Maundy Thursday

(Written on Thursday March 28, 2013)

For those of us in the so-called “Mainline” Christian faith, today we observe Maundy Thursday.  This is the day we remember Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, its from this event that comes the sacrament of Holy Communion.  But also on this day Jesus is said to have washed his disciples’ feet, showing and displaying the repeated gospel theme of “the first will be last and the last will be first,” “the first among all is the servant among all,” and other such phrases.  The hymn “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love” comes to mind when thinking of this image.

The designated gospel passage for the day is John 13:1-17, 31b-35.  The last two verses of this passage stand out, especially within a theological focus on the love for the neighbor.  The NRSV translation of verses 34 and 35 reads with Jesus speaking:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

For some then, this becomes the basic call of what it means to be a disciple, to love.  The challenge is that love is not simple.  Love is indeed hard, a constant challenge. Jesus says to “love one another.” He doesn’t say just love each other here, or just love all those people who like you and agree with you, but he says “love one another.”  To what extent does God’s love go?  Is there a limit to whom to share and show love to?  I would argue that there is not.  Which is what makes it so hard.  We are called to love those whom we can never agree with, those whom we will never see eye to eye with and get along with, and we need to show them love, just like we show love for our closest family and friends.

In this sense then Maundy Thursday is a reminder of the great complexity but also inclusivity of God’s love.  God’s love seen through the life, death, and resurrection is not just for one person or people. It’s God’s love manifest for all of creation.  Therefore, there is the hope and indeed calling to show love to one another, no matter if we share the same ideas about God or not.  It’s not easy, and perhaps there is nothing harder then showing love to an enemy or to the person you are passively aggressively trying to avoid having to talk to, etc.

Maundy Thursday’s scene of the last supper and foot washing then moves to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays, the disciples fall asleep (depending on what gospel you read with different states of sleep), and ultimately Jesus is betrayed by Judas and handed over to be tried and ultimately sentenced to death and crucified the next day.  It’s hard to see love and redemption in such gruesomeness and injustice, but Jesus goes through it.  Where I think the love is in this, is that its not through death alone that we see Jesus’ love and are saved because of it.  It’s because of Jesus’ life and love equally that we are shown how to love, and are redeemed because of that very love.  It’s because of Jesus’ resurrection that we are redeemed, reconciled, and able to truly have hope.  God through Christ has done the work for redemption, once and for all.  There is nothing for us to do about this love to earn it, but to just respond in love and to serve because of the uncontrollable thanks and joy we have for that love.  This is why we serve our neighbor.  This is why we love those whom we cannot ever hope to agree with.  Because its the only thing we can do being aware of the great complexity and far-reaching and inclusive love of God.

For those of you who observe Maundy Thursday, what do you think about it? What strikes you as you observe and worship on this day?

Leadership Thought of the Week

When visiting a potential partner organization yesterday, I noticed that a great quote was front and center on their conference room’s whiteboard.  The quote read: “Excellence is not a skill … it’s an attitude!” (Ralph Marston is quoted as saying this quote via a quick search online, though I believe its a quote that can be attributed to many leaders and leadership experts who have lived, spoken, and written over the decades and centuries).

No matter who said this quote, its an important quote to remember in whatever environment you find yourself in.  For a leader its important because “just doing good isn’t good enough.”  My father drilled into my brother, sister and I that:

 there will always be someone faster and stronger than you.  There will always be someone smarter and better looking.  There will always be someone taller than you, and richer too.  You can’t control this.  What you can control is how hard you work. Never let another be a harder worker and more dedicated than you.

I believe in hard work, but I also believe that there are times when you can get the same amount of work done in less time, and my dad believes that too. That is called being efficient.  I believe it is when hard work, dedication, and investment are met together with a sense of purpose that excellence is realized as an attitude.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to be excellent at something you don’t enjoy.  Because how can you be dedicated and fully invested in it?  Then it becomes just hard work for the sake of work, and not for the sake of what you are actually doing.  The work becomes simply a means to an end, and is not really a vocation then.  Hmm… There is much to ponder here.

What are your thoughts? Is this a slippery slope, or do you think this logic about excellence has potential for leadership and vocation?

The Start of Holy Week

In my previous post, I raised two questions.  The first, “what perplexes you most about leadership?” will help shape coming posts, but will not be considered here.  The second question though, “for those of you who are Christian, what is on your mind at the start of this Holy Week,” I reflect on myself here.

I am not sure that Holy Monday inspired me to wear a crimson colored shirt and gray suit, but that’s what I am wearing as I prepare for my Monday’s meetings. Going through my head, I am excited.  I am excited at the prospect that what I have been a part of as a start-up might now be really gathering the traction needed to make our work a reality.  I am excited that my in-laws are coming to visit over the Easter weekend and to experience all of the fun that Holy Week is, especially in one of my roles as a worship coordinator and choir director.  I am excited that my favorite holiday of the year, Easter, is less than a week away.  I am excited because my wife is doing awesome things in her job and is being continually challenged and growing. It sure seems like a lot of excitement is going on!

This excitement though reminds me of Holy Week.  There was a whole lot of excitement on what we now celebrate as Palm Sunday as the crowds gathered and waived their branches of palm and laid their cloaks, or rocks on the path at the sight of Jesus coming into the city of Jerusalem.  Shouts of “Hosanna” could be heard all along.  But as a pastor aptly surmised yesterday, “how quickly people turn.” From the shouts of praise, the people turn their backs and abandon Jesus. Peter, his beloved disciple, denies him three times, and Jesus is betrayed and ultimately crucified. And as the gospels seem to narrate, this all happened within the matter of a few days.  It puts things in perspective for someone who lives in Minnesota and has a beautiful sunny day, and then wonders, “when and where is the other shoe going to drop?” All of this great excitement and good news can’t just continue on with something not so good happening right?  Christians know that this happens during Holy Week with Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  And that’s why, in some ways perhaps I fear my excitement.  I fear that I am forgetting something I have to do, that I have overlooked something, that I haven’t always striven for excellence… you know how these fears grow.

In spite of all this fear and anxiety, especially that which comes with Holy Week, there is at the same time the mystery, majesty, redemption, and reconciliation that comes with the sunrise on Easter morning.  New life comes out of death.  Hope comes where only despair had been.  As Rob Bell said, “love wins.” We know this story well. And its because that we know the whole passion story- the praise and excitement of Palm Sunday, the finality of a last supper and then fearful prayer and betrayal in the garden on Maundy Thursday, the sham of a trial(s) and crucifixion and death on Good Friday, the darkness of Saturday, and the resurrection we acknowledge on Easter Sunday, that we know how all of this is related.  New life can only come out of death.

One thing I haven’t mentioned yet, is that the congregation where I am employed is in the midst of a transition, currently being led by an interim pastor as they discern who they are as a congregation and from that whom they may be led to call to be their next pastor.  I believe that churches in the midst of transition and challenges have to come to grips with the fact that “the way things were” is not a good enough justification to continue doing what ever they might be doing, and to do ministry today and tomorrow (that goes for any congregation, and organization for that matter).  The world changes, peoples’ needs change, and the way the church meets these needs must change with the needs.  What does not change is that the church is there to meet the needs, as it should be. The way this is done may change in its approach or social action, but it is still grounded in confession and forgiveness, reconciliation  and the redemption that we find in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection (not just one piece of these, but all three of them together).

I guess, in a long winded way, as Holy Week begins for me, it helps me center myself in the hope that I find in Christ.  It helps me know that its okay that I may not have all the answers, or not even know the right questions to ask, and it helps me when I feel tons of excitement as well as when facing the worries about the “other shoe that may drop.” But, I find comfort and hope that I am not alone in this.  Christ did the hard part by beating death, once and for all.  Now its our chance to more distinctly remember this and appreciate it, but also to acknowledge what this means for us in our daily life. For me, this means that it is okay to hope and be excited that things will work out with the start-up I am a part of.  It is also okay to hope that the worship which I have helped draft for this week will be engaging, thought provoking, but most importantly allow the people to feel and draw near to God in worship, prayer, mystery, despair, suffering, and hope. The human condition gets its prime presentation during this week of the church year, and this for me, is why church and the congregation can be and is still relevant today to the individual. If the church abandons its ability to understand, appreciate, and speak to the human condition, it has lost any hope of being “the body of Christ.” Christ took on the human condition for a reason.  Let’s not lose sight of that- in its many interconnected emotions, paradoxes, and dichotomies.

So, how are you feeling at the beginning of this Holy Week? What are you thinking about?

Blessings to you on your Holy Week journey.

-TS

The Beginning of a New Blog

I received the following prayer as part of a daily devotional from Luther Seminary this morning:

In the breaking of the bread and pouring out of the cup, you come to us, Lord Jesus, and usher us into the kingdom of God in the new covenant of your body and blood. Amen.

I wanted to think of something inspirational to write as my first post on this new blog.  But in contemplating what to write, it occurred to me, “don’t over think.”  So, here it is I start the blog with a prayer that this series of conversations may be of use to those of you who want to hear one west coast transplant’s ideas on leadership in the non-profit world, the social sector world, about where the different sectors of society converge and mix, about faith based institutions and the church, etc.

Basically, I believe this blog is part of my calling as a Lutheran Christian with many vocations- one of which is to be a learner and thinker.  You can’t learn and think alone, you need to do so in community so I welcome you here. This blog won’t always be directly about faith, religion, and the church.  I have a theology degree, but I also have a management degree, so hopefully my thoughts and reflections here will speak to you and be of use as you see things in your own lives and wonder, what does this mean? What might this mean?  We can wonder these questions together. I am not going to say I have the answers, just hopefully some ideas.  We’ll see where they lead.

For a couple of starting questions:  1) What perplexes you most about leadership?;  2) For those of you who are Christian, what is on your mind at the start of this Holy Week?

About the author:  Timothy Siburg is currently working as part of a for-profit start-up in the Twin Cities of Minnesota working to close the unemployment gap among minorities.  He also works part-time as a worship coordinator in a local congregation, and provides consulting around mission and identity for congregations and nonprofits. He graduated from Pacific Lutheran University with a BA in Economics and Religion, from the Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management with a MA in Management, and from Luther Seminary with a MA in Congregational Mission and Leadership. He is happily married to another theology nerd and seminary graduate who works in a local congregation in areas around faith formation and life-long learning.