Next Sunday there is going to be a very important team naming… The selectors have been contemplating it and working hard behind the scenes for the past four years … Senior players have been peaking for it, new talent has been scouted, discovered and cultivated, they’ve tried out people to see how they fit into the team environment, sweated injury worries and form slumps, there may be last minute bolters and forced changes. Talk back speculates, paper columns are filled, everyone makes their picks there is only one thing everyone agrees on; this time good people are going to be left out. The players nervously wait and wonder… Will they take four locks or an extra loosie? Three half backs or two? Will it be specialist backups or versatile all-rounders? Have I done enough? … and we await the announcement of the thirty one man All Black’s world cup squad…
It’s a different process, a different purpose, a different number, different names but the passage we had read out to us today revolves round a team naming. Jesus picks his leadership team from amidst his growing number of disciples. It shows us how Prayer is a significant part of Jesus decision making process and it gives us some good insight into leadership in the church as we look to follow his footsteps.
It’s also a critical turning point in Luke’s gospel and Jesus ministry. It serves as an introduction to Jesus teaching on what it means to follow him, Luke’s sermon on the plain. Jesus is still about proclaiming the revolution of grace in word and deed, we see that in his healing ministry, bringing release and wholeness, but he now moves to include instructing his disciples in how to live in a way that expresses that revolution: As Darryl Bock summarises, “It’s a call to exceptional love in light of the offer of God’s gracious blessing.” Next week we’ll start a series looking at that teaching called “plain talking from Jesus.”
Last week in two conflict stories revolving around Sabbath observance we’d seen how Jesus and his revolution of grace was coming more and more into conflict with the Pharisees and scribes of the law, the religious leadership of the day. The passage had ended with those religious leaders responding with over the top irrational anger and deciding that they must do something about Jesus. How is Jesus going to respond to this? What is Jesus next step?
How Jesus deals with this opposition is helpful to us. Firstly Jesus allows himself some breathing room, we see that he doesn’t as much react and our emotional gut reaction to adverse situations is the hardest to really control, but he takes the time to think and reflect before responding. Luke uses a temporal connection with what had gone on previously to tell us that it was on one of those days that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. I don't know about you but I'm actually pleased to know that Jesus had some 'one of those days" . but how he hadnles it shows that Jesus takes the time to settle, that he takes time to go and pray; To spend time bringing the situation to God. He seeks God’s face for the way forward. As should we… Ministry and church life should be saturated and started in prayer.
In Israel’s past going to the mountain to pray speaks of firstly encountering the presence of God: Moses encounters the burning bush at Mt Horeb, the same mountain where he encounters God and is given the law. Elijah also goes to Horeb to pray and meets God after the earthquake and rushing wind in the still quite voice. The mountain is also where God’s people seek fresh revelation. Moses is sent to Egypt with the message ‘let my people go’, the law is given, Elijah is strengthened and given a way forward which includes a succession plan. Jesus comes down from the mountain with a definite plan of the way forward.
The second thing Luke says is that he spends the night praying to God, there is a sense here of relationship. It has the sense of a conversation with God. The name Israel means to wrestle with God, Jacob is given it after he wrestled with God or an angel, god’s messenger, in the ancient near east a messenger from a king was to be seen as having the same gravitas as the king himself. So we have the picture here of prayer being a wrestling with God. When Jesus comes down again he has come to a place of peace and has come to know what God’s plans and purposes are. Often we can see prayer as basically giving God a shopping list rather than to and froing of wrestling to find the way forward.
The way forward is innovative and prophetic… Jesus choses twelve from his disciples who he designates apostles, or sent ones. While with the All Black’s it’s a process of picking the best and greatest, here in response to prayer we see that the choosing is God’s will, the number is God’s will and the people chosen have been revealed in that time of prayer. We see in choosing twelve that this is Jesus response to the opposition and rejection of the religious leaders of his day. Twelve was an important number in Jewish history it was from the twelve sons of Israel that the nation itself was born. Here we see the beginning of a new people of God, a new leadership, A new group that would carry on Jesus ministry after he had gone. It’s interesting in our world we often choose the most qualified and best to be leaders or take on chief rolls, but here we see that it is the sovereign choosing of God. Jesus revolution of grace had shown that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to come and follow him, what he looked for in leaders was the willingness to be with him, to learn from him, to serve with him. When you look back at the scriptures of the Old Testament you see it’s the same, God chooses people and their response is to acknowledge they are not up to the task… Moses, had run away after killing a Egyptian guard and he had a speech impediment, Jeremiah was aware of his young age, Isaiah was aware that he as a man of unclean lips, of a people of unclean lips, David’s brothers who had more of the physical attributes and were trained warriors were amazed that God should anoint their younger brother king. God chose Israel not because it was the biggest or the best amongst the nations far from it, rather it was because they were the smallest and the least. God chooses, God equips, god enables, and if we remain faithful teachable and available, god can make us fruitful.
I think I’ve told you one of the episodes that God used to call me to ministry. I’m not a morning person…I had been working as a youth pastor at St John’s in Rotorua. It had been a long weekend, an all-nighter, I think and a late Sunday service and I was dead tired. I’d slept in till about 9;30 although Kris will tell you it was closer to eleven. One of Kris’ friends had come round to visit, the kind of Christian that can smile early in the morning before their first cup of coffee. She said hello to me in that happy joyful way, and I always the pastoral sort retored with a grunt and said ‘It’s my day off I don’t have to be nice to you today’ to which she replied… You’re going to make a great minister Howard.’ My ego kicked in and I though why thank you… and then she hammered it home… “yes your so flawed there is hope for the rest of us.” But God used that to let me know he was calling me faults foibles and all to ordained ministry… It is his calling and while I’ve worked on those flaws it is still God’s calling and leading.
When you have a look of the names of the twelve it tells us about Christian leadership as well. Apart from telling what were the popular names in Jewish families at the time, most of them were named after the heroes of the Maccabean revolt. We are told it starts with Simon, now called Peter, , and that it is Jesus who gave him that name, which means rock. It reflects the basis on which Jesus would found his church, at the end of the sermon on the plain he talks of building ones house on rock being the one who hear God’s word and puts it into practise in their lives. This is what God is going to build his church on, and Peter as the key leader, reminds us of that. It’s good for us here at St Peter’s to be reminded of that… God builds his church by his people hearing his word and putting it into practise.
Andrew is Peter’s brother and John and James are the other fishermen we have meet before. Matthew is another name for Levi, and when Jesus meets people it brings change and Levi is able to have a new start in life with a new name. It’s interesting that in Luke’s sequel Acts that apart from Peter, john, James and Phillip that the others do not feature in the expanse of the church. It’s hard to argue from silence but within leadership people have different roles and tasks some that propel them to prominence and other that are equally important but are often leaves them in the background. There is diversity in the group as well… the other Simon is called the zealot to differentiate him from Simon who Jesus called Peter. The Zealots were a political movement who believed in armed struggle and violence to free Judea from roman rule, they were the freedom fighters/ terrorists of their day, this Simon would have found it uncomfortable being in a group with a tax collector, who he saw as a collaborator with the romans. Philip is a Greek name and would have been a Hellenistic Jew whereas the others were from galilee. It easy for a leadership team to mistake group speak and conformity for unity and peace, but we need diversity in leadership and how we work that is an expression of the way we reflect Jesus love to one another. In a church that weird person who thinks differently just may be a gift from God to open us up to new possibilities.
When we are working with people there is always risk as well…Luke is upfront in acknowledging Judas Iscariot as being the one who became a traitor, and the calling of God and being with Jesus is no automatic guarantee that people will keep the faith. In our reformed tradition one of the ways of looking and seeing a genuine faith in Christ is the idea of perseverance. Keep on going and growing till the end, till going home to glory. I have some interesting discussions this week about family friends who had solid dynamic faiths who now don’t want anything to do with God and the shock and pain that causes, a pain that has been with Jesus followers from the beginning.
Jesus is choosing this twelve to act as those who will be able to carry on his ministry after he has gone… In modern business speak Jesus is all about succession planning. He is aware that his mission and revolution of grace will lead to the cross and while he continues proclaiming his revolution of God’s grace he looks to develop those who will be able to see and witness to the reality of who he is and what God wants to do. In this passage we see he continues to proclaim that and to heal and set free those troubled by unclean spirits, but it also tells us that he looks to his disciples and begins to teach them. We see it with paul as well in the rest of the new testament he always had a team of people who he building up for ministry, chief amongst them is Timothy, just as Bartameus had done with him. The success of a ministry is only usually seen in what happens when a minister goes, that there are people to step up and take that persons place. The test of leadership is not often seen until it is time for them to step aside and there are many people who are willing and able to step into their role, even go beyond what they have done. At St John’s one of our key worship leaders moved away and he came to us and said “well I guess that’s the end of the youth worship team”, but we were able to choose two 15 year olds from the guys he had taught and encouraged to take over and they did a great job, one of them is now employed as a worship and creative ministries pastor at C3 down the road the other is a worship leader in nelson about to release his first live worship album. If you are involved in ministry the key thing is that it is to be given away not held to yourself. One of the things I value was the way people were willing to give me opportunities to minister and lead, when I was young and I feel this week that challenge to do likewise.
Finally, the twelve were called to be Jesus special messengers his apostles they were called to be sent, in the Christian faith leadership is about role not status, service not finally making it. We are all called to discipleship, to know and to grow so that we can express exceptional love in response to God’s generous offer of grace. When Jesus begins his sermon on the plains it tells us he looked to his disciples, not just the twelve but the large number that were with him from all over the area, both Jewish areas and gentile areas like Tyre and Sidon. We may not all hear our names read out in an all black’s line up, particularly if we actually want to win the world cup, but We are all called to grow in our faith to grow as followers of Jesus. We may not all get to go to the world cup but we are all called to be sent, it’s interesting in Luke’s gospel that the twelve are sent out on a short term mission trip and later Jesus send out the seventy two, it’s like Jesus wants more and more of us to witness and be his messengers. It’s the call that is at the heart of our mission statement as a church we are called to be a sustainable, vibrant and authentic community, growing as followers of Jesus, and inspiring others to join us on that journey of following his footsteps… It’s about discipleship, it’s about mission that comes from us being with him… we are called to be sent.