This Sunday, I have five minutes. Five minutes of homiletical air-time, during a worship service that we are calling “Confir-baptismo-palooza”. Six baptisms, representing a bell-curve of ages from adult to infant, and then we celebrate twelve of our young persons who are being confirmed in the promises made in their baptism. (For those not down with the church speak, that just means…we’re confirming some kids on Sunday).
A five minute sermon. You can hold me to that. (And I’m sure a few of you will…I’ll be looking for those watch-checkers).
I want to share with you how moved I was in hearing our confirmands’ statements of faith at our Session meeting last night. Sure, each confirmation class is different – having a different spirit about it. But this class brought me to tears – literally – with the heartfelt, intelligent and honest statements that they made. All of them earnest and searching. I was astonished at how they have connected with Christian faith.
This Sunday, the theme from our lectionary brings us what I call our annual “Shepherd Sunday.” We see Jesus depicted by John as the divine shepherd whose sheep know and hear his voice. In Psalm 23, we hear the so-familiar line, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
Perhaps one of the countercultural marks of Christian faith has to do with the fact that a primary aspect of being a Christian is not cultivating leadership, but followership. Shane Claiborne – of whom I wrote a couple weeks ago, and who will be appearing at the upcoming Revive! event – speaks of how many books are out there on cultivating leadership. So much of our corporate and secular culture – and indeed, Christian culture as well – is about the question: how do we cultivate good leaders? When the question for a Christian just may be: how do we cultivate good followers?
Frank Sinatra may have been kidding himself in claiming, “I did it MY way.” One wonders whether that distinctly American impulse may just be an illusion. All those in the 60s trying to buck convention, thumb their nose at “the man”…were they deluded by simply adopting another convention, that of being “counter-cultural”? Is it possible that in our desire to “do it my way,” we delude ourselves in simply adopting a “counter-cultural culture,” complete with new norms, rules and behaviors that we are (consciously or not) copying? Under the guise of pursuing our “freedom,” is it possible that the grandest delusion is such a pursuit that is not aware of the authority to which it unconsciously submits? And so, our concept of “freedom” is in reality, an unconscious form of conformity and slavery.
Perhaps we could even say that leadership itself is a delusion. Is anyone truly a leader? If we teach leaders to be leaders, their leadership is indeed contingent upon the teaching of one guiding them into that practice. In such a way, is leadership not really about leading others to follow someone else’s authority?
Perhaps we could echo Socrates here: the only thing I know is that I do not know. In such a way, we can come clean: the only thing we can be sure of is that we are following something, and more precisely, sombody(ies). So if we were to say: followership is unavoidable, “doing it my way”, is really a delusion, then the question is: are we conscious of the one whom we follow? Who is worthy of our followership?
I hope that we have taught our young people about that. Whatever their desires and delusions (and we all have them, not just the young), we will have served them well if we expose them to the teaching of one whom we as a community to be a worthy shepherd, one who will lead them into life and freedom.
This is what’s kicking around as filler for my five minutes on Sunday.
For more inspiration on this, I would definitely recommend Shane’s new book (co-written with his mentor, John Perkins). And here’s another interesting article that precedes its writing, if you’d like to reflect more on the subject.
And if you do – Love to hear from you!