A Leadership Sermon (based on the Beatitudes)

Retirement is not working out - exactly.

I think a part of me imagined long, leisurely mornings sitting on the deck, feeling the warmth and a gentle breeze. Reading, writing, wondering would fill the day. Perhaps later in the morning the personal trainers would bring my body back, all toned, chiseled and flexible. Then maybe the kids or grandchildren might pop in to fix me a hamburger and fries, maybe a Peanut Buster Parfait for dessert, the calories offset by a small green salad.

I’ve taken on a couple of contracts.

Some days I come in from my office and my wife will say “good day?” And I will mumble, “I was in the office today for 5 hours with only 2-2.5 billable hours!” Was it a good day?

Depends, upon what I’m tracking and how I’m tracking it. In this new chapter, I’m learning that the HOW and WHAT I track has to change.

I need to begin to track longer coffee and lunch times with friends, books read that have no social or professionally redeeming value, visits with grandchildren, talks with my son-in-laws, conversations with friends about their projects that do not need to become my projects.

The Beatitudes are a way of tracking what is or could be or should be important to the Christian community. Jesus offers a radical shift in how to see the world and God in it.

The Gospel of Matthew is not a scrapbook about Jesus, with nice pictures and stories. The Gospel was written to a fairly new Jewish-Christian community as to how they, as followers of Jesus, were to be and what they were to count as important, where they are to look for signs of God with them.

The Gospel comes out of the aftermath of the crushing of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66-70C). The Temple has been destroyed. People - Christians, especially the Christian community made up of Jews - were being hunted, killed, persecuted. Massive buildings lay in ruins in the streets of Jerusalem.

All around voices shouting as to who the early Christians should be, what they should be about. And what was valuable. Adhere to the Roman laws; NO fight the Romans, flee to the countryside where a righteous, pure community can be formed.

We have our own slogans (although they are rapidly changing) about what should be tracked and how it should be measured.

Blessed are the celebrities for they are the standard of beauty.

Blessed are the well-educated, for they will get the good jobs.

Blessed are the well-connected, for their aspirations will not go unnoticed.

Blessed are you when you know what you want, and go after it with everything you’ve got, for God helps those who help themselves.

Blessed are those who can always answer “fine” when asked “How are you?”

Blessed are those able to accumulate goods, experiences, for they shall reap the abundant life.

It’s the air we breathe, the water we swim in, the pablum we are fed from early infancy.

Jesus comes with a different set of metrics/markers.

Blessed the poor in spirit

Blessed those who mourn.

Blessed the meek.

Blessed those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Blessed the merciful

Blessed the pure in heart.

Blessed the peacemakers.

I can see how these markers of where God is would be good news to that motley crew. For they knew about despair (poor in spirit) - you try fighting the Roman Empire, seeing your loved ones killed, being displaced at random, sleeping next to that elephant; they knew about mourning - their world was collapsing; they knew about hungering after right relationships (the meaning of righteousness) because all their lives they had been subject to the tweets and random actions of other authorities; they knew how difficult it was to be merciful when you were routinely bullied, extorted for protection, restricted from being able to move, to trade, in certain segments of the land; they knew how difficult it was to be ‘pure in heart,’ not to give into vengeance, bitterness, the demonizing and blaming of “the other” and how purity, meekness and the desire for peace was often portrayed as weak, even unpatriotic.

To hear Jesus say that if you are looking for the presence of God, to discover blessing/God with you, track these things, now. God is closer than you think. Comforting? Empowering.

The most common question I am asked by clergy people/ministers is this: How will they know if they are doing a good job? Or, to rephrase it using the language of business, what are the metrics for success in the church?

In the old days, the 50’s and 60’s, the measurements were relatively simple: count the number of people attending worship on Sunday and look at the budget. Now, while those numbers remain important from an organizational perspective, they do not capture all that should be tracked or, perhaps, even the most important things.

It is to the great credit of many of the great mega-churches in the States, Willow Creek leading the way, that, in the past decade, they commissioned studies on the spiritual health and growth of the 5,000 - 6,000 people who attend one of their weekly services. And they found that while they could generate huge crowds, often many came simply for the entertainment. There was not the kind of spiritual engagement they felt should be present in a church. So they changed their metric, they modified what they were tracking. No longer was five services a Sunday with 2000 attending each the most important marker.

Although we do not deal with the same volume in terms of people or physical plant we too are in the process of changing that which we are tracking, although we may not have named it explicitly as such.

How many people are in our orbit?

In how many community partnerships and conversations are we engaged?

How in touch are we with the real concerns of young adults, of young families, of the depressed (huge constituency), or the lonely (#1 problem in N. America)?

Sometimes people will comment upon how “white” Victoria is and while it is true that we do not yet have the ethnic mix of centres like Toronto, go to Walmart on Saturday and sit in the McDonalds for a couple of hours and watch the check outs. It is one of the minor gifts of our involvement with the refugees. Early on, I remember my wife coming home and saying, “Did you know there are a number of places to buy Middle Eastern food in the city? Hallel meat?” Clearly I need better glasses in order to see more clearly.

People will sometimes ask why we attend the congregation we do. Many of my answers mirror those of others: people I know and care about are there, I’m friends with the ministers, I appreciate the music, I like the beauty of the sanctuary, they let me be quiet and sit either at the very back or the very front where I can see things. But I also come because I see people like me - people with mental health issues, either themselves or their families, with addictions, who, at times, feel lonely or grieve, who carry people upon their hearts that, at times, feel heavier than you can bear.

I see people who often get restless and bored during the service, (my tribe), people who ask hard questions about strategies, people who are curious (hunger and thirst for righteousness), who need to learn, who hear the Scripture readings and say “wonder what that means,” and who look at the world and wonder with what does God needs us to lend a hand (peacemakers). I see people who, when I let them, call me to be better than I am.

If I have to be perfect to stumble after Jesus I just don’t have the entrance fee.

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Jesus aimed to form a company, a company of resistance. And rogues track different things than do the popular slogans.

Rogues track different things than do the popular slogans.


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Photo credit: Jenavieve-Creative-Commons

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