January 19, 2020
Hebrew Scripture Reading Numbers 11:4-17, 24-30
The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.’
Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its colour was like the colour of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, ‘Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favour in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child”, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favour in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.’
So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself.
So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’ And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!’ And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
I want you to know that I’m not comparing myself to Moses from this story from Scripture this morning. First off, I hope I don’t complain anywhere near as much as he did about his people. I actually brag about how lucky I am to serve alongside all of you, and many of my fellow pastors are in awe of how incredible, faithful, mature and fun you are as a congregation. But I also don’t identify with Moses in this morning’s story from scripture because, when I was working in Philadelphia we had a rule about sermons; you never get to be the hero. It seems like a simple enough directive, but when you read scripture and reflect on it for a week or more, it’s easy to read it with yourself in the place of the hero of the story. That’s a pretty dangerous thing for Pastor’s to do, leading quite a few preachers to develop fairly impressive Jesus complexes. The problem with the sermons I preached when I was younger, and I made myself the hero, is that they’re boring. Also, they’re probably a little bit theologically unsound, because if we’re honest, we’re seldom the hero of our stories. What’s way more interesting, and closer to the truth most days for me, are the moments I realize I have something to learn, space to grow. When we’re in a place where we can be honest with ourselves, when we’re feeling ready or in need of growth, Scripture gives us the opportunity to identify with the very human characters who find themselves surprised. Reflecting on lives and our world through the lens of scripture, we can choose to situate ourselves in the role of people who are, well, being people…cranky sometimes, afraid, hungry, not at our best, but also deeply human, and loved by God with heaps of grace.
This week, I didn’t find myself in Moses, because there are a few key differences with our Ministries. First off, He’s got a way larger flock than we have here. Scripture tells us there are no less than six hundred thousand Israelites traveling through the wilderness with him. That’s one heck of a BBQ order being lifted up to God. I don’t even count myself among the 70 Elders. In our story this morning, I find myself with the dudes hanging out in camp, Eldad and Medad. They don’t go with the 70 Elders and Moses. They decided to sit this one out, and before you know it, the Spirit of the Living God is upon them, and with all the people in the camp. That feels a lot more like me most days. The Holy One is up to something, and I’m over here, minding my own business, being with folks, and then the Spirit shows up and things get interesting in the midst of the crowd.
I like these reluctant leaders. I like to think they were just feeling tired, and wanted to stay with their people, instead of having more work to do. They’re called to leadership, and no one is more surprised than them.
Sam, Andrea, and Lorraine, I wonder if this morning you find yourselves feeling a little bit like Eldad and Medad. Leigh, does this sound familiar? You show up at a little progressive church, not expecting to get too involved, and then before you know it, folks are coming up to you, saying the Holy Spirit has some plans that involve you. You’re sitting in the pew, and before you know it you’re up front being ordained, commissioned, charged with the care of the people. THAT escalated quickly. I was taught that there are two qualities that are helpful to be on the lookout for with church leaders; folks who already have a following of people, who trust them, are drawn to them, people who are already doing the work without a title, and folks who don’t want power.
Scripture is full of anti-heroes who the Holy Spirit chooses and empowers, not because they’re qualified, not because they want to be powerful, but because they rely on their love for their neighbors, and their love of God to figure it out as they go along. I take comfort in that. It reminds me of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, and his role as the leader of the Montgomery bus boycott. He was a brilliant theologian, a gifted preacher, but the main reason he was the leader of the organization leading the Boycott was because he wasn’t at a meeting when the pastors of the areas Black Churches. He was new to town, an unknown quantity for local white leaders, who didn’t have the same responsibilities that the other Black pastors had. The call came, and he answered.
Growing up, I loved Church, but I was suspicious of it as well. I grew up in a town with a lot of Pastors and Churches who had a lot of thoughts about how us young people were supposed to behave, who was in, and who needed to be saved. I liked Jesus, but I wasn’t a fan of his followers that I saw around me. Cut to me in college, where I found myself in the second least religious college in the country. I loved having friends with lots of questions and criticisms of Christianity. I enjoyed learning about God through getting to know my neighbors, exploring the world, and finding the Holy in the unexpected. I was also a little lonely, so I decided to try and find some new friends, and that’s how I found myself among the folks from “Campus Crusade for Christ.” This being Lewis & Clark in Portland, that name didn’t quite work, given our large Jewish & Saudi international student population, any group with the word “Crusade” wasn’t going to get much funding from the student organizations budget, so they were known as “Oh, For Christ’s Sake,” or OFCS for short. I realized pretty early on that these were not my people. The student leaders wanted power. Not the desire to be empowered, not power to move the world towards justice, but power to coerce, to browbeat folks into being who they thought they should be. There was a lot of talk of fighting the forces of evil and darkness on campus, and reclaiming the college for Jesus. There was a lot of talk of bringing about a revival, a great awakening with lots of alter calls and conversions, a desire for Baptisms in the reflecting pool overlooking Mount Hood in the distance. While these folks were clamoring to be leaders, I found myself looking around for the Eldad’s and Medad’s. That’s how I met Mike.
Mike was an unlikely friend. First off, he was on the football team, at a college whose football program was so bad our insurance company canceled one of their seasons because they were statistically at risk of suffering injuries at a level that was uninsurable. Second, Mike is an Evangelical who had grown up in a congregation where President George W. Bush was endorsed from the pulpit. And yet, Mike is one of the most loving, kind hearted, most Jesus like people I’ve ever known. Mike never planned to be a leader on campus, but he just had a way of caring for folks, of listening, of being there at the right moment in the dining hall, reading a book, ready to chat. Mike had a little pack of folks who followed him around, who confided in him. And I was blessed to be one of his friends. I just got to be myself with him, to have fun, banging my drum while he strummed his guitar and sang, playing capture the flag on campus at night, going hiking and enjoying studying together. I saw him as a minister to so many of us, just by being his loving self. When I came out to Mike, I was so worried that he wouldn’t be supportive, but I’ll always remember what he said. He was so happy for me, and I almost cried when he shared how excited he was for me to be out and a pastor. “There are going to be some kids growing up who can be themselves because of you, and know Jesus loves them for all of who they are.” At the time, it still wasn’t clear if I’d be able to be ordained if I was out, but Mike’s prophetic words gave me courage I didn’t have before.
Beloved, I love that Scripture reminds us that whatever decently and in order process we come up with to decide who should lead, the Holy Spirit is sometimes going to jump the bounds and inspire people, pouring out the gifts of ministry on folks who are loving and quiet, who care for people more than official authority. As a Pastor, I need stories like Eldad and Medad’s, so that I can try and be less like Joshua, who wants to control who is in and out, and to be more like Moses. Moses is thrilled that the Holy Spirit has jumped the bounds and empowered these two “Oh that our people were all prophets and leaders.” Friends, we can all be ministers, without ever being ordained. It’s not just myself and Leigh, not just the Session and Lorraine partnering with Jesus Mission in the world. There’s a kind grace in this too, because sometimes it can be a gift not to be called to do something. Sometimes, if we’ve got a little bit of a martyr complex, and think it’s all up to us, it’s nice to be reminded that it’s not all up to us. Sometimes we’re tired, or we realize we don’t have the gifts for a particular task; we’re just not inspired to do what needs to be done. And it’s ok, because the Spirit will either rise up a leader to make it happen, or won’t. It’s not up to you alone; we’re in this together. So maybe you’re feeling called this morning to be a part of what the Holy Spirit is up to in this place. Maybe you’re joining us after worship to learn how to hold space, like Mike did for so many, for the parents and teachers of Bridges Montessori School, to listen and see how we’re called to partner with and support and empower folks to be who God dreams of them being. Or maybe, you’re someone who is in search of a Mike, of an Eldad and Medad, someone who will be with you and quietly remind you of God’s faithfulness and love of you, of Jesus’ dreams for this world and our lives. Wherever you find yourself this morning, hear this; you are enough. Your Baptism is grace enough for God’s call on your life, be it to be loved by this community, to face outward and love our neighbors, or to do both. None of us are in this alone, and for that, I give thanks to the God of us all. Amen.