The Meeting Nobody Wants to Have

Photo credit: <a href="">Martin Fisch</a>

Galatians 1:6-9

I’m simply astounded that, just like that, you’re abandoning me, the one who brought you into Jesus’ good graces, to run off after someone else’s version of Jesus. Mind you, there really isn’t any other legitimate version, but certain people (whose names I won’t mention) are taking you in. They want to make Jesus’ story into something else.

Nevertheless, even if we ourselves, or even a messenger from heaven, ever tell you anything different than what we first told you – well, to hell with them. I’ll say it again: if anyone ever tells you something other than what we’ve told you, to hell with them.

We can cut Paul a little slack. He’s feeling betrayed. He’s feeling like he’s losing his grip, and certainly his influence over a project that he was involved in from the beginning. Emotions are running high.

This is the point at which the partners in a start-up business have to tell the lead partner, “You’ve made this project too much about you. You’re a great go-getter, and you love the product like nobody else we know, but you just don’t work well with others, and you’re too controlling of the rest of the team. We’re sorry, but you’re fired.” You expect him to get a little upset. You expect him to tell you to go to hell. You expect him to write an open letter to the employees, and publish it on Facebook.

The truth of the matter is, we owe Paul a great deal. If it hadn’t been for him, most of us probably never would have heard of Jesus. Christianity would have remained an obscure little enclave of disaffected Jews and a few curious folk from other ethnic backgrounds. Jesus would have remained an historical footnote. But Paul wasn’t perfect.

Paul’s version of Jesus was, at the time, not in sync with what most of the people who had known Jesus personally were saying about him. At the time, Christianity was a Jewish fringe movement. It was tied to a few people’s experience of a single man.

Paul’s experience, and his version of Jesus, was visionary. It had the advantage of not being tied to the human experience of Jesus. It wasn’t parochial, geographically or ethnically, in the way the Jerusalem group was. It could spread. But the down side was that without the anchor of the real person, Jesus, the man who started the movement, Paul was free to envision all kinds of things that just weren’t part of the story. Since he claimed his visions came from the risen Jesus, who could argue?

Except that at some point, common sense takes over, and you have to let the lead partner go. It’s not easy. Never is. But you’ve got to do it, before the whole thing falls apart.

How You Lead a Movement

Philippians 1:12-14

Friends, know that what’s happened has increased the momentum of our cause. Everyone, even the goon squad, knows that I’m a political prisoner, that my allegiance to Jesus is the reason they locked me up. And because of that, our brothers and sisters in the movement have more confidence and speak out with greater courage.

Movements need leaders. Many of the leadership gurus focus on technique, strategy, all of that. But what’s really needed is a leader who is willing to put his or her own skin in the game. After that, technique and strategy are incidental.

Last week Bill McKibben did it for the climate change movement: he was arrested during an act of mass civil disobedience outside the White House and spent two days in jail. But even he was following the leadership of a lesser known leader. In July, Tim DeChristopher went to jail for two years for his protest against big oil.

Again and again, the most significant movements happen when leaders lead from the front line rather than the corner office. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, César Chávez, Oscar Romero, Paul, Jesus, Elijah, Moses. None of them were technically or tactically perfect. But we remember their names without having to look them up, which is more than we can say for whoever happened to be the last CEO of General Motors. (It was Rick Wagoner, resigned 2009 as a condition for receiving a Federal bailout.)

Leaders who put themselves on the front line of their cause demonstrate that the cause is worth the effort, that it is even worth the discomfort, the inconvenience, and especially the risk. After all, if you aren’t willing to take the risk, why should I? On the other hand, if you’re willing stand with me, to go to jail, to suffer, to take the time – then I just might be convinced.

Want me to join your movement? Show me some skin.

Do What Matters Now

Philippians 1:9-11

This is what I earnestly want for you: that you may love richly and discern keenly so that you will be able to decide what really matters. That way you will have no regrets and nothing to hide when this life is over. And then I wish for you to be able to actually do what matters – the way Jesus did. That would be glorious indeed.

Whatever reservations you might have about Paul, he got this one absolutely right.

Love richly. Discern keenly. Decide what really matters. And then, do it. This is how we make something of our lives during the short time we have on the planet. I’ve known a lot of people who have looked back at the end of their life, nostalgic for what might have been. It’s one of the saddest kinds of conversations. But I’ve also known some who have looked back and said, “Yeah, I did that. It was awesome.”

Of all the things in life that you can’t get back, time is one. The people you love are the others. What really matters to you? What are you going to do about it?

Now wouldn’t be too soon.