There was a brief segment the other morning on the “Today” show about the life of the Pope behind the scenes of all the public attention. I was interested to hear a little bit more about what it must be like for him when he is by himself or with just a few people. In like fashion, the Book of Numbers gives us some bits of information about life behind the scenes for Moses. It is safe to say that leadership is not always what it is cracked up to be! Moses is a bit upset about all that is going on in the camp of the Israelites. He was also upset with God because of all that the people were experiencing. He was upset because he couldn’t do anything about changing the problem. Moses claimed that God had placed the burden of everything of the people’s lives upon himself. He was overwhelmed doing it all. Now, you most likely knew a pastor or two over the years that did everything on his or her own. Some of the things my supervising pastor had me do on internship was fill the communion card racks, sharpen the pencils, and change the message board out front! (“I’ve gone to school all this long to do this!”) Some of us do everything over time because we have control issues or think it’s better just to do it ourselves. On the other hand, some churches truly believe the pastor is the “hired hand”. One of the congregations I served paid me my “wages” once a month. They also called their offerings “dues”. Upon first arriving in Ellicottville, one of the trustees was at the church one morning. Herschel came to my office and asked me to come to the men’s restroom with him. I did, but not sure what this was all about. He proceeded to point out the failed flush handle on the urinal. Then he said, “Since you are new here, I thought it was time for you to know what to do and who to call the next time this happens. Here is the phone number of the hardware store in Little Valley. Call them.” Years later as we were building the new church, I was chastised for suggesting that the men’s room have a urinal! It was none of my business. Oh, my! I’m confident that there could be some awkward stories shared about what has gone on around here over the years. And, there were a few people who not only advised me on how to call a repairman, but also stopped by to teach me how to be a better pastor. I guessed, if I did my job right, all the other people would not have to do anything much more than show up on Sunday mornings. I already know this congregation doesn’t believe that. Sharing in the cry of Moses, “would that all the Lord’s people were prophets”, I am rather confident that many of you are on the side of the Lord. Wouldn’t it be great if all of us were to be truly and completely the Lord’s disciples!
Moses chose 70 elders of the people upon whom the Lord poured out some of the spirit that was on Moses. Apparently some of it drifted upon two others, Eldad and Medad, as well as upon those outsiders whom the disciples claimed were casting out demons in Jesus’ name. That spirit probably drifted upon others over time that were doing someone else’s job in the church. However, I am not against good order and ethics of how the church operates. It is, nevertheless, about the fact that all of us have had this spirit come upon us in baptism. In fact, it is the Holy Spirit that has come into our lives through the washing of baptism to create a new and right spirit in us. In other words, God’s Spirit makes its home in us, dwells within us, rests in us, generates in us. God’s Spirit makes us new people, righteous people in God’s sight because of his love for us in Jesus. In Jesus we are made holy and righteous people becoming more and more each day his people. This Holy Spirit never quits working in us and with us and for us. This Holy Spirit desires to touch each and every one of our hearts to make us truly a disciple and follower of Christ.
In the waters of baptism, we are joined to the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, thereby freeing us from the power of sin, death and the devil, and raising up in us continually growing people of faith. Our Lord God continues to push us, pull us, yank us, drag us, anything possible, to keep the Spirit at work in us. He will do nothing other than look upon us forever as people marked by the cross of Jesus Christ, thus, marked and stamped eternally as his own. We all are joined to him in baptism, and joined to one another who are God’s own children as well. We are his body formed through the serving, redeeming, sacrificing love and mercy of Jesus, and brought together, drawn together, through the Spirit of Christ. It isn’t our call who is a member of this body. God calls all whom he loves, forgives us all of what our sin has done to us, reaches out to those who are ignored, forsaken or forgotten, and binds us together as his one, holy, catholic or
Christian, Church who together share in the mission of Jesus Christ. Our mission is necessarily defined, directed and led by Christ, the head of the body, the Church. Every single one of us here, and absent, baptized, share in this mission. We are all called to be the disciples who serve Christ and his Church.
None of us will forget, will we, that we are mortal and sinful. In Mark’s Gospel reading, Jesus gives out some rather stern and gruesome images of judgment. It begins with our inability at times to let go of the reins, or let someone else help or do the job. If we hadn’t moved, I pity Linda. It’s bad enough some days when I hear what’s going on in Ellicottville and Ashford. Well, it wasn’t my kingdom to begin with! We can be rather gruff with the Eldads and Medads that come along. And some of our behaviors, words spoken in front of and behind the backs of others could truly cause some people to stumble and fall. So often we are so quick to point fingers or cast stones at what other people are doing or wanting to do. We might even believe that some people are entitled to some things or to do some things. Previously a man would complain about two other men who did things on their own in Ellicottville without ever consulting the leaders and pastor. As it turns out this very man did the same. Some people do not want to have anything at all to do with such behavior and attitude, and they leave the church. My father called one Christmas morning years ago the happiest I had heard him in years. “We got a great Christmas present! Our pastor moved out of town over night!” I believe that pastor also disowned his daughter who fell in love with a non-Lutheran.
This is a time to look in the mirror rather than look through other people’s windows. What about me causes offense? What do I do knowingly or unknowingly that speaks ill of what we believe and in whom we trust? Jesus is blunt. Whatever it is that we continue to do that is ill-willed, ill-advised, or simply hurtful and harmful to others, cut it out! Cut it off! Knock it off! Stop it! Are we too quick to judge, to exclude, to categorize and to marginalize others? Are we one body or several groups? Are we people with our own agendas or do we share in one mission? Do we spend too much time with the less important matters, and then leave the needy and poor unattended? How is our discipleship defined?
“Would that all of the Lord’s people be prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them.” May that be true among us. With the Spirit of the Lord poured out upon us, we are called to follow Jesus as his disciples. Disciples are people who trust the Lord through light and darkness, up the mountain and in the valley, through thick and thin, joy and sadness. Disciples learn from their Teacher and teachers the signs and marks of discipleship that sometimes are not easy, and even sacrificing. Yet, we disciples already know our destination and so we follow Jesus Christ knowing he will get us there no matter what. Disciples also learn the joy of community and the spirit of love that dwells within and dominates in such communities. Disciples have a heart for one another, especially for those who are in need. Disciples learn what is best for all, and not just for one or self like it is so much in the world. Disciples judge in the heart and mind of Christ and welcome those who often are left outside of the community. Disciples share in the mission of Christ to bring all people to salvation through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and to bring the kingdom of God alive and at work in our world today. Through you, every one of you, no matter how young or old, fit or worn out, rich or poor, we all have the spirit of God upon us to offer a glimpse of heaven through what we do, or say, or are. We strive to welcome the help of all people in our ministry and mission. We recognize how we might impede God’s work at times, and how we might be reasons for an implosion rather than an explosion of joy in Christ. All of us have the joy of being a presence of Jesus in our worlds outside of this gathering place. With the help of the Spirit, it continues to pour out on those who lead within this congregation, chosen and called by you and God, and upon the Eldads and Medads who continue to do such great things in God’s name in behalf of St. Paul Church and School. We expect that there will be more who wish to join with us because of our witness of being a community of the faithful who live out what they say they believe. (By the way, like Moses, I’m learning to be happier doing less.)
The Lord be with you.
The Rev. William L. Kay
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Hilton, NY Friday, September 25, 2015