Here in Baltimore we have a mayoral scandal, you can read more about it here. This week another cabinet member left the Trump Administration. Our political system is broken. We are not the first society and I know we won’t be the last.
As we approach Holy Week my thoughts turn to leadership. Not just because we’re all leading twelve services in seven days, but because the week is a complex triangle of political leaders, religious leaders, and community leaders.
Jesus came to turn everything on its head. The last shall be first, etc.
Was Jesus a leader? Yes.
Was he a wimp? No.
But he wasn’t in the political or religious leadership roles of the day. Next week I will read the story of the passion where Pontius Pilate will wash his hands of the death of Jesus. He found nothing wrong with this man, Jesus had broken no law according to Pilate, yet he washes his hands rather than stand up to the religious leaders and the crowd that are demanding Jesus’s head. Wimp.
Leadership the way it has been established in our systems is for wimps, the faint of heart, cowards. People who do not have enough gumption of their own to stand up for justice that they hide behind systems, offices, and titles. This system is set up for leadership to use and abuse power, hide behind power. When you give someone power enough to make decisions on behalf of someone else without needing or requesting their input it is easier than not to get drunk on the “authority” that has been given.
Throughout the story of Jesus he is watched, closely, by leadership. According to Matthew at his birth the Leadership was terrified of him they slaughtered all male children under the age of 2. He is questioned and attempted to be tricked time and time again throughout his ministry. I can hear the priests behind locked doors asking “how can we trust him when he isn’t one of us?” Wimps.
Finally, they can’t control him and it drives them so crazy they move into intimidation and bribery. After his arrest he is passed up the ladder of leadership, each one not wanting to be the one who is responsible for an innocent man’s life, yet not risking anything to stop it. Wimps, passing the buck.
In the questioning of Jesus by Pilate Jesus says that his authority is of Heaven, not of earth. He is a leader the way God calls us to be. We refer to it as “Servant Leadership.” Matthew 20:28 Jesus says he came not to be served but to serve and give his life for many.
Servant leadership is a model of giving away power and authority you have been given. Using your gifts and skills for the betterment of the world, empowering others, leading others to power so they too can give it away. There are many, many problems with this in our world. First, empowering others is true power, power in community, power to stand up for one another and say stop, enough. If you hurt one of us, you hurt us all. We celebrate together, we mourn together, we pray together. And it terrifies wimps.
Second, when you use your leadership to give power away and create community you often times lead by example. There’s a lot of grunt work involved, there’s a lot of moments where you take a punch because your job is to stand between systemic power and those whom they are hurting. You live with a target on your back as the one who created an uprising.
But this kind of leadership is strength. It is the strength of faith, of community, and the reign of God on earth. This type of leadership is what allows movements and communities to keep going long after one leader is gone. We may be betrayed for it, we may be flogged for it, we may even be killed for it. But I’d rather die in servant leadership than be a wimp.
The disciples (not just the 12 but all the followers of Jesus) took too long to learn this lesson. They didn’t really learn until after the resurrection. Fear overtook them when their time came to stand up. We can learn from this, we can ratify their mistake. We can stand empowered today as servant leaders, in communities of other servant leaders, each according to their own gifts, united in strength.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
The Reverend Shannon Meacham currently serves Ashland Presbyterian Church in the Baltimore suburbs. She lives there with her husband Derrick Weston and together they raise their four children. You can find her musings about any and all subjects on her personal blog, Pulpit Shenanigans, or listen to Pub Theology Live podcast, of which she is a co-host.
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