Sermon Text

July 15, 2012 11:15 AM • Pentecost VII

Sermon

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

The Rev. Canon Jan Naylor Cope

Transcribed from audio recording.

Gracious God, help us always to seek the truth come whence it may, cost what it will. Amen.

When you step out in courage and faith to do what you believe is right … you will inspire others to follow you and to make what is an idea and ideal, a vision, a movement.

I have a confession to make. When I first read that lesson from Second Samuel and the story of David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem, I was really tempted to ask Susan Larson, who was processing in this service with the Gospel in her hand, if she wouldn’t mind dancing it to the altar. But I knew that she, and you, would ultimately decide that I had been overexposed to the sun and the extreme heat in the last few weeks. So I didn’t do it. In truth, that moment in David’s kingship was what we understand and call today the seminal tipping point of his kingdom and kingship. He was a brilliant leader and in that moment he brought together piety and politics. And while that would be a really tempting subject for us this morning, I’m not going there. I suspect that there will be many opportunities in the coming months to focus, in this election cycle, on the confluence of piety and politics.

What I would like to explore with you this morning is leadership and the myriad ways in which it manifests itself in our lives and in the lives around us. The past three weeks, I’ve largely been away from the Cathedral, first for some doctoral studies at Virginia Theological Seminary and then for the past week at the Episcopal Church’s triennial General Convention. And it was amazing in that timeframe how leadership and governance was really at the heart of everything we were discussing. The first course I took at Virginia Seminary was on leadership and governance. And during that week, we had incredible case studies unfolding right before our eyes in this country. One was the saga of the presidency of the University of Virginia. You recall that the president was first forced to resign and then there was this incredible groundswell and movement that resulted in her being reinstated - a fascinating study of leadership and governance. Also transpiring at that time were the very sad and tragic trials of coach Sandusky and Penn State - governance and leadership. And it was the beginning of the conversation preparing for our General Convention when there was a lot of conversation around leadership and governance and restructuring our church. So it was a very timely topic. And if you don’t think leadership is an important subject and a lot of people have opinions on it, I invite you to go on Amazon and type in “leadership” and you will discover that there are over 82,500 entries that come up in response to that.

What I think is often overlooked in all of those discussions, is that for most of us we exercise our leadership by being followers. Very few of us are called to be David. Most of us are called to exercise our leadership as followers. You’ll notice that David didn’t dance the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem by himself. There were 30,000 followers who were a part of that procession that ultimately resulted in David being able to unite the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. He didn’t do it by himself. He may have been the leader; but it would never have happened without all of the support of those who followed and went with him. In more contemporary times, we can think about the incredible Civil Rights Movement and most people would say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. He was a profound, prophetic, powerful speaker, preacher; he preached his last Sunday sermon from this very pulpit. But were it not for the first follower, the second follower, and all the followers who came along who said, “He’s right; this is important and I’m going to step out in courage and faith to stand beside him, to stand behind him to help make a movement.” If it had only been Dr. King it wouldn’t have been a movement. Think just a year ago of the Arab Spring; it may have started with one courageous person being willing to state that something needed to change and putting that out on social media. But it was by virtue of the fact that one follower, two followers, three followers joined with him and said, “This is our time; this is our moment; this has to happen” that caused that movement to take hold and changed the course, not just of a nation, but of a region.

We don’t talk a lot about the leadership that is absolutely essential from those of us called to be followers; but it is vital to affect change in any aspect of our common life. At General Convention, the President of the House of Deputies, Bonnie Anderson, preached a really thoughtful sermon on courage and, of course, this was in the context of our national church talking about the need for restructuring and change. And she quoted C.S. Lewis who said that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every other virtue at the testing point.” Whether it’s valor, compassion, honesty, integrity, each one of those, at their testing point, requires courage. She went on to say that courage is infectious. When you step out in courage and faith to do what you believe is right - what you feel led to do - by your leadership, you will inspire others to follow you and to make what is an idea and ideal, a vision, a movement. It takes followers with courage to step out in faith and make a difference.

Where do you feel God stirring your heart to act? What’s your passion? Where do you feel God leading you to respond? Is it peace, poverty, hunger, homelessness, health care reform, immigration reform, social justice issues around race, LGBT persons? What is your passion? Where are you being led? Have courage, the courage of your convictions, to follow that prophetic voice that’s out there and is calling for a movement to happen, to affect change. There’s great honor and courage in exercising our leadership as followers and there’s a wonderful precedent for it. Remember that Jesus said, “If any of you would be my disciples, take up your cross and follow me.” Amen.