I heard on NPR once the story of why people scale Mount Everest. Many died early on in the 20th century trying to complete this monumental task, and it is still a dangerous trek today. But I heard a story from one climber who described why he did it. He said that when you reach the summit you come into a silence. The atmosphere is so thin, you are so high up, that sound does not carry as well, and you come into a silence, a stillness, that might approach what Elijah experienced in 1 Kings when the LORD spoke to him in the “still small voice” or “out of the silence” as some translation put it. On the top of the mountain, on the top of the world, you enter into a silence, an isolation, an overwhelming and overcoming exposure that reveals your innermost being. It is a dangerous trek to get there and it takes the dedicated work of the local Sherpas to help travelers get to the top of the mountain. It is always more dangerous for the trailblazers, those who are chartering the path, than those who follow. On April 18, 2014, 21 sherpas died in a deadly avalanche, one of the worst accidents in mountaineering history. This caused a cancelation of trips up the mountain for the rest of the year and a strike by sherpas and their families demanding for better working conditions. The sherpas paved the way and they paid the ultimate price.
In the Spirit I believe the Lord is leading us up the mountain. As C.S Lewis once put it in his Narnia series, the Lord is leading us further up and deeper in. He is leading us to a place that I am calling “vulnerable worship.” What is vulnerable worship? I think our text describes vulnerable worship to us today. I think vulnerable worship requires three things;
- Sheep and a Shepherd
- An Encounter with God.
First, Vulnerable Worship requires sheep and a shepherd. Moses, Jacob, David, they all had their time as a shepherd before God put them in a place of leadership. It seems that being a shepherd taught something about Biblical leadership that God could simply not teach any other way. In the New Testament wherever the term “Pastor” is used the Greek word is “Shepherd”. Jesus calls himself the “Good Shepherd”. Psalm 23, which was our call to worship today says, “The LORD is my shepherd”. This is a profound metaphor that describes something about God’s guidance of his people and how his chosen leaders are to lead with the authority and power entrusted to them.
The relationship between sheep and a shepherd is a good metaphor for the relationship between a pastor and his or her congregation. The sheep are the shepherd’s livelihood, he or she will not last long if the sheep scatter. At the same time the sheep need a shepherd, first to protect them from predators, and second to guide them to new pastures, because if sheep stay in the same place for two long, well they will eat all the grass and they will starve. The shepherd paves the way, he or she goes ahead of the sheep, and often the shepherd is the first to be attacked when predators seek to scatter the flock. The predators in this analogy is the unholy trinity, the flesh, the Devil, and the world. The pastures that the shepherd guides the sheep to are new traditions and ministries. For all ministries and traditions serve us well for a time, but Jesus our Good Shepherd is always moving ahead of us, leading us for our own good, because most of us are spiritually risk averse, and we will often eat from the same pasture till we strip them barren.
In “Lead Like Jesus,” Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges suggest that Jesus’ leadership, and hopefully my leadership, consist of four components; Personal Leadership, One on One Leadership, Team Family Leadership, and organizational/ community leadership. Personal leadership is who you are on the inside and it consists of answering two basic questions, “Whose am I?” and “Who Am I?” Whose am I is functionally about putting God above all else. Because as Jesus said a man cannot serve two masters. As John Calvin once put it the heart is an idol making factory and if you do not worship God then you will find something else to worship. As for who I am I can sum up my life purpose with my life verse Isaiah 50:4; “The LORD God has given me the tongue of one who is taught that I may comfort with a Word him who is weary.”
One on one leadership is functionally about building trust. As I often say no one will listen to what you have to say until they know you love them. Pastoral care isn’t only about a pastor caring, it is about a pastor leading. Once a leader has built trust they can move onto team leadership, which is about empowering people to do ministry. To quote Blanchard and Hodges, “After Jesus spent time personally teaching and modeling the type of leadership He wanted them to adopt, He sent out His disciples to minister in teams of two. In doing so, Jesus empowered them to act on His behalf to support one another in accomplishing the work they had been trained to do.” (pg 27)
In organizational leadership the leader moves from shifting people’s perspective and earning their trust to building community. As Blanchard and Hodges point out for the organizational leader both relationships and results are important to founding an effective organization (pg 29). To quote Blanchard and Hodges, “ When organizational leadership enters into the arena of community leadership, it calls for leadership, it calls for the leader to willingly extend service for the common good. Life role leadership in the community focuses on finding common ground and reconciliation with people of diverse opinions, backgrounds, priorities, and spiritual perspectives. Community leadership requires love to be spoken in truth and courage with good will and tolerance without wandering from moral and ethical conviction. “ (pg 30). I want to be your shepherd, I want to lead like Jesus, but you need to hold me accountable when I am getting ahead of myself, without doing what so many congregations do, that is lashing out and wounding their shepherd.
But if I make it through these steps the question remains, where am I leading you? Our text today gives us a suggestion. The text says that the shepherds made their home outside, in the barren and rolling hills of Judea. They were exposed, they were vulnerable. When the Angels appeared they were rightfully afraid, because, well, there is an Angel standing right next to you, and that’s sort of crazy. But they were also more afraid because there was no where to run to, no where to hide, nothing to separate them from the glory of the heavens breaking through. Even with Jesus in the manger we see this theme of vulnerability. I will be honest, holding babies makes me a little uncomfortable. Well, you may be thinking, becoming a minister in a denomination that baptizes infants, may have been not so bright of an idea, and your point is well taken. But here me out. The thing with babies is they are so vulnerable, so delicate, so dependent, there is nothing between them and starvation and injury except the love and provision of their parents. That freaks me out. And yet, Jesus, the eternal Word, put himself in that position. And since Jesus is our Good Shepherd, the pioneer of our faith, since he goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us, I would argue that Jesus became vulnerable so that we would follow his lead.
David Ruis put it best in his amazing book, “The Worship God is Seeking.” To quote Ruis; “God wants something real. Most of the time, we want it too. But something weird seems to happen when we come together as the church. We change, and it’s usually not for the better. Even when we hang around after a formal service or a house meeting, we seem to be more real and honest than when we worship. Our voices change; our posture shifts; and dare I say, the pretending begins. It seems to me this ought not to be.
God is seeking those who worship in spirit and truth. …..and while we must discover what is appropriate and inappropriate within the context of our particular community, we must at the same time break the back of judgmental attitudes that shut down honest expression.
Worship can put us in a very vulnerable position. Encounter with the living God can be quite overwhelming, and there must be room for this collision to find honest expression. Nothing quenches a person’s expression of worship more than feeling that it is unsafe to reveal his or her heart.” (Ruis).
My friends I have said it before and I will say it again I don’t care what instruments we use for worship, whether it is the organ or the accordion. Whether we worship with guitars or ukuleles. The instruments have changed through the centuries, but as Hebrews 13:8 puts it, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. It is the Spirit of worship that I am looking for, the Spirit that will lead us to the throne, to the bosom of the Father. There is a difference between singing and worshiping. There is a difference between having a rock band that is pleasing or unpleasing to the ear ( depending upon how old you are) as opposed to a choir, that may be small in the eyes of the world, but cries out to God, and thus is pleasing to God. And today I am daring enough to say to you that if you have never felt exposed and vulnerable before God, you may have never truly worshiped, at least how the Bible defines worship. .” As the writer of Hebrews puts it in Hebrews 4:13, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Have you been exposed, have you been vulnerable before your God? If not, that’s okay. Stick with it, stick around, stick with me. Because I have committed to be your shepherd and you have committed to be my sheep, and I have committed to follow the Good Shepherd. And if you trust me, if you take my hand, if you open your hearts, if you will allow deep to cry out to deep, then I promise you I will brave every avalanche to lead you further up and deeper in.