Rev. Diane K. Hooge
In order to fully appreciate all the dynamics that are a part of the setting and scene of this scripture from Exodus we need to back up and review an earlier piece of the story. Jethro, the priest of Midian, who is Moses’ father-in-law, has just escorted his daughter Zipporah and his grandsons, back to be reunited with Moses. They met at the wilderness site where Moses was camped at Sinai.
Jethro had welcomed back his daughter and grandsons into his home when Moses had received the call of God to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. I suspect that it was for their safety that they had chosen to stay with the in-laws. Not only is Jethro Moses’ father-in-law and Granddad to Gershom and Eliezer, but he also appears to have been a mentor as well as a friend.
Jethro had been a key player in Moses’ transition from the palace to the sheepherding business. Whatever doubts Jethro may had had about Moses and his call to return to Egypt, he appears to have been extremely supportive and anxious to hear about what took place in Egypt.
I can picture them talking far into the night as Moses filled his family in on the stories of Egypt; the plagues, the crossing, as well as the tough times and the celebratory times out in the wilderness.
Jethro threw a party to celebrate the fact that God had brought the Israelites out of captivity in Egypt. The celebration included a burnt offering to God expressing his gratitude.
In today’s scripture, we find the kinfolk again gathered around the campfire at Moses’ tent. The family and guests were sitting together discussing the events of the day. Jethro had been an observer for some time. The timing seemed to be right as he cleared his throat and offered Moses a mirror of what he had observed. He had watched him process information, had observed him listening intently to decipher the truth, and had witnessed him dealing with extremely complex issues as well as petty ones.
Jethro’s voice takes on strength as he discerns the crux of the issue and addresses Moses in love. He is clear: “What you are doing, Moses, is not good!” You will surely wear yourself out—you are in danger of burnout. This isn’t a good situation for you or these people. The task is too heavy—quit trying to do it alone! Jethro concludes his analysis with an action plan.
1. Educate the people; teach them the rules.
2. Look for leadership skills. Those who honor God are to be trusted. Look for those who hate dishonest gain and set those folks over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
3. Let the developed leadership discern who handles which cases and which ones come to you, Moses.
4. Jethro gave Moses the key—let them bear the burden with you because then you will be able to endure– and all these people will go to their homes in peace.
In managerial terms, Moses is to interpret and articulate public policy. He was to move out of his role and set up a new infrastructure where administrators for different tribes could do the bulk of the work and Moses could stay focused on the big picture and take on the more complicated cases.
Moses was advised to stop pretending that this was a Mom and Pop operation in a small town. Scholars believe that the size of this group numbered somewhere around 80,000 people.
Now, if Myers Briggs had been a part of the business schools on the gulf of Aquaba, Jethro might have been labeled an ESTJ. (Extrovert, sensing, thinking, judging) He had the skills to know how to go about building the infrastructure that was needed for the next stage of the journey. ESTJ”S are outstanding at organizing orderly procedures.
Jethro had the insight to know that this body of people needed to experience a paradigm shift. The style of leadership that Moses provided for so long had been what they needed to make the transition from slavery to the desert journey. However, over the months and perhaps years, the people had grown in their ability to move out of the physical and emotional limitations of slavery and they were now taking steps to move into living as a community. They were beginning to heal from life as slaves and were gaining their sense of self-worth, but they were still fragile. Jethro is able to give feedback to Moses indicating that the people are now ready to be given some responsibility, some authority in order to strengthen them and to enable them to grow into their own gifts. It was time to decentralize government. Jethro was proposing a structure that would help to build and maintain an ethical system.
It strikes me that Moses is being invited by God to move out of his archetypal role of ruler to that of sage and teacher. He is still the leader, but he’s being invited to lead in a new way. He needs to learn to delegate. The next stage of the journey will demand that he help to develop leadership skills. He will be advising and pastoring the pastors.
What we know about human nature is that there was a time of change…a time of transition where it probably felt pretty rocky and I suspect that Moses had many tempting thoughts of going back to the “old pattern.” Training others—letting go of authority and outcome is hard work. Developing a new infrastructure is challenging and laborious. The tricky part about systems is that we can outgrow them and not realize it.
Last Sunday during the class I led on the Interim…I focused on how church size impacts church culture. One of the pieces of information that I drew on was the 2011 report from the 20/20 team, a group of church members who were asked to develop a plan that would begin to define the church in the next ten years. What I learned is that because we have had so many new members, there are many people who have never heard of the report nor have read it. I promised the group that met last Sunday that I would have the report on the back table.
This group, like Jethro, held a vision, and guided the congregation in looking at a ten year plan. Many of the things proposed in that document have been accomplished: staff to focus on children, buying the property next door to expand our options for space, Neighborhood groupings, and changes in how the Council operates. The movement to a team model of leadership.
There is a lot of movement taking place in this season of transition within the life of this community. The Council is meeting more often and have longer meetings. The Search Committee was formed and then put on hold in order to make sure that all the voices of the community were heard. And this past week, twenty five of our congregation were part of a two day event titled A Lived Practice of Nonviolence. Having listened to several of you comment on your experience, I know you deeply appreciated what you learned and It’s hard work to make changes in how one operates and begin to put into practice a new way of being in the world. It demands personal discipline and support.
Every generation must discern where the faith movement is inviting them to not only define their faith but to commit themselves to the work of transformation.
When I was a young mother and had gone back to church after many years of not attending, I was drawn to a book study. The title of the book was Eighth Day of Creation, by Elizabeth O’Connor. O’Connor came out of the Church of the Savior in Washington D.C. The book changed my life. Even though it was never on any reading list in seminary, I still believe that it has had a profound influence on my theology. The whole emphasis of the Church of the Savior has been on identification and exercise of one’s gifts. O’Connor states that “A primary purpose of the Church is to help us discover and develop our gifts, and, in the face of our fears, to hold us accountable for them so that we can enter into the joy of creating.”
It is this focus of creating space for others to be heard and to be respected and given opportunities for growth that Jethro encouraged. This is our work as well, isn’t it?
The Search Committee, with all the processes that they will bring, are the frontline for helping this community get clear about who you are. A community has to get through enough of the grief of losing a loved pastor before they can begin to sift and sort through the work in order to know who they are called by God to be at this stage of the journey. Sometimes, like the last couple of weeks, the brakes have to be slammed down, in order to take the time to listen long enough so there can be unity in taking the next steps. The visioning process is about gaining clarity—seeing clearly who we are at this stage of the journey. And, what we know is that visioning plans can only last a very short time before revision is needed. Part of our transition work is about capturing a clear picture of who this community is. It’s about naming strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. And, after all the hard work of listening, honing, debriefing, and owning the results…it’s about bundling up the data and passing it on to the Conference Office so that profiles of clergy can be matched up with your data and names can then come to the Search Committee for the next phase of the work: calling a pastor.
It’s all about all of us listening for the Divine Spirit that is moving in our midst. It’s about creating space for the new. It’s about following in the way of Jesus, which means having integrity to speak our truth and to welcome stepping out in faith. Just as I believe there is a blueprint built into each individual, so I believe that there is a blueprint built into a community of faith…there are unique sets of gifts within this community that enables certain kinds of faith based action to take place. Every time new folks are welcomed into the community it means that new gifts are being added and new voices will need to be heard.
What and where is God’s invitation in your life? What new way is God inviting you to live into? How will that invitation impact how you serve in this community?
May we be united in seeking God’s vision for this congregation for a new season of ministry. Amen.