Sermon by The Rev. Greg Tallant at St. Teresa’s (Acworth, GA), October 26, 2014
How do you exercise leadership at St. Teresa’s?
How do YOU, how do Y’ALL, exercise leadership at St. Teresa’s,
y’all who are vergers and altar guild chairs and acolytes,
y’all who are vestry and finance committee members
and outreach chairs,
and y’all who have unofficial leadership positions,
because of history or influence or money
or wisdom or spirituality?
There’s a lot going on in the lessons this morning,
and a lot of it is about leadership.
Moses. Joshua. Paul. The Pharisees and Sadducees. Jesus.
They all lead, or fail at leading through change, danger,
new beginnings, and conflict.
I’m not an expert on leadership, to be sure.
I’ve been rector in Decatur for about 2 1/2 years,
and most days I’m amazed the walls of Holy Trinity Parish
haven’t fallen in. Yet.
But I’m interested in leadership these days because of some places
in my wife’s and my lives where leadership is being tested.
There are these small but important parts of our lives
where the relationship between the leadership and the membership
seems to have fallen apart.
My wife sings with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus.
She auditioned a couple of years ago
and only when she was accepted did she tell anybody
that she had dreamed about it since she was 9.
You might know that the governing board of the the ASO is in
a contract dispute with the musicians and has
locked them out from performing.
No paycheck. No health insurance. No music.
Emily and I were a little divided about what was happening.
She immediately sided with the musicians because, well,
she’s a musician and this is her dream.
But I sit in Finance Meetings every month,
and before that I spent a decade at my family’s business,
so I’m probably too aware of what I call
the Ministry of Making Payroll, and I’m thinking about
their claims of $2 and $3 million dollar deficits.
But even more than money, I think about the burden of leadership,
that strange role of bearing the burdens for a group,
and I believe that role deserves a certain amount
of grace from those being led.
It deserves a certain amount of trust.
But grace and trust are often in short supply.
While my wife’s lived with the ASO’s disfunction,
I’ve been watching my beloved seminary fall apart.
General Seminary in New York, the seminary that Lang led back
from the brink of financial ruin a few years ago,
is now facing spiritual ruin.
General was torn apart when their new Dean and President
got sideways with the Faculty,
and the Faculty, depending on how you see it,
were either forced to walk out on their jobs
as a matter of conscience, or they launched an illegal
strike as part of an unsuccessful power play.
A month later, things are starting to improve,
but it remains to be seen whether the seminary will recover.
The worst part of it all is that our church,
OUR Church, whose mission is to reconcile all people to
God through Christ, spent about a month modeling
the very opposite of what it means to be a community
of Christian reconciliation.
Those institutions may not matter to you,
but I think they both point to the problems of leadership.
Should we trust the ASO leadership when they say these reductions
are the only way forward?
Should we trust the Dean when he makes changes that seem like threats
to the heart of who General Seminary is?
And what happens when those leaders turn out
to be dishonest in their dealings?
When they disguise the truth of their motives?
What kind of leadership is faithful leadership?
What kind of following is faithful following?
I’d like to raise up for you a different model of leadership this morning.
It’s the kind of leadership we’re called to exercise in the Church,
and not just the Church but the whole of our lives,
with our children, our spouses and partners,
in our jobs and our communities.
But let’s start with the Church.
It’s the leadership Paul talks about this morning,
and it’s what Jesus demonstrates at the Last Supper.
If it needs a name, let’s call it Eucharistic Leadership.
Leadership modeled on Holy Communion.
Let’s start like this: how do you receive communion?
I’ll bet a few of you have it placed in your mouths,
and a few kids reach out and snatch it from the priest,
but I suspect most of you hold out your hands and
receive it like this, and gently, reverently
raise up the bread to your mouths.
It’s the gentle reverence that a priest should have
when he or she raises up the bread during the Great Thanksgiving.
That image is what leadership should look like in the Church.
After all, what is it being placed into your hands? The Body of Christ.
But the Body of Christ is more than the sacrament.
Bread and wine are not the only things
that carry the real presence of Christ,
and you at St. Teresa’s know this better than anybody else.
This community is also the Body of Christ –
no hands but ours, no feet but ours, no eyes but ours –
and we carry within us the presence of Christ
as surely as do the consecrated bread and wine.
So leaders in the Church, all of them,
not just the ones with collars,
should hold the Body of Christ, the bread and the people,
with great reverence and care.
Because in both cases we we hold in our hands
the life-changing power of the presence of Christ.
You have heard it said that we who eat the bread and drink the wine
are changed into the likeness of what we take into ourselves.
I say to you that the same is true of the gathered Body of Christ,
that we who become a part of it,
and especially we who are entrusted with its care,
are changed, too, into the image of Christ.
Eucharistic leadership begins at the Altar,
and leading from the Altar demands intimacy.
It demands seeing the people you lead as the reason for being a leader,
not as the tools to get what you want.
It demands you ground yourself in the overwhelming
love of God in Christ,
not in being clever or charismatic or efficient.
Leading from the Altar means people see you living out the proclamation
that this is God’s Church and not yours alone to carry.1
1 Robert Hendrickson, “Prayerfully Holding the Center: Leadership in a Changing Church,” Sept. 29,
Listen to St. Paul this morning:
As God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or
with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise… from you or
from others.… But we were gentle among you, like a nurse
tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for
you that we are determined to share with you not only the
gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become
very dear to us.
Everybody knows leadership is hard.
It means bearing your burdens AND the burdens of others.
It means looking for a way forward when most of us just want
things to stay the same.
It means decisions that you know will bring pain
even when you don’t have all the facts or all the wisdom.
Leaders are all too aware of seeing through a glass, darkly.
You here at St. Teresa’s just separated from one of your leaders.
I don’t know anything about that situation.
I didn’t know Larry that well.
What I do know is that during this interim time new leaders will emerge,
new dreams will surface,
and a new way forward will start to take shape.
Soon you’ll be interviewing new priests to lead you.
You might be tempted to focus on skill set.
She’ll be good at stewardship. He’ll be a good preacher.
She’ll be good at attracting new folks. Whatever.
I’ve played that game. I’ve danced for my supper.
Be better than that. Go deeper than that.
Look past a bag of tricks. The bag’ll be empty in 3 years anyway.
Look instead for real leadership, the kind that will start at the Altar
and reach out to the whole world,
the kind that will hold the body of Christ in both its forms,
with gentleness and reverence and deep love.
Hold onto our best example of leadership, Jesus Christ,
who though he was in the form of God
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…
and humbled himself, and became obedient
to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Hold onto the story of when Jesus faced the most painful
decision of his life, how on that night he pulled his
followers in even closer, and washed their feet,
and called them his friends,
and how he gave himself to them fully.
“Take. Eat,” he said. “This is my body.”
“Drink this, all of you. This is my blood.”
The leader you need will not try to fix you, but will help you
to see the essential truth of who God has made St. Teresa’s to be.
The leader you need will help you see
that your essential truth, is nothing less and nothing more
2 Robert Hendrickson, “The Eucharistic Heart of Christian Leaders,” October 2, 2014,
©The Rev. Greg Tallant St. Teresa’s Episcopal Church, Acworth October 26, 2014 p. 1
RCL 25A 2014
Deuteronomy 34.1-12 Psalm 90 1-6, 13-17 1 Thessalonians 2.1-8 Matthew 22.34-46