Sermons That Work

Moses Has Had It…, Proper 21 (B) – 1997

September 28, 1997

Moses has had it. The people of Israel have been freed from slavery. But the price of their freedom is costly — seemingly too costly for them to deal with. All this wandering around in the wilderness, with nothing but a steady diet of manna to eat…memories of their time as slaves in Egypt seem pretty good. Very good, in fact. “We used to have such wonderful things to eat…fish, the choicest of vegetables and fruits — and all for free. We can’t take it anymore, Moses. We are sick and tired of looking at this manna!”

The people of Israel are angry, Moses is angry, and the Lord is angry. Things can’t get any worse. Moses is convinced that his servant-leader role isn’t working, and he shares his concern with God in no uncertain terms. “Where have I gone wrong, Lord? I am carrying the burden of this huge number of people on my shoulders — and I don’t feel like you’re helping me very much right now. They come to me asking for gourmet food. What am I supposed to do? I just can’t do this all by myself. The burden is simply too heavy.”

So God responds. Moses gathers seventy elders before the Lord. And the Lord takes some of the spirit that is on Moses and puts it on the seventy elders. They begin to prophesy — to interpret and proclaim God’s version, God’s message, to the people. The spirit of God also affects two other men — Eldad and Medad — who remain in the camp, who do not go with Moses to the tent of meeting. But not everybody is happy about the Eldad and Medad doing God’s work. Some are so upset by this unauthorized ministry that they try to get Moses to stop them. But Moses refuses: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets….” What is Moses saying? Surely he can’t really mean that every single person of Israel should aspire to the job of the prophet. If too many cooks spoil the broth, certainly too many prophets would spoil the community of faith. It’s like saying that everyone should be ordained. Besides, God asked Moses to gather seventy elders. What Eldad and Medad are doing is improper. They have not gone through the “proper” channels. Moses must just be so frustrated with being the only one speaking for God that he exaggerates. His exclamation is a classic case of hyperbole — born of desperation… Or is it? “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets” …is this plea of Moses itself prophetic? Do his words reflect God’s dream for the community of faith?

When a person is baptized in the Episcopal Church, we welcome that person into the Christian community with these words:

We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.
(Book of Common Prayer, 308)

In so welcoming a new Christian into our midst, we are saying what it means to be a member of God’s family. To be a Christian means that we are called to bear witness to the crucified and risen Christ. To be a Christian means to be a part of a priestly community – – a community that mediates between God and the world. Every baptized person, we believe, is a priestly person. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

Through baptism, all of us are made God’s ministers. Through baptism, all of us are made God’s prophets. Through baptism, all of us are filled with God’s spirit. Through baptism, all of us are empowered to interpret God’s vision and message to the people around us.

What would it be like for an entire community of faith to share the burden of leadership? Imagine it. Everyone has been touched by God’s spirit. Everyone has a call to ministry. Not just the nine or so people on the vestry. Not just the clergy. But everyone — everyone exercising. “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them.!”

Moses wanted something more than to delegate authority and responsibility. He wanted the people of Israel to become the community of faith that would be a blessing to all people and nations. He wanted each person to share the burden and the gift of interpreting God’s word.

Moses shared the dream of God. The dream of God’s spirit being poured out on every human being. The dream that all God’s daughters and sons would prophesy.

And that dream inches more and more closely to reality each time we live into our responsibility as members of God’s household — each time we share in the priesthood of the community of faith. We are, each of us, God’s ministers…God’s priests and prophets.

And the spirit of the Lord is with us. Amen

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Christopher Sikkema


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