September 26, 2021
SCRIPTURE READING: Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29
Some people don’t like the Old Testament because it is irrelevant. I’ll admit some of the stories recorded there make you cringe, but here’s a story that is as old as any in the Bible and yet is so relevant that it would set any leader of any group in 21st Century either to laughing or crying! Depending on the day – all because it was so relatable!
The setting is: the whole lot of the Israelites had just recently been delivered from slavery and oppression by Egyptians. The whole 9 yards: forced labor, no freedoms, cruelty, bitter working conditions. Their leader, whose heart had been broken over the plight of his people, was Moses. He had dreamed a new dream for them, had risked his life to free them, and had confronted Pharaoh on their behalf. He had endured everything they endured and led them to freedom and they were on their way to their very own land.
What does he get for his troubles? They whine. Complain. First about not enough water and Moses arranges for water. Then there is not enough food to eat and they are given manna (a part of the coriander plant cilantro family). Then they don’t have meat and they are given quail. Each time they complain to Moses, Moses goes to God on their behalf, and their needs are met.
On the day that this reading takes place, their griping was most intense. It wasn’t enough that they had quail, they wanted something more tasty. Seasoned like they had it in Egypt! And with vegetables, if you please: cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, garlic! They were so filled with self-pity and lack of appreciation for what Moses and God had done for them that they stood at the entrance of their tents and wept! It was so bad that God was angry – to say nothing of Moses – he was grieved down to the soles of his feet!
Who is Moses going to talk to? God, of course! “Why do you treat your servant so badly? Are you so displeased with me that you burden me with these people? Did I conceive them? Give birth to them? Now I have to carry them in my bosom like a foster father carrying an infant? Bunch of cry-babies! If this is what it means to lead, just kill me now!”
God is so patient! “This is not yours to do alone! I’m with you – and I’ll tell you what: spread out the load of responsibility! Get some help. Pick 70 of your best people (men, in this era. If you’re looking for someone who has patience with people acting like children, it wouldn’t be men). Get them to share the burden of these people with you. Then you won’t have to bear it all by yourself.”
So that’s this morning’s story. Moses did that and, of course, sharing leadership didn’t entirely smooth out the road, but it helped. So, the point I want to make here this morning with you is this: there are at least 2 important principles at work here. 1) Know when to lay down responsibility. (We’ll look at that one next week) 2) Know when to pick up responsibility.
Today is more about Principle #2. Here is Moses who answered the call to lead and now 70 people are added to the leadership team and are being called to help shepherd God’s people.
Here is an example of Beloved Community in the formation stages. There is so much to learn from this. One thing: Don’t go into this work of leading thinking it will always be a walk in the park! Another: When you pick up a leadership role, make sure you take care of yourself so that when the stressful times come, you have a reserve.
The biggie for the morning is this: The church, the Beloved Community, should never allow its leadership to feel like they are out there alone! Never! I am not talking about pastoral leadership here – at least not solely that. All of our leadership! We should all feel like the rest of the community has our back and that we are not out there alone.
This is one of those intricate working inner parts of the effective functioning body of Christ! Our bodies know this truth! Muscles don’t work alone, bones don’t, nerves don’t, and cells don’t. So it is with the church! All of this beautiful motion and function of the body of Christ depends entirely upon those called to lead as well as all the rest who willingly stepping up to say: “You don’t need to carry that alone – let me help!”
The comparison to the body leads me to remind you that to get a task done in the Community – the Body of Christ, there must be attention to all KINDS of needs. Take those bikers that came through our station during the Tour de Donut! Those 2,000 bodies didn’t just need donuts to finish that race. All the parts of their bodies had to pitch in to supply blood, oxygen, mental capacity, balance, vision, hearing, and a hundred other things I don’t understand. That was a team effort.
This church has a dream and some of you are working very hard to reach it. Some of you are tired and have a few years of service under your belt. But if you are still breathing, you have something you CAN contribute that the rest of us NEED! Encouragement, wisdom, back-up, initiative, money, time, and the spiritual resources of prayer and love – who knows what else. This is a team effort.
Maybe you’ve tried it before and it failed before. So, try again. Try it in a new way! Try it with a new attitude! Try it after burning some midnight oil before God to figure out what exactly it is that you have to bring and how you should do it. You’re not asked to go it alone. You’re one of 70 or 20 or 10. But you are a part of the team.
And we need to be sure that as you pick up the mantle of service that both of us know that you are not expected to do this thing on your own! We must have your back!
There are times when we do this very, very well. But the truth is that we can never get too good at this. We need to continually hone our support skills so that every load has several backs in the harness and we know how to pull together.
The first thing Jesus did was enlist 12 others to help in the ministry. And at the culmination of it all, when he was on the way to Golgotha, he needed help with his cross. We can do no less than be there for one another when the load gets too much and we are ready to quit.
St. John’s is the perfect place to practice this art and teach your children to do it too. We have our fair share of people in this family who need a hand from time to time. This isn’t a place dominated by 30 year-olds in the prime of their health. This is a place to practice the art of having one another’s back.
Think about it. What is your calling? Where is it that you can work in sync with another to feed a hungry and impatient band of Israelites?