When the Leader Shows Up

Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

July 4, 2021
Independence Day
Scripture readings: 2nd Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10 and Ezekiel 2: 1-5

So…in our first Old Testament reading for today, David is firmly established as the undisputed leader of God’s people in Israel.  He is the king; Saul is dead and gone; all Israel’s enemies have been conquered; peace reigns in the nation and in the people.  Now is the time to get busy with the business of following God, honoring God, worshiping God, and serving as God’s people.  

In other words, the leader named David has shown up.

In our second Old Testament reading for today, Ezekiel is clearly called to be a prophet for the defeated, downtrodden, despondent people of God.  It has been at least 400 years since the years of triumph when David was firmly established as God’s anointed choice to be the King of Israel.  In that time, my goodness!  The people have gone from one disaster to another with few breaks of goodness in between!  Now they are slaves in a foreign land with no hope at all.  Yahweh has abandoned them; Yahweh has forgotten them; Yahweh is no longer listening to them.  

Then they get a brand new word because a new prophet leader, Ezekiel, has shown up.

Isn’t it amazing how God’s timing works?  Just at the right time, in just the right place, within just the right circumstances, a leader shows up.  The world is often changed when this happens.  History is definitely changed and usually for the better.

Let me share three stories of three different leaders who showed up and history changed for the better.

The first story is about a man named Barnabas.  When Saul from Tarsus first burst on the scene in the early days of the Apostles, he was breathing righteous fire and taking prisoners.  The so-called followers of “the Way” were routinely rounded up, imprisoned, and often executed because of their odd belief in a prophet from Nazareth who claimed to be the Son of God.  That was BLASPHEMY to the true people of God, and Saul of Tarsus was determined to snuff out this monstrous movement.

So, when Saul was struck down by a vision he had on the road to Damascus, the history of early Christianity changed dramatically; but it almost didn’t happen.

Saul of Tarsus literally changed himself after that encounter (with some help from three days of blindness in the aftermath).  He became the man we all know of today as the Apostle Paul.  But when he tried to meet and talk with the Apostles in Jerusalem, no one would believe him; no one would listen to him; and most importantly – no one would forgive him for his persecution of their fellow believers and friends.  Paul had no chance to become the leader he was destined to become.

Until Barnabas showed up.  Barnabas believed Paul.  Barnabas was someone the entire Apostolic crowd in Jerusalem trusted and admired.  So, when Barnabas vouched for Paul and brought Paul to Peter and John and “introduced” this new man of God to them, it meant something.  It counted and it counted a lot.  Finally, Paul was grudgingly accepted and his amazing work on behalf of the fledgling Christian movement could move forward.  

But what happened to this good man who showed up as the leader Paul needed on his behalf?  Barnabas seems to have faded into history.  Today, the number of churches named after Barnabas pales in comparison to those named after Paul.  

Yet without the first leader, the second might never have gotten started.  When the leader showed up for Paul, the work of God moved forward.

The second story is about our 21st US President, Chester A. Arthur.  In 1880, James Garfield was elected President with Arthur as his Vice President.  Arthur was chosen to balance the ticket due to the political machine called the Stalwarts.  This group, with included Arthur, was responsible for much of the political corruption in the mid- to late-1800’s.  When Garfield was shot just months after taking office in 1881, his assassin reportedly shouted, “I am a Stalwart, and Arthur is President now!” Garfield lingered for eleven weeks but finally died of his wounds in the fall of 1881.  

No one expected the dashing, quiet Stalwart Arthur to do much of anything.  The Stalwarts themselves quietly celebrated because Garfield was known as a tough reformer who had pledged to rid the government of their wasteful corruption.  Now that Arthur was the President, the Stalwarts expected life to be good for them.  But one thing they didn’t count on: the leader named Chester A. Arthur showed up.

Arthur quickly began the reforms that Garfield had planned to undertake.  He worked hard during the three years that he served as President, and the Stalwarts lost their power and influence in the federal and even state governments.  Poor health caused Arthur to retire at the end of his term.  But despite his status as one of the least known US Presidents, here are two quotes about him:

  • Journalist Alexander McClure, the biographer for Abraham Lincoln wrote, “No man ever entered the Presidency so profoundly and widely distrusted as Chester Alan Arthur, and no one ever retired more generally respected, alike by political friend and foe. [Alexander K. McClure, Colonel Alexander K. McClure’s recollections of Half a Century (1902) p 115]
  • Mark Twain wrote of him, “It would be hard indeed to better President Arthur’s administration.” [quoted in Feldman, Ruth Tenzer (2006). Chester A. Arthur]

When the leader called President Chester A. Arthur showed up, unexpected things happened in our nation.  We could use someone like him today.

Our final story concerns a strong-willed woman who refused to take anything other than respect from the various men she worked with.  Her name was Mary Ann Bickerdyke.

Mary was from Ohio, and she attended Oberlin College when she was in her late teens.  Later she married a widower sign-painter and the family moved to Illinois.  When her husband died suddenly, Mary was left to care for their four children.  Because she was raised on a farm and knew all about herbal medicines, she began using that knowledge to earn a living.

When the Civil War broke out, the small town in which she lived raised $500 for medical supplies to send to a nearby Union Army field hospital.  Mary was trusted by the townspeople with delivering the supplies to the hospital.  However, when she got there and saw the horrific conditions – especially the filth and careless care of the wounded patients – a leader showed up in the faces of the Union officers and doctors…it was Mary Ann Bickerdyke.

She set up half barrels so the wounded could be cleaned and washed – as well as the regular soldiers.  She boiled huge vats of soup and served everyone.  She tended to the soldiers tirelessly and even assisted during surgeries.  She followed the army during the war and made certain other young women were trained to become nurses who saved untold lives.  When the Army surgeons complained to General US Grant and General William Tecumseh Sherman about her lack of respect and manners toward them, Sherman reportedly threw his hands in the air and shouted, “What do you expect me to do about her?  She ranks me!” (meaning Sherman recognized how much more important she was than anyone else).

The soldiers loved her and called her “Mother Bickerdyke.”  By the end of the Civil War, she had personally established 300 field hospitals and had served at 19 battlefields.

Because of this leader showing up, untold numbers of Civil War soldiers were able to go home to their families and their lives once the war was over.

Throughout the Bible, God seems to have had numerous leaders show up at just the right time to serve Him.

Throughout our history, God seems to have sent numerous leaders to show up at just the right time to serve Him by caring for those of His children called Americans.

I wonder who the next set of leaders will be.  When they show up, I pray that wonderful things will happen…just like they always have.