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Sermon for February 28, 2010

Jesus the Leader

One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.” “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.

When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus. Luke 5:1-11

Once upon a time, a couple married with great love and the love never died. Their greatest hope was to have a child so their love could walk the earth with joy. Yet there were difficulties. Since they were very pious, they prayed, and prayed and prayed. Along with considerable other efforts, the wife conceived. And nine months later there came rumbling into the world a delightful little boy. They named him Aaron. The sun and the moon were his toys. He was outgoing and zestful, drinking down the days and dreaming through the nights.

Aaron grew in years, and wisdom, and grace until it was time to go to the synagogue and study the Torah, the Law of God. The night before his studies were to begin, his parents sat Aaron down and told him how important the word of God was. They stressed that without the word of God Aaron would be an autumn leaf in the winter’s wind. He listened wide-eyed. Yet the next day he never arrived at the synagogue. Instead, he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. And when he came home at night, the news of his absence spread throughout the small village.

His parents were beside themselves. They did not know what to do. So they called in the behavior modificationalists who modified Aaron’s behavior, so that there was no more behavior of Aaron’s that was not modified. But, the next day he found himself in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees.

So they called in the psychoanalysts who unblocked Aaron’s blockages so there were no more blockages for Aaron to be blocked by. But, the next day he found himself again in the woods, swimming in the lakes and climbing the trees. His parents grieved for their son. There seemed to be no hope. He would never learn the word of God.

It happened that a great Rabbi visited the village. The parents said, “That’s it! Perhaps the Rabbi...” And so they took Aaron to the Rabbi and told him their tale of woe. And the Rabbi bellowed, “Leave the boy with me, and I will have a talk with him.” Aaron’s parents were terrified. Was it worth it -- leaving their son with this lion of a man, just to make him go to the synagogue? But they had come this far, so they left the boy with the Rabbi.

Aaron stood in the hallway and the Rabbi was in the study. The Rabbi looked through the door at Aaron and said, “Boy, come here.” Trembling, Aaron came forward. And then the great Rabbi picked him up and held him silently against his heart.

His parents came to get him and they took Aaron home. And the next day, he went to the synagogue to learn the word of God. And when he was done, he went to the woods. And the word of God became one with the word of the woods which became one with the word of Aaron. And he swam in the lake. And the word of God became one with the word of the lake which became one with the word of Aaron. And he climbed the trees. And the word of God became one with the word of the trees which became one with the word of Aaron.

Aaron himself grew up and became a great man. And people who were broken inside came to him And with him they found healing. And people seized with inner panic came to him. And with him, they found peace. And people who were without anybody came to him. With him, they found possibilities. And Aaron often said, “I first learned the word of God when the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.”

If only we had more of those kinds of leaders -- leaders who captivate us; leaders who hold the world in a compassionate embrace; leaders who see possibilities and bring out the best in others. I think Jesus was that kind of leader. Jesus had a radical leadership style, a style that was marked by compassion. He stands in contrast to the hard-driven, results-oriented corporate executive style we’ve been trained to follow. For Jesus, leadership was not about power, or management or organization. His leadership was about generosity, believing in people, meeting needs, encouraging others, and getting excited about good things that happen to others. And people were captivated. He is our model for compassionate service and compassionate leadership.

We read about it in today’s gospel text. Peter and some of his friends are living their lives -- doing what they did most days, sometimes with regular monotony. Jesus approaches them with an invitation: “Drop down your nets. Don’t be afraid. Believe.” And that’s it. Peter and some of his friends are captivated by Jesus. By the way, notice what’s missing from Luke’s version of the story. No where does Luke’s Jesus say to anyone: “Follow me.” Those words are found in Mark and Matthew’s versions of the story. Luke obviously knew about the existence of those stories. He used some of their material while writing his own gospel. Luke chose to leave the part out where Jesus says, “Follow me.” Luke says something far more radical. His story is not about “call” or “catching” or “fishing for humanity.” Luke is talking more about being “captivated.”

Think about the word captivate. It can mean: attract; fascinate; charm; enchant; cause to be enamored; beguile; entrance; subdue; overpower; capture; hold the attention of someone by being extremely interesting, exciting, charming or attractive. That’s the kind of leadership Jesus uses. That’s the kind of leader I want to be: compassionate, captivated by God, moved to action by the stark needs of the world around me. That’s why I appreciate what the Youth Group has done in the 30-Hour famine this week. Sure, they raised money. They also took some leadership. They put the values of Jesus into action. They showed us what needs to be done to help fix the world. They dare us to follow their example.

It’s hard, isn’t it – casting nets with no promise of reward, going into the deep with Jesus with no assurance of safety, taking risks without being afraid? What if, when we follow Christ we become more hopeful and less afraid, more forgiving and less resentful, more willing to sacrifice and less likely to protect what is ours? Then we’d have lives that people would notice. We’d have a gift we would want to share with as much passion as we share news about our children, spouses, pets, and sports teams. We would freely share the difference that Jesus’ compassionate leadership has made in our lives.

Can you love people and lead them without imposing your will? Can you deal with the most vital matters by letting events take their course? Can you love without any other motive? Can compassion change the world? If you can answer yes, you will learn how to love others selflessly and lead others with kindness. It’s a totally different model of leadership. Mostly, leadership is seen as a way of manipulating people into doing what you want them to do. Jesus’ leadership is about loving the people that he leads.

I’m going to stop talking now. I just want to say one more thing. “I first learned the word of God when the Jesus, the great Rabbi held me silently against his heart.” I was captivated, enchanted, and ready to face new possibilities. I follow Jesus, a compassionate and captivating leader. I hope you can, too. I hope we can do it together, working with Jesus to create a world where the hungry are fed, the lost are found, the captives are set free and peace is restored.



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