This is the message I presented on the 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany, 16 January 2000, at Walker Valley UMC. The Scriptures were 1 Samuel 3: 1- 10 (11 – 20), 1 Corinthians 6: 12- 20, and John 1: 43 – 51.
It should not come as a surprise to you all that I am a fan of the 70’s cartoon show, “George of the Jungle.” For those of a more modern era, this was the cartoon show on Saturday mornings that was the basis for the movie of the same name. As with most of the Saturday cartoons, there were a number of selections and one or two starring other characters. One of those characters was Super Chicken. As with all super characters, he had a faithful sidekick, Fred.
Invariably, as Super Chicken was saving the world, Fred would get run over by a truck or hit with a wrecking ball or some other physical disaster that would leave him beat up and bedraggled. But just as he was complaining to his boss about the unfairness of this (after all, wasn’t it Super Chicken who was taking all the risks?), Super Chicken would say “You knew the job was dangerous when you took it!”
But I would hope that such thoughts do not creep into your mind, especially if you are one of those who we honored this morning with the installation of officers of the Administrative Council and members of the various committees. Rather, borrowing from and with my apologies to the U. S. Army, I would hope that you see the task before you as more of an adventure and not just a job that has to be done.
Whether it is serving the church or some organization, leadership roles have taken on a different meaning in the past few years. To some, being the leader of an organization is a matter of honor and pride but it is up to others to do the work. Some see that the position means that they are the only ones capable of doing the job and that they have to do it alone. Somewhere in the middle is where I think leadership falls.
Yes, it is a matter of honor and pride that other considered you worthy of the position that you were asked to take but that same honor and pride should demand that you lead others in the work that must be accomplished. But, by the same token, if you do not involve others in the task, if you feel that you alone are the only one who can complete the yearlong tasks, you will quickly find yourself burned out and not willing to serve the next time you are called.
When it comes to leadership, I think back to a saying that John Kennedy used to explain why he was running for the president of the United States back in 1960.
“In every age there comes a time when leadership suddenly comes forth to meet the needs of the hour. And so there is no man who does not find his time, and there is no hour that does not have its leader.” (The Talmud)
But how do we know when it is our time? What must we do to insure that we know when we are being called to serve? Knowing when it is our time to serve requires that we be ready to serve when called, that we are prepared to serve when called, and to know when we are being called to serve.
Philip told Nathaniel about Jesus but Nathaniel, having studied the prophecies, believed that the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Some commentaries make Nathaniel comment about anything good coming out of Nazareth as a put down on the people of Nazareth but it was more a statement of what Nathaniel’s understanding of the prophecies. But when Jesus showed that he knew who Nathaniel was and that He knew him before this encounter, Nathaniel quickly and unhesitating acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah. And like the others, Nathaniel quickly joined in following Jesus.
That Jesus was indeed the Messiah was that reason that He knew of Nathaniel’s character long before Nathaniel knew that Jesus was the Messiah. It was the manner in which Jesus could describe Nathaniel as “an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” It was also the basis for Jesus saying that great things would come to pass “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angles of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
It was Nathaniel’s character that enabled him to be chosen by Jesus to be one of the twelve. It is a person’s character that is, in part, discussed in the Epistle reading from 1 Corinthians today.
Granted, reading this passage by itself may not seem to fit into a discussion of leadership and who gets picked to serve the church. But when you look at all of 1 Corinthians, you see that Paul is urging the church in Corinth to be unified in its mission and outlook as it lives out the message of the cross in its midst.
As you go back and read this letter, remember that it was addressed to the church at Corinth. We are, in reality, reading someone else’s mail. But, even when we stand outside the circle of the original conversation, because we have been sanctified in Christ and call upon the name of the Lord, as they did, the conversation enlightens us as well.
At the time that Paul wrote this letter the Corinthians were lamentably deficient in their conduct, in spite of the fact that some of them claimed to have a superior wisdom. Paul, in both Chapters 5 and 6, reminds the Corinthians that there are a number of things that they still do not know
No matter how good the leaders are, if there isn’t a common goal, then nothing will be accomplished. Paul, in this letter urged the Corinthians to become more united in their fellowship. He called on individuals to seek the common good rather than their own personal good, to be willing to make concessions in the interest of others. This letter also imposes limits on spiritual enthusiasm. While recognizing the power of the Spirit in energizing the church and its ministries, Paul also say the excesses of spiritualism. If spiritual pursuits threaten domestic stability; they should be curbed. If they threaten to undermine meaningful worship, they should be balanced with more edifying spiritual behavior. On the whole, what emerges from this letter is a set of exhortations and instructions designed to make congregational life a meaningful form of fellowship.
So we may ready when we hear the call; we may be prepared to serve when asked; but how will we know when the call is made?
For me, the passage from the Old Testament is very special, because I was twelve years old, like Samuel, when I made the decision to seek the God and Country Award in the Scouts. But I am going to save that story for a few weeks from now. More importantly, I want us to look at the response of Eli.
It was Eli that understood, granted not immediately, that it was God calling Samuel that night in the temple. If Eli had not provided the proper instruction, Samuel would have never understood that God was calling him.
Leadership is not just a matter of serving now. Leadership can only be successful if you prepare others to serve. Serving for the present time is important but if you do not build for the future, then what is done today is rather limited.
So, the charge before us today is very simple. To serve the Lord and to welcome all those who seek Him. It may be that you will never know when that moment arrives. The preaching and teaching of Jesus, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene, and other bearers of God’s good news had impact but not immediate rewards. As we look through the Bible, we see countless stories of God giving us second, third, and myriad chances. You may never know exactly when the words that you say or the works that you do become the Word of life for another person. Maybe that’s is why this is not a job that you have been asked to do but rather an adventure that you have been asked to undertake.