Leaders Of Men


Its rulers give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for a price, its prophets give oracles for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Surely the LORD is with us! No harm shall come upon us." (Micah 3:11)

Many years ago I was at what was then Annan Congregational Church. I was doing the children’s address and the focus was on following the word of God. So I asked if any of them could read and a wee girl put her hand up. “Are you a good reader?” I asked and she nodded. So I gave her a bit of paper and told her that she was to read it and follow the instructions and that all the others were to follow her. They told her to lead the children up the stairs to the balcony, come to the front of it and wave down at me. Off she went, paper in hand and the rest of the children behind her. And I waited. An waited. I started to get worried - especially when one of the Sunday School teachers leaned forward to me and whispered, “She hasn’t got her glasses.”

Which all goes to show that it matters who’s leading us. Micah was a prophet living in the Kingdom of Judah sometime not long after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Samaria to the Assyrians. This was an event that must have focused the minds of some of the people of Judah. These were Israelites - they were descendants of Abraham and of the house of Jacob. They were inheritors of God’s promises. What had gone wrong? Why hadn’t God protected them? More to the point, could this happen to Judah? What might bring such a thing about?

Micah pointed to the leaders in Judah. These leaders were leading the people astray and they were leading the country astray. They were taking bribes in rendering judgement: Micah’s not alone in pointing this out. Jeremiah wrote that scribes were re-writing laws to make it easier for the wealthy to become ever richer at the cost of further poverty among the poor. No doubt, if you came from a wealthy, well-to-do family you had the ear of the king or of his governors in a way that the hoi polloi did not. The prophets? Well, no doubt you learned that kings and leaders like to hear good news. That meant they wanted to hear that they were in God’s good books and that their reign would be glorious: they didn’t want to hear about their shortcomings and their prospective failures and they were ready to reward prophets who pleased them and do away with prophets that didn’t.

It matters who’s leading us. These days we tend to want to hold those who lead us to a high standard of morality. That’s why there’s such a stushie at the moment in Parliament about possible sexual impropriety in certain quarters. The tabloids are filled with lurid headlines of the same type we read when footballers and other celebrities are caught up in scandals and there’s the same, I fear somewhat gleeful, concern about the nature of our childrens’ role models.

About which I’d say just a couple of things - and I’m not talking now about the more serious allegations we’ve heard over the last few weeks. Firstly, role models. Footballers are not necessarily moral paragons. If we encourage our kids to consider as a leader of men someone who can kick a ball well, then maybe its us who are getting things wrong. Secondly, sure, we’d like our leaders to keep to a high standard of behaviour. But they’re not saints. They are fallible, flawed human beings who sometimes do stupid things and sometimes say thoughtless things and who are sometimes tempted by drives and emotions inside them that them astray.

In other words, they’re like us. And we, as Christians, should understand that. We are redeemed people. We are people who stand in the light of the Gospel, who are accepted into the love and mercy of God through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are people whose every fault, every flaw, every moment of weakness is forgiven by God. So maybe we might not want to vote someone back into office if they’ve been involved in some scandal, but dare we stand in judgement of them?

We all know what temptation is like. We’ve all experienced it. That’s part of being human and that’s why the gospels make it clear that Jesus experienced temptation, including the temptation of power. Maybe that’s the problem - leadership is tied up with power and status and those are seductive and can lead folk down a very dark road. Power, it’s said, corrupts and Micah reveals that power has corrupted the leaders of Judah. Status - who doesn’t enjoy a bit of status? The Pharisees Jesus spoke of certainly did. 

The worst allegations we’ve heard in the last few weeks have involved people who wield power and enjoy status. They are said to have used them to bully and harass people - mostly vulnerable young women - into doing things they didn’t want to do. This is abuse of power and corruption of the worst kind. 

Good religion cannot ignore this kind of thing. As Christians, standing alongside those of other faiths, it is our place to stand up to power, as Micah did. It is our place to stand with the vulnerable and the powerless, as Jesus did. It is our place and our purpose to speak for those whose voices are so easily silenced and to insist, with every fibre of our being, that every human being has a right to dignity and to respect because every human being is a child of God; unique and special and precious in the eyes of God. 

It matters who leads us. Human leaders are human and get caught up in the temptations of power and status. As Christians we have to be careful never to be in thrall to anyone as a leader except Jesus. Jesus had no secular power and had no great status: more, he refused them both. Maybe we get this wrong. Maybe when we think of leaders we, like Micah, think of the folk in their fine palaces who change the world with a wave of their hands. Maybe we think that’s what power is. Maybe when we think of leaders we think of celebrities and folk the papers build up as role models only to tear down again when they discover their feet of clay. Maybe we think that’s what status is.

Let me ask you this. Who has made the bigger difference in this world? The most powerful emperor or king or president this world has ever seen, or a Jewish teacher who was executed after barely three years? Who would you choose as a role model - the greatest footballer or celebrity on the planet, or a Galilean carpenter who lived caring for those in need? Who do you choose as your leader? I’m hoping you’re going with Jesus.

If we’re going to follow Jesus, though, we have to recognise that, in his teachings, he stood in the tradition of Micah, speaking truth to power. And, like Micah, we can speak up against abuses of power like those we have heard in recent days; but also all those which impoverish the poor and weaken the vulnerable and abuse the frightened: all those which fail to recognise that every human being in this world is a unique and precious child of God. We are at our best - and our most blessed - when we can lead those around us to see that.

Lord, help us to follow in the ways of your son. Strengthen us to follow him in speaking of your love for all your children and in speaking truth in the face of power

Preached at Gretna:St. Andrews Parish church