A sermon given by Fr. Tim Sean Youmans at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral on January 22, 2017, based on the the texts of 1 Corinthians 1:10-18 and Matthew 4:12-23.
Listen: Leadership Matters
My friend Katie is really good at manipulation. I was her supervisor for a season at St. Crispin’s Summer Camp, and she would come to me with ideas about the Staff. What she would do is come up with a reason for this thing that was completely unrelated to the real reason she wanted it. I noticed it, and noticed that it happened more than once, and so I finally took a risk and asked her about it.
I said, “You’re oblique. Do you know that?”
“What’s oblique?” she asked me?
“When you want something you don’t ask directly, you come in at an angle looking for ways that the thing you want might benefit someone else, which increases the likelihood that it will happen, because it SEEMS selfless, so you lead with that.
She turned three shades of red AND, because she trusted me, admitted, almost as though confessing to her priest, that THAT, is exactly what she does.
Now I was far from upset with her. In fact, Katie, in some sense, was demonstrating the instincts for good leadership. And I would argue that she was, maybe unwittingly, imitating Christ. At least in this sense....
...that trying to shape our desires in such a way as they might not benefit only ourselves, but also those around us, seems to be part of Jesus’ sanctifying grace within us. Or maybe it’s a starting place.
Manipulation is a skill set.
There are multiple occasions in the scriptures, when there is call for unity. We hear it today in Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. He says, “I appeal to you, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.
Hunh. How do you DO THAT?
St. Ignatius, who was one of the first generation pastors of in the 2nd century of the church in the city of Antioch, he echoes this in his letter to the Ephesians:
It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who hath glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience “you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, (and then listen to this) and that, being subject to the bishop and the priests, you may in all respects be sanctified.
“Being subject to the bishops and the priests.” How do you like them apples?
Let’s unpack that (Let’s break that down). The practice of unity works under certain conditions. One of those conditions is that you gloss over disagreements. And there is some wisdom in holding your tongue. But to always do so is to create a thin, sentimental form of unity that will inevitably collapse under the actual living of life. It’s better to learn to speak the truth and stay in the relationship, for unity to have some resilience.
Today we heard about Jesus choosing his first disciples, Andrew and Simon, James and John, but I want to draw you attention two others in that set of twelve.
Jesus chose Matthew, who was a Jewish man who collected taxes for the Roman occupiers. Make no mistake. Matthew was a sell-out in the eyes of his countrymen. And he financially benefitted from selling out.
At the same time, Jesus chose another man named Simon (there were actually two Simons among Jesus disciple) who is referred to as Simon the Zealot, or sometimes called Simon the Canaanite. Now both of those descriptions were marks against him. Canaanites were considered at best, as sub-standard, gypsy Jews, if you will. And a Zealot? Well they were the insurgents, the revolutionaries, who wanted to overthrow the Roman government by whatever means necessary.
Matthew the tax collector, Simon the Canaanite Zealot. I wonder how those two guys got along.
So, what in the world was Jesus doing?
Let me be clear here. The Gospel appointed for today is in part about Jesus choosing future leaders, leaders he would send out into the world to shape the community that would come to be known as the body of Christ. And then our St. Paul many decades later is writing to subsequent leaders within that body, leaders who had been shaping the atmosphere, the personality of those folks. We read their names; Apollos, Paul, Cephas. All of them, no doubt, were big personalities, with great passions for Jesus. People were drawn to them, so much so that the body began to divide and split into factions. Leadership matters.
There are the echos of Abraham Lincoln’s “Team of Rivals” running in the background of my mind. Lincoln is known to have recruited his political adversaries to serve on his cabinet, the ones he respected and new to be great minds and great managers. Doris Kerns Goodwin writes about it in her book of the same name. Which has some well deserved irony in it. Lincoln was a president who governed a deeply divided nation.
At the 1858 Illinois Republican State Convention, Lincoln was selected to be the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, and it was then he gave his “house divided” speech:
We are now far into the fifth year, since a policy was initiated, with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only, NOT ceased, but has constantly augmented. In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed.
"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved -- I do not expect the house to fall -- but I do expect it will cease to be divided.
It will become all one thing or all the other.
Lincoln knew, and I’m quite sure Jesus knew, and suspect that Paul knew, that being of one mind is mostly an abstract thing. But in our divisions, it is necessary for us to identify stanchions of unity. When Jesus put together a ragamuffin, rag-tag group of adversarial squabblers, what this the project he was setting into motion?
So what do we do? We take on the project of Jesus. And maybe, like my camp counselor Katie, the starting place is to look for overlap, places where the thing you want can be shaped and molded, manipulated, if you like, to be the thing other people want. In Paul’s letter to the Roman church he said it this way:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mind Christ Jesus.
Having the same mind as Christ? Lofty words, in practice a great mystery. St. Ignatius, which you hear Mthr. Susan and many others discuss here at the Cathedral, was a thinker way ahead of his time. In one of his exercises he invites you to meditate and try to think the way Jesus would as it intersects the events and relationships in your life. How would Jesus perceive and act. It is a awful exercise. And by that I mean awe-full.
Your starting place might be clandestinely selfish, but by the grace and mystery of God, it may transform into something selfless. +++