Sunday, February 1, 2009

Navel Gazing About the Tyranny of Reputation

One of the things that really struck me about last Sunday's sermon on the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) was when Jesus was talking about the weeds and thorns that grow up and choke out faith.  He describes a couple of the varieties of these thorns as "the worries of this life" and "desires for other things."  One of the things I see people struggling with is their own reputations.  We want so desperately to be known and understood by people as being a particular sort of person.  It totally explains why some people have so many bumper stickers on their cars!  Perhaps we want to be seen as a good person, a hip person, a caring person,  an interesting person, a good pastor (in my case) or whatever.  When other people's views of us don't match what we think we are projecting, we get upset.  I heard this predicament once referred to as "The Tyranny of Reputation."  It means that we desire to be seen to be a certain kind of person more than we value doing the right thing if it makes us look bad.  In other words, we're more interested in our human audience and their opinions than we are in our Heavenly Audience of One. 

One of the many things I didn't foresee in becoming a lead pastor was the frustration of not having my motives and intentions known by everyone.  Did I really believe that I could cast a vision and everyone would buy in?  Being a leader means that you have to make tough decisions and if people aren't willing to give you the benefit of the doubt as to your motivations it can cause problems.  The only way for people to know your motivations is for them to know you.  Really know you.  Your past, the influences in your life both good and bad, your testimony, your heart, your relationship with the Lord and so on.  Hopefully, to be known is to be trusted.  Without that trust from being known, people will make assumptions as to your motives and frequently those assumptions will be erroneous but the damage will already be done.  

So then the trouble is this:  if you need to be known in order to build trust so that you can lead, how do you avoid the spiritual pitfalls of the Tyranny of Reputation that will make everything about you and how you are perceived?   Specifically:  If you are not understood how will you be able to build credibility with people?  

I think about some of the famous leaders from history:  Edison.  Nobody saw the vision for electric lights like he did.  Einstein:.  People still don't get it.   Moses.  Even after 40 years of wandering his folks still weren't happy.  Jesus:  They killed him.  

So that brings me back to the Parable of the Sower.  Jesus is basically saying, "Hey, not everybody's going to 'get this.'"  But he just went on sowing the Gospel seed throughout his ministry (and even after his resurrection and ascension by the Holy Spirit).  Not everyone "got" Paul, not everyone "got" Moses.  But I guess what Jesus is saying is that nobody will ever get the vision all the time.  There isn't enough time or resources in the world for everyone to get to know you and trust you.  People are in different places and circumstances in their life will keep them from seeing the seed for what it is.  But don't worry about it.  Just keep on going because some will get it and produce a crop 30,60, 100 times what was planted.  Focus on seeking after his kingdom and whatever else you need will be provided.  

In the meantime, remember it isn't about us.  It's about Jesus.  If nobody gets you, oh well.  Just keep doing the right thing.  Err on the side of righteousness over reputation.  Forget about yourself, it's Jesus that really matters.  I think Paul said it best (1 Cor 2:2):  "For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified."  St. Francis also weighed in on this one in his Prayer for Peace which, for me, is one of the most concise summaries of what the Jesus life looks like (and he even talks about sowing seeds):  

Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen

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