Flawless Leaders – Great Expectations?

A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, October 11, 2015

1 Chronicles 11:1-3; 29:26-30 CEB

What do you know about the life and times of King David of Israel?  Our United Church children, in their Sunday school classes the past few weeks, have been learning the Bible stories relating to the life and reign of King David.  I have read the story of David many times over the years, but recently I have been reading it again in the new Common English Bible.  And as I read the many chapters of the Old Testament devoted to David, his conquests, his reign as King, his exploits, and his dysfunctional family, it never ceases to amaze me that David is remembered as Israel’s greatest king, in spite of the checkered life that he lived and all the skeletons hanging in his family closet.

And David is remembered as the greatest king Israel ever had.  After Jesus and Moses, I am guessing there is, perhaps, more space devoted to David in the pages of the Bible than any other person.  A search of a Bible concordance reveals that the name “David” occurs almost 1200 times.  If you go to Jerusalem today, one of the historic sites where the tour guide likely will take you to is David’s Tomb; not that David’s remains are actually buried there, but it is more of a representative site to honor the king, who, according to the scriptures, was actually buried in Bethlehem, the City of David.

But what was it about David that caused him to stand head and shoulders above all of Israel’s other kings?  Well, it appears that David was a good-looking and charismatic young man, as well as an accomplished poet and musician.  David was also a celebrated soldier and servant of Israel’s first King Saul.  He is known for taking the city that would become Jerusalem, the Holy City; for bringing solidarity to the tribes of Israel and greatly strengthening them; for making a name for Israel in the world; and for initiating the construction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (although it would be his son Solomon who would actually oversee its building).  Those are some of David’s strengths and achievements.

But then, David had his weaknesses and failures as well.  He was a warrior with blood-stained hands who raided towns indiscriminately, killing men and women alike and taking as booty all their livestock, clothing, and anything else of value they could find (1 Samuel 27:8-12).  Perhaps David’s best-known failure was the taking of Bathsheba, the wife of one of his faithful soldiers, Uriah.  The worst of it was when Bathsheba found herself to be pregnant with the King’s child, David had Uriah sent to the front lines of battle where he was sure to be killed; this way he could legally take Bathsheba to be his wife.  From that time forward, the house of David was racked with trouble and one dysfunctional family episode after the other.  The baby Bathsheba conceived by David died in infancy.

David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister, Tamar, and for the most part got away with it; David did virtually nothing.  Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, murdered Amnon in revenge.  David and Absalom became estranged, and eventually Absalom conspired against his father David and sought to usurp the throne and become king himself, forcing David to run for his life from his own son.  In the heat of battle, Absalom was killed, and in spite of the fact that he tried to take his father’s throne, David was thrown into mourning for him.  One of the well-known cries of grief in the Bible is David’s “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom!  Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33).  Following David’s death, another son, Solomon (also born to Bathsheba), took the throne, and through forced labor did much building and improvements in the land.  But under Solomon’s reign the kingdom split in half, becoming the Southern Kingdom known as Judah and the Northern Kingdom known as Israel.

Now, the point of all this historical review is to simply say that David, who is remembered as Israel’s greatest king, was also greatly flawed!  Obviously it was not perfection on David’s part that attributed to his reputation of greatness.

Fast forward 3,000 years.  Sometimes we are tempted, I think, to look at our political leaders through rose-colored glasses.  When we focus our sights on a candidate we like—one who strikes a chord and speaks to the issues in a way that we agree with—we may be tempted to idealize that candidate and set them up on a pedestal.  We may let ourselves start to think that our candidate can do no wrong.

And the same may hold true as we look back in history—we may idolize certain political leaders of the past, in all political parties, forgetting or overlooking any character flaws or weaknesses they had.  History books rarely tell the whole story.  There are a lot of things about our past presidents and other political leaders that most of us never learned in elementary or high school.  We tend to idealize and romanticize the past, and often cover up those skeletons in the closest.

I don’t need to tell you that we are in the midst of a very interesting presidential campaign.  And one of the primary tactics of some of the presidential hopefuls, at least, is to draw attention to the flaws and weaknesses of their opponents, sometimes to the neglect of actually offering solutions about how to solve the issues that all of us are concerned about.

But the truth of the matter is, there are no perfect or flawless leaders, either of the past or the present.  All politicians and other leaders have their flaws and weaknesses and skeletons hanging in their family closets.  The imperfections, flaws, and weaknesses of some may appear to be much worse than those of others.  But to get biblical and quote the Apostle Paul, who himself quoted the Psalmist, “none is [completely] righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10; cf. Psalm 14:3).  And the same applies to ministers and other leaders in the church.  In spite of the fact that some church members tend to idealize or idolize their minister or priest, (I hate to break the news to you) there is no perfect, flawless minister or other church leader either.  We are all fallible humans.

So as we listen to the presidential hopefuls and all the political rhetoric for the next thirteen months—including all the finger-pointing, name-calling, and light-shining on the candidates’ flaws and weaknesses—may we try to remember that in reality, none of them have or will live perfect, flawless lives.  And a perfect, flawless life has never been a guarantee of good political leadership.  We know that some of our past presidents who were known for striving to live good, moral lives were not always the best leaders.  And reversely, some of the best presidents America has had led lives that were far from perfect or flawless.  The idea of flawless leaders, or flawless anybodies for that matter, is nothing more than that—an idea; and an unrealistic idea at that.  So as we consider all those political candidates and their flaws and imperfections, we need to remember that they probably have a few skeletons hanging in their family closet.

But let us take this one step further.  All of us in the church are, likewise, imperfect human beings who have, do, and will make mistakes and live less-than-perfect lives.  And rare is the family that doesn’t have at least a few moldy skeletons hanging in the family closet!  So if your family closet has few skeletons in it, take heart; you’re in good company.

So our purpose in coming together in the church is not to celebrate our goodness or perfection, but rather, to struggle together with life in this world and seek to encourage one another to stand strong, support one another when we struggle, and lift each other up when we fall.

So as we live and work and serve together, we cut each other a bit of slack.  There is an old saying that I really like—“Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  As we look at public servants, as well as those we live and work with each day, may we be careful about formulating exaggerated expectations.  Amen.

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About randykhammer

Minister and writer
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