Who we become as leaders is every bit as important as what we do. In the language of one tradition, we are called to promise that we will serve the people we lead with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. It is the last of these four promises that concerns us today. For those familiar with the Christian tradition, ending our vows with the promise to serve with love should come as no surprise. After all, love is the greatest of all Christian virtues. Love is the fulfillment of God’s vocation for us as human beings.
Yesterday, we reflected on Jesus as a revolutionary communicator who connected with people by coming near to them. In today’s passage, we see Jesus coming near in powerful and vulnerable ways by taking on the role of a servant. As a pastor and speaker, I can sometimes rely too much on my words to exercise leadership. Jesus, as a revolutionary communicator, was certainly an expert with his words, but his life modeled putting those words into action.
Jesus wanted to be sure the disciples knew the most important message of all: Love. No matter how many miracles they might perform, or how big the church might grow, or how many people they might baptize or visit in prison, none of that would mark them as disciples of Jesus. These things weren’t radical to the mind of Christ… What would be astounding to a watching world would be the love that Christ’s disciples displayed for each other.
The words of Jesus, as well as the words found throughout the Bible, are full of the Spirit and life. Yes, they are challenging at times, even unsettling. But as we read, study, meditate upon, pray, and put into practice the words God has given us in Scripture, we will experience more of the Spirit and more of the full, abundant life found in Jesus.
It takes intentionality and effort to “make our dwelling among” those we lead. Being present with our followers takes time and attention… “Flesh and blood” leadership, the incarnational leadership that Jesus taught and embodied, requires something more. It means finding ways to live among—in other words, to enter the world of—those we lead.
If you are like me, you struggle with living and leading in a public world where meaning and community are often hard to come by. We are surrounded by senseless human evil, natural disasters, physical illness, and institutional dysfunction. Most of our world seems to be in darkness. But as the prophet Isaiah prophesied millennia ago, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light!”
Many of us have been deeply wounded by others. Some bear burdens so great, we would be astounded to take in their full weight. God’s invitation to forgiveness is not a call to “just get over it.” The invitation to forgiveness is not a mandate to “forget about it and move on.”
Yesterday we talked about how we spend the majority of our lives working in some way — whether paid or unpaid — and that our work should glorify God. But we all know that our work is not the totality of our lives and it makes sense to evaluate our work within a broader context.
Oh, how difficult it is to realize we’ve been wrong about something! For so many of us, it’s quite painful to let go of a long-held understanding of one thing in order to make room for a more expansive perspective or (and this is the worst) an opposing viewpoint on one thing or another.
The basic meaning of Jesus’s statement is clear. He was entrusting care of his mother to one of his most intimate friends and followers. He was making sure that she would be loved and cared for after Jesus’s death. Jesus knew he could trust his beloved follower with such an important responsibility.