Part One

Heritage Presbyterian Church

3rd Sunday After Epiphany
January 23, 2022

Scriptures – 1st Corinthians 12: 14-26 and Luke 4: 14-21

We have all had various work experiences with all types of leaders.  Some of them were effective, some were poor, and some were content with simply keeping the status moving along.  No one wants to follow a lousy leader, but we also don’t want to follow anyone who just shows up and begins giving orders…even in the military, this is not leadership.

In order for effective leadership to even begin, any new leader needs to move carefully and correctly.  This is what Jesus seemed to be doing in today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.  He had been working, preaching, and healing for about a year when he came “home” to Nazareth.  

Yet, look closely at Jesus through the lens of what we know about effective leaders, and you might be surprised at how effective he was in following a few steps…steps that usually work for any and all effective leaders.

First of all, any new leader needs to go slowly.  Coming in and insisting on changing everything that is already in place is a recipe for unrest.  Even people who are not happy or satisfied with their circumstances will balk at following a new leader who comes on too strong.  The most effective leaders are those who come into the new job and announce for everyone to hear, “I am not changing anything for a while.”  This is a comforting statement that tells the workers two important things:

  1.  Changes are not coming right now.
  2. Changes may come in the future – depending on what the leader sees and knows.

And what was Jesus doing before he appeared in Nazareth and announced that the prophecy from Isaiah had been fulfilled?  He was waiting and watching.

Second, a new leader needs to have as many people as possible on the same page.  Is that leader going to have 100% participation and buy-in with all the new ideas?  Hardly…but an effective leader will try.  To have some on the outside will almost guarantee complaining, misunderstandings, gossip and rumors, and just plain trouble.  No leader wants that…Jesus certainly didn’t, but he was prepared to deal with it.  Remember that he said:

“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” [Matthew 10:34]

Third, an effective leader will build new ideas on what is comfortable, easy to understand, exciting, and – if possible – known from past experience.  Jesus did not come into Israel with an entirely new religion with new gods, new practices, new prayers, and new beliefs.  In many places in the Gospels, we are told that Jesus went to the synagogue “as was his custom.”  This also points to Jesus as a faithful Jew observing the faith of that day in all its forms.  

By the time Jesus was walking the earth, the custom of local synagogues was firmly established.  Yes, the grand Temple in Jerusalem was the center of life and worship for the Jews, but during their various conquests and defeats, they had begun worshiping locally in small synagogues.  This was simple to do because it only required ten men to create one.  Laity led the services – they usually had no established rabbi or leader.  Inviting outside guests or important visitors to lead was very common.  So, when Jesus came to Nazareth, he was naturally invited to lead worship, to read and teach.

In his teachings, Jesus consistently used the familiar Scriptures to make his points, to interpret them accurately and clearly with no cloud of mystery of misunderstanding, and effectively.  He was seen as a master teacher – but his materials were the well-known and familiar; imagine an incredible history teacher teaching Texas history but making those old familiar stories of the Alamo and San Jacinto come alive with new insights and new understanding; imagine a reading teacher turning students from those who hate to read into those who suddenly hunger for understanding the written word; imagine a science teacher using every day materials to teach complicated scientific concepts.  And during all this teaching, imagine the joy that the teacher would feel introducing the lessons, as well as the joy the students would have in learning based on familiar things.

Jesus also did one more thing in his invitation to come and learn: he made sure every one of his listeners and everyone he encountered on his journeys was treated the same.  He did give some grief to religious leaders, but he also debated them when he was given the chance.  He reached out to the lepers, the lame and blind and all those who were seen as “not good enough.”  He spoke directly and with love to the woman caught in the act of adultery, the Canaanite woman, the tax collectors, the “sinners.”  Everyone was valuable to him.  That will make for a powerful, loyal group of followers.

This leads to the next point: Leaders will build on their “leadership reputation.”  If a new leader begins working, most people want to know something about this new leader’s credentials.  Questions are often asked such as:

  • What experience do you have? 
  • Where have you worked before?  
  • Who are your references?

What those questions are really asking are, “What is your reputation and how accurate is it?”

Although Luke doesn’t mention it clearly, by the time Jesus arrived in Nazareth, he had been working in Galilee for about a year.  During that time, what do you suppose he was doing?  Preaching and teaching, healing, casting out demons…you know, all the Jesus stuff that he always did.  

But what he was also doing was building his reputation for his future work.  Again, Luke tells us that “news about him spread through the whole countryside.  He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him.” [Luke 4:14-15]

The folks in Nazareth had heard all about Jesus, and I can only imagine how packed their small synagogue was the day he arrived in town.

Finally, a good leader carefully chooses the right time to begin the new work.  When Jesus was baptized, all four Gospels tell us that the Holy Spirit descended upon him, and God’s own voice identified him as God’s own son.  It was an incredible moment in our Christian thought – but it was not the right time for Jesus to begin his public work in earnest.

When Jesus was selecting his Apostles, note that he didn’t choose all twelve of them simultaneously.  He chose a few fishermen here, a tax collector he encountered there, a terrorist, a Greek, and a few others he met along the way.  All twelve were the perfect ones to help him establish his work and to fulfill God’s purpose in sending Jesus to earth in the first place.  But Jesus chose carefully and took his time.  Note that he also took his time – and it seemed to almost last too long at times – to train the Twelve in what they were going to do.  

But once Jesus arrived in his hometown of Nazareth – after about a year of doing preliminary work – he was ready to truly begin.  It is doubtful this appearance just happened; it seems more like it was planned, and it served as a notice to the Nazoreans, to the Apostles, and to anyone who wondered about Jesus that the man they thought they knew was not necessarily “Joseph’s little boy, Jesus.”

So, to review, this was a new leader – Jesus of Nazareth – and he had come to them to begin his new work.  In doing so:

  • He began slowly;  
  • He worked to have as many people as possible on the same page;
  • He built his new ideas on what was comfortable, easy to understand, exciting, and known from past experience.
  • He developed his leadership reputation;
  • Finally, He carefully chose just the right time to begin the new work

That day in Nazareth, when Jesus read the ancient words from the Prophet Isaiah, he told them, “this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  [Luke 4:21]

This sets the stage for Part Two – which I will discuss next week.