(The Fixx performing in concert, Hamburg, Germany, 2012, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)
Daily Office Readings for Friday, September 13, 2019:
The impression that you sell
Passes in and out like a scent
But the long face that you see comes from living close to your fears
If this is up then I’m up but you’re running out of sight
You’ve seen your name on the walls
And when one little bump leads to shock miss a beat
You run for cover and there’s heat, why don’t they
Do what they say, say what they mean
One thing leads to another
You told me something wrong, I know I listen too long but then
One thing leads to another–The Fixx, from the song “One thing leads to another.”
The Fixx would have a heyday with our Daily Office readings today. Both our Old Testament reading and our Gospel today illustrate that, yes, one thing…leads to another, and without the practice of self-examination and repentance, we are liable to find ourselves further and further away from truth and love–especially as it relates to those times when we are in positions of leadership.
In 1 Kings, King Ahab has turned away from the Hebrew religion (when it’s convenient) and towards the Canaanite religion of his wife, Jezebel. This is not a quest for truth or a closer relationship with God, it’s a matter of political power. His reign is during a time of relative prosperity, and a time when many of the people of Israel have turned to worshiping the Canaanite gods as they relate to fertility of the soil and the weather that influences this. Ahab’s motivation is not for the people under his rule to prosper; it’s for him to personally prosper; it leads to the violent persecution of the followers of Yahweh, and oppressive policies thrust upon the people that increase Ahab’s wealth and power.
Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal is not simply to prove “My God’s better’n your god,” it’s to convince Ahab to repent, to stem the chain reaction that has occured because of Ahab’s choice to ignore the first commandment and see the harm he’s done to his flock, when he was supposed to make choices that help those he rules.
In Matthew, John the Baptist is preaching a message of repentance, and getting results–people are being baptized and hearing that someone greater than John, is coming. John’s motivation is simply prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Some Pharisees and Sadducees are presenting themselves for baptism, but one might infer from the text, that their motivation is not out of a spirit of repentance. They, at best, have an uneasy and convoluted relationship with the Roman Empire, and at worst, are a corrupt cog in the Empire’s machinery. We don’t hear a peep out of them in terms of how being baptized will cause them to relate differently to the Roman Empire. Whatever fruits they are bearing, once again, the goal of “bringing those they lead closer to God” doesn’t seem to be part of the equation. Like Ahab, they are likely in it for themselves. John is pretty clear about what he thinks about THAT.
Both texts remind us that the burden of leadership doesn’t occur in a vacuum. The choices leaders make, lead to more choices, and have outcomes for all those whom they serve as leaders. One thing…leads to another, and the twofold question always comes up at some point: What was the leader’s motivation? What was the outcome for the community as a whole? When we find ourselves in positions of leadership (no matter how “minor” that position may be), and choices are out there to be made, are we motivated by self-gain at the expense of those to whom we are accountable, rather than community good? Or do we attempt to choose what benefits the community, even if it’s at a potential cost to ourselves?
If we are honest with ourselves, we probably do a little of both, aspiring to the latter and occasionally succumbing to the former. It’s why self-examination, and repentance when we discover we have erred, are always part of the equation. When we, as Christians, re-orient our priorities, and put Christ first, as Paul points out in our Epistle today, what started out feeling like losses to our egos can become gains in the long haul. Developing patterns of making better choices in life is never easy–nor is hearing people who tell us things we don’t want to hear–but the pattern of regular self-examination, repentance and re-orientation teaches us to learn from, rather than hide from, life’s errors. In that vein, prophets like Elijah and John the Baptist are no longer fortune-tellers of the past, they become icons through which we can hear the more difficult messages in our own lives. Our readings today are a complicated set Biblical snippets indeed, but perhaps the best news of all is when we agree to the process, we discover God is never finished with us. One thing does lead to another…and sometimes it can lead us to a better spiritual and moral place if we’re willing to be honest about the times we put something or someone else in the driver’s seat, rather than God.
What have you learned, when you can actually listen with a God-oriented heart, from those who carry messages you don’t wish to hear at first?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri , as the Interim Pastor at Christ Episcopal Church, Rolla, MO.