The Celebration of a New Ministry:
Holy Trinity, Clearwater, Florida and The Rev. Randall Hehr, Rector
October 8, 2016 Numbers 11, Ephesians 4, Luke 10
We want MEAT NOW!
As they shuffle along the road from slavery toward freedom,
the children of Israel are NOT happy campers.
They’ve been eating manna—sticky dried bug juice—
day after day for month after month.
Yearning for a diet with more variety and zest; they fantasize in fond, false memories
about food they never had when they were slaves in Egypt.
Remember the fish we had for free?
Remember the cucumbers, the watermelon, the leeks, the onions, the garlic?
Whatever the past may really have been, it’s better than this boring present;
and better by far than a fearful, unknown future.
FIX it, Moses! You’re our LEADER! We want MEAT!
Fed up himself with this dreary diet of grousing and grumbling,
Moses passes the complaining on up the line:
WHY have YOU treated ME so BADLY, GOD!
I didn’t bring these bratty kids to birth!
Must I be their wet nurse—feed them milk for babies?
Must I carry them in my arms all the way to the promised land?
This is Too Much!—I have no time, no patience, no imagination
I have no heart for leading this cantankerous crowd.
Not much positive here prospect for mutual ministry, is there?
- A distinguished scholar of the Hebrew Scriptures calls our attention
to how the ancient storyteller deftly juxtaposes the images
of milk—food for infants—and meat—food for adults.
In demanding meat, the children of Israel are insisting that they be treated as adults;
all the while still acting like petulant children.
Clamoring for meat, this scholar says, they are not ready for what they say they want.
Growth into maturity IS a long, hard road, isn’t it?
Do you remember, as a little kid, pining for the day when you would be a big kid?
Do you remember bouncing back and forth
between YOU DO IT FOR ME and I WANT TO DO IT ALL BY MYSELF.
You can see that far off mountain called maturity clear as day—
but you stumble along on unsteady feet, way down in the fog of the valley—
We want it all, we want it now! Are we THERE yet, Moses? Give us MEAT!
- If you were God, one way of handling these childish temper tantrums,
would be to bag the whole idea of trying to foster maturity in this community.
(And the ancient storytellers do record occasional outbreaks of Divine exasperation.)
But in the story we have heard this morning, God does something else.
God gives Moses some leadership help—
and teaches Moses something about leadership in the process.
Seventy elders in the community (subsequently followed by two late additions).
Seventy . . . seventy-two of Israel’s children get blessed by God with special voice and vision.
Prophets, they are—charged with looking toward the future
on the basis of the past, from the perspective of the present.
And I’m just guessing their prophetic eyes and voices begin to make a difference
in helping get their fellow countrymen back on track in their journey toward maturity—
one eye fixed on the promised land, the other eye focused on the next step ahead.
- Responsibility, imagination, time, investment—
leadership is simply too big a task with which to burden, or to entrust to any single leader.
Moses gets the message.
To his lieutenant, Joshua, who’s clearly nervous about the notion of shared leadership,
Moses exclaims: Would that all God’s people were prophets.
Alas, however—in THIS story, prophetic leadership-sharing is a one-time event.
They prophesied, the story-teller says, but they did so no more.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that the benefits of this leadership don’t seem to last.
It is worth noting in this story that the meat the people finally get
is meat their stomachs can’t take.
One-off leadership events are seldom long-term effective in fostering community maturity.
Can’t you just imagine God muttering:
We’ve got a long way to go in fostering shared leadership learning.
- Another day, a later day, another leadership training exercise,
this one courtesy of gospel story-teller Luke:
Jesus convenes seventy companions
(some ancient manuscripts say it’s seventy-two)
Like their predecessors, these seventy . . . seventy-two followers of Jesus
have prophetic power bestowed upon them—
power to undertake heroic things against impossible odds.
And it does seem to work—the fruits of their ministry are impressive—
sick folks cured, demons cast out, the gospel preached—
the immanent oncoming Commonwealth of God announced in all of these.
(In our attempts at ministry, don’t we wish . . . )
It’s easy, however, to overlook the fact that these followers of Jesus
do not move those with whom they minister from milk to meat in a matter of minutes.
It takes time for these disciples to move from village to village—
especially since, in the process, they’re not moving from house to house.
Theirs is a ministry that requires patient proactivity:
- They have to make do with severely limited resources for the journey
- They have to accept hospitality from the very folks they serve
- They have to shake dust from their feet, time after time
- They have to pick up the pieces of their peace proclamations
when proclamations that should be welcome news are hurled back in their faces.
But, against all odds, heal and preach and exorcise, they do;
and back they come to Jesus, all pumped up by evidence of their apparent success.
And Jesus gently reminds them that it’s not about what they have done for God;
it’s all about what God has done for all of them—
that, after all, is what their work has been about.
For these seventy/seventy-two, like their seventy/seventy two ancestors in faith;
there is still a long leadership learning curve stretching out ahead of them.
But in and through the whole adventure, the disciples are moving, step at a time,
toward deeper understanding of the skills, the costs, the joys of leadership.
- Two vivid stories about leadership, not as top-down, boss-driven, authority imposition;
but leadership as a dynamic, dialogic interplay—
Everyone learning by doing what they distinctively can do,
and learning from each about their own gifts, and the gifts of others.
All fostering growth in community on a challenging journey toward spiritual maturity.
Today we come together to mark a major turning point in yet another leadership adventure
as yet another generation of leaders-in-training formally install a leader who has,
for over three years, been nurturing THEIR leadership.
Randy moves from Priest-in-Charge, to Rector—
having grown a bunch in HIS leadership skills along the way;
with growing yet to undertake among those whom he leads.
Today is a day for stock-taking and for vision-casting—thanking God for what has been;
imagining what God might yet do, trusting God for what will be.
Stock-taking: The growth at Holy Trinity in these last few years is itself an astounding story.
I share with you what its vestry has shared with me:
- Leadership from the top-down changing to leadership from the bottom up.
- Individual job dispatching giving way to ministry team-building
- Anxious inward-looking swept up into
bold, imaginative, arms-extending partnerships
with neighbors in the community beyond these walls.
- And—in light of the above—and not at all surprisingly—
an influx of new faces—curiosity charged with hope:
What is going on at Holy Trinity? Is God inviting US to be a part of THIS?
Is God alive and moving here, or WHAT?
Thanks BE to God—Thanks BE to Randy—Thanks BE to the community at Holy Trinity.
- Stock-taking . . . . Vision-casting: So where will God lead Holy Trinity, Clearwater from here?
How will leaders, lay and ordained, in concert with the leadership of Dabney, their bishop—
how will learning to lead a community that itself leads folks to follow its Risen Lord—
how will that learning move forward from this day?
I don’t have prophetic powers with regard to step-by-step specifics.
But I have some prophetic hunches.
I see, for Holy Trinity, a ministry of patient proactivity—
- Focused, spacious, shared discernment about new strategies for ministry
- Willingness to take decisions with risks, recognizing that not all of them will work
- Clarity about Christian identity, but grace and imagination in conveying it
- Gentle letting go of commitments to some treasured traditions
that, over the years, have served this parish well
- Embracing fresh, imaginative ways of sharing in ministry.
All this requiring the continual unfolding and upholding of layer upon layer of leadership.
- Honoring and encouraging a stunning array of individual gifts and talents here—
passions and skills, visions and vocations,
that some of these potential leaders don’t even know they have.
- Equipping those leaders to recognize, exercise, stretch, and grow these talents.
- Integrating those energies organically as many members in one body.
And—you know what—all this need not to be accomplished by next Tuesday.
- A distinctive feature of this liturgy for the Celebration of a New Ministry
is to present the newly-installed rector with a treasure trove of gifts.
Symbols—tangible images—of energies redoubled and outpoured—
symbols OF leadership for the sharing and growing of leadership.
It is indicative of the fresh imagination, the dancing energy in this place,
that many more gifts, from many more givers will be offered to Randy on this day
then those that are called for in the Prayer Book liturgy.
I have been drawn to one of these gifts in particular—
a gift to Randy—and to this parish—from the youth of this parish—
the gift of a green and growing Ficus tree.
These young givers are showing and sharing a wisdom and maturity far beyond their years.
The tree that they give will grow slowly, steadily, quietly, continually.
It will require proactive patience in its nurture, protection, and care.
Yet while the community at Holy Trinity will contribute to its growth,
the growing itself will come from God, the Creating, Sustaining Source of Life.
When you behold this tree in the months and years ahead;
I have a hunch you will come to see it as a Shared Leadership Tree.
By the greening grace of God, this tree will grow, and grow, and grow.
And so will Randy. And so will all of you. Individually. Together.
Thanks be to God!