Faithful leadership in times of crisis

David, the shepherd accustomed to protecting the sheep from wild animals, jettisoned Saul’s ill-fitting armor and instead went to the creek to find five smooth stones for his slingshot. Esther, Jewish and a queen, took to heart her uncle’s admonishment and used her influence to protect her people, even if it meant risking her life. The boy with his fish and bread, did not hesitate to offer what he had to Jesus, meager though it appeared in face of such a huge need. The Samaritan put aside his own safety and saved the man injured in the ditch. Five smooth stones, the ability to influence those in position of power, a willingness to give to God whatever one happens to have available when the need arises, the decision to walk toward suffering rather than away from it —  people of faith through the ages have been called upon to risk and share, speak and care, act and lead in threatening and chaotic seasons.

So it is today.

David went to the frontlines to bring his brothers’ food, never anticipating he would volunteer to fell a bloodthirsty giant. Esther was queen for such a time as this even though she never saw such a time on the horizon when she entered the court. The boy could not have known his lunch coupled with a miracle would feed thousands. Certainly, the Samaritan did not know his routine would be disrupted by an unstoppable urge to be compassionate, an urge that became synonymous with goodness.

Now, as then, we don’t know when we will be called upon to take the lead in showing the love of God in frightening circumstances. We cannot anticipate when Goliath will appear or Haman’s evil plot will be set in motion. We cannot know when we will find ourselves in the middle of a hungry crowd or confronted by someone half-dead in the ditch. We can only humbly, prayerfully, boldly seek to respond in faith, trusting that when we step up and step out, when we take risks for the sake of the gospel and give ourselves over to compassion, God empowers us, Jesus stands with us and the Spirit works through us.

As our country faces the trial of this pandemic, disciples of Jesus Christ are called to be servant leaders, looking to the interests of others, caring for the least of these, and advocating for the vulnerable. Like David, we need use the tools with which we are uniquely skilled. Tiffany Firebaugh recently wrote in Sojourners Magazine: “As a public health professional, I know that life-saving decisions can come down to valuing people over money, prioritizing humility over ego, and listening to the vulnerable over the powerful. These three values should be quite centric to the church; they’re something that members of the church have practiced through ritual and through conversation throughout their entire lives. A public health crisis is simply the point in time in which these values become visibly practical rather than simply countercultural.”

Now is the time to find our five smooth stones and use them.

In every discussion and decision, we must make sure people get put first. We should use the best ideas available no matter the source. We must ensure that those already on the margins are not pushed over the edge. Like Esther, we need to use whatever power we have for the sake of those without it.  As the ripple effect of school closures and event cancellations escalates, we who follow Jesus Christ, are called to consider what resources and gifts we possess right now: write a note, pray, encourage, sing, reassure, plan, offer tech support, check on a homebound neighbor, create a spreadsheet, share a few fish or loaves of bread, use of the ability to make an extra financial gift. Whatever resource or ability or gift we possess, now is the time to offer it freely to Jesus.

Many of God’s beloved children are suffering and have been left half-dead in the ditch. If this pandemic has done nothing else, it has exposed our inextricable interconnectedness and the gaping holes in our societal support system. For far too long, priests and Pharisees, churchgoers and religious leaders have averted our eyes and crossed the street. We now have the opportunity, the obligations, to see the pain of others and respond with sacrificial compassion.

Eugene Peterson’s “The Message” paraphrases 1 Corinthians 12 as follows: “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.”

We are one body. This virus is indiscriminate, without border or boundary, as is the love of God. So, therefore should our response to this crisis be. Five smooth stones coupled with courage, an ability and willingness to influence those in power no matter the personal risks, freely offered fish and bread, tangible care for those on the margins even when inconvenient and costly, these are the marks of Christian servant leadership. These are the standards to which disciples are called. These are the ways the world will know we follow Jesus. These are the actions that bear witness to the character of our God. This is how the Spirit transforms the world.

Now is the time to pick up our five stones, speak to the king, offer Jesus our lunch and care for those in the ditch, taking to heart these words to Joshua, “Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread … because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you.”