As I looked over the readings for this Sunday at St. John's, I was struck with what seemed to be an overall theme of "Sharing the Burden." Not a bad theme to have as we approach the beginning of the stewardship campaign season.
We don't follow the Track One readings, so our First Lesson is taken from Numbers. As is the case most of the time, the people of Israel are complaining bitterly about their situation out in the desert. So much so that Moses turns to God and utters a prayer that the author Anne Lamott might say is the, "Help! Help! Help!" prayer. God, hearing Moses' complaint, tells Moses to gather up 70 elders and He will "take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself."
For Moses, this must have been a huge relief! He will have help, even if it ends up being temporary, but it gives him some room to breathe and to rekindle his own spirit as he attempts to lead a people who are constantly complaining and questioning everything he does. In a moment of humor in the story, there are two, Eldad and Medad, who were not part of the tent meeting with the seventy, but are nonetheless sharing in the burden. There is an outcry from "the chosen" for Moses to tell these two to stop what they're doing. Moses basically tells the complainers, "Oy! What would it be if more of you would have been so willing?!"
This is a nice link to the Gospel of Mark for this morning. John comes running to Jesus to tell him that someone who isn't one of the twelve is casting out demons in the name of Christ. Jesus responds to this by saying that they should leave that guy alone and let him continue to do this work in his name. Because whoever is "for us is not against us." Jesus talks about offering a cup of water to one bearing the name of Christ. Such a person will not lose his or her reward. Like Moses, I can hear Jesus muttering, "Oy! If only everyone were to catch on to this work!"
Anyone who has ever had to serve in a leadership role, paid or voluntary, has probably experienced this same headache. They're in a leadership position and yet the "led" spend more time kvetching and complaining or thinking that they can do the job better. It's not easy being the one at the top of an organization or a group. And the temptation is there to think that you must do it all yourself. Get your ego involved, and not only must you do it all yourself, you are the ONLY one who can do it all.
I mentioned stewardship at the beginning of this post. Think of what stewardship is: taking care of others, taking care of the land and the waterways, taking care of animals, taking care of our finances. If there is ever a time for us to realize that we all need a little help from time to time, this would be it. In churches, like in other institutions, there are people who step up to do jobs, and then there are a lot of other people who hang back and either watch these few doing the heavy-lifting or criticize what the few are doing to keep things happening or sometimes they'll do both. There are many who forget that when a rector is put in charge of the parish, the new ministry we are celebrating is NOT about the person with the collar; it's about the combination of that person's God-given gifts and talents getting merged into the God-given gifts and talents of that congregation. And from there, a new ministry and stewardship of God's creation...all of it... can occur. Just like Moses, and even the man Jesus, to do the work of God requires a shared burden. It calls for all kinds of people with various skill levels to offer up themselves to carry out those things which "ought to be done."
Sadly, stewardship campaigns often devolve into cries for more money. And, while money does make this world go round, that should not be the sole concern. Stewardship is about connection and realizing the interconnectedness that requires each of us to share in the upkeep of what's around us. No one person or group of people can do it alone. It takes all of us participating to make stewardship less of a burden and more of a joy.