Taking the Lead 1-10-16

 

Today is Baptism of Jesus Sunday – the day when we remember that Jesus was baptized just like we were. This ritual where we put water on the heads of infants or of adults and announce that their lives are claimed by the Living God. It’s a profound ritual in which we promise God that we will be part of and we will bring up our children to be part of the community of Jesus Christ. That we will all be leaders.

We remember the Spirit coming down like a dove and blessing us, blessing our children, claiming them as part of the work of God. Wow.

Acts 8:14-17 When the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. The two went down to these people and prayed that they would receive the Holy Spirit. She had not yet come down upon any of them, since they had only been baptized in the name of Jesus. Upon arriving, the pair laid hands on the Samaritans and they received the Holy Spirit. 

January 10, 2016

Taking the Lead

So, I agree to head up a committee for this organization I belong to – like POWER Metro. As a leader of a committee there are certain things that are supposed to get done – phone calls, e-mails, reports, whatever. I ask someone from another church to write some letters to legislators for me for instance. I e-mail them to ask them to help. They don’t answer. I call them. i get an answering machine. I text them a little testily, and they answer, “Oh, I didn’t get your messages.”

Can you blame me for deciding to just do it myself? No, you can’t. I can get the job done better. I can get it done faster even… in the short run. But the truth is that if we are not creating leaders, if we are not empowering other people to take the lead, then less work can get done. Today we are talking about respecting leaders, and creating leaders.

In planning for this afternoon’s POWER Metro meeting the organizer asked who should speak to get people excited about the February 21st founding convention. Somebody suggested my name. (I was flattered) Even though I was in the meeting, though, the organizer said, “Well, David spoke at the last meeting. Maybe we could get someone else to speak at this one.”

Smart – because we need to develop a bunch of leaders if we are going to build a movement for education and employment. In this church, too often I just decide to do something myself. Dorothy Hull is always on my case about that. She knows that does not work. Leaders have to empower other leaders. An organizing principle I have learned over the years is “Never do for someone else, something they can do for themselves.” I want to show you this little directory book. I get calls all the time from people asking me for somebody’s number or e-mail. Folks, I am very proud that I can retrieve anyone’s number in 10 seconds, but really, we print this directory for a reason. Leaders, find ways to be able to be in touch with your people.

Today we dedicate and bless the leaders of this church. We do this every year, even when we don’t change leaders because we want to empower them and support them. Each one of them – each one of you – makes a difference in how the church runs. You all are leaders. We all – as it says in the bulletin each week – we all are the ministers of the church. Our ministry is connected to our baptism, because that is a direct blessing from the divine.

 

Usually we read on this Sunday one of the stories of Jesus being baptized by John in the Jordan river. It’s one of the only stories in the New Testament that appears in all four gospels, so it was clearly an important event to the early Christian community. This year, we would have read from Luke, but I decided instead to read this short passage from the second book written by the same author or authors, the book of Acts.

This passage may not sound terribly significant, but it has been one source of an argument in the church over centuries. It seems that the disciple Philip was carrying out his ministry in Samaria. After Steven was martyred, the disciples fanned out to create new Christian converts all over the place, and Philip was in the area near Israel occupied by people considered rivals, foreigners, or even infidels. And he was having success in his work. People had been very impressed with a guy named Simon who was a magician, but when Philip showed up they immediately recognized that his preaching was more powerful than Simon’s magic, because it had the power of the Spirit behind it.

So they asked to be baptized. Now here’s the controversial part. Even though they were baptized with water, the passage says they weren’t baptized with the Holy Spirit until John and Peter came down and prayed for them. Then their baptism was complete. So for centuries there has been a question over whether baptism by water and the actualization of that baptism by the presence and blessing of the Holy Spirit are two different things that come at different times. And whether the real baptism of the Holy Spirit has to be done by someone who is a special leader more deeply connected to Jesus, like Peter and John.

 

Do you understand the controversy, and why it was confusing to people? We United Methodists believe that baptism is an outward sign of an inward and invisible grace – that the Holy Spirit is present in any baptism, whether we get a special tingling feeling or not! But the Spirit blows where it will. She can show up anytime and touch people with a surprising presence.

This is important because we believe that the Spirit can work through any of us as leaders of the church. There are certainly people with special gifts. You would not want me trying to provide music for the church service. let alone singing alto. And thank God for Lauri, Cathy, and Rick’s financial skills and dedication.

You trust me as a spiritual conduit and leader. We symbolize that trust by a layperson placing the stole over my shoulders for a sacrament like baptism or communion. I love having laypeople – and the children – at my side for all of those experiences. I am confident that the power of the Spirit is strengthened by our prayer together and our trust united in community.

My point is that other leaders in St. Luke can step up more and take the lead in praying publicly for us. You don’t need me to say the prayer over a community luncheon. Even if I’m there, someone else could do it. The only leg up I have is that I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Other people will get good at it if we give them a chance. Prayer, preaching, teaching, Bible study, visiting – all of these aspects of ministry are things that lots of leaders in the church could do more of.

As a leader at St. Luke, I promise that this year I’ll ask more people to pray, and trust more people to take the lead. You can call me on it – if I give you a task and then do it myself, or you see me doing that with someone else. I also challenge each of you to be leaders in your own particular sphere – to do what needs to be done, not to wait for someone else. I give you permission to live out the blessing of the Holy Spirit in your life, to be the leader you are meant to be.

2051  I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry