Monday, May 14, 2018

"By the Power of the Holy Spirit: Leaders are Raised Up" - Sermon, May 13, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“By the Power of the Holy Spirit: Leaders are Raised Up”
Pastor Andrew Davis
May 13, 2018
Acts 1: 15-17, 21-26

        The feeling of being back to reality can be a challenge after having a week off before, although still been trying to shake this chest cold.  Then again, each time I’ve had to deal with one, it takes a few weeks to fully shake.  Although you’d think I’d un-learn how to ‘burn the candle at both ends and the middle.’ I’m also grateful for technology that connects us across the distances, as I got to watch the class of 2018 at Wesley Theological Seminary graduate on Monday via the livestream on the seminary’s website, while reflecting back to my own graduation in 2016.  It gave me a lot to reflect on seeing our graduates heading off into the world to begin their own ministries, whether it’s pastoring a church, working for a non-profit, or other forms of ministry or vocation.  Seems fitting that we are in the season of graduations as our college students and high school students prepare to take their next steps. 
            Today, we are in the midst of several things, with today being Mother’s Day, in which we honor our mothers, grandmother’s, aunts, and other women who are motherly figures for many of us.  While some women have never had children before or might not have been able to have children, there is still this opportunity to be a motherly figure and mentor for many, especially our young people today and as we talk about raising up leaders among us…  I can’t wait to see how our girls and boys will grow up to see them become our leaders someday…
            In our reading from Acts this morning, the disciples are coming back to Jerusalem after Jesus’s ascension, as today happens to be Ascension Sunday, which is the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry and is now the disciples’ turn to lead the newly forming church, or as it was called at the time of the writing of Acts, ‘followers of the way.’ Since Easter, we have been considering some of the readings from the Book of Acts, in which the disciples are teaching and healing in the name of Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It’s the name of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that speaks to us today. 
            As we see in the first chapter of Acts, Peter is emerging as the leader of the disciples and the newly forming church, as it’s the same Peter that tried to walk on water, or oftentimes opened his mouth and inserted his foot when we walked alongside Jesus, even denying Jesus three times before Jesus’ death.  Yet, in an act of grace and mercy, Jesus still relies on Peter in his post-resurrection appearances, and now Peter seems to be the one who is rising above his own shortcomings and leading the community of believers, as written in the first half of the Book of Acts.  Yet following Judas’s death, Mathias is chosen as one of the new disciples to replace Judas (who betrayed Jesus) and to help lead the new community of believers in the name of Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It’s now up to the disciples/apostles to share about the resurrection and witness to the faith in Jesus, just as it’s up to us today as disciples of Jesus Christ. 
            It’s quite appropriate this morning that we talk about leaders being raised up, especially as the committee on lay leadership prepares to begin its work in raising up leaders for 2019 (although I can already see some start to hide under the pews…).  As we sang the hymn, “We Are the Church” last Sunday, verse one says how the church is the people and the leaders of the church are among all of us out here.  Now, one of the things that people will roll their eyes at is being asked to serve on a committee, yet serving on a committee is a blessing.  I will not deny that things can be bureaucratic at times, yet leadership is a blessing and a true honor when asked to serve.  At the same time, leadership has its share of challenges too, which I think adds to the inspiration of serving because it can help us grow as disciples and people of faith. 
            When I was taking best practices of church leadership and administration with Rev. Dr. Lovett Weems Jr., Dr. Weems defined leadership as ‘taking God’s people to the next step of faith,’ which is what we are called to do when leaders are raised up or when we are raised up as leaders.  That was what the apostles and Peter were called to do after Jesus ascended to Heaven, as it was up to them to now take the new community of faith to the next step of faith.  Even our mothers, or mother-figures have a hand in raising us up as leaders, as I know my mom sure did.  For many of us today, there are challenges when it comes to leadership and leading God’s people.  I know I don’t need to sound like a broken record about the lack of people coming into the church and the worldly challenges we face.  Similarly, I don’t necessarily like to look to the past when churches were bursting at the seams because what worked then may not exactly work today.  In our own church, we are fortunate to have people who step up when called on, although we are constantly looking towards how we lead ourselves into the future. 
            Aside from leading our church as pastor, I serve on the conference committee on young people’s ministry and the Great Northern District Council on Ministry.  This past Fall after our district celebration, our district superintendent, Rev. Dr. Dave Samelson gave everyone on the district council a copy of Tod Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. Throughout the book, Todd Bolsinger uses the example of the Lewis & Clark expedition to the Pacific Northwest during the Jefferson administration in addressing challenges they faced along the way, and how Lewis & Clark with their crew had to adapt to finding new ways of leading into uncharted territory.  In the world we live in today, Todd Bolsinger explains that
Adaptive challenges are the truest tests of leadership.  They are challenges that go beyond the technical solutions of resident experts or best practices, or even the organization’s current knowledge.  They arise when the world around us has changed but we continue to live on the success of the past.  They are challenges that cannot be solved through compromise or win-win scenarios, or by adding another ministry or staff person to the team.  They demand that leaders make hard choices about what to preserve and to let go.  They are challenges that require people to learn and to change, that require leaders to experience and navigate profound loss.[i]

            For the apostles and for Peter who is the leader that emerges, they are the ones to carry on Jesus’s work, which has carried on into today as we continue that work, we all need to continually see what needs to be kept and needs to be let go of, even though letting go is a challenge in itself.  Sometimes, I’ll half-jokingly make a reference to the Crusades, which was a dark time in the history of Christianity, but is what it can feel like when change happens. And, change is when leadership is tested.
When it comes to leadership in general, Bolsinger further explains that
Leadership is not authority.  It is not the title or position that a person holds.  Leadership is different from management.  Leadership is not running good meetings, keeping good books, overseeing good programs and making good policies (as important as those are!).  Management is a kind of stewardship.  Management cares for what is.  Leadership is focused on what can be or must be…[it is] about an organization fulfilling its mission and realizing its reason for being.[ii]

If you turn to the very front cover of your bulletin, we have the UMC’s mission and our church’s mission.  When we think of leaders to raise up, everything ultimately centers back to fulfilling the mission of the church and how that mission will best be carried out.   Back in the apostles’ time and still relevant to our time, that mission was about fulfilling the ministry Jesus was sent by God to teach us how to love one another, how to live, which became The Way to this new community of believers.  Even as Jesus ascended to Heaven, he assured the disciples that his presence would still be with them by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Good News is that his presence is still with us today. 
Not everyone wants to be a leader and that’s okay, but we’re all disciples and we all have a role in fulfilling the mission of the church and Jesus’s work in the world today, by faith and by putting our faith into action.  When we trust the power of the Holy Spirit, we may be pleasantly surprised in the leaders who are raised among us, just like Peter and Matthias.  As we go into the new week, how will you rely on the Holy Spirit to help fulfill the mission of the church and is God calling you to be a leader in any way, shape, or form? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say, Amen!! 

[i] Todd Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2015), 19. 
[ii] Ibid., 19, 21. 

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