“Seasons” by Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune

Listen to the sermon from Sunday, September 27, 2015 titled “Seasons” by Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune.

I love to cook.  I’m not the best cook in our household, but I take my turn.  The secret to cooking good food is in how you season it.  I like to try all kinds of seasons, because as they say, “spice is the variety of life.”  That is what they say, isn’t it?

Anyway, the challenge when you season food is to use just the right amount, not too much and not too little.  This is my downfall, because I almost always use too much, a handful instead of a pinch.  The result is not pleasant and I can instantly tell by the face at first taste.  Yuk! But when I get it right, their face lights up! You have given them a taste of God’s Providence and their face says “Life is good!”  Yum!

The Israelites were glad to get a taste of manna in the wilderness – at first.  It was better than starving.  But after a while, they started adding whine to their dinner.  Fried manna, boiled manna, roasted manna, barbecued manna, manna etouffé– there are only so many ways you can make manna, but, hey! – it’s still manna.  So, of course, they complain to Moses, and what can he do?

Leadership is lonely, and Moses is always wrestling with these people he ed to freedom.  You remember he has a hard time getting them to leave Egypt in the first place, even though they are miserable there.  They complain by the sea until God baptizes the pursuing Egyptians.  They complain about thirst in the desert until God provides the fountain of life from the rock.  They complain of hunger until God provides manna.  And they complain at Mount Sinai because Moses is gone too long, so they build the golden calf.  When the road is long and God seems slow, we so quickly turn to other gods to get what we want.  And now, they are complaining about the manna!

We expect too much from our leaders sometimes, who are only human, after all.  We want a superhero who will do what we want when we want it and make everything okay.  And I love Moses’ response when the Israelites start complaining again. They whine to him, so Moses whines to God: “Let me die!  Your people are too much of a burden to me!”  So many of our prayers are a little more than whining to God, but it’s good to know God answers those prayers, too.

So God gives Moses a plan:  “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel…, 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” (Num 11:16-17).

And that’s what happens.  God’s such a genius!  This shared access to Divine guidance reminds Moses that he isn’t Superman, nor even irreplaceable.  And it spreads the responsibility across the people themselves.

Two guys don’t make the meeting and stay back at the camp.  Eldad and Medad.  (If you have ever have twin boys, you might want to consider these good biblical names!  They might forgive you when they get older.)  God’s Spirit falls on them, too, just to make it clear God works beyond the structures we try to control, and the elders are just as replaceable as Moses!

When somebody rats them out to the leadership council, Joshua says to Moses: “Make them stop!  They’re not one of us!”  But Moses says, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put the spirit on them!” (Num 11:29). Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader.  That is God’s goal!

Jesus follows Moses’ lead, calls out twelve disciples to whom he trusts his deepest teaching.  They will become the founding apostles of his church.  But when they complain about somebody outside their group healing in Jesus’ name, he says, “Do not stop him; for whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:39).  The disciples are not an in-group who own the “Jesus trademark.”  Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader.  That is God’s goal!

Later when the apostles meet with complaints from the church that they are neglecting some of the widows, they call out a group of helpers to serve the people as deacons, to be sure no one is left out.  These deacons are carriers of God’s Spirit as much as the apostles are.  The church lays hands on them in the ancient symbol of solidarity, of being called out and set apart, and they serve the church.

Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader.  That is God’s goal!  And nowhere is this clearer than on the Day of Pentecost, when the same Spirit that fills the apostles falls upon every believer, young and old, male and female, from every gathered race and place. Our leaders – pastors, elders, deacons – are called to special service.  But we all have the same Spirit of God within us and we all have the same calling: to serve others in the name of Christ.  We call this “the priesthood of the believers.”

A priest is a person who mediates the presence of God to another person.  And since God is within every believer, every believer is a carrier of God’s presence.  The priesthood of the believers is not about our freedom from needing a priest.  It is about our calling to be priests, God’s ministers in the world.  As Carlyle Marney put it:

“We are priests to each other.  I do not priest me.  I priest you and vice versa.  On this the community of witness takes its rise.  Without it no church exists at all.”

Even Pope Francis recognized it this week when he said, “I ask that you pray for me. And if you cannot pray, or if you do not believe, then I ask that you send me your good wishes.” Even the Pope needs a priest in the world!

There is some evidence that the early church laid hands on every new believer as he or she came out of the baptistery.  (Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader.  That is God’s goal.)  Some early Baptist churches actually split over whether this practice should be continued, though both sides agreed, no matter how they make a living, every Christian’s vocation is to be Christ’s minister in the world.  The work of the pastor, the work of the deacon, is to be model and mentor to the rest of us of what it means to serve in the Spirit of Christ.  But we are all called to the ministry of embodying Christ.

The always practical James brings this down to our concrete life together in the church.  He says we should sing praise, pray, be part of each other’s healing, be mutually accountable to one another.  It is not the hero, the lone leader, the ruling council who embody the Spirit of Christ.  It is the community!  Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader!  That is God’s goal.

Our pastors and deacons season the souffle and make our community life a taste of the good life.  But when Jesus says, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another,” he’s not just talking to pastors and deacons.  When he teaches, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matt 5:13), he means all of us who follow him.  What a gift to have the power to bless, by the things we say and do, in small and great ways, to bring somebody the love of God and let them taste and feel that life is good.

But Jesus warns, it can be the other way.  “If salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season (with) it?” (Mark 9:50).  “If salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.” (Matt 5:13).  We also have the power to curse, to leave people with a bad taste for life.

Think of your actions, O ministers of Christ, the daily encounters you have with your family, your friends, even the strangers you meet.  Are you the season that makes their lives “yuk!” – unpleasant and unpalatable, something to be endured if not avoided?  Or are you a source of joy and laughter, the spice of the good life, yum?

Thank God for Moses and the prophets and the elders and the apostles and the pastors and the deacons.  They are the heart and voice of God’s guidance and care.  But they are just a few people.  Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader.  That is God’s goal.

You are the salt of the earth, every one of you who carries Christ’s Spirit in you.  And so today, I am asking our deacons to stand at the door at the end of worship.  They will have some packets of salt. Take one of these packets and carry it with you this week in your pocket or purse or pack.  Let it be a constant reminder to you of your Divine mission-in-life to season the lives of the people you encounter so they will know God is with them and life is good.  Every member a minister.  Every believer a spiritual leader. That is God’s goal.  Amen.  May we pray?

May we be so filled with your Spirit, O Christ, that each person we encounter might experience your grace and rejoice.  Make us your ministers as we go  out in your name.  Amen.

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