call to serve does come, take courage to accept, and experience the wonder of the empowering grace and help only God can provide.

I began asking what expectations we have of leaders and those in God’s service. There are contradictions and inconsistencies of expectation of our leaders today. We must be vigilant that the same inconsistencies are not projected on church leaders or office holders. The kingdom of God operates to a different set of standards to the world. One characteristic is the eternal optimism of God, where every person is capable of particular service, because unlike the world, we are supported and empowered by the Holy Spirit. This means there is a place and a potential for every member to help in serving God. How will each of us respond? Amen.

© Rev. Robert McUtchen, 2011


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