On Sunday September 6th our minister Christine Gillespie led our communion service. Worship opened as we sang ‘Ye servants of God, your master proclaim’. Christine then led the prayers of praise and confession, before we sang ‘Lord, we have come at your invitation.’ We heard the reading from Exodus 18v7-27, when Moses’ father-in-law Jethro advised him to appoint other leaders to share the load by listening to the people’s problems. Moses did as Jethro advised.
In the sermon Christine said that there are charts in the hospital to show the different uniforms to identify the roles and skills the nurses and doctors have. Jethro listened to all Moses told him about all the difficulties he had faced in freeing the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt. He celebrated the good news with Jethro and they shared in worship. Jethro watched his son in law Moses managing the problems of the people and saw how he worked from morning till night solving disputes. He as an outsider could look at things in a new light and suggested that Moses delegate his authority or otherwise he would be worn out if he continued to solve the problems alone. Often when we are tired we don’t like criticism, yet Moses needed to hear the truth of his father in law’s advice. We can’t address a problem we don’t recognise is happening. Positive criticism does not undermine Moses but supports him.
If a friend criticises us we need to look to see if there is any truth in what the person says. We are often too wrapped up in the situation to notice something whereas someone from outside can see something more clearly. There was a welcome notice to a church in an old frame which put off new people, but regular worshippers just had not noticed it; once they went out and looked at it they had it taken down and replaced by a much more welcoming notice board.
Workers with young people need an annual review outside their context to see how they could improve their approach. When we had a church review we had an outside person to collate our questionnaire answers and enable us to respond to the criticism.
Moses despite all his difficulties saw the Lord’s hand at work in his life and ministry. He took notice of the older man, his father in law and was able to re-examine his call. In all his busyness he needed to be able to stop and pause and rethink what he was doing. Moses was called to represent his people to God – praying for them and pleading for them; teaching them the laws and decrees and setting them an example by the way he lived his life. He was also there to judge the difficult cases.
Jethro brought him back to the primary call by warning him that he would become stressed and overtired, even make bad judgments, if he did share the tasks with others. He should not do all the roles but concentrate on his specific calling.
Christine reminded us that there would be times we would need to be called back to what our priorities are. If we don’t reassess our priorities we can feel over self-important or we can end up overtired and stressed. Leaders of the church need time to pray and study, so the members of the congregation and the steward team could lighten the load to provide time for that. There was the need to recruit some suitable people, who were God fearing and had a good relationship with God, being trustworthy and honest, with practical skills making them capable of doing the job. When Moses gave people responsibility, giving them authority over 10s, 50s, 100s or 1000s people needed to accept the call. The other people needed to accept those who had been called to positions in charge. People can grow into the role and develop the needed skills. What is that someone has seen in me? What does that person feel he or she sees I am called to do? We need to accept roles offered to us. The pastoral visitors form an important part of the team, even though some parishioners feel they have been neglected if the minister has not called!
Christine asked us to reflect on that story and its relevance for our church. Who are our critical friends? Who are our leaders? Do they need to be set aside for specific tasks? Moses and Jethro rejoiced over what God had done for the Hebrew people. There was still so much to be done. Are we open to see new ministry? Following the sermon we sang a new hymn from ‘Singing the Faith’; ‘O Watcher in the wilderness,’ by Dominic Grant. The words are brilliant and so evocative:
‘O Watcher in the wilderness,
O Lord of bush and flame,
You meet us when we least expect
And summon us by name.
From our routine we turn aside
To see your wonders here;
You bid us stand on holy ground,
And overcome our fear.
O Friend and Master, Jesus Christ,
In whose great name we meet,
You take the basin and the towel
And kneel to wash our feet.
You call upon us by this sign,
As we’ve been served, to serve;
Then send us out to do God’s work,
To give without reserve.
O Guide and comfort, Holy God,
Among your people now,
You speak to us, and urge us grow,
And gifts and grace endow.
Unblock our ears, unlock our hearts,
Truly to hear your word;
And strengthen, Lord, each onward step,
To live as we have heard.’
Then Christine re-commissioned the pastoral visitors who came forward before she led the prayers of intercessions. We sang ‘Lord, you call us to your service before celebrating communion. Worship concluded as we sang, ‘Now let us from this table rise.’