(Come out with eye patch, hook, and hopping on one foot)
OK, I am ready to read the gospel lesson today!
What, is something wrong?? (kids respond to crazy get up)
I am just following what Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today:
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. If you foot causes you to stumble, cut it off;
If you eye causes you to sin, tear it out.”
Well, I didn’t really do all that. And Jesus doesn’t want us to hurt ourselves.
So what is he talking about??
This story really connects with the one we heard last week about Jesus.
He had the little child on his lap, and said, “whoever welcomes this little one, welcomes me.”
But today’s lesson shows that Jesus’ disciples weren’t listening.
In fact they didn’t want to hear about welcoming people they thought were unimportant;
they wanted to complain and accuse.
They completely ignored Jesus and his words about welcoming others.
That made Jesus mad. “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones, it would be better for you to have a great millstone hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”
What do you think he meant by that?
Jesus didn’t mean his disciples should drown themselves. He was exaggerating. Kind of like when mom or dad get mad and say something things that they don’t entirely mean. “If you’re not going to help out around here, you might as well go jump in a lake!” Jesus’ point was that ignoring a child or someone in need is a terrible crime.
Who might be ignored in our day?
This is good news—it means I can stop hopping around. It also means that you and I and all these folks have a job to do—to stay on the look out for people who might be lonely, sad, or without opportunity, and to help them as we can. DOS collection; Church By the Pond – come and see!
When I was a young pastor, I full of idealism.
I knew pastors were meant to be examples of Christian living for other people
so I threw myself in with gusto.
I loved it when the church I served looked like the kingdom of God where everyone is included.
our congregation had Deaf members, kids from the neighborhood who came on their own,
and people living with mental illness as a part of the regularly worshipping congregation.
One Sunday a parishioner told me how beautiful it was to see me kneeling at communion
with a guy named Larry who struggled with schizophrenia;
I guess the members of the congregation could see the kingdom of God, too.
But this vision of inclusivity came at a price.
Not many people knew ASL, so a lot of the relationship building with the Deaf folks
fell to me and my colleague (and my ASL was very basic).
When the kids from the neighborhood misbehaved, I was called in to straighten things out.
I sat down with Larry once a week for conversation and prayer.
And to top it all off, all of these folks sat in the front of the church, so in the midst of leading worship
I was also guiding them through the hymnal and redirecting behavior.
In the long run, it was exhausting.
I wondered why I was the only one who was so involved with these people.
Why didn’t someone else sit with the boys down the street?
Why couldn’t someone else talk to Larry at coffee hour?
It was as if in my effort to be an example, I had somehow become a professional Christian--
someone the congregation hired to do Christianity for them.
Looking back, this time in my life reminds me of a story about Moses.
It’s from the book of Exodus, after Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
After that great victory over the Egyptians, things took a real nose dive:
the people were camping in the wilderness, not sure where they were headed
they were worried they would run out of food and water
and all the problems they had with each other erupted and fights were breaking out.
Moses spent all his time praying to God for the needs of his people
and dealing with all their problems—and he was exhausted.
His father-in-law Jethro came for a visit, and saw how Moses was stretched so thin.
He said, “What is this that you are doing for the people?
Why do you sit alone, while the people stand around you from morning until evening?
You will surely wear yourself out!”
Jethro told Moses to delegate: deputize trustworthy individuals as officers to hear the easy cases,
so they could help Moses bear the load.
This story from Exodus is a companion to the one we have from Numbers today.
The people had been in the wilderness wandering from place to place for weeks now;
their worries and complaints hadn’t stopped, even though God fed them manna each day.
They kept thinking that God had abandoned them out there to die of thirst and hunger
and each time God rescued them with quail for meat or water from a rock, they forgot in 5 minutes.
It is as if they were in permanent crisis mode, unable to see God’s care right before their eyes.
So this time it is God who suggests delegation 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.”
Moses brought the 70 to the Tent of Meeting, their moveable worship space
where God’s presence rested in the form of a cloud.
Numbers says, “God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders,
and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.”
Prophesying was speaking the word of the Lord, a first hand account of God’s work in a person’s life.
Moses had seen God face to face, and now others also had a direct experience of God.
The wilderness stories of Exodus and Numbers are really stories about becoming God’s community.
God chose the people of the Israel to live in relationship with God and to be an example to the world.
Among the things the people had to learn
is that a community cannot exist on the work or gifts of a few people
In God’s community, everyone has gifts to share.
In these stories, we see that the gifts of leadership and the relationship with God
that seemed so unique to Moses were something that God had given others as well.
I think this is an important lesson for the Church- with a capital C.
Like the people of Israel, the Church at large is learning what it means to be God’s community
for the sake of the world.
The Pope in his sermon in Philadelphia this week, preached about the American saint
Katherine Drexel who lived in the latter half of the 19th century.
She got an audience with Pope Leo the XIII and spoke to about the needs of the poor
and what the church should do.
The pope said, “What about you? What are you going to do?”
These words changed Katherine’s life—she dedicated herself to setting up ministries to give opportunities
to African Americans and Native Americans, people who had been terribly mistreated in our country.
Pope Francis went on to say that every person by virtue of their baptism has a ministry to share.
He turned his precedessor’s question to Katherine Drexel on everyone in the Church:
“What about you? What are you going to do?”
It’s like the 70 elders in the tent in Moses’ day—
everyone who has been baptized has been given a gift of the Spirit,
It doesn’t matter if you are Roman Catholic or Lutheran or Baptist,
Christian community is not about being holy or professional Christians,
but about every day people who have been graced by God
and are trained up to live their faith in small and large ways.
Back at my old church, this took shape in several forms.
First of all, I had to get rid of my own ideas of being the be and all and end all Christian,
and think of myself as someone who invites and empowers others to name and claim their Christian mission.
We began training up groups to support the ministries of the church--
a little crew to parent the boys at church and build a relationship with their grandma,
a team to learn sign language and get to know the Deaf members.
We started a preaching ministry where parishioners were helped to tell their own stories of the Spirit.
And when I left, the monetary gifts that were made in my honor went to a Lay Ministry Fund
to train up people to do the work they have been gifted to do
whether it be caring, teaching, or working in the world to make it a better place.
Here at Our Savior’s we have been thinking about the ministries of our members, too.
A number of us have been studying the Mormon church in adult ed recently
One of the most impressive things to me about this fast growing church
is that is entirely a lay movement—they have no paid clergy.
This is a pretty foreign idea to us at this point in Christian history
but for a long time, there were no professional ministers.
St Paul himself was a tent maker, and he supported himself that way as he preached.
In the early church, pastorly duties were shared among a number of people with spiritual gifts.
Our focus on a paid professional to lead church is a pretty recent thing.
The Mormon church and our own history show us that churches can thrive without paid pastors,
Some churches may go back to that model by choice or necessity.
Knowing that can free us as an organization to change with the times.
And we are already changing.
OSLC members have attended workshops on communicating with social media,
caring ministries, and the changes our church is encountering in the 21st century.
Our members are being trained up to visit the sick,
bring communion to the homebound, and teach the faith to adults and children.
One has taken classes at Hartford Seminary,
and another has traveled to the Holy Land numerous times.
But more is possible.
Our synod has a School of Lay Ministry, a two year program of retreats and individual study
that covers the topics of two years of seminary.
There is a 50 hour training for care giving ministry called Stephen Ministries,
which equips lay people with all the skills pastors have in visitation and crisis ministry.
There are trainings to equip lay people to lead congregations in challenging times of conflict
or to be community mediators
World Hunger events where people learn how to advocate for justice.
Almost any need you can think of, there is training available for church communities to address it.
This story in Numbers points out that God’s spirit is spread wide—
it wasn’t enough to keep it to a few.
and Here’s the kicker:
Sometimes God’s gifts come even to people who don’t show up in the approved places of God
Eldad and Medad were just two regular guys who hadn’t been invited to the Tent of Meeting
But the Spirit came upon them too.
Moses defends them when Joshua objects that they had no official sanction, saying,
Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!
That’s the call of Christ’s mission today—
that God’s spirit would rest of all of us, that we all would be prophets
not just the ones trained by seminaries
not just the ones who sit on the council
or the ones who are old enough, or successful enough
but anyone who has been touched by these baptismal waters
and even some who haven’t.
Would that all the Lord’s people-- all of us here-- be prophets--
people who have a real experience of God working in our lives
who tell others about it
and live out that power of God to make the world a better place.