Sermon, June 10, 2012
Rev. Leah Grundset Davis
The Truth About Leadership: Pick Your Battles
I don’t know about you all, but I had a wonderful time last weekend. As I’m sure most of you know, last weekend we celebrated our 150th Anniversary as a congregation with a beautiful concert on Friday night, a gala with toasting and dancing on Saturday night and a Sunday morning worship service that will go down in the history books as one of the most meaningful personally for me. To gather with so many of you and welcome back those saints who shaped and formed this place was special and reminded us of our high calling.
I wonder if those who have left Calvary were able to come back and see their fingerprints all over this place- in the children’s ministry, in our music, in our worship, in the building itself or just in the overall feel of this place. We are grateful to all of you who helped shape the weekend and who spent hours preparing everyone and everything so that we might have a grand celebration.
But as we sang and danced and prayed and worshiped, we were missing out on another celebration an ocean away. I do not know why the Queen of England chose to have her Diamond Jubilee the same weekend as our anniversary celebration, but perhaps her schedulers should have thought better about that one. I heard a few people on Sunday say that they were DVR-ing the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, but most importantly, you were still in church on Sunday.
The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was something for the record books. This past weekend was a celebration marking her 60 years as Her Royal Highness, the Queen of England. After the service, may I insist, after the service, I encourage you to go to TheDiamondJubileewebsite and check out all of the events, which were created and strictly organized to celebrate the Queen. I will mention just a few.
While we listened to the beautiful music of our choir and special guest Josh Coyne on Friday night, the Queen was resting at home. She was preparing for her gigantic weekend to begin. Because on Saturday morning, her grand celebration began. Her first stop was at the Epsom Derby, accompanied by her husband where they celebrated the winner and for the rest of the day, she went on to have several lunches and dinners.
But the big events were on Sunday- sound familiar? And the idea of the Big Lunch came to reality. One can imagine that any lunch involving the Queen becomes an elaborate, Big Lunch. But the idea behind this one was for all of the UK to get together with friends and family and sit around the table and celebrate each other.
The Big Lunch took place all over, people invited neighbors, family members, friends to their home for a Big Lunch- some were potlucks, some were catered and some were at restaurants. So of the gatherings even positioned their tables so they created the number 60 when seen from above.
The point of gathering for the big lunch was a lead up to the Jubilee Flotilla, which is what i know most of you were wanting to DVR last weekend! Over 1000 boats and ships came down the River Thames in the heart of London with orchestras, dancing and performances all in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
The Queen made only a few public statements over the course of the weekend, perhaps the most poignant being when she emerged from her balcony with tears in her eyes, the crowd cheering below and she said, “I hope that memories of all this year’s happy events will brighten our lives for many years to come. I will continue to treasure and draw inspiration from the countless kindnesses shown to me in this country and throughout the Commonwealth. Thank you all.”
On Monday of this week, a special worship service was held and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams who some consider to be a modern day prophet said this about Queen Elizabeth’s reign: “It is a dedication that has endured faithfully, calmly and generously through most of the adult lives of most of us here. We are marking six decades of living proof that public service is possible and that it is a place where happiness can be found. She has made her public happy and all the signs are that she is herself happy [and] fulfilled.”
It is worth noting that Rowan Williams, the man who has published and pastored and equipped the Anglican Communion for 34 years had good things to say about the Queen. Often times, prophets do not think highly of any monarchy. For whatever reason, perhaps because the Queen’s monarchy is somewhat removed from the ruling of the country, the Queen enjoys relative favorability as she serves the country as monarch.
Today, we begin our new sermon series called The Truth About Leadership. How convenient for us (and really for me) that as we begin a sermon series about monarchy that a certain monarchy was in the news this week. For us, we will be taking a look at the rise of the monarchy in ancient Israel. Our lectionary texts take us through mostly the reign of King David, the most well-known and depending on who you are, either the most-loved or most-hated king in Israel’s history.
In fact, the books 1 and 2 Samuel are written in such a way as to promote the reign of King David. As the books were written down centuries after the reign of David, they were written in a favorable way toward the monarchy, but specifically toward the descendants of David. I wonder who was writing this history? The books were written after the monarchy fell and the people found themselves in the hands of Babylonian captors during the time period known as the Babylonian Exile.
At that time in Exile, they remembered fondly the first three kings of Israel’s history- Saul, David and Solomon and considered the latter kings, the ones when the kingdom divided to be the ones who put them in this place of Exile.
But we must first look at how the people even got a king! Remember last fall and our series Life Together? We trudged and murmured with the people while they wandered through the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt. They wandered for 40 years before reaching the land of Canaan, which God had promised them.
We stopped there in our sermon series, but the people kept going and after the people reached the land, they quickly forgot what it meant to be the oppressed and became the oppressor, slaughtering groups of people who inhabited the land as they made their way through the land in the time period usually known as the Conquest.
As the tribes of Israel ettled amongst the people already inhabiting the land, they divided up the land into districts according to the tribes. And as they settled, they started to have a system of Judges arise over the people. God would call and anoint one leader known as a Judge and this person settled financial disputes and somewhat led the people although it is not certain whether there was ever true unity among the people or any type of centralized government at this point.
Some of our famous Judges were Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. My Sunday School class can answer any of your questions about Judges- we just finished a multi-week study on them. And we have one final judge who ruled over Israel- the prophet Samuel.
Samuel was a good man, a just leader and the people genuinely liked him. He was a prophet too- one who listened for the voice of God and often called the people to get it together when they were moving outside the bounds of their God-given calling. I encourage you to read the first few chapters of 1 Samuel this week to get to know Samuel a little bit better because today we meet him at the end of his time as judge when the text tells us, he had grown very old.
Samuel was living in Ramah and all of the elders of Israel, or the leaders of the 12 tribes, distant cousins came together to share with them the group consensus on the new strategic plan for Israel. See, the Judges had been hand-picked by God and appointed with the Spirit of the Lord upon them. Most were considered great leaders, but some left their post in shame with the people returning to worship other gods. The people wanted something new, something unifying in this new form of government. So the elders come to Samuel and say, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.”
That probably felt like a punch in the stomach. No thank yous, no “we’ve appreciated you as our leader.” Nope they said- you’re old and your sons haven’t followed in your path so we’ve decided that we want a king. You pick him. Let us know who you pick. The people wanted to be like the other nations around them– they all had kings and they had militaries and sweeping governments. The elders had obviously met to discuss this without Samuel and without his thoughts. But he was still their leader and they recognized this.
Samuel, the prophet did not think so highly of a monarchy. After all, when the people left Egypt during the Exodus, they had proclaimed God to be their King. They were to follow the leadership of God and follow God’s plan for a radical, beloved community. God was supposed to be king.
We quickly learn that Samuel does not believe a monarchy is the way to move forward. It’s possible he reacted personally, but I think he was probably being a good leader and considering all the transition and the upheaval and often oppression that a monarchy can bring about. The people wanted a king- this wasn’t just a change in leadership- this was a change in all aspects of life. And Samuel knew it.
He first response was to pray- remember, I said he was kinda holy. He prays because in that moment he wants to respond with a truth that is deeper than his gut reaction. God’s response might surprise us. But you know, God’s seen it all. God tells Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. Just as they have done to me, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so also they are doing to you. Now, listen to their voice- only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
God basically tells Samuel to give them what they want! God suddenly turns into a realist and it is almost comedic in the way we get to see the rational side of God. Perhaps our leadership tip comes from the Creator of the Universe today: pick your battles. God tells Samuel not to take it personally- they aren’t rejecting him, they are rejecting God’s leadership. And newsflash: they’ve been doing it, well forever. And guess what? We’re still doing it. It seems to be our human nature. Thank goodness God is such a fan of grace.
Samuel follows God’s instructions and proceeds to tell the people exactly what a king will do for them. What follows are a few of his warnings:
● A king will take your sons and daughters from your homes. They’ll be his workers in the palace and outside the palace.
● A king will create a gigantic army, which of course you will have to serve in whether you agree with the cause or not.
● A king will take your daughters to be perfumers, bakers and cooks.
● A king will take your best orchards, your vineyards and your fields and give them to his courtiers- they will no longer be yours.
● A king will take your property and that will be his too.
After Samuel’s warning I imagine he thought the people would listen, take it into consideration and change their minds. After all, a king would become oppressive and require much of them in the ways of taxes and property. Samuel asked them, “So, what do you think?”
The people replied, “NO! but we are determined to have a king over us, so that we may be like other nations and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
I’m guessing that’s not the response Samuel was expecting. The people first indicated to Samuel that they wanted a king because they wanted to be like other nations. But this time around they get a little more honest. Perhaps in their exhaustion, they are willing to be honest. What they really want is to have someone to go out before them and to fight their battles. They were tired of fighting their own battles. Interesting since God basically told Samuel to pick his battles with the people of Israel.
I’m not sure that monarchy with all the problems Samuel warned of is really what the people were asking for. But they were tired. After all, they had been at this independent governance and constant rebellion against God for awhile. But God never left them. God was present, loving them.
When we say the people rebelled, we must note that we only hear about the people who rebelled, we do not hear about the people who were faithful and dutifully kept the law and loved their neighbors. Remember we are reading this from a pro-monarchy author who thought the monarchy was a gift from God.
I think what we learn here is basic human behavior. When we get tired or get apathetic or disconnected from the creator of the universe, we want someone else to do the work for us. Sometimes the weight of the calling to be God’s people can be too much and we just want to give it to everyone else to do. But that’s just the thing- we are the ones called to be the people of God who follow God and do the good work in the midst of hard times, great times and apathetic times.
The Truth about Leadership is that sometimes people want you to fight their battles for them. And God’s piece of advice today is, “pick your battles.” As a leader, or even as a community of faith, we must pick what we will fight for and when we will do it. The people submitted to a new form of leadership, which they thought would bring them less work. In reality, it made life harder.
It is not lost on me that last week we celebrated 150 years of life together. We could coast for a few weeks, feeling good about ourselves and living off the high of a celebration weekend. We should celebrate and remember our good times. But guess what…it’s time to get back to work. We aren’t going to select other people to do it for us. Last week, we celebrated all that had happened at Calvary Baptist Church and how we are a people and a church called to radical discipleship, prophetic leadership in this city and a place to call home.
Well, we don’t get to just sit on those good feelings now. Pastor Amy asked us last Sunday in her sermon what people will say about us in 50 years when they write our history. I hope that they say we partied hard last week and this week we got right back to work being and living out the gospel message.
There’s no time around here to sit idly by and shrug off our responsibilities. We have a booth at the Capital Pride Festival today- there are people who need to be welcomed into a community of faith and told that God loves them, instead of the message churches too often send to the LGBT community.
Calvary Baptist Church, the truth about leadership, especially about prophetic leadership is that you don’t get to quit even when you’re tired, especially when you’re tired. Samuel learned to pick his battles from who else, but God. After Samuel delivered God’s words to the people about what a king would bring, he did not stop being a prophet. Eventually, he anointed a king, but he continued his work comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
And we continue our work. We have been here for 150 years and hopefully for even more than that in the future. We have good work to keep doing. Let’s follow God and Samuel’s lead and pick our battles, moving gracefully through the work that is to be done. Amen.