Third Sunday after the Epiphany
January 27, 2002
The Gospel: Matthew 4:12-23
The Rev. Dr. William H. Morley
Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles - the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned." From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea - for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
Third Sunday after the Epiphany - January 27, 2002
Jesus changed the lives of Peter and Andrew forever with ten simple words: "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."
The very first deed recounted about Jesus' ministry is not a great miracle, not an impressive demonstration of power, but something quite ordinary. There is no greeting, no extended conversation, or "get-together", but only a summons to two gentlemen who knew how to fish. What they would come to learn over the next three years is in what "pond".
Jesus, we know, deeply loved his disciples during the three years of his earthly ministry. They would go everywhere together and did everything together. They ate, slept, and breathed the life of Jesus and yet it would be difficult for them to make the transition in their minds from a Messiah who would be a mighty King of the Jews to a Messiah that would die for the sins of all human kind. However, Jesus never wavered in his mission. Throughout his entire ministry among the people and his training of the disciples he held in his heart this hope: that Peter along with the rest of his disciples would lose their earthly ambitions and become feeders of sheep--fishers of men.
Isn't it interesting to note that the very first words of Jesus to Peter and Andrew at the waters were, "Follow me, and I will make you a fisher of men. " And, His very last words to Peter, again down at the waters of the Sea of Galilee after his resurrection were: "Feed my sheep, Follow me. "
If we are to be "followers of Jesus" and "fishers of people", then I would like us to consider this morning what it is to be a Christian leader and a Christian follower. To be a good follower and leader I believe, deep in the resources of my soul, one needs to feel a compelling passion and purpose to be a "servant" of the Risen Lord. It is a spark, an energy, a movement deep within us that says: "I feel and know God's presence, I trust my life with His unconditional love, and I feel called to bring to Him those who are lost, in pain and lonely to that reservoir of love and compassion."
I'm sure many of you know or are familiar with the name Leo Burnett. If you have ever read a magazine advertisement or viewed a TV commercial, then you will see the work of the Leo Burnett Advertising agency. He was their legendary founder in 1935. After 32 memorable years in 1967, he delivered his final address to the employees on the day he relinquished day-to-day control of his Chicago agency. The much-honored 76-year-old copywriter said these words:
"Somewhere along the line, after I'm finally off the premises, you - or your successors - may want to take my name off the premises, too. That will certainly be okay with me - if it's good for you. But, let me tell you when I might "demand" that you take my name off the door...."
Leo, then in a few stirring moments - and less than 600 words - ticked off reasons why he'd want his name off the fabled agency:
"That would be the day when you spend more time trying to make money and less time making advertising - our kind of advertising.
When you forget that the sheer fun of ad-making and the life you get out of it - the creative climate of the place - should be as important as the money...
When you lose that restless feeling that nothing you do is ever quite good enough...
When you stop rededicating yourselves everyday to the idea that better advertising is what the Leo Burnett Company is all about...
When you are no longer what Thoreau called a "corporation with a conscience"...
When your main interest becomes a matter of size just to be big - rather than good, hard, wonderful work...
When you disapprove of something and start tearing the hell out of the man who did it rather than the work itself.
When you start believing that, in the interest of efficiency, a creative spirit and the urge to create can be delegated and administered and forget that they can only be nurtured, stimulated and inspired."
Leo Burnett believed that his agency should "reach for the stars" and the underlying purpose and mission was to gain the client's long-term respect and recognition. I believe Leo Burnett felt that the people of the agency should ask themselves a single question daily: "Are you re-dedicating each day to a positive business purpose?"
Much like Leo Bumett's charge to his employees over thirty years ago, Jesus inspired and charged his listeners 2000 years ago (and still demands of us today), with these words from the 5th Chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel: As we listen to them together, let us ask ourselves, "are we re-dedicating our lives to Christ through this charge?":
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile against you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you. (5:3-12)
In a wonderful little book entitled: The Leadership Wisdom of Jesus", Dr. Charles Manz, a professor of leadership in the School of Management at The University of Massachusetts, and noted speaker and business consultant, described aspects of a "wise and compassionate leader". Let me share with you three aspects for your consideration as we continue to think about "what it means to be a Christian leader": they are: Lead Thyself First, Lead Others to be Their Best Selves, and Leaders Focus on the Hearts of Followers.
Lead Thyself First
Remember these words from St. Matthew's Gospel: "Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye but don't see the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye, when there is a log in your own eye' You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take out the speck in your neighbor's eye."
As you heard these words, are there some leaders you've worked for or people you have worked with come to mind? Have you known some irritating hypocrites? Seeing nodding heads and smiles, confirms this common reaction: but perhaps the more important question is --- Did you consider yourself as one in possible need of the advice offered in this passage? Jesus provides some striking advice for moving towards leadership in his community. If you want to lead others, "the first step should be to look into the mirror. "
Too often, when we think about leadership we think about one person (the leader) influencing someone else (the follower). In fact, some believe that when they are in a position of leadership it is their job to tell others what to do. Another way of putting it: they believe they are expected to evaluate others and tell them how they need to change and improve, and follow orders. Jesus, conversely, gives us quite a different view on leadership: he challenges us to first examine ourselves and get our own act together before we try and lead others. This is a hard lesson to learn. It is so tempting to want to SKIP this step. After all, pointing out the problems that other people have and providing answers to their problems can be very gratifying. And if that feels good, can you imagine how good it feels to direct and command others at our whim! Who doesn't want to feel competent, special and even superior? However, without careful self-examination and a sincere willingness to seek ways of improving ourselves the foundation of our leadership will be less effective and we will ultimately do more harm than good. Jesus points to a leadership style that recognizes the value of each person, and is exercised out of a sense of caring and commitment to the well-being of those we lead. It recognizes in the end that each of us is ultimately our own leader.
Therefore, the first step to being an effective Christian leader: first learn to lead yourself.
Lead Others to be Their Best Selves
Let me use another passage from St. Matthew's Gospel to talk about this point:
"A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (13:3-8)
Jesus provides in this Parable of the Sower a metaphor for one of the most important aspects of leadership: laying the groundwork for positive influence and change. Another way of saying this is: preparing the soil for the seeds of leadership.
Change is one of the most feared and avoided phenomena in life. We often resist it, and we are definitely uncomfortable with it. Kurt Lewin, a social scientist, wrote about the three stages of change: "unfreezing", "moving" and refreezing".
"Unfreezing" involves thawing out the rigid status quo. Jesus' teaching emphasizes the significance of the nature of the soil that receives the seeds. Some people at a given point in their lives simply cannot accept some ideas. Surely a rock cannot receive a seed, as in the parable. Using Lewin's metaphor, let's replace "rock" with "ice". If current rigid attitudes and resistance can be set free - unfrozen - then positive influence and change is made possible.
As a business consultant, I have encountered many organizations where senior managers struggle with how to translate the need for change into action through their employees. In reality, their struggle is with the denial and resistance, the psychological impact of change, on their employees. However, we have come to know that when leaders clearly and credibly provide "the purpose, the picture of what it will look like, the plan on how they would like to get there, and most importantly, the part the employee has to play in it ... resistant people become more open to considering and ultimately supporting new approaches. That's "unfreezing".
Stage two is "Moving". Moving is nothing more than creating the opportunity, the environment for people to change behaviors, values and/or attitudes. Shared learning about the change takes the place of telling you "get on the train or be left at the station". If this stage is not done in a healthy way - supportive, empathetic and which allows people to freely choose to participate or not, the "soil" will render the sowing useless.
Stage three is "Refreezing". Once we are comfortable with the change and the new behavior, the leader continues to work with the followers in promoting the continuation of the desired change and modifications. The new behaviors help us to continue to change not reinvent a new "status quo".
Christian leaders help people be their best by building understanding and knowledge about a new direction or change, not by rejecting others for being ignorant. Christian leaders assist followers who accept new directions and change in dealing with unrealistic expectations. Change is hard work and tough stuff. A leader bridges the gap between acceptance of the cause and understanding the difficulty that will be faced along the way. Above all, leaders need to remind themselves of Jesus' point in this parable: leaders lead by promoting clarity, realistic expectations, and the priority of the undertaking.
Therefore, the second leadership lesson is: the seeds of leadership will grow only in soil that is prepared to accept them.
Leaders Focus on the Hearts of Followers
Responding to the contributions of others is a major challenge for leaders. Some consider effective leaders are those who can distinguish levels of performance and dole out rewards according to the amount contributed. It's logical, rational and even just. However, Jesus once again throws us a curve. Remember the story about the poor widow who put two small copper coins worth a penny into the treasury while many rich people put in large sums.
Jesus called to his disciples and said these words: "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on." (St. Mark 12:41-44)
Contributions, Jesus seems to be saying, must be considered in the light of the capabilities of the contributor. The leadership lesson is not to focus on the contribution, rather to pay attention to the intent, the motives and the growth or progress this person is making to be part of the community. Jesus helps us to realize that if a person's heart is in the right place, the skills and capabilities needed to me an effective leader or follower in the Christian community can LIKELY be developed. Think about this for a moment: how many times have we seen people with seemingly tremendous talent and ability whose lives have crumbled on useless paths to nowhere because they lacked the commitment to anything worthwhile? A wise leader will look for people who display a willingness to throw themselves into worthwhile pursuits, and who are ready and eager to learn and do their best. Let me give you an example of what I mean: Does the name Rudy Reuttiger ring a bell?
Perhaps you may have seen the inspiring movie based on his dream and ultimate realization of becoming a student and football player at Notre Dame. Rudy graduated from high school with mediocre grades and no money, and his chances of going to college, much less Notre Dame were remote at best. After working for years and saving his money, he applied to Notre Dame, but was rejected for the first of several times. Refusing to give up, he enrolled in a nearby community college, worked as a groundskeeper at Notre Dame and kept reapplying until he was finally admitted.
Lacking size and talent, Rudy made the football team as a walk-on because of his enthusiasm and determination. After serving on the practice squad for 2 years, he was finally allowed to suit up and stand on the sidelines in the final game of his college football career. With seconds left in the game, and with many of the fans and players inspired by his dedication shouted "Rudy, Rudy, Rudy", so the coach would put him into the final play. In the only play of his career, he sacked the opposing quarterback for a loss. The team responded by carrying him off the field, an honor that has never since been repeated. Indeed, Rudy seemed to have little more than a pennies worth of talent and ability to contribute. But, in the end, he left an inspiring legacy that has been permanently recorded in Notre Dame history. Rudy inspired a more heroic image for Notre Dame football than the countless strong and talented football greats who have played before and after him. He is a story of a person of average size and talent who typical fans can identify with and admire.
Jesus calls us to develop a deeper vision of leadership and fellowships - a vision of beauty in the effort and the sacrifice made by each person. It is a leadership presence that acknowledges the light that shines from the inside out - from their heart and soul of a person - in and through what we observe on the surface of their ministry.
Here those ten simple words again: "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people."
As you leave this sacred ground this morning, keep in mind these thoughtful words of Ellsworth Kalas from his book "From Empty Nets to Full Lives ":
Perhaps our greatest problem in becoming Christ's fishermen is that we are not enough in earnest to grasp the opportunities that come to us; or we are so possessed of the idea that we must say something dramatic and far-reaching that we fail to say the small, immediate and potentially significant thing. To put it in the language of our lesson for the day, most of us really don't act as if we even have a call to "fish." We're out in the waters of human need every day, but we don't seem to know it.
The issue is not that we should become more aggressive about sharing our faith. It is that we should be more sensitive to the needs of the world around us, and more sensitive to the subtle prodding of the Holy Spirit. The two sensitivities are wonderfully intertwined. To be sensitive to the Holy Spirit must mean that we will be more sensitive to people and their pain; to be more sensitive to people ought to make us more open to God and his purposes.
The disciples dropped their nets and followed Jesus. Are we prepared to drop our guard and follow too?