A sermon for the 19th Sunday after Pentecost

The Bible is a strange book sometimes. Sometimes the world in which the Bible stories with which we’re so familiar take place—sometimes that world seems so different that it’s hard to relate to those people, and it’s hard to relate to the message.

And then again there are times when I’ll read one of those stories and I’ll be so struck by the similarities, and I’ll say to myself, human nature hasn’t changed all that much in 3500 years. And that’s what really struck me in this week’s story about Moses and the two prophets with the very curious names of Eldad and Medad.

I swear, if I had twins, I’d name them Eldad and Medad. They’re really nice names, actually. Eldad means God has loved, and Medad means Beloved. In the Old Testament, the names of people and places usually mean something that’s important, and these names are all about love, God’s love.

So in this story, God has brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt, and in the wilderness has provided them with water and plenty of food in the form of manna, and now they’re complaining that it isn’t enough for them. Basically, they’re complaining about change.

Oh, things were so much better before we left Egypt. They were so much better when we were settled, before everything changed. Things were so much better back when we were slaves? That’s really what they’re saying. What an insult to the God who has delivered them out of slavery!

And never have I heard such a sad lament for garden produce: Oh, for those cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic!

So poor Moses turns to God to lament the burden of serving these ungrateful people.  “I am not able to carry all this people alone,” he says, “for they are too heavy for me!” Why have you made them my problem, dear God? They’re too much for me! You do something with them!

And don’t think that I haven’t been at clergy meetings where the sad cries of my colleagues in ministry sounded a little bit like that.

But once again in this story, God hears the cries of the people. But be careful what you ask for, because they’re going to get their meat—not just for a day or two, they’re going to get meat “for a whole month,” God says, “ ‘until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the Lord who is among you and have wept before him, saying, ‘Why did we come out of Egypt?’ ”

The people will get their meat, and Moses will get the help he needs. God will give him other people to share the burden of his ministry. Seventy of them. Actually, seventy-two of them.

So Moses does what God tells him. He brings seventy leaders to the tent of meeting, where God takes some of the spirit that was on Moses and puts it on the seventy. And they prophesy.

So what exactly does it mean to prophesy in the Old Testament? It wasn’t just about predicting the future, about being some sort of fortune-teller.

It was much more serious and much more important than that. When God’s spirit fell on them, they spoke for God, they used the words that God gave them. They delivered God’s message to the people, which was something that didn’t always make them popular.

So the seventy in the tent of meeting became prophets, at least for the moment, to help Moses in the work of leading God’s people.

And meanwhile, back in the camp … the spirit fell on Eldad and Medad, too. And those men who were named God has lovedand Belovedbegan to prophesy right then and there, and the leadership—at least at the middle management level—wasn’t actually not too happy about it.

Joshua was Moses’ assistant, he was the man who became Israel’s leader after Moses died, and he didn’t like this unauthorized prophesying at all. He begged Moses to shut these these guys  up, but Moses didn’t.

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,”he said.

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!”Would that they would all be more willing to help with the work of leading the community. I guess that’s an age-old issue, and certainly it continues here. Would that they would all be willing to help with coffee hour!

So some people weren’t happy to hear the voice of those prophets Eldad and Medad, who weren’t in the tent of meeting—and they weren’t in the official leadership group–but they had been blessed by God anyway to speak. They were speaking the truth.

And that’s still true in our world today: the people who run things aren’t always happy to hear from prophets who speak God’s truth from the margins. So we have those voices in our own society, voices some people don’t want to hear. Voices that often are ignored or silenced as they call for justice.

I want to say something today about the voices of the #metoo movement, and how it has affected people, maybe some in our own community. And I want to say this really in a pastoral context, in a context of caring and compassion.

I think the public conversation these last days and weeks has been very difficult for a lot of women because of the memories that it’s raised for them, for them as individuals. For a lot of people, it’s become a reminder of a time when they spoke and weren’t heard, or when they didn’t speak exactly because they didn’t expect to be heard.

And over the past week especially, I’ve witnessed that this has been very disturbing for some people. For a lot of people, actually. It’s brought back old memories, and amplified old hurts. And they’re reliving things that they wanted to put behind them. I lot of people have said things—people I know—have said things that make me see that happening. And I don’t want that upset to go unnoticed.

Some of us remember being touched when we didn’t want to be touched, and some of us remember things much worse than that.

And I acknowledge that there are men in this category, too, although I think probably more women.

And I think this conversation that’s been happening has been helpful in bringing this issue to light, and I really hope that things will be different, I hope things aredifferent for the generation of today. I hope that the courage of people being willing to speak out will lead to change, so that young people don’t find themselves in that same situation of feeling that they must endure these things and can’t speak.

But what I really want to say is, very directly, if you’ve been disturbed by this public conversation, and if you want to talk about it, anybody, I’m willing to listen. I will believe you. And if you don’t want to talk about it but feel the need for healing, then I would invite you to consider coming to our Wednesday service of Holy Eucharist and healing prayer, where you don’t have to say anything about why you’re there, but it’s an opportunity to experience healing, for those who need it.

Would that all of God’s people were prophets.

Would that all of God’s people would know that God’s spirit is available to guide and strengthen them in the lonely and sometimes frightening business of truth-telling, whatever the subject might be.

Would that all of us would listen when the truth is being told, and lean on the Spirit to help us do what needs to be done.

Last week I quoted Steven Charleston at the end of my sermon, and it was a powerful quote about making the most of the present moment, making the most of the now.

So as I was finishing up writing this sermon, the same book was sitting there next to me, and I decided to see what would happen if I just picked it up again and opened it. And this is what I found:

I am never alone, for wherever I go the Spirit seems to follow me like a shadow, a quiet presence in all seasons, sharing in joy or sorrow, a wise counselor, a strong friend, a source of energy for the work that must be done. …We have the help of God every day. We have all the tools we need. No task is too great, no blessing beyond our reach, no love we cannot give.[1]

No truth we cannot speak. No hurt that won’t be heard, and believed, and met with compassion, I pray. Amen.

[1]Arrows of Light, 89.