October 19, 2014 – Get help

Exodus 18:7-12

Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians. Jethro said, “Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.” And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God.

Exodus 18:13-26

The next day Moses sat as judge for the people, while the people stood around him from morning until evening. When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening?” Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. When they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make known to them the statutes and instructions of God.” Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel, and God be with you! You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God; teach them the statutes and instructions and make known to them the way they are to go and the things they are to do. You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens. Let them sit as judges for the people at all times; let them bring every important case to you, but decide every minor case themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. If you do this, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their home in peace.” So Moses listened to his father-in-law and did all that he had said. Moses chose able men from all Israel and appointed them as heads over the people, as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. And they judged the people at all times; hard cases they brought to Moses, but any minor case they decided themselves.

Acts 6:1-7

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

***

Pentecost 19 Oct. 19, 2014 Ps 25, Exodus 18:7-12, 13-26, Acts 6:1-7 Get help

********************************

Moses’ father-on-law comes for a visit. He and Moses greet each other warmly – I imagine them, giving high-fives, asking each other, ‘how are you?’ Moses tells Jethro how God’s delivered Israel out from Egypt. Jethro says ‘Your God’s an awesome God!’ Jethro brings his burnt offering before God. They eat the offering together with the elders of Israel.

Next day, Moses brings his father-in-law with him as he goes off to his day job as Chief Judge and Rabbi of Israel. Moses sits while the people stand around him, hearing all the disputes and questions and issues brought by the people. Moses sits teaching the word of God from morning til evening. (The law hasn’t really even been given yet, officially. Those stone tablets engraved by God, handed over to Moses – that won’t happen for a few more chapters in the story. But the basics have been given orally, apparently, by God to Moses already.) And it’s a full time job downloading the word of God for the people of God… and…

After watching, listening all day, Jethro asks Moses, ‘why are you sitting there alone from dawn to dusk? What’s that about?’ And Moses tells him ‘They bring me everything – all their disputes and issues – and just dealing with all that’s an all-day job.’ And Jethro tells Moses, ‘You’re heading for burnout, bud – and you’re going to take the people down with you… Friend, you’re wasting everyone’s time. They don’t need to be standing around waiting for you all day. And you certainly don’t need to be sitting waiting on them all day. Get help!’

‘Save your time and energy for the most difficult cases. Choose spiritually mature folks. Put them in charge of groups of a thousand, a hundred, fifty, and ten. Get help!’ (Here’s where we get a lot of our theology for the Methodist offices of bishop, district superintendent, pastor, Sunday School teacher, choir leader, Lay Leader, Church Council Chair, Trustees, SPRC, Finance Committee, etc, etc. Blame it all on Jethro if you want… but – )

Moses agrees. He knows he’s tired. He knows he’s burning out. He hears his father-in-law’s advice to delegate as if it’s a word straight from God.

Which it is. Which may seem a bit strange, given that the bible tells us Moses and God talk together every day, friend-to-friend. But here’s Moses, man of God, taking counsel from another human, who’s not even an Israelite.

But Moses trusts his father-in-law – knows he’s dependable. He’s heard him speaking his faith in God. And since the word here’s about delegating – what better way for God to demonstrate delegating – than by delegating?

And God speaks through Moses’ father-in-law, saying, ‘Get help! Delegate.’

God himself delegates – speaking to us often through other people. Even very unlikely people. (Like your pastor.)

And Moses takes the advice of his father-in-law. And we’re not told any details, but we know this delegating works – since Moses gets over being tired… and Israel eventually does get to the Promised Land…

***

A thousand and some years later, in the book of Acts, here’s deja vu happening all over again. Hellenists, Greek-speaking Jews – a growing minority in the early church – complain their widows are short-changed in the church’s daily meals-on-wheels program. The majority Aramaic-speaking church (the so-called Hebrews) – are neglecting our widows, the Hellenists say.

Just a little while ago the whole book of Acts church was ‘all of one heart and soul, sharing all things in common.’ (Acts 4 tells us.) Now division’s raising it’s ugly head. (Though – ) No one takes issue with what the Hellenists are saying. Neglect of vulnerable widows is an offense against God, all agree. And the parts of the law that once divided us by tribe and nation have now been nailed to the cross, and to favor one group in the church over another is sin. Again, probably all agree.

So Peter, speaking for the apostles – recalling, surely, the story of Moses and Jethro – knows he needs to delegate – and get help. He knows his calling is first and foremost to feed the whole church with the word of God. He fully agrees on the need to feed all widows of the church equitably. But Peter and the other apostles are maxed-out serving the gospel. They’re tired. They’re stressed.

‘We need help,’ Peter says. And he delegates selection of helpers to the whole church. Saying, ‘choose seven among you full of the Spirit and wisdom.’ Everyone agrees. Good rebound. We’ve back to unity city. As seven guys, all with Greek names, are chosen for this feeding ministry. Teaching us (parenthetically, along the way) that those who perceive a problem should be ready and willing to help resolve it.

Seven are picked for ministry. Hands are laid-on in prayer. The Holy Spirit is powerfully working… And as we read on we notice –

Stephen, first-named among the seven, becomes not just a waiter on table, but a Spirit-filled-pioneering prophet-of-the-church. Philip, named second among the seven, becomes the evangelist who takes the gospel on the road – getting us out of Jerusalem (where we can get stuck at times) and on into Samaria (where Jesus said to go) with great success… What begins as commissioning a few helpers for a hot lunch program…. turns out to be anointing the next generation of church leadership… Letting us know –

Delegating is God’s plan. And in the New Testament church the work of delegating is to be shared with all the church (here’s where we get our Methodist theology for our Lay Leadership Committee). And there’s always plenty of work to delegate… And we really already know how to do this…(Thanks be to God.)

We know wild geese fly in V-formation – with those out in front doing the hardest flying… Meeting the most wind resistance. Those behind fly slip-streaming, like bicycle racers – saving lots of energy by following the one ahead. (Thanks to Paula Dionisopoulis-Leonard, who sent a video illustrating this.) What’s especially cool is how whenever the lead goose gets tired, he or she then drops back, and another goose comes in, spontaneously, to take a turn leading… All the able-bodied geese, take their turn leading…

Most of the work of the church is a lot like this. For the most part, our work doesn’t require specialized training. (We just need to take heart and remember to flap our wings…) Previous experience may be helpful, but is seldom necessary…if we’re willing to learn on the job. (Like the geese, we learn to lead by following…)

Of course (as God says to Moses through Jethro) we need to be honest, trustworthy, not motivated by self-serving agendas. As God says through Peter, above all, we need to willing to trust God – pray – listen well… spend time with God every day.

But Moses isn’t told he can only pick seminary-trained bible scholars to help teach the word. Peter doesn’t tell the church only experienced chefs and waiters need apply to help with the church feeding program. All people of good faith, willing to learn, can help feed the people of God, body and soul…

It’s really not even about perfectly matching our gifts and graces with the work that needs to be done… Nearly so much as being willing to try – to do whatever God puts in our heart to do…

In fact we often really don’t even know our own spiritual gifts and graces – not till they are pointed out to us in real life situations. Often repeated pointing out is necessary… Since so many of us have convinced ourselves or been convinced somehow – that we’re either not capable or not worthy or somehow inadequate…to do what God has called and equipped us to do…

On one level of course it’s all true. None of us are worthy to serve God. None of us are able to serve God…in our own strength…All of us have real life issues and obstacles… that often make it harder than it should be to serve God.

But on another level, what a pile of nonsense this kind of reasoning is. Since it is, after all, God our Creator, and Jesus our Savior, who calls and equips us for ministry, as soon as we believe, even a little… So who are we to refuse God and Jesus…when they call?

And part of the work of faith is to listen always, and pray to discern – where is our deepest, truest joy in serving? Our deepest sense of peace?

What word to us from God warms our hearts and feeds our souls most authentically?

Pay close attention to this… Most often this is where the Spirit of God is leading us to serve…(If we can only hear it…)

****

Where do you experience your greatest joy in the presence of God?

(Let’s take a few minutes to pray about this….)

****

(I experience joy when I see faith happening with younger generations. Whenever we have children with us in worship, and kids are showing interest in God and church… That’s joy.

I experience joy in bible study, especially when our questions come alive and the Spirit stirs our thoughts in new directions… and our sharing goes deep…That’s joy.

I experience joy when we’re singing the Lord’s songs wholeheartedly…

I experience joy when we’re helping each other help our neighbors… In the pumpkin patch, in our Thanksgiving dinner… In caring for those near and far away who suffer… In sharing and caring for others, suffering is diminished, joy is multiplied…That’s joy… )

****

Where does God give us our greatest joy? Our greatest peace? Our deepest sense of the love of God?

Here’s where we will get all the help we need… As we give all the help God asks.

Thanks be to God. Amen.