"When Following Is Leading"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - 5/3/1998

Psalm 23; John 10:22-32


     During his ministry, people could not be around Jesus without sensing that there was something extraordinary operating in his life. His uniqueness was so obvious that curious people said, "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? Tell us the plain truth; are you the Messiah?" How he answered that question has become the blueprint for what we call "discipleship." He said, "The deeds I do by my Father's authority speak on my behalf; but you will not believe for you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me."

     What does that voice sound like? How does that voice inspire us in our decision making? Should we care if we do not hear that voice the way other people of faith claim they hear it? Should we feel guilty because we can just as easily go to the golf course on a beautiful Sunday morning as come to church?

     Each of us every day, in every circumstance, is either extending the consciousness Jesus brought or we are not. Yes, that includes a golf course. Who we have become, we take everywhere. After Jesus' physical presence left, the disciples were faced with the same decision. As a result of their choice to move forward, they became the leaders who radically influenced the future of humanity.

     We may find it almost impossible to list the events that have occurred because of ever expanding leadership that had its origin with the disciples. In our country alone, we can cite the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Bill of Rights. The listing would be very extensive.

     The disciples could no longer look to Jesus of Nazareth to be the source of their power. Jesus' personality and his body were gone. Jesus was not going to return to them in a form they would recognize. This is what made them initially believe that they could not survive without him. The disciples had to decide to trust what God had started or return to life as they had known it. Jesus said, "Follow me and I will make you teachers, gatherers, leaders, fishers of men and women." By following, the disciples would remain open to having the same Spirit come through them that had come through Jesus.

     Jesus said, "I have come among you as one who serves." That is another way of saying, "I have come among you as one who loves to be helpful and caring, who loves to point to what God is like, and who loves to teach others how to make joy a central part of their lives." Jesus would not have called us to follow him if we were not capable of doing so. There is no truth more central to the Gospel than this.

     Yet, often we can easily leave "the work" within our community for someone else to do. We may have personal doubts that we are the one who is needed. We may not have the confidence to give leadership to a committee. We may feel inclined to say, "I already have too much on my plate.

     I cannot accept one more responsibility." We wonder what such statements reflect. What do they mean?

     A person in the Tuesday morning Bible Study gave me some beautiful words that came from Tim Galway's book, The Inner Game of Tennis. The words describe a wonderful perspective for understanding what all of us experience. Tim urges us to be gentle in our judgments not only with ourselves but also with each other. And he tells us why. Some of us may feel we have little to offer. We may not think well of ourselves; or we prefer to cling to what is comfortable and secure. We may be fearful of taking a leadership role. That's okay. It really is. Listen to what Tim wrote:

     When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as "rootless and stemless." We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed.

     When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don't condemn it as immature and underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear.

     We stand in wonder at the process taking place, and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is born until the time it dies. Within it, at all times, is contained its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each state, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is.

     How easily we forget this truth about each other. When we are capable of hearing the Shepherd's voice, we will. If we have not heard the voice, we can trust and follow those who have. We can take risks and do things in our community we have never done before. Every task matters when it radiates what Jesus brought.

     We have a woman who comes into the sanctuary and sharpens all the pencils in the pews. She does it for you. There are people who make the coffee for us every Sunday. There are people who leave the Tuesday morning Bible Study so they can help with Meals-On-Wheels. We have Christmas in April, the CROP walk, and retirees who help people travel to their doctor appointments. There are those who help mold young men and women in Scouting. People prepare and help serve the Shelter meals. There are people who take communion to those who cannot come to church. There are those who make telephone calls to tell people they have been missed. The list could go on and on. This is the community that Jesus said was possible.

     Peter, James, and John were not the only ones to make the Kingdom visible. Yes, they were important. But, historically it has taken lots of people who will remain unknown, people like us working together to make love visible. We may not believe or fully comprehend all that Jesus was teaching, but when we follow him, we become the leaders who God will use to shape the destiny of our world. Being the leaven for the loaf is no small assignment, but it is ours.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     Each time we come to worship, O God, we are challenged to think differently from the ways we have been taught by our world's teachers. We have learned to measure success by wealth and accomplishment. Jesus taught us to measure success by peace and joy. We have learned to give authority to our opinions and to stand up for what we believe. Jesus taught us to accept others as we find them, and to listen to their stories with compassion. We have learned to avoid conflict, struggle and confusion. Jesus taught us to stand in the midst of every circumstance, trusting that God's will can transform darkness through the presence of light. Heal us, merciful God, for giving authority to the voices that have taught us well, so that we can experience your will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Thank you, loving God, for the community St. Matthew's provides for all of us. We can be a stranger and dip our cup into the stream of life that is present here and find that it is filled. We can be a veteran of many years and still find a newness that forever keeps our spirit alive and attentive to the needs of others.

     How fortunate we are to attract others who are seeking a community that inspires peacefulness, a contrast to the world from which most of us come. And we often find ourselves entering each Sunday knowing that we have made our share of mistakes. How many times have we wanted to back up both the audio and the video tapes of our lives and say things and do things differently? And yet, we learn even from our smallness, the art of playing big in our tomorrows, just as Jesus taught that we could. Thank you, God, for revealing the same forgiving nature that Jesus said was possible for each of us.

     Help us to remain guardians of our thoughts, so that we do not miss any opportunities to make love visible is our words, our deeds and our spirits. We pray these things through the spirit of Jesus Christ, who taught us to say when we pray. . .