Sunday, November 20, 2016
When you think of what qualities makes a good leader, what would they be? This past week, our Council and Nominating Committee have both met to prepare for our annual congregational meeting in January. We are using a resource from the book, Becoming a Blessed Church, by Pastor N. Graham Standish, that identifies these seven qualities of a spiritual leader: faith-filled, hopeful, loving, discerning, prayerful, humble, and servant. We are praying that as we elect new people to leadership in this church, they will reflect these qualities to lead our congregation to greater health, so that we all are able to grow spiritually and share good news about Jesus in word and deed. Now, when I think about what our country has said it values about what good leadership is in the recent election, it has not been pretty, on either side. When politics get heated, like they have been, our ideas about leadership can get warped. It’s easy to forget about those spiritual leadership values I just mentioned. I have been discouraged to think about how the negative campaigning that dragged on for so long rarely if ever mentioned any of those qualities of spiritual leadership. Loving? Humble? Servant-oriented? I don’t think so.
For me, this Sunday where we remember that as Christians Christ is our King, Savior, and Lord, was a message I needed to hear. It’s so easy to get caught up in the values of this world, where leadership is equated with claiming political power at the expense of others and attacking and marginalizing those who disagree – a competition to win. Certainly, the presidential election is practically all we’ve been hearing on the news and talking about on social media for the last few months, if not years! As a Christian I am disappointed and honestly a little scared for our future when I think about how divided our country has become. It seems almost impossible to have mutually respectful conversation with one another, to agree to disagree at times, and work together for the best for our country. We have been bombarded by an unhealthy political process that has taken over the media, taken over even our family discussions and relationships to the point that I think a lot of us have been convinced that this president-elect is either the Anti-Christ or the next Messiah. And a lot more of us perhaps are fed up, tired, and hopeless about the political process. Today brings us back to remember that we are Christians first, united by the One who shows us true leadership, and who gives us true hope, Jesus our King.
I am 32 years old, which means I’ve been able to vote now in four presidential elections, and when I reflect on where I am today from where I was as an excited, idealistic 20-year-old college student, I’m a little sad about how cynical and distrustful of our political process I have become. But I also think that my faith has grown and matured to value different values of leadership. Honestly, there was a time when I thought a particular candidate being elected for president would save the world. I almost equated that person with being America’s Messiah. And I know I was not alone in having this mindset – when I was looking for images I found a portrait of Donald Trump with an angelic halo over his head and another of Barack Obama with a crown of thorns as if he were Christ. Our president is not and never will be the Messiah. Neither the Democratic nor the Republican parties will bring us heaven here on earth. As Christians we have this opportunity here in worship and reflection today to step out of the political mess, to tune out the noise around us and remember that Christ alone is our King, Lord, and Savior.
Jesus is a different kind of king, a different kind of leader. The gospel today reminds us that Jesus leads from the viewpoint of the cross, his crown a crown of thorns. Instead of using his power to save himself, he dies to save us all. When the soldiers mock him, he prays for God the Father to forgive them. While the criminals on his right and left are executed for their crimes, they speak about Jesus’ innocence and righteousness. Jesus does not deserve to die, especially in this way. But he does so anyway, and it is not a display of weakness as a leader, as those with power around him claim. In what the world criticizes as weakness, God reveals Jesus’ greatest strength: victory over death through death, God’s saving love through self-sacrifice for the sake of those who do not deserve it. Even in his dying moments, Jesus is extending God’s love, forgiveness, and salvation to the criminal who repents, saying, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus leads not by claiming all power for himself, as he clearly could do as God’s own son. Instead, Jesus gives up all earthly power for the sake of a different kingdom – God’s kingdom. Jesus is a different kind of leader, a different kind of king.
Now at this point I hope I have not gotten us all to the point of despair over our country – certainly there are so many things we can still celebrate and thank God for these great United States. And as for our presidents, past, current and elect, God can and does work all the time through imperfect people. God is at work in the human mess of our congressional, judicial, and executive leadership, from the local to the national level. But as American Christians, it is vitally important that we remember who’s really, ultimately in charge. We serve Jesus Christ, first and last.
Lutherans have a particular way of understanding our place in the world called “the doctrine of two kingdoms.” Luther talked about when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” that we can hope to see signs of God’s kingdom inbreaking in our world, here on earth, today. We don’t have to wait until we get to heaven to experience moments of being a part of God’s kingdom. We can work as faithful citizens to advocate for values consonant with Christ’s in our government. But to say there are two kingdoms is to admit that God’s kingdom has not yet fully arrived here on Earth because Christ has not yet returned. We await a heavenly kingdom that does not exist here on earth. And while we wait, we can reflect on and seek to embody those spiritual qualities of leadership that Christ shares with us on the cross: loving, faith-filled, hopeful, discerning, prayerful, humble, servant. In our own lives, how do we try to live out those values, whether it’s in our family relationships, in our workplace, in the ministries we’re involved with here at church, and in other groups that we’re a part of? May Christ our King show us a way forward to lead with these values and guard us against the unhealthy values of this world. May Christ our King protect and guide our country. And may God’s kingdom come, God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.