Learning to Lead: Lamb-style

Learning to Lead: Lamb-style April 4, 2012
Not your Savior's Kind of Lamb? Or is it?

It’s early – 5:30 or so, when I hear the first birds of morning as light and sound bid me to wake and join the living.  I lay in bed and ponder what Wednesday must have been like for Jesus during that week between the height of popularity and the unified chorus of “crucify him!” spewed from the lips of the jealous, and the angry, and the fearful.  The all knowing Jesus knew of his own impending death.  We know, too, that this was to be the moment in his life when his own will crossed that of the Father’s, for up until that point Jesus had made it quite clear that his will and initiative, authority and judgement, were ever and always aligned with God’s.  Jesus was, after all, the embodied fulfillment of Psalm 40, which says “I delight to do your will, O my God”

Later that week though, in the garden, there would be drops of blood, and agony, and wrestling, instead of delight.  Those garden moments were a crux.  The fulcrum of history hung in the balance because Jesus had the power of violence at his disposal, and this choice created, for the very human Jesus, an opportunity for both personal vindication and the destruction of his enemies. One quick call, and the angels destroy his tormentors and accusers.  Battle Over.  God wins.

Of course, we know that Jesus chose the narrow road instead, that he denied his own desires and laid down his life.  This is the critical choice we celebrate this week, but in our celebration we’d do well to pause and look at our own important choices when it comes to matters of power and reputation.

Jesus rejected the chance for personal vindication and the destruction of his enemies. But aren’t these the core values of leadership as we know it in the 21st century?  The morning news highlights Syria’s ongoing destruction of their own people.  Obama and Mitt Romney are just beginning to eat each other, and we’ll be subjected to their rhetoric for months, until we’re sick to our stomachs.  If you think your solace will come within the shelter of church life, think again.  Our wars over nuanced doctrines, our funding of super-PACS, our fear based theology and posturing for market share and authority are all rooted in the belief that right doctrines and developing power are more important than how we live.  If we can prove we’re right and the other is wrong, get to the center of power and push the godless ‘other’ out to the margins, then all will be well.

I wonder.  Would I have chosen personal vindication and destruction over my enemies, when God was calling me to “lamb style leadership”? Would you?

The challenge is that this isn’t a hypothetical question. We who follow Christ know that we’re called to Lamb style leadership, just like Jesus.  “Unless a grain of wheat falls in the ground and dies…”   “He who seeks to save his life will lose it.  He who loses his life for my sake will find it” And so it goes, or at least, so it should go. Instead the history of Christ’s followers, from the time of Constantine on, is filled with tragic stories of violence and lust for power, in Jesus name.  This man, who laid down his life, became the one in whose name humanity has colonized, killed, mutilated, and enslaved.  How did that happen?

It happened, in part, because many of us were taught that Christ took the place that was rightfully ours.  While that’s a true statement, it’s not a complete statement.  This doctrine is called the substitutionary atonement, and I’d suggest that word substitute is a bad one.  It implies that Jesus bore the cross so I don’t need to.  His pain.  My gain.

This entire line of thinking makes our lust for power “in Jesus name” possible.  And where does that lead?

1. The thirty years war

2. The justification of slavery by theologians

3. The crusades

4. A nation of evangelicals in support of torture, nuclear arms, and enormous defense budgets, without even a national conversation about just war and the dangers of nationalism as an idol.

This all flows naturally from this belief: Christ became the lamb FOR us, so now we’re free to be lions.

That would be great if it wasn’t for this, and this, and this. It turns out that Jesus died on His cross so that we’d have the nature to carry our own crosses, to deny our own personal agendas, to embrace our own suffering in His name.

It’s because we’re called to follow Jesus’ example in servant leadership, and laying down our lives, that I’d rather learn from MLK, St. Francis, and Henri Nouwen, than the well armed, well funded, religious machinery of our American culture.

Lamb power works, as all those I’ve named above would declared.  They’d also say it’s difficult.  But that shouldn’t be surprising because the one who paved the way sweat drops of blood in the garden, wrestling with submission to authority until he finally surrendered his own will to that of the Father.  I for one, am glad he did.

Now it’s my turn.

O Lord Christ

You were more than a substitute.  You were an example.  Grant that I might live in such union with you that I’m empowered to say yes to your will, knowing that such a yes will require wrestling, self denial, even crosses.  Forgive me for demanding my rights.  Forgive us all for our unwitting lust to power, our complicity with violence, our propensity to save ourselves at the very moment when laying down our lives would create piercing light and life.  Show us what it means to die daily, in order that we might live fully.


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  • Richard,

    Great thoughts. I would say Lamb power works because resurrection works. Yes its nonsense, just like the disciples responded to the first announcement of it. But when you understand the hospitality of it, it is the best sense the world has ever heard! I thought of this quote from Hans Boersma’s book “Violence, hospitality and the cross”.

    “Gregory of Nyssa rightly points out that even if we do have recourse to divine deception (or to divine violence, as in the case of moral-influence and penal views of the atonement), this is not necessarily immoral and need not conflict with God’s loving intent and with the realization of the full glory of His love. Divine violence is not always opposed to divine hospitality but may well be a suitable instrument in ascertaining the hope of the entire cosmos being embraced by the hospitable love of God. It is the resurrection – the eschatological future of absolute hospitality – that allows us to call the atonement an act of unprecedented hospitality.” (pg. 201)

    Bless you and Bethany during this holy week and weekend celebration!

    “Peace be to you!”

    Seth D

  • Jordan

    Pastor Richard,

    I am relatively new to Bethany (less than a year attending). I am not a member. I follow your blog with regularity. This post left me with a few questions. Jesus was also referred to as the Lion of Judah, which seems to imply that strength and dominance that a lamb lacks. Is that the paradox of Christ that He is both simultaneously? If so, do Christians just pick Lion or Lamb based upon their preconceived notions and ideas? Also, with regard to nationalism as an idol, I think that is a great point. It is something I struggle with. If only Jesus had a national soccer team sporting new flashy jerseys each year it’d be so much easier to take up my cross and cheer the team on.

  • Richard Dahlstrom

    You’re asking a great question, so thanks for taking the time to reply to the blog. I think it’s significant that we consider the story of Judah in the Old Testament if we’re to understand the nature of Judah as the Lion. You might recall that Judah was the brother who, when confronted with the possibility of his younger brother Benjamin remaining in Egypt while the rest of the brothers returned, offered to substitute HIS life for Benjamin’s life. That’s where we see the nature of the lamb in the lion. We also see the 2nd coming of Christ will carry with it a righting of every wrong by the destruction of all evil, and this is where we see the Lion in the Lamb.

    I think it’s wrong, however, to refer to the violence of Christ exemplified in Christ’s 2nd return as the basis for our own violence, because the example given to us by Christ while on earth was the example he told us to follow.

    Like you, I wish Jesus had a winning soccer team – lacking that, I’m pretty happy with the Sounders 🙂

  • sarah j

    it always comforts me to know in the end, Jesus, too, needed to wrestle with God the Father before finally resting in full submission. the pattern of my own life follows this rhythm, but when i look at Jesus i dare to wonder–perhaps the struggle before the release is made holy, too?