Many of us here this morning have in-laws. But even if we don’t have in-laws or our relationships with in-laws are really good, most of us have also heard horror stories about in-law relationships. Stories about in-laws who meddle way too intimately in the lives of their children and grandchildren. Stories of in-laws who believe that no one in the world will ever be worthy of marrying their son or daughter. Stories detailing in-laws who are manipulative, exclusive, and sometimes downright abusive.
In this morning’s Scripture lesson from Exodus we learn that Moses was blessed with an in-law who was one of the good ones. A man filled with considerable compassion, understanding, and faith. Not to mention a healthy dose of wisdom. Today is all about Jethro, who was Zipporah’s father, and Moses’s father-in-law.
As the lead up to this morning’s passage, Jethro searches out the Israelites having heard numerous stories about the exploits of his son-in-law. Jethro has heard about the plagues visited upon the Egyptians…the locusts, the frogs, the gnats, the bloody Nile River, the hail and the darkness. Jethro has heard about the way the Israelites escaped from the clutches of Pharaoh, he’s heard about the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, and he’s heard about Moses and the Hebrews wandering for years through the desert wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.
So Jethro seeks out his son-in-law so he can celebrate with him. Jethro wants to hear the stories for himself, directly from the son-in-law who by now was the returning hero. Most of all, Jethro wants to orchestrate the reunion of his daughter, Zipporah, and his two grandchildren, with Moses so they can be family once again.
The next day, after the reunion and the celebration, this morning’s narrative picks up. Early in the morning, Jethro takes a look at the schedule Moses has laid out for the day. Jethro wants to get an accurate reading on what it’s like for his son-in-law to take on the daily duties of leading a vast and growing multitude of people. What Jethro discovers in the schedule, however, raises all kinds of red flags.
With no break in between cases and people lined up relentlessly from morning through evening, one by one the Hebrew people brought their disputes, looking for an arbitrator. They wanted someone to determine things like who owned the sheep, whose animal strayed from the flock, who started the fire, who owed restitution to whom. And Moses was in the hot seat.
Day after day, case after case, Moses sat there all by himself and listened to people’s issues…effectively serving as judge and jury…effectively slipping in and out of the role of doctor, pastor, neighbor, lawyer, friend. And the day Jethro was there to witness was exactly the same for Moses as all the other days.
I imagine Moses was tired and ready to pack it in at the end of that day, but Jethro would not let him go without asking a question. “What is this that you are doing for the people?”
“The people need me,” Moses tried to rationalize. “Someone has to enforce God’s laws and statutes. If I don’t do it, no one else will.”
Jethro didn’t buy it, however. “What you are doing is not good. You will surely burn out and then you won’t be of any use to these people you are trying to help. You simply cannot do it all by yourself.”
Sometimes people who are in leadership positions need the benefit of a little perspective. Someone who comes along and looks at a situation with a new set of eyes and draws from a different wellspring of wisdom and experience.
For Moses, Jethro was that someone. A trusted source of wisdom, perspective, insight, and experience. Making Jethro’s advice hard to ignore…
Moses, it will be a whole lot easier for you if your people bear the burden of leadership along with you. Delegate some of what you are doing to others. Teach people what you need and what you expect. Then once you have given people tools, let them make decisions.
When you do these things, Jethro continued, I promise you won’t burn out. Your people will be more involved and more dedicated and more passionate. Your community will begin to thrive. And the people living in your community will feel a sense of peace and well-being.
If Jethro’s advice to Moses sounds like a blueprint for how a church effectively functions in the world in terms of structure and administration, I agree. There’s a lot to be said for sharing the work of ministry in the church…inviting people in the congregation to identify and use the gifts God has given them so that lives will be touched and transformed, so that God’s will might be done, so that the church will grow and thrive.
At the same time, Jethro’s advice to Moses offers a blueprint for how people in a church effectively care for one another. There is no one person here at Wapping Community Church who can do the work of caring by themselves. No pastor, no staff member, no board or committee member. None of us can do the work of caring ministry alone.
Fortunately, the good news is that Wapping Community Church is filled with people who care a whole lot. For those in the midst of grief and recovery. For those who have just gone through divorce and job loss. For people facing life transitions and losses of every kind. Some of you pray for fellow church members. Some of you make visits and phone calls. Some of you write cards and create meals. And some of you reach out with a hug or a word of comfort and reassurance or an expression which lets someone else know you are with them whatever they might be going through.
What’s more, this congregation is blessed with a group of people who take time each week to offer care and compassion to someone in need. Today in worship we are commissioning a special group of people who have been trained as Stephen Ministry caregivers to enter into intentional, confidential, one on one relationships with people in and beyond this congregation who might need support or guidance or prayer. The three women we are commissioning today are immensely gifted. They have been through many weeks of teaching and training and learning.
As a result, the three of them are ready to take their place alongside other Stephen Ministers among us. Each of them willing and able and excited about sharing the love of Jesus Christ and sharing the work of ministry here at Wapping Community church. Reaching out in Christ’s name to share the ministry of hope and understanding. Reaching out so that no one who needs care and love and support will be alone. Yes, this is a day for celebration!
I finish with a story entitled “Partners” from the book Does God Have a Big Toe?
Before there was anything, there was God, a few angels, and a huge swirling glob of rocks and water with no place to go. The angels asked God, “Why don’t you clean up this mess. So God collected rocks from the huge swirling glob and put them together in clumps and said, “Some of these clumps of rocks will be planets, and some will be stars, and some of these rocks will be…just rocks.”
Then God collected water from the huge swirling glob and put it together in pools of water and said, “Some of these pools of water will be oceans, and some will become clouds, and some of this water will be…just water. Then the angels said, “Well God, it’s neater now, but is it finished?” And God answered, “NOPE!”
On some of the rocks God placed growing things and creeping things, and things that only God knows what they are, and when God had done all this, the angels asked God, “Is the world finished now?” And God answered,”NOPE!”
God made a man and a woman from some of the water and dust and said to them, “I am tired now. Please finish up the world for me…really it’s almost done.” But the man and woman said, “We can’t finish the world alone! You have the plans and we are too little.”
“You are big enough,” God answered them. “But I agree to this. If you keep trying to finish the world, I will be your partner.” The man and woman asked, “What’s a partner?” And God responded, “A partner is somone you work with on a big thing that neither of you can do alone. If you have a partner, it means that you can never give up, because your partner is depending on you. On the days you think I am not doing enough and on the days I think you are not doing enough, even on those days we are still partners and we must not stop trying to finish the world. That’s the deal.” And they all agreed to that deal.
Then the angels asked God, “Is the world finished yet?” And God answered, “I don’t know. Go ask my partners.”
Let us prepare to commission three new Stephen Ministers. Each of them blessed partners in God’s name and in Jesus Christ. Amen.