(Posted on Castle Church Door June 1, 2012 –http://castlechurchdoor.wordpress.com/2012/06/01/super-man-is-not-coming/)
Inspired by a friend…
Superman is not coming. We tend to cling to the myth that at some point someone with superhuman abilities and leadership will carry the church out of its downward spiral. We have a bishop’s election in my synod a week from now. My suspicion is that the assembly will weigh candidates based on their assumption that the right leader with the right capabilities will be able, as is predestined in them, to lead us out of the quagmire. How many congregations think the same way? If we get the “right pastor,” he or she can turn this ship around. Maybe Superman will come, flying in when we need him most to save us from impending disaster.
I recently watched “Waiting for Superman,” the documentary about America’s failing school system. In the opening sequence Geoffrey Canada reflects upon the moment as a boy when he learned Superman wasn’t real and wasn’t coming. It changed him. He is now one of the leading reformers in the country and leads urban renewal in New York City through a charter school in Harlem. He is an amazing individual. But even Geoffrey Canada isn’t superman. But he believes. And he believes in the right things. He knows he isn’t superman, and he has stopped waiting for him. He has started doing human things rather than dreaming about doing superhuman ones. And it is amazing what he has been able to accomplish – one relationship at a time.
I believe in competence. I believe in excellence. I believe in giving your all. I believe some matches are better than others. I believe that sometimes things do feel like the right time and place to be for specific reasons. I believe God is present and guiding us. But I also believe it is wrongheaded to gloss over our challenges and assume that the right person with superhuman qualities will save us. We already have Christ. We don’t need another messiah. Nor should we think of ourselves as saviors of the world. We have Christ who already does that – regardless of our competence, excellence, or effort. Our core understanding of justification by faith alone claims such truth – we cannot save the world, and we only make things worse when we think we can. Christ alone saves the world, and he saves would be saviors wearing goofy outfits and capes just as much as those trapped in the quagmire of their lives.
The church in America is a lot like the school system in a number of ways. They are both institutions that built on the foundations of American society since the beginning, and both came of age in the Post-World War II era. They both built for growth and for the future of that age, to meet the challenges of that age, and to build a new society for that age. But that age is over. We live in a new age now. And old structures that once brought growth and stability are now symbols of rigidity and decay. There are exceptions of course, but as a whole our schools and our churches are failing to help us live in an age that requires flexibility and agility.
So we wait for someone to lead us out. Some extraordinary individual with all the right qualities, all the right credentials, all the right experience, all the right connections, all the right answers to bring the change we long for – to restore our prominence and revive our confidence.
But guess what? Superman is not coming.
Instead, God sends you.
Throughout scripture, God seems to pick the most unlikely, the least qualified, the worst experienced, the left out, the people with troubled pasts and uncertain futures, those with a horrible present, and he says, “Follow me.” Just ask Abraham and Sarah. Just ask Moses. Just ask Deborah. Just ask Jonah. Just ask Ruth. Just ask Jeremiah. Just ask Esther. Just ask Isaiah. Just Ask Mary. Just ask Peter. Just ask Mary Magdalene. Just Ask Paul. Just ask Lydia. Just ask Timothy. Just ask the person that invited you or took you to church. Just ask whoever leads your church now. No Supermen. No Superwomen. Just faithful people, who like Geoffrey Canada, are asking the right questions and following what they believe they could actually do without any superpowers. All we have is the gift of Christ and the desire to serve. If we can trust that and stop looking for Superman, we can do some pretty amazing things.
Last Sunday was Pentecost, and it’s easy for us to let that story encourage us to long for ecclesiastical superpowers. It is amazing that the Spirit breaks in and gives people powers (maybe even superpowers) they never had before – tongues of fire on their heads and the ability to speak in many languages. We wonder why we don’t have such abilities, and if we don’t maybe we can get someone to come who does – a super spirited believer with extraordinary gifts and abilities. But that’s not what the story is telling us. The Spirit’s coming doesn’t make superheroes out of us. Instead, the Spirit brings faith where there is none – calling us to see Christ more clearly in all that we do.
What should we expect of our leaders, pastors and bishops? We should expect competence. We should expect them to continue to hone their skills toward mastery and excellence. We should expect them to challenge us in ways that make us uncomfortable and brings comfort to troubled and fearful people. But we should not expect them to have all the answers because none of them are superheroes. Good leaders in my experience articulate more questions than answers and they themselves are being led somewhere. The best leaders invite others along for that adventure.
God isn’t sending superman. God is sending each of us. God sends you. We are not perfect. We are sinful. We are afraid. We might get it wrong. We at times will fail. We have troubled pasts, an uncertain present and our futures are unclear.
Yet we have a promise that our failures and shortcomings do not define us. Being claimed by Christ does define us. His claim on your life by giving his own defines you – not to give you superpowers but to invite you to follow him into a whole new adventure. Trusting his promise doesn’t make us safe or pull us out of the quagmire – quite ironically it often sends us right into the lion’s den, the fiery furnace, the very hell so many run away from or deny. We go because Christ leads us there. We go because we know how unworthy we are – and yet our heavenly Father calls us “beloved.” We go because the Spirit reminds us of the promise – whispering it in our ears when the doubts start to take over and we realize there is no superman, and superman is not coming.
Will we fail? Maybe we will. Maybe in this life failure based on someone else’s vision of success is exactly who we are. After all, we do follow a crucified messiah who told his followers, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self” (Mark 8:34-37, The Message). Maybe if we stop looking for superman we can see more clearly who are called to be. God isn’t sending superman. God sends me and you. We are the church of Jesus Christ, and not even the gates of hell can stand against us.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)