Will You Be Floor or Rafter?
The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for 430 years. To give some perspective of time, the United States declared independence from the King of England 244 years ago. They were slaves 186 years LONGER than our nation has existed. In all that time, they had not governed themselves. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s courts, he was also comfortable with the structure of one leader who rules. And when he led the people of Israel out of Egypt, he took the place of Pharaoh in their civil lives. If there was a dispute, you went to Moses. If you had a question, you went to Moses. If you had a problem, you went to Moses.
And then Moses’ father-in-law came, bringing Moses’ wife, Zipporah and his sons Gershom and Eliezer back to live with Moses. Moses had sent them to live with her family when he answered God’s call to deliver his people, Israel, out of bondage in Egypt. When he arrived, Moses went out to meet them, he took time to sit and talk, to share all that God had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, he told all about the manna and the quail, the water, the difficulties they had faced and how God had provided, together they worshiped and offered a burnt offering to God, and they had a feast, all together.
The next morning was back to business. Moses went out in the morning and took his seat to judge and the people gathered, and he stayed until evening. At the end of the day, I just imagine Moses was tired, but a good tired. He had helped people with their struggles. He had listened and cared. He had advised and he really had given wise, godly counsel. And his father-in-law’s words must have come like an unwelcome alarm clock, waking him to a reality he didn’t want to face. “What you are doing is not good.” WHAT? Not good? I can just imagine Moses’ thoughts. You haven’t been with us this whole journey. You don’t understand how dependent they are on me. They have no history of governing themselves, no idea even how to govern themselves. They need me. You don’t understand. And yet, it often takes an outsider to see what we can’t see in ourselves.
His father-in-law went on, “You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you need to share the load.” I read this passage every year to Session, our governing body as a congregation. The congregation elects people to serve on the Session who are to ensure that we are faithful to God’s Word as a church, and who strengthen and nurture our church’s faith and life. They lead, they guide, they pray, and they practice their faith as they share their gifts for the work of God through Farmington. One of the hardest things for me, as your pastor, during this time is that I haven’t had the opportunity to see many of you in months. Having Wednesday evening services outside and having Zoom Bible study and prayer time has allowed a sense of community with some, but many of you I haven’t seen or talked to in several months. I wonder how you are, really. And yet, the first week of sheltering at home, the Session divided the congregation for weekly check-in. Freeing me to focus on those who needed more care, to study and guide reopening plans for the Day School, to work with Doug to figure out how to create virtual worship services, and to research and pray for God’s guidance in this liminal space, this threshold time, as we discern what God’s dream is for the Farmington family in what will be our new normal across this threshold.
But, sharing the load doesn’t stop with Session. Session committees have been on hiatus for the last several months, with the exceptions of Administration and Worship. As we look toward a new ministry year, we will be sending out information about ways you can be involved in the life of the congregation through serving on a team, sharing your gifts and time, fulfilling God’s dream for you by living out your passion in a way that serves God and others.
I love the lyrics of our opening hymn this morning, “Let us build a house” because it makes clear that God’s house is not a structure. God’s house is a place of welcome, of grace and love, growth and faith, a place of tears of sorrow and joy,…God’s house is a community. And in God’s house, we all have a place, and whether floor or rafter, we are all essential. I Peter talks about us being living stones being built into a spiritual house. Acts recounts the strain on the early church as the apostles, those who had seen Jesus physically after his resurrection and who were leading the Way of his followers, leading them to choose 7 who would look after the least within the community of believers so that they could continue their work of sharing the Gospel message and growing the community while the community needs were met. At Sinai, God says to his people, Israel, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
In the Presbyterian church, we believe in the Priesthood of All Believers. What that means, practically, is that you can speak to God. You have direct access to God. When you pray, God listens. You do not need a go-between. Pastors do not have a special connection to God. We are all God’s people, and God listens to us all.
The priesthood of all believers also means that God can speak to you. God doesn’t need a go-between to do ministry, either. God can put you directly to work to be God’s hands and feet and to speak and live God’s Word in the world.
Moses heard his father-in-law’s message to him and to the people when he warned, “You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you need to share the load.” He chose people who were trustworthy to lead groups of various sizes and to share the load. Some to be floor joists, others to be rafters, some to be studs in the wall, others to be beams…all essential.
As I prayed and studied this Scripture, the message to me was very different than it has been in preparing my yearly devotional on it for Session. You are essential. You, who are watching this service from your home or your office or your car, at 11 o’clock on Sunday or early in the morning, late at night, or over your lunch break, YOU are essential. I don’t know what ministry will look like in our new normal. I don’t have all the answers for how we will meet the needs of our preschoolers and school agers in the Day School safely, feed and shelter our guests at Room in the Inn this winter, or how we will gather supplies and fill clean-up buckets for people who have experienced a flood, or how we will package food for Rise Against Hunger, or how we will have Wednesday night dinner or potluck or Fellowship Coffee. I don’t know what Sunday school or Presbyterian Women and Presbyterian Men, when we will go in groups to carol or hymn sing with our members who have limited mobility, or when we will gather in the Sanctuary for worship again. But, I know that we have opened this summer and created structure for our students’ days that allow for sanitation and masks and distancing for the safest environment possible. I have been in touch with the Board Chair of Room in the Inn and our ministry there will continue even if it is not able to be hands-on. We have had worship services in the backyard of the church on Wednesday evenings and been able to see one another and visit while maintaining the safety of distancing and wearing masks. We have had our first Presbyterian Women Zoom meeting, youth group meetings, Bible studies, and we will have more firsts. We will have more adjustments. We will have new ideas for ways to have fellowship without physical contact.
It took me a long time to write this final paragraph. There are times sermons work on the preacher and much as the hearer. I wonder how long it took Moses to hear what his father-in-law said and actually go carry out the choosing of leaders. For months, a few of us have been building a house of worship. We have been a central cog in this liminal time of keeping things going. As we continue in this wilderness journey, we must share the load. It is not good for us; it is not good for you for us to continue. Will you be a floor or a rafter? Let us build a house where love can dwell, where all God’s children dare to seek to dream God’s reign anew. Built of tears and cries and laughter, prayers of faith and songs of grace; let this house proclaim from floor to rafter: all are welcome and essential in this place.