Sermon: Just a Leader – That’s All We Ask

June 10, 2018
Third Sunday after Pentecost
1 Samuel 8:4-20

The people of Israel had a problem. Their government wasn’t working the way it was supposed to.

In those days, the nation of Israel was a somewhat loose confederation of the twelve tribes. The elders of the tribes took care of most of the day-to-day governing: they reminded people of their obligations under the law, helped resolve minor disputes, and basically kept things running. There was also a hereditary priesthood, descended from Moses’ brother Aaron and the tribe of Levi, who reminded people of their religious responsibilities.

And finally, there were judges. One judge over all Israel. They had authority acknowledged in all the tribes. Like our judges today, they would decide accusations of crime and major disputes that the elders did not resolve. They also acted as national leaders. They would negotiate with other countries, and they would appoint military leaders, or lead the armies themselves, in time of war.

This is how they were described in Judges 2:18-19: “Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the Lord would be moved to pity by their groaning because of those who persecuted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they would relapse and behave worse than their ancestors, following other gods, worshiping them and bowing down to them. They would not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways.”

Some of the famous judges included: Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, and Samuel.

As you heard in the quote from Judges, there were some problems with this form of government. The biggest was that it was something of a free-for-all. The discipline of the people appeared to depend almost entirely on whether they had a judge in place or not, and what his character was. God apparently didn’t always summon someone to be a judge. Some of the judges apparently didn’t work out well – Samson comes to mind. In fact, the people weren’t pleased with Samuel when they came to him, because he had appointed his sons to succeed him as judges, and they weren’t fit for the job.

Their solution: a king. A monarch. Someone reliable. Someone who would always be there. Someone you wouldn’t have to explain. Someone you wouldn’t have to worry, “Is God going to appoint a new one or not?”

Just a leader. That’s all we ask.

God’s opinion about monarchs takes up most of today’s reading. They’re demanding. They’re greedy. They’re expensive. They send your children to wars.

And God left out a few things. The stability of kings is an illusion. Before his death, Samuel would anoint not just one but two kings: first Saul, and then David. When two people each believe they’re the proper leader of the nation, the inevitable result is civil war, and that’s what they got. David managed to pass the crown to his son, Solomon, after not one but two rebellions against him led by his own sons. It was Solomon who managed to complete this list of impositions on the people, and when he died, ten of the tribes, most of the people, refused to accept his son Rehoboam as king. The nation split, and the northern kingdom of Israel, in all its succeeding history of two hundred years, never had a royal house last for three generations. A king would be overthrown, and a new king seize the throne. He would leave it to a son, and each time somebody else overthrew the son.

Just a leader. That’s all we ask.

I think we might be asking for more.

One other thing we might be asking for is a vision and a plan. Gloria, Woody, and I have just returned from the 196th ‘Aha Pae’aina at the Community Church in Honolulu, and it was a very energizing meeting. The Conference spent most of its time reviewing and considering the strategic plan developed over the last year. My own opinion is that it has a lot going for it. I’ll keep my description of it very simple here:

The Mission Statement of the Hawai’i Conference is: “Sent forth by the Spirit, we walk humbly in Christ’s footsteps pursuing peace, justice and the renewal of all Creation.”

The Vision is: “We are one ‘ohana: a unified, radiant and transforming expression of the body of Christ.”

The plan then sets out seven priority areas:

  1. Training and spiritual formation,
  2. Mission-based financial stewardship,
  3. Fostering an expansive concept of Church,
  4. Appreciating and developing the gifts and wisdom of the next generation,
  5. Being prophets in our time,
  6. Living aloha, and
  7. Creating organizational support for the vision.

In addition, there’s an eighth spot ready for an incoming Conference Minister’s major emphasis.

If that sounds like there’s a lot yet to do, you’re right. It’s a plan. If this were a plan for creating a human being, we’d be looking at the drawing that tells us where the bones go. The bones actually need laying out, and then the muscles need attaching so that the work can get done. That’s going to need leaders – Just a leader, that’s all we ask – and it’s going to take more visioning and creating. It’s one thing to say, right at the top, that we need to train and inspire Christian leaders. It’s another thing to figure out how to do it in our place and time.

Just a plan – that’s all we ask… Well, no.

Plans count, and leaders count, and so do the people who wouldn’t describe themselves as leaders, but they’ve stepped out to do the work. The general who failed to recruit an army would be in a miserable spot. The county planner who didn’t find the people to lay the water and sewer pipes would not have accomplished the goal. The pastor who doesn’t remind you that what you do each day makes all the difference would be, well, a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

We have more than enough failures of leadership visible on the national and international scene right now. I’ve been aghast at the reports from the G7 summit. I pray for the success of the summit with Kim Jong Un this week, but I’m not optimistic. There’s no plan.

I rejoice in the swift erection of the first medium-term shelters for those driven from their homes in Puna this past weekend. That took leadership, planning, and a lot of willing hands. Will we commit the further resources as a community to create both more transitional housing and more permanent housing? It’s a start, and it’s a long, long road.

Just a leader. Just a plan. Just a vision. Just a lot of willing hands. That’s all we ask.

You know, I wish it were simple, but it isn’t. It never was. Whether it’s the leadership of the nation of Israel or of the United States, it takes more than a leader: It takes vision, a plan, and lots of willing hands. Whether it’s the planning of the Hawai’i Conference or of Church of the Holy Cross, it takes more than an outline: it takes leadership, and vision, and lots of willing hands. Whether it’s the work of housing those driven from Leilani Estates and Kapoho or ending long-term family homelessness on Hawai’i Island, it takes more than willing hands: it takes leadership, and a plan, a vision, and a commitment of resources.

Just a leader – that’s all we ask.

No, I’m afraid not. We’ll have to ask for more.


Listen to the Recorded Sermon

Prepared text, meet sermon as preached. You’re related. Just not identical.

The image is the royal arms of the Kingdom of Hawai’i, rendered in this format by Sodacan. This vector image was created with Inkscape. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on June 10, 2018

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