A SERMON FOR THE SEASONS BY DR. MARK L. VINCENT
A SERMON TO PREPARE FOR COMING AND MOVING ON
It surprises many people who know me now that I preached itinerantly for thirty years — often a couple of original sermons each week. Preparing and sharing with groups, small and large, became like breathing.
- Working with a text from the bible, often one provided to me by the leaders of a congregation or event planners,
- Loading up on the context, the seeming intention of the writer, and what that text seemed to be saying about God’s message or action.
- Trying to understand the audience’s context and choosing what aspect of this prayerful study to focus on for all our benefit.
- the moment of facing a congregation and inserting that message into a specific moment,
- speaking to upturned faces and open hearts as we tried to hear what God has been saying and might be saying now.
Respiration like this was and is holy work.
Early on, preaching in the Advent season became a favorite for me. Advent is a way many Christians remember the centuries of waiting for the Messiah to come. It is observed in the weeks before Christmas Eve. So much of the bible looks ahead to the coming of Immanuel’s life and witness. And so much of what follows the gospel stories harkens back to that moment of God with us.
I recently came across one of my Advent sermons from my third year of ministry. It’s long enough ago that I was still glad to have a typewriter with whiteout tape! That sermon opened like this.
Biographies say whatever we want them to say, especially when we truncate the accounts to just a few sentences.
We make Christmas out to be whatever we want, especially if we focus exclusively and momentarily on a nativity scene mash-up.
THE NEXT SEASON
An extra insight comes to me now. Over the years, my career grew into working with distinguished senior executives while they develop their successors and figure out the right time to step down.
Since time and distance distort the stories of those who brought us the electric light, horrific genocide, or even a gospel of salvation, we can be assured any memory about our contributions to the world will be the same–if we are remembered at all.
Many of those I serve, struggle to embrace this true thing, at least at first. They sweated blood for the mission, after all. Their neural net shares a frequency with the rhythms of fiscal and program years. Their bodies are in synch with the enterprise. Detaching feels surgical–as if it is a death. They want their work to live on and be remembered with kindness. They didn’t expect to have to retrain their brains and bodies as they prepared to move on.
With time and reflection, however, and at a pace and place so different from our meetings rooms and calendared tasks, senior leaders can find hope for a life on the other side of their organizational leadership. They no longer need to enforce a future vision that somehow their achievement converted into a moment from the past.
So where did the time go? Why does what inspired us now feel like shackles to my successors? When did my pride in being relevant begin marking me as irrelevant?
EMBRACE THE MOMENT
Embracing an insight of even more profound humility than the servant-heartedness an accomplished executive may have felt they had, they can enter a new season of freedom and productivity. When they do that hard work of releasing themselves to posterity and God’s good timing, they will find they had unconsciously been grasping at so much, all of which would slip through their fingers anyway. It is a move toward health to embrace freedom and release one’s chokehold on the deception of role and reputation.
They release their reputation to the stewardship of others, whatever gets remembered, and they begin to recognize their true selves again. Inflated egos get right-sized, understanding of what one truly controls returns to a normal state, and that leader sees the value of their family and primary community relationships as if cataracts were removed.
GOD’S NEXT PLAN
The Psalmists so frequently tell us that God is the one who resides on the throne of heaven, not us. They tell us this God does whatever he pleases and that it pleases this God to bless those who place themselves in a position to be a blessing.
God knows our real name and calls us by it, even if others no longer do. If we quiet ourselves and are willing to wait, we will hear it anew.
Quiet waiting is how we position ourselves as a blessing. Then and now.
Are you entering your third turn of leadership? It may time to intentionally prepare for what comes next!
In this new year it may time to begin prepare for the future.
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