The Revd Margaret Legg
I've recently been on a Course and one session was entitled; The Vulnerability of Leadership. Well that’s a relief, because in today’s Gospel that’s exactly what Jesus is doing. It’s also what I have been experiencing since Christmas.
At Christmas I was given a new mobile phone by my family. For someone who remembers perfectly well living in the pre-mobile phone era - ‘olden days’ as my son refers to them, indeed for someone who always carried 4 pennies and was adept at Button A and Button B, back in ancient times, I’m amazed at just how vulnerable being prised from my trusty Nokia has made me feel!
It’s also annoying and extremely inconvenient
*not being able to answer a call because I can’t seem to swipe my finger across the screen in the right way.
*not being able to make a call because my contact list is on the old phone and I don’t have my diary with me
*not being able to text because my fingers seem to be too big for the keyboard
Fortunately friends and colleagues, not least those sitting behind me as I speak, are being very helpful!!
In many ways just being alive seems a particularly vulnerable state now in the first weeks of 2016. There are 19.5 million refugees worldwide. The number of people forced from their homes by violence and conflict is the highest it’s been since the Second World War. Red Cross figures. At least 42 migrants have drowned overnight on Friday in two separate shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea, officials say.
One of the world’s greatest wonders of the world, the Great Barrier Reef, home to over a million species, could disappear on our watch if sea levels, sea temperature and sea acidity levels continue to rise at their present rates (50% of the coral has been lost since the 1980’
Jesus makes himself vulnerable. It’s not that he’s in hostile territory, he’s on his home patch in a synagogue in which he would have been a frequent worshipper; nor is it what he reads out – the passage from Isaiah would be well known to those listening; it’s what he says afterwards. Note how Luke heightens the impact of what he is going to say: ‘He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him’
And then those mind blowing words: ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’
This is a very different description of another public reading and exposition of scripture, the one in our OT passage. Ezra had Nehemiah the governor’s backing; he also has the backing of the pagan Persian King Artaxerxes, ruler of the Empire. Artaxerxes has sent this Jewish priest, Ezra, along with a second wave of Israelites, specifically to teach them the law of Yahweh.
Jesus on the other hand stands alone. Herod is not far away, Rome is on the horizon, hostile listeners are ready to pounce and his message is totally out of the box: it is I who fulfil this prophecy; it is I who am the anointed one; it is I who am the Messiah, the one for whom you are all waiting. A new age has begun in which the prophecies of Isaiah that I have read are being fulfilled through me.
How will his fellow worshippers react? Overwhelmed with joy perhaps, especially as Jesus is a local lad, total acceptance – after all his great reputation as a teacher has spread through the area, cynicism or rejection? Read on or come back next week to find out!!
Jesus is exposing himself to the vulnerability of leadership. Leadership in this way takes courage, because it involves risk, the outcome is uncertain, it took Jesus to the cross. But it can also be the birthplace of change, creativity and compassion. Through it Jesus inaugurated a completely new way of relating to God – the Christian way.
Paul sets out the way in which Christian communities, communities like St John’s, share in the work of that Jesus began. As members of the body of Christ, he writes ‘we are to have the same care for one another’ (v25) ie equal care for one another.
How ready are we to put that into practice? It could mean displaying the vulnerability of leadership.
Asylum seekers settled in Middlesbrough, identified by their red front doors, have been harassed and targeted by racist thugs. We are called to knock on the doors and ask how we can help. We can’t single handedly stem the causes of the refugee crisis, but we can make a difference locally by greeting and helping the stranger in our midst.
Neither can we single handedly save the Great Barrier Reef, but we can help to maintain the beauty of our local areas. Britain has the worst litter problem in the world, says MP David Sedaris. I was walking down the street the other day when the person in front carefully placed her apple core on the wall. To my shame I did nothing. Maybe I didn’t want a scene. If only I’d had the courage of my convictions.
My new phone, to my surprise, has made me feel vulnerable, but I’m persevering because I am sure it will change my life for the better. So I’ve had a session with the Geek Doctor, who transferred all my contacts from the old to the new phone, a very patient friend has given me a master class in ‘swiping the screen’ so I can now answer calls and I have used the bus app to find out if it would be quicker to walk rather than wait at the bus stop!
Jesus may make us feel vulnerable too. His words in the synagogue are life giving and life changing. If we subscribe to them, then we are to continue his work – but we can only do that if we have sufficient courage.