Texts: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver * Matthew 4:12-22 (Jesus calls his first followers)
In this year of multiple crises, there has been a lot of talk about leadership. Today, the Conservative Party of Canada elects a new federal leader. Last week, the Democratic National Convention nominated Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as its candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. This week, the Republican Convention will re-nominate the current President and Vice-President.
The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the leadership of every country. In places like the United States that have the misfortune to be led by narcissistic bullies the pandemic has become a runaway catastrophe. Other countries have had better results.
Canada and the United States are similar in many ways. But today, Canada has 5,000 active cases of COVID-19 while the United States has 2.5 million. This means the U.S. has fifty times more cases of COVID-19 per capita than Canada. On the other hand, there are countries like Taiwan, Vietnam, and New Zealand that have been more successful than Canada.
Leadership is not only a political issue. Every institution, community of faith, and family requires leadership. You can even view an individual life through the lens of leadership. Will we allow our one wild and precious life to be ruled by unexamined passions and ideologies, or can we stay in touch with an inner divinity and so shape our heart and actions in ways that are true to sacred values?
Today, I begin a series of reflections on the different qualities that describe sacred leadership – honesty, integrity, ability to inspire, ability to communicate, creativity, empathy, and humility. You can probably think of other ways to describe the leadership you seek in your heart, in your family, and in the country.
As followers of the Way of Jesus, we look to the gospels to help us think about leadership. On this introductory Sunday, we heard a story of Jesus’ call to his first students. Not much is mentioned there other than Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James, and John and they immediately drop their nets, leave their families, and follow him.
Perhaps these four young fishers have been holding out for a hero, and Jesus strikes them like the hero for whom they have been waiting.
The song “Holding Out for a Hero” is from the 1984 hit movie “Footloose.” It starts like this: “Where have all the good men gone / And where are all the gods? / Where’s the streetwise Hercules to fight the rising odds? / Isn’t there a white knight upon a fiery steed? . . . / I need a hero / I’m holding out for a hero ’til the end of the night.”
These lyrics remind me of how Jesus is often portrayed – as a superman who can heal all our ills and fix all of our problems. But this is not what Peter, Andrew, James, and John experience. Jesus shows them how to proclaim God’s realm, to heal the sick, and wake those who are sleepwalking through life. But he then sends them out to preach and heal on their own. And despite what church leaders often say about the cross, Jesus doesn’t die on our behalf. He models a Way for us and then calls us to take up our own cross.
Jesus’ call has great power and charisma. But as Mary Oliver reminds us in her poem “Wild Geese” the world itself can call out to us and draw us deeper into the family of things . . .
I identify with the movie “Footloose.” One of the two leads is a preacher’s kid who struggles with the moralism of her preacher father; and I’m a preacher’s kid. The other lead is an idealistic young man who finds himself uprooted from the big city of Chicago and replanted in a small town in Oklahoma; and nine years ago at the start of my career as a minister, I was uprooted from the big city of Toronto and replanted in a small town in Saskatchewan. The fit between the movie and me isn’t perfect. But I remember it with fondness.
The male lead in “Footloose,” Ren, wins a debate to allow dancing at the high school prom. But it takes all the graduates, and their parents, to make the dance a glorious celebration of life and love.
Putting this story beside those of the gospels, one could say that Jesus shows us how to dance, but we still have to get out on the on the dance floor and join him to make our dreams come fully to life.
The Way of Jesus is one of healing and enlightenment. But it is a path upon which we follow Jesus not as grateful bystanders but as full participants. In lives of loss and love, Jesus teaches us that we will suffer what he suffers and rise with him to a new and more enlightened life.
In the crisis-ridden year of 2020, many are looking for a hero to rescue us from corruption, disease, violence, and economic collapse. The stories of Jesus remind us that this hero lies within us. We call it the Risen Christ.
I will have much more to say about leadership and the Risen Christ over the next weeks. But for now, I close by reminding us that when we fan the flame of our inner divinity and join it with the divinity flickering within others in family, community, and country, we discover all the power we need to heal this weary world and bring humanity’s awesome potential to fruition.
May it be so. Amen.