January 27, 2019—Escalating Enmity with Jesus

Why do leaders clash with their people?

Is it because of communication?  It’s not what they say; it’s how they say it?  Is it because of a lack of transparency, duplicity, or too much information?

Why is there escalating enmity with the people when new leadership takes over?

It may be that sometimes leadership comes to the group with an agenda they know, or in some cases; simply believe; that was what group wanted them to come for.

You know; clean up and organize the people, improve services, get the budget in line, establish good policies and make sure liabilities are accounted for.

It can be a “basic administrative make over” that requires the people to get in line with those changes and improve their footprint on the organization, so they can better achieve the goals the leader sets out for them.

Very often that means doing things outside of their comfort zone, and working harder than they might have been in the past, and even change the their philosophical approach to work habits.

That’s probably the rub for most churches, community organizations, or social clubs.  And while there is some resistance to the changes, most will get on board with the new leadership, provided they see positive results early.

But what if there are deeper problems?

What if there are inappropriate or unethical or even, God forbid, illegal activities within the organization?

What if someone is stealing, or taking advantage of coworkers, or flat out abusing their peers?  What if there is a major power broker that is intent on keeping their influence in place, even if it means terrorizing the leadership to do so?

What if the group, church, or organization denies the leaders authority altogether; and even unethically, sinfully, or illegally conspires to rid themselves of the new leadership by any means possible?

Sounds Crazy doesn’t it?

Well Mike shared with me an article about people that are doing just that in our beloved Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Congregations nationwide.

I was horrified to read the firsthand accounts of church men and women actually taking to the internet to defame their pastor, and even illegally conspire against them in such a criminal way, that it is tantamount to racketeering in its tactics.

And get this, they justified their heinous behavior because their pastor did not have the particular brand of doctrine they found acceptable even though he was completely in line with all our national church bodies’ policies and confessions.

Now I understand disagreeing on finer points, but actually committing criminal acts to run their pastor off was astonishing to me amongst members in our beloved LCMS.

And it wasn’t isolated events; there were many documented and independently verified incidents that convinced me there is a movement in our church against leadership in general, when said leadership did not follow a particular agenda that this movement was aligned with.

I thank God, that this shocked me like it did, thankful that I have not encountered this myself.  In the seven congregations I have served in seminary and as a pastor and vicar, I saw more than my share of conflict, but never this level of criminal conspiracy that I read about in the article that Mike shared with me. 

But I bet, if I took a simple straw poll today, some of you might be familiar with this movement. I pray it never comes to our beloved region in our district.

And while this may be unfamiliar to many, if not, most of us; it is not unfamiliar to our Lord Jesus in the Gospel.

Here you have the most obvious leader, pastor, shepherd, and Messianic fulfillment that has ever touched foot on earth, and almost immediately, today’s lesson tells us, he was criminally conspired against.

And Jesus responds in a way that no one, not even you and me, could possibly expect, had we been reading from the same scroll Jesus read in today’s lesson.

Before the text Jesus read; Isaiah 6 gives us a very different picture of how the Holy One responded to the conspirators of evil, when Isaiah asked God, “How long” until God’s vengeance would fall upon their evil ways, God says,

“Until the cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the LORD removes people far away,… though a tenth will remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.”

That’s pretty complete devastation for those who turn utterly against God.  But Jesus is not about vengeance like Isaiah was originally, the days of vengeance has turned into something more redemptive and hopeful for God’s people, no matter how immersed in evil conspiracy they might be.

The other day I was in the Quad and noticed something really strange. 

We had to cut down one of our Palm trees to save the good trees and there was nothing left but a stump, kind of like the judgement reference in Isaiah 6. 

Now you would think that once you cut a tree down, it’s basically dead, no bringing that puppy back to its former glory.

But I noticed something wet on the stump…now initially I thought it must just be bringing up water from the ground. I don’t know if you have noticed how high the lakes are lately, and I can only surmise that the aquifer must be full and the water has to go somewhere, so I assumed the stump was expunging some of that water pushing up from the ground.

I was wrong.  Mike and Shanon explained to me it was just sap.  And then Shanon said something that really caught my ear, “When you cut a tree it bleeds, and that’s just what the sap is.”

Now I don’t know much about plants, but if it still actively bleeds, there must be some life left?

And that is what Jesus came to redeem in what was left of God’s people, as evidenced by their incorrigible behavior in today’s lesson.

They were the judged stump, but if this stump could just still bleed, maybe they were not beyond God’s eternal redemption just yet, and apparently Jesus didn’t think so either, because He used none of his powers to destroy them, even when they tried to murder him right there.

I believe Jesus response is a possible model of response to criminal conspiracy in our church today. 

Instead of vengeance for these despicable acts of evil, we proclaim the gospel through the love of Christ.

And we proclaim the Gospel through the love of Christ because Christ shed his blood for every criminal conspiracy we ever participated in as well, that made us no more than a hopeless dead stump.

When we conspired to undermine our spiritual fathers placed in authority over us, because they didn’t look or act like we wanted them too, or they had an opinion differing from ours, we didn’t see them as servants of God, we saw them only as flawed creatures that didn’t serve us.

We criminally conspired against Jesus, when we ignored His Word and trusted the words of this world and ran our church the way the world wanted us too.

We criminally conspired against God, when we held on to our positions of power and influence rather than making sure Christ was the center of attention and took our rightful place in His shadow for the sake of His Saints.

And we criminally conspired when we denied that we needed Him to die for our sins, rather than for OUR SAKE, because we wanted Him dead, to get him out of our way, rather than raise us from our spiritual stump death.

Our escalating enmity was utterly anticipated by His grace, His love, and His desire to bleed on the cross just enough to raise our dead stumps to mighty oaks and terebinths again.

When we escalated, He anticipated his death and rose from the dead to save us from our sin.