Pr14A Leadership and faith

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Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b
Romans 10:5-15
Matthew 14:22-33

When great leaders die, we worry about who will lead us next.  Whose faith will unite, inspire and encourage us when we are too uncertain or afraid to move?

Matthew’s gospel was written during a death-dealing, destructive military occupation.  It was intended to be a handbook for church leaders.  Peter had recently died, so leadership was a big issue. Who should lead the church next? Matthew’s story of Jesus walking on water is an attempt to answer that question. Basically, the answer was “don’t wait for another Peter.”

Jesus walking on the water is a resurrection story thinly disguised as a miracle story. (Philip Jenkins explains this concisely here.) The story appears in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and John, but only Matthew adds the part about Peter jumping out of the boat. The addition makes the story a cautionary tale about the danger of leadership delegated to one person.

What did Peter do wrong?

First, he put God to the test: “Lord, if it is you…” give me the power to walk on water. Peter gave in to one of the wilderness temptations. (Mtt. 4:7)

Second, although Peter easily takes risks, Jesus says he lacks “faith.”

Third, by jumping out of the boat Peter left the others behind. For Matthew, discernment and decision making is a group process. The Risen One is present when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name. (Mtt. 18)  It was wrong to leave the others behind.

Matthew’s advice to the church is that they should not be seeking another Peter. Peter was not a bad disciple, but autocracy is not the recommended model of governance for Christian community. Leadership should be shared.

We can always hope for great leaders, but if and when they emerge we cannot cast all responsibility for leadership upon their shoulders.  That burden will warp their judgment and their humanity.

In the meantime, we can share leadership.  To do our part, each of us needs informed opinions, the willingness to share them and to listen to others’. We need the willingness to inspire and encourage one another, to do our share of the work and the confidence that our contribution can make a difference.

That last one is sometimes the most difficult. Maybe the faith Peter lacked was not in Jesus, but in himself.

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Photo by Alex Geerts on Unsplash

 

Good ancestors don’t quit

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Pr 13A

Genesis 32:22-31
Psalm 17:1-7,16
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:13-21

Jacob was alone the night before he was to meet his brother, Esau, whom he had cheated out of his inheritance 20 years earlier. He imagined that Esau might want justice or revenge and he could not sleep.  In the night, someone or something attacked him. Scholars agree that the identity of Jacob’s adversary is vague, so depending upon your interpretation of the story, Jacob spent the night wrestling with an angel, another man or his own inner demons.

Jacob doesn’t win but he doesn’t quit either. In the morning, his adversary says “enough” and offers Jacob a new name.  Jacob will be known as the one who struggles with God and humanity.  The nickname is translated to “Israel” and we learn that Jacob will become the father and ancestor of the 12 tribes of Israel.

In Matthew’s miracle story of the loaves and fishes, the 12 baskets of food symbolize those same 12 tribes. The story is Matthew’s way of saying that someday, the 12 tribes will come together in peace and follow Jesus.

It is a lovely vision, but to this day we are nowhere near achieving the miracle of many tribes coming together in peace. Our lives are still the Jacob story: the work of reconciling with one person can keep us up all night, wrestling with God, or ourselves or another person.

I am in week three of working through “Me and White Supremacy.” I find myself wrestling with God:  Why let the atrocity of racism and white supremacy happen?  I wrestle with others: my distant ancestors and today’s leaders for their complicity in the evil. I wrestle with myself: How could I be so very well educated and still understand so little about this? What can I do to dismantle the oppression?  Questions with no easy answers. It is a struggle to continue. It is tempting to quit.

The book’s author, Layla Saad advises readers to anticipate this temptation to quit, and to make our minds up in advance that we will not. She writes that what motivates her to keep going is the desire to become a good ancestor: “to help create change, facilitate healing, and seed new possibilities for those who will come after I am gone.”  Me and White Supremacy, (2020), “Dear Reader.”

Whatever motivated Jacob, he did not give up in his struggle. He got through the night, was given a new name and despite a rather checkered past became a good ancestor. If we don’t quit, maybe we can do that too.

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Image by Lawrence Kisuuki from Pixabay