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Called to Lead:
Leading Means Empowering Others

Third Sunday of Easter • May 5, 2019
Scripture Lessons: Matthew 9:35-38,
Matthew 10:1, 5-10
(adapted from the The Message)
Rev. Jeff Wells, The Church of the Village (NYC)

Today is the second Sunday in our worship series titled, “Called to Lead.” Last week we explored what it means to be followers and leaders at the same time – to be follower-leaders. And I said God calls all of us to lead in a variety of ways. So I want to thank you for your leadership and for being part of a community that values everyone’s leadership contributions.

Let us pray: Loving God, thank you for calling us and equipping us. Open our hearts and minds to hear your message for us this day, as we explore what it means to lead by empowering others. May the words of my mouth express your Spirit of love and justice. In the way of Jesus, Amen.

There were so many people who need care for their diseased and broken bodies. So many need healing for their bruised and hurting spirits and lives. “What a harvest!” Jesus said. A harvest? Broken bodies and bruised lives – what an odd “harvest.” But what Jesus meant was there was a vast harvest of potential goodness. A huge opportunity to restore lives and repair creation. He saw that the fields were ripe for God’s dreams of extravagant love and human flourishing to be realized.

Did you see what Jesus did then? He said to his small group of followers, “There are so many people to reach but, alas, there are so few workers. Who can we send to provide inclusive, affirming leadership, healing, and compassion? Oh, wait, the twelve of you aren’t doing anything. You go!” You have to laugh, right? Can’t you just see their reaction? Looking around at each other and saying, “Wait, who? You mean us?” But, they were committed followers of Jesus, so off they went to heal and care for people in the surrounding towns.

Let’s be clear – the disciples were not ready for this mission. Oh, sure, they had listened to Jesus teach and preach. They had witnessed him heal bodies and spirits, but they had not actually done these things themselves. They were still relatively untrained and ill-equipped. And Jesus knew that. But Jesus saw people in great need, so he had to send the disciples anyway. It’s clear to me that Jesus believed in learning by doing. He knew the disciples’ hearts were in the right place even if their heads had not caught up yet. He trusted their goodness and knew they would do their best and learn through mistakes and failures. He wanted them to take risks to make God’s dreams a reality. Jesus also knew that the disciples would have the Holy Spirit of God with them for inspiration and guidance, all day long and everywhere they went.

The disciples also had a great mentor and leader. Obviously! Jesus did not just send them out, he was also there when they came back. He was there, everytime, to help them grow and do better the next time. He was constantly teaching, encouraging, and holding them accountable. Jesus empowered his followers not just to heal bodies and spirits, but to become leaders themselves. Ultimately, he taught them through his own example, to mentor and empower others, so that this movement they began together could grow and spread.

Imagine what it must have been like to be with Jesus at the beginning. He was so charismatic and he was offering a message they had never heard so powerfully before – a message about literally transforming the way human beings live with one another and treat one another. Remember, too, how very risky it was for them as well as Jesus. It was dangerous to hang out with a radical itinerant prophet. The Romans and the Jewish authorities were not keen on anyone claiming an authority or a teaching other than their own. The disciples were probably nervous or even fearful at times. But they also must have been thrilled and exhilarated to be part of this new movement for God’s love and justice.

Jesus spent years building relationships with his disciples and teaching, training, and equipping them. And over time, he prepared them to take on the things that he was doing: teaching, healing, driving our psychological and spiritual demons, practicing radical, inclusive love. He empowered them and sent them out to empower others.

Just as Jesus called his disciples to become leaders, God calls us to lead. What is our purpose? What’s our cause? What’s the point of our efforts to learn how to lead and empower others? It’s just what Jesus recognized in this passage. There is an abundant harvest waiting for us. The fields are still ripe for God’s dreams to be realized – dreams of broken people being healed, welcomed, affirmed, brought to the center from the margins, listened to, lifted up, and loved. God calls us and empowers us to lead so that we can be God’s hands and feet and voice in the world to realize God’s dream of fulfilling and abundant life for all. It’s an awesome vision.

Remember the scripture said Jesus “looked out over the crowds and his heart broke.” Isn’t it always God’s heart that breaks first? But God wants our hearts to break, too. That’s the first step in committing ourselves to this movement. Our hearts break at the hurt and the harm we see. Then, we hear God’s call and respond. The breaking of our hearts is the foundation of our call.

Katie and Jorge shared with me a story that came from Mission U, where they were teaching this week in Arizona. A woman was there whose son is in prison. She had the resources to visit her son regularly. But she noticed that a lot of other families were not able to visit their loved ones because they had no way to get to the prison. She was very upset by this. It broke her heart to see this, but she didn’t know what to do. When she told her pastor about this, he said, “Use what you’ve got.” And that’s what she did. And with some creative organizing, inspiring, and recruiting others to help, she organized a regular bus service to the prison. Use what you’ve got.

I imagine some of you might feel like the disciples in the Gospel lesson – unequipped to do this work, unprepared to be a leader in this movement. But remember what Jesus said. You don’t have to raise a lot of money to do this work. “You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment. Travel light. “Just a comb and toothbrush – no heavy luggage.” [1] You just need a broken heart, a willingness to love, and a desire to learn and grow.

And, of course, It helps to know that we don’t do this work alone. It’s not an individual effort, even if we sometimes work on our own. It is always in the context and with the support of our community. None of us alone has all that it takes, but together, as the Body of Christ, we have a wonderful and powerful diversity of gifts, abilities, and passions. In the beloved community, our leadership is a common and mutually supportive journey. Remember the words of the song we often sing together here are COTV: “What we need is here.” With the power of the God’s Spirit, what we need to transform the world around us is here. We use what we’ve got.

God calls and sends us, knowing we will do things imperfectly. We will sometimes fail. We will learn through our mistakes and failures. Of course, God provides us with good mentors, too. And calls us to become empowering mentors and leaders for others. That is a crucial role we can play. As empowering leaders, we learn to practice patience, grace, forgiveness, and love with those we are healing and mentoring, just as God is patient, gracious, forgiving, and loving with us. Good leaders learn how to listen to those they are leading and also to other leaders. We learn to lead with humility.

Jesus was just that kind of self-giving, empowering leader who wanted to build a strong team, a vital community, and a powerful movement. His focus was on equipping others for the work. He had a very long view of the movement. One of the last things he reportedly said was:

“Believe me: I am in my God and God is in me…. The person who trusts me will not only do what I’m doing but even greater things…. I am giving you the same work to do that I’ve been doing. You can count on it.” [2]
Can you imagine? He was talking to us.

This is our call today – to carry on what Jesus did and do even greater things. We don’t have to look far to find that the fields are ripe, do we. There are people here this morning with broken bodies and bruised and hurting spirit. Every week, 600 people come to Hope for Our Neighbors in Need, most looking for more than just food. They are seeking healing, hope, and love, even if they don’t realize it. They same it true of those who come to the LGBT Center across the street or attend the elite private school that uses our building five days a week. And in this very wealthy neighborhood, there are still many residents who struggle financially, who live with mental illness, who are lonely or afraid. And really, is they any one of us who is not in need of and longing for what God dreams of for us? Imagine all of these persons leading full lives and helping to lead others into fullness of life. That is God’s dream.

This call to lead is also crucial right now with the coming disintegration of the UMC. It is going to be critical that we be able to lead with fierce commitment, passion, and love, the creation of a new and radically inclusive expression of Methodism. We are doing that in the New York Annual Conference. In my role on the steering committee of Methodist in New Directions, I get to be part of the exciting work of transforming our Annual Conference and moving it toward the new thing God is doing among us. We are very intentionally working in an intersectional way, centering the voices and lives of the marginalized, in our strategizing and planning and in our vision of what the new church will look like and stand for. This year, an intersectional group prepared draft legislation for Annual Conference. The group including representatives from Black Methodists for Church Renewal, Marcha, the Queer Clergy Caucus, Methodists in New Directions, Methodist Federation for Social Action, and several official conference boards. Let me share an excerpt from one of the petitions:  

Human diversity is an expression of God’s creative imagination which manifests itself in our various cultures, being one body consisting of many traditions, multiple ways of being, multiple shades of skin color, multilingual, and yet all children of God and integral members of the body of Christ….

We call on the New York Annual Conference to draw a deeper understanding of systemic oppression and acknowledge the intersectionality of injustices in which we live…. [and to live up to its promise to] “welcome and defend those on the margins and work towards justice for them; these include the poor, immigrants, people of color, people of non-christian faiths, people with disabilities and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender/gender non-conforming people.”

This expresses powerfully what the Church of the Village has advocated for years the new direction for Methodism. We and many others are striving for this in the NY Annual Conference and beyond. Bishop Bickerton in his sermon on Palm Sunday made the point implicitly that I have been making explicitly – that this church is a leading church in Methodism. People look to the Church of the Village for inspiration and a model. We are a beacon of light in the UMC. We we are leading congregation in the movement for building progressive, radically inclusive, anti-racist communities. You should all be very proud of that.     

We have great leaders and mentors among us, too. But don’t you wish you could be mentored by Jesus? Wait! You can. You are. Jesus is still our mentor. He is not with us physically, but we still have the stories he told, the actions he took to show us how to be and to lead in the world, we have the way he lived and died to inspired us. We have his spirit with us and the Holy Spirit of God to guide our steps and inspire us to work to realize God’s dreams of human flourishing and abundant life for all. We have been treated generously, so let’s live generously in the way and in the spirit of Jesus.

Copyright © 2019 by Jeff Wells
All rights reserved.

[1] Luke 10:4-14 (The Message)

[2] John 14:11-12 (adapted from The Message)