In case you weren’t aware, the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas is in the midst of a leadership transition. These transitions occur from time to time, but until you experience it first hand, it’s hard to appreciate how stressful the transition is. So it seems appropriate today that we encounter lessons from the Bible – the source of our understanding of ourselves – about leadership transition and transformation.
We – the some 10,000 members of the Diocese of Kansas – do not all see this transition through the same lens. We each bring our unique experience, expectations, concerns, and blind spots with us to this transition. Some of us – like Samuel – may be grieving over the loss of a leader of 13-plus years, or perhaps we’re just frightful of what the future holds. Others of us – like Jesse – are already lining up likely successors in our mind’s eye. Yet in this story about the anointing of David, Samuel – despite his grief – is open to the Lord’s intervention and direction through the entire search process. Would that we all were so open to the Lord’s intervention and direction. It’s a good thing that we have such stories to remind us of our inclinations, and to help us keep those inclinations in check. All the same, even if we are more like Samuel, there is no guarantee that we will have perfect vision.
We, like Samuel, will have a parade of potential leaders presented to us; and like Samuel, we – for a variety of reasons may be inclined to say, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.”
This inclination to see what we want to see in outward appearance, and the difficulty of looking at the heart, can lead us to jump to conclusions and make hasty assessments. If we take nothing else away from this story, we need to appreciate that discerning our future leadership cannot be rushed, and that this process of discernment bears little resemblance to our political electoral processes. In our process of discernment we need to try to suspend our expectations and our anxieties, and trust that God will guide this endeavor if we are willing loosen our grip on the reins and give our Creator the lead.
All this said, the Standing Committee of the Diocese is being quite deliberate and intentional in giving the Lord the lead, even as we structure a process to guide the search and calling of our next bishop. The process we are using reflects best practices learned over centuries of experience, and has been tested and tweaked for decades to good effect. Nonetheless, the outcome will only be as good as the intention and vision we bring to it.
So the question remains, will our vision permit us to see beyond the horizons of our own understanding, and to consider something we may have never seen before? Or will we like the disciples in John’s unique story of the man born blind presume we know the cause of his blindness? In this story, Jesus uses his disciples’ and our own blindness to reveal a new way of seeing the kingdom of God. He uses spittle and dirt, the building blocks of Creation to create a new vision. To outward appearances this is most strange, but to the son of the Creator, and to those who recognize him as such, this is not too strange. Yet this act and the timing of it raise a divisive question. The question of Jesus’ divinity becomes a cause of disagreement among the religious. Between those who because of a lack of vision declare, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath;” and those whose vision allows them to ask, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” Ultimately, it is the man who was born blind who has the vision to come closest to the truth, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
In these two stories, separated by centuries and miles, we can see similarities between David and the man born blind. David was excluded from Samuel’s sacrifice and sent into the fields because he was the youngest and – at least in his father’s eyes – the least likely to be king. The man born blind was not included in the mainstream of society because of the presumption that his blindness marked him as a sinner. Yet both David and the man born blind, despite the judgment of others are the ones judged by the Lord God as worthy visionaries.
As we seek ways to transform our lives, our community, or even discern the call of our next bishop let us not be blinded by the judgment of others or even our own presumptions. Instead, let us acknowledge our tendency to see too narrowly, and offer this tendency in sacrifice before this altar. Then as we are fed with the body and blood of our Savior, let us ask to see with Jesus’ eyes so that like the man born blind our vision may be transformed into something new.
 1 Samuel 16:6
 John 9:16
 Ibid., v. 33