17 January 2021
Jesus has just been baptised by John the Baptist, he has been named as the chosen one, given his task and he is then called by God into the wilderness.
The wilderness is a place with no boundaries, it is lawless and dangerous, where wild animals and bandits roam freely, where fears are faced and vision tested. Here the choices are placed in front of him. Tempting, good choices - remember nothing is tempting if it doesn't look "good to the eye and desirable".
This is not about morality. It is about how Jesus will exercise his ministry.
Will he just fulfil the expectations the world has of a Messiah or will he find the vision of whom he is to be? How will the vision stack up against the pressures he is to face? Will he be able to have a clarity so he can see through the temptations. What looks good, and may be good also may hide behind it the path to death rather than life because it is not part of the wider vision.
Vision is an essential component of leadership.
Lets give an example. If you are driving to Wellington to meet your favourite uncle Augustus in Christchurch and have to be there to catch the ferry over Cook Strait at a particular time, then all those cute little cafes on the way in Tirau will look good but you will not linger because you need to keep travelling to get to meet your uncle Augustus. Yes, he's at the place you really, really want to go to. Vision can see through temptations. Vision keeps you on track.
Some New Zealand leaders were asked what Christian and in fact any leadership is about. Paul de Jong, Christian Life Centre says that leaders are called by God. They are not just seeking opportunity or position, a job. [Whether it is paid or voluntary makes no difference]. He says those who have been effective over the long haul are those who have also received a clear God-inspired vision that reaches beyond what looks possible in the present, what things can be. Not a 'wish list' or the copying of someone else's inspiration, but a dream that can be embraced by the people. Leaders who base their leadership on an encounter with God and clarity of vision will discover that everything else will begin to take shape and emerge.
That is really exciting. You might think being a girls' brigade leader or youth leader or elder or manager is something you agreed to do. But today we confirm that you are called by God to do this task, at this time. And your vision needs to be wider that just the little group you are part of. If you are the leader, you need to be able to see what things can be like, how what you are doing now will affect the future and what you are part of. The bigger picture of the world around you and know that in doing this you are serving God.
For Girls Brigade someone had a vision away back for Girls to be reached for Christ and to do this by creating an experience of an environment where they could learn and grow and develop their potential. An organisation called Girls Brigade. Now over the years the activities have changed, the uniform has had many changes, but the vision , the purpose, of Girls brigade is still "To help girls become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, and through self-control, reverence and a sense of responsibility, to find true enrichment of life. What is the vision of each leader? Does it square with to "help girls become the followers of Jesus Christ?" Are you all rowing in the same direction?
The struggles of Jesus show us that for leaders there are temptations to use power to meet your own needs, to gain popularity with stunts and miracles - The spectacular - which shows you have God's favour -special powers. Jesus saw more clearly than we ever can what his task was and to whom he was accountable and rejected that which was easy, or popular and went in obedience, on a path which led to death - in order that life could come, for us, for the world.
Darryl Gardiner says that ethics are important. This means personal and group accountability and openness. For example, just because something works and someone seems like a good leader does not mean it is right. It is too easy to move into a powerful position as a leader where one can abuse that power and those one leads. Unless we place ourselves in structures which will recognise and deal with this problem that faces leaders, we will fail to respond to this threat. Of course many of us know what this is like when Ministers become seduced by power and succumb to its wiles because we have seen it happen. It happens among elders also. It is a pitfall of leadership at all levels. Don't go it alone - there are others around you and structures to whom you need to be accountable.
But there are other temptations, some which subtly undermine us. The world sees numbers as an indicator of "success". Is there really any correlation, and is it appropriate, to talk of Christian work in terms of success and numbers?
Remember that some of the biggest conmen in history have run big churches (some have run small churches too so it canít be about numbers). We tend to measure things by the ideals of the society we live in and assume they automatically apply to us. Society tends to see things that are 'successful' as big and we, too, often transfer this to our view of our groups and churches.
Doug Lendrum argues that small projects are often undervalued as they are not as visible, or exciting, and yet they can be just as - or even more - effective in their task. Don't undervalue yourselves - this is where you are asked serve - carry out that task with care and love. And you will see slowly, or sometimes amazingly God at work.
Jesus had to struggle with whether he fulfilled other's expectations of being a Messiah, Youth leaders can have enormous expectations put on them about numbers, forget the numbers. Get on with your work faithfully and if others come, get help, don't assume you have to do it all yourselves. This is God's work you are doing. God will provide the people for it.
Leaders need to major on the vision, the big picture, and self-sacrifice. I'm not just talking about the hours you put aside to do the task you are called to. There is another form of sacrifice. Often, leaders will not see their work completed. There is so much competing for peopleís time, energy and interest. You seem to work so hard sometimes, like that story of the disciples who fished all night and caught nothing. But remember Its God's work and you can place that unfinished task in God's hands. Trust and be faithful, for everything at the end is completed in Christ. Nothing of value is wasted, even if we cannot see it at the time.
The Vision is more than a destination and your real vision determines your journey.
Lets get back to Uncle Augustus. You've crossed in the ferry and are going down the road to Christchurch when uncle Augustus texts you and says "I've got to Napier, meet you there". You change direction and go to Napier. Even if you've already caught the ferry . You do not have any hesitation because the purpose of your journey was to meet your uncle. Christchurch was only the first place where you might find him.
That is where the temptation could be. You are so near Christchurch where you wanted to go. If you keep driving on to Christchurch we find your real vision of your end journey is not your uncle but you were really wanting to use your uncle as an excuse to go to the place you wanted to be. The temptation to use God as the reason to gain for yourself is great. To do spectacular deeds to be be rescued after you have taken great risks to show you are specially blessed by God is not on. . God must never be secondary. The Vision counters the temptation to keep on going to our own destination and reminds us where the real journey lies.
So God calls us all into service in many ways and uses many circumstances . We need to know that it is God we serve and the aim is not just to have to get to Christchurch, nice though it is. Otherwise we miss the vision and risk missing the place God calls us to be in, and we will be miserable and unsatisfied. We can fool ourselves so easily when we try to justify our choices.
For all of us, we promise today to support our leaders, to encourage them in their tasks. To allow them to be accountable as to their vision and their working well and to have systems which support their leadership.
Remember also -[Samuel Candler says] that the third temptation was to use the kingdoms of this world for material satisfaction. There are a lot of kingdoms in this world. We belong to families, we serve on committees of good institutions; they lay a claim on us. We may volunteer at all sorts of wonderful organizations, We belong to a city and pay taxes.
These are kingdoms, and they are good ones. But none of them is worthy of our worship. Some of us like to live on high mountains, where we can view all the kingdoms that we are part of. We've assembled quite a set of kingdoms. We're part of this. We're part of that. But Jesus says, " Away with you, you tempter. It is written, 'Worship the Lord your God and serve only him."
Our ultimate devotion is God alone. Our ultimate allegiance is God alone. And then we are freed to serve one another, to love one another and to be called by God into being the people we are to be following our Leader, Jesus himself.
Thanks to Doug Lendrum, St Davids Auckland from whom I have used a number of references and quotes from leadership material including Brian Hathaway, Paul de Jong, Darryl Gardiner,
William Loader notes on Lectionary reading.
The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler, Day 1, 2008.
Rev. Margaret Anne Low
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