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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Leaders and Followers In Jesus - 08/30/2020

I have another Max story for you. Really, it’s a Max and Larry story.

For those of you do not know, Larry is my spouse and Max is our youngest of four, youngest by a lot. He’s the kind of kid who’s really outgoing and loving and rather exuberant much of the time and when he crashes, he goes down hard. He won’t be backed into a corner, which serves him very well in sticking to his values and principles, and it can make him a little inflexible at times too. And he believes he has the ability to make a difference in this world, and most of us who know him also believe that. He’s always been like this.

One summer, when Max was in about 9 or 10, we went up to the Renaissance Fair in Holly. As you can imagine from a family who likes Shakespeare and Harry Potter, Broadway and the Hiawatha Music Fest, we went in costume. I had my favorite peacock-colored off the shoulders dress with a million jingle bells. Larry was dressed kind of like a common working guy from the days of King Arthur, ready to see a good joust and have a pint of mead, or more likely root beer. He had a big walking stick too. Max was dressed as a Puck-like character – that mischievous little imp from A Midsummer’s Night Dream. He had on a long shirt and belt and we glitter-moussed his hair so it was really spikey and crazy. He also carried a walking stick and he had wings coming out of the back of his shirt.

On the way to the fair that day, the subject of leadership came up. We had heard a news story or something about a foreign leader who had done something horrible and Max couldn’t understand why the people of that nation didn’t get rid of that leader. Of course it’s hard to explain these worldly things to our young children sometimes, but we tried to do our best to be honest with our kids and answer their questions, without overwhelming them with worldly complexities. And that led to Larry saying something like, “People want a leader and if no one steps up, sometimes we’ll follow somebody just because they have a big stick.”

Wow. That’s pretty solid wisdom, I thought then and still think today.

So we got to the fair, and first thing, you have to deal with a parking lot that is like a sea of vehicles. We were not early birds, so we were pretty far back and right away we noticed there was no clear path to the entrance gate. People were just kind of winding their way, willy-nilly through the vehicles and not getting much closer to the gate. Well Larry, being someone who is continually looking for shortcuts and efficiency and organization, spied out a more direct path to the gate and called us over to him. He was a few vehicles away from us by then, and we could barely see him at times. So Max yelled out, “Hold up your stick, Dad! The people need a leader!”


We do often crave a leader. Natural leaders often rise up within our families. We can feel called into leadership in our communities. Sometimes it doesn’t feel so natural, like for Moses, who tried mightily to resist God’s call to lead.

History bears examples of good leaders and not so good leaders. At times, we resist leaders too – we feel like we don’t need to be led, that we can handle it ourselves, we say confidently. Maybe that works out well and we tap into the leader within us. Or perhaps we find we are not ready and we do in fact need another’s leadership.

There are times in our lives when a leader we looked to falls out of favor, loses our trust, maybe even betrays us.

We – as in God’s people – have had these love/hate, hot/cold, sometimes this/sometimes that experiences with leadership and being led throughout the generations. It will continue in this way for Moses and his efforts to lead and be led as we continue to hear his story in weeks to come.

I think of the story of Samuel too. God called him when was just a boy. Samuel resisted, saying “not me, Lord. I’m too young, too inexperienced.” (1 Sam. 3). And God said, “Nope, it’s you. You’re the leader.”

Samuel was an excellent leader to God’s people – trustworthy, justice-seeking, wise and with a rich and nurtured relationship with God.  

“…Samuel said to all the house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods … from among you. Direct your heart to the Lord, and serve him only, and he will deliver you ….’ 4So Israel put away the (foreign gods), and they served the Lord only.” (1 Sam 7:3-5)

And then Samuel tried to raise his sons with the same leadership ways and faith in God. “When Samuel became old, he made his sons judges over Israel … they were judges in Beer-sheba. Yet his sons did not follow in his ways, but turned aside after gain; they took bribes and perverted justice.

“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel … and said to him, ‘You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.’” (1Sam 8:1-5)

In just this one snapshot we can see several human responses to leading and being led. We see resistance, demand for a leader, vocational calls, wise and worthy leadership and abuse of leadership.

We can use these stories as mirrors. We can see ourselves in Moses and Samuel and Peter and so many others. It’s all part of our DNA, I suppose. Part of the way God created us as leaders and followers – most of us some combination of both.

And if that is the case, then it follows that our ability to lead and follow is part of what God is celebrating at the dawn of creation. Remember, after God created humankind, God saw everything God had made “and indeed, it was very good,” (Gen 1:31).

Still, I think there is a tension living as these God-created leaders and followers. We continue to resist it and crave it; to lead and follow well and to fail miserably at times it too. Sometimes it takes us to the mountaintop and sometimes it plunges us into darkness.

But … God’s unfaltering promise and response is that despite this tension, God never intends that we should stay enslaved in and by that darkness. And so God sent Jesus, the Messiah – the anointed one promised by God through the prophets; the Savior who would come to free the entirety of God’s creation in ever-flowing forgiveness of sin and a clear path to life everlasting in the Kingdom of God.

And the way I see it this does two important things for us. First, it frees us to keep working at this leader and follower thing we simultaneously crave and push away. Because in Jesus, we are not defined by those times we do not lead well or we do not serve as good followers. We are freed to keep at it without fear, to repent and be forgiven for our missteps, and to continually seek ways to lead and follow for the benefit of all, especially those too often forgotten or marginalized.

And second, in Jesus we have an infallible leader – something none of us can ever accomplish. We have the leader who, for our sake, is perfectly trustworthy, who delivers perfect justice, who offers us perfect wisdom, who always points us to a rich and nurtured relationship with God.

This is a huge deal, Church! The Messiah has come and we are urged to live like we believe that, not just say it. Maybe you felt the exhilaration of this amazing reality … your reality … when we heard Peter proclaim finally and with all confidence last week: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Mt 16:16) It is an incredible moment of revelation that should catch our breath.

As incredible as that truth is, however … It doesn’t take long for our complicated relationship with leading and following to show itself, does it?

We move very quickly in this Gospel story from Peter’s proclamation and Jesus holding him up as part of the leadership, the rock on which Jesus’ Church will stand, to Jesus telling his followers that he will be killed and resurrected, and then Peter rebuking Jesus for even suggesting such a thing. “(Jesus) turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’” (Mt 16:23)

In other words, “Peter, you are the follower, get behind me and do not stand in the way of what God is up to here.”

Jesus is pretty terse with Peter. The truth is, we all need a terse corrective from our Messiah on occasion – to get us back on the right track, and in this case, on track with what it is to be a follower of Jesus.

Peter is indeed being prepared to be a leader in the church that will start emerging following the resurrection – but first and framing everything else, he is a follower of Jesus.

For Peter, and for us too, it all starts there in our identities as followers of Jesus. Jesus’ leadership informs and guides us in all the ways we lead in our families and communities, and in all the ways we are led by others too.


Jesus continued: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Mt 16:25-28)

Let us pray. Jesus – You are the Messiah. We have seen the Son of Man usher in God’s kingdom. And we will follow. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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