Take Me to Your Leader
Take Me to Your Leader
Rev. Robert Woodruff
April 26, 2015
John 10: 22-30
Theme: You will come to know the real Jesus when you allow yourself to follow him.
Let us pray: God of the universe, when we look upward at the majesty of the sky that you created, filled with stars and whirling planets, we pause to wonder about the meaning of our lives. Teach with your word and Spirit deeper dimensions that fill our lives. Free us, from that which keeps us from seeing your glory. And now, may the words of my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts, be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our Redeemer. Amen.
When you think about it, a lot of people and traditions in the Christian family have made varying statements about who the real Jesus is. But often those Jesus characterizations are unconscious projections of who those folks want Jesus to be. In some cases, the projections are in order to justify a way of life or belief. Nineteenth century German theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer was critical of an academic pursuit it in 1906 by scholars to try and present the most clear portrait of who Jesus was. Schweitzer asserted that often, when someone went on the academic or faith journey to discover who Jesus the man really was, they always found what they were hoping to find. In other words, if they had hoped Jesus was a certain way, then that’s the Jesus they found.
The same thing happened by Jesus’ contemporaries in the passage that Dora and I read. Hearing this passage, we are privy to an ongoing debate. The location and timing is important. They are in the portico of the Temple of Solomon at the time of the feast of Dedication celebration. We know the celebration by the name Hanukkah. You will recall that Hanukkah is a joyous celebration with lit lamps. The irony would not have been lost on the early gospel community that the Hebrew religious leaders, rather than celebrating with joy, they hound Jesus, attacking him with questions. “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the messiah tell us plainly.” They wanted Jesus to be a certain type of messiah— namely a political one. Imagine that, people politicizing Jesus. They had their ideas to project on him and Jesus would not take the bait. They too wanted to put Jesus in a box. In the words of commentator Joseph Bessler the irony, “is deepened because the Logos, Wisdom, and Light of the world is walking in the portico of Solomon, unrecognized by Jesus’ critics.” If those standing right next to him could not recognize his significance, how might we?
First, let pay attention to how we may do the same thing. How might we engage in the act of trying to put Jesus in a box? Do we mold Jesus into the image of a leader that helps us live the life the way that best benefits us? Do we make Jesus? Or does Jesus make us? Many of the religious leaders would be willing to follow the Jesus of their own making? Do we do the same? Do we take into account all of the depictions of Jesus in the New Testament that make up the way we understand him. If we are honest, do we hear about works of Jesus in the New Testament that causes us discomfort? He openly talks with a woman at the well who is promiscuous and from another ethnic background—and she is a woman. Jesus put himself in a situation that would start rumors, and he did not care because he caring about her and offering her living water was more important. Jesus healed on the Sabbath. He broke the rules of the church because he knew that healing someone was more important than respecting a rule—even to God. He sure helped his contemporaries think outside the box. At the end of his earthly life, Jesus allows himself to be turned over to authorities and gives his life away. Is that the action of our leader that is the author and finisher of our faith? And recall the first time that Jesus taught in his hometown as an adult. He calls out the community for not taking care of widows and orphans and they were ready to stone him to death.
They only wanted the Jesus that fit their image. Are we comfortable with a Jesus that breaks rules, questions authority, and leads with meekness and humility?
So who is Jesus for you? Or another way to look at this question is through the lens of the 1953 New Yorker cartoon by Alex Graham. In it, two aliens, whose flying saucer is parked in the background, stand face to face with a horse and ask, “Kindly take us to your president.” It is believed that this originated the catchphrase: “Take me to your leader.” It is our catchphrase for the day. But one we form in a question, and ask ourselves: Who is our leader? Who is it that we follow to live the way we are called to live on this planet—to give us purpose and meaning.” Our Presbyterian governance helps us answer that question. Who is the leader of the church? I will throw out some possible answers and you can raise your hand if you think an answer is correct. The pastor? The session? The deacons? Our new form of government points out that Jesus Christ is the head of the church (F-1.02).
So who then is this leader if he is not a political leader? Jesus clarifies in John just before today’s passage: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” (vs. 11). In order to understand, to really see who Jesus is, we have to follow him as a sheep lead a shepherd. Though many of us may have come to romanticize the image of Jesus as a shepherd, commentator Nancy Blakely writes, “The life of a shepherd was anything but picturesque. It was dangerous, risky, and menial. Shepherds were rough around the edges, spending time in fields rather than in polite society. For Jesus to say, “I am the Good Shepherd,” would have been an affront to the religious elite and educated. The claim has an edge to it. A modern day equivalent might be for Jesus to say, ‘I am the good migrant worker’” (Feasting in the WordYear B, Volume 2, Pg. 450).
The notion of a good shepherd as our leader has important implications. With regards to the leader, it means that our leader is humble and meek. It means that earthly power is not the first focus of our leader. It means that the leader cares for us and recognizes our voices. And it means that when we stray from the pack, our good shepherd will leave the rest of the flock behind, in order to rescue us when we are at risk walking a more vulnerable path. If the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, it means that the real Jesus sees value in sacrifice. It means that the real Jesus loves us—and not just us, but all people. So if we imagine Jesus without these characteristics, then we are creating a Jesus substitute.
But besides telling us something about Jesus, it tells us something about ourselves. If our leader is a shepherd, than our role is: to follow. We are called to be followers. Not followers of charismatic church leaders. Not followers of presidents, princes, or potentates. But followers of a loving shepherd. For some, that is easier than others. The notion of being a follower is not something our culture prizes. We are to lead ourselves. Grab life with all of our gusto and mold it into the reality that we want. But that is not Jesus’ call to his follower.
As you take time to meditate upon and consider more about who Jesus is, consider: Who do you project him to be? What does it mean for him to be a shepherd and us to be sheep? I live you with ideas from New York Times best- selling author Michael Hyatt about why the Best Leaders are Great Followers. The idea is not his of course. Twenty four hundred years ago, Aristotle purportedly wrote: “He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.”
They are clear. They understand their role. You can’t be a good follower unless you have clearly identified the leader. While you may be a leader in your own realm, everyone has a boss—including you. Great followers not only accept this fact but embrace it.
They are obedient. While obedience may be a politically incorrect concept, it is essential for organizational effectiveness. No one should be allowed to give orders who can’t obey orders. This is how great leaders model to their own followers the standards of acceptable behavior.
They are servants. This is crucial. Great followers are observant. They notice what needs to be done to help the leader accomplish his or her goals. Then they do it—joyfully, without grumbling or complaining.
They are humble. Great followers don’t make it about them. They are humble. They shine the light on the leader. They make their own boss look good— especially in front of his or her boss.
They are loyal. Great followers never speak ill of their boss in public. This doesn’t mean they can’t disagree or even criticize. It just means that they don’t do it in public. Great followers understand that public loyalty leads to private influence.
We are called to follow the leader. Which leader do we really give our heart to? Who is the real Jesus? When we follow some of Hyatt's suggestions, and when we take to heart what we learn about Jesus' life teachings, we may start to get a good picture.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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