Numbers 11: 10 – 17   Who’s in Charge? February 14, 2021





Who’s in Charge?

Numbers 11: 10 – 17


(preached on February 14, 2021)


When I was ten years old, my family took a car trip out west.  I’m the youngest of four kids, so, with my parents, that made six people packed into a Ford station wagon, with all our stuff plus camping gear.  It was close quarters and, as we rode along, tensions would sometimes mount.  We kids would start complaining.


My parents came up with a way to deal with those complaints: at some point every day, we would have what they called a “gripe session.”  During the gripe session, each of us would vent about what was bugging us, at the same time.  For about one minute, we would all talk at once.  Then the gripe session would be over.  The theory behind these gripe sessions was that everyone needed to complain, but no one wanted to listen to the complaints.  My parents thought it would help for us to express our complaints, even if no one was listening.  We all survived the trip, so I guess they were right.


Just before our passage from the Hebrew Scriptures’ book of Numbers, people are also complaining.  The people of Israel have been in the wilderness for two years.  Moses has led them out of slavery in Egypt, but life in the wilderness is not easy.  The people begin to wish they were back in Egypt.


As our passage begins, Moses has just about had it with them.  He’s led them from slavery to freedom, but they’re not enjoying their new freedom.  So Moses turns to God and says, “I am not able to carry this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.”  Leading this people alone is too much for me.


God responds with some help for Moses: what we might call a power sharing arrangement.  God tells Moses, gather seventy elders, seventy wise and trusted people.  After Moses has gathered them, God puts some of the spirit God has given to Moses on these seventy elders.  Empowered by that spirit, they can now take on some of the burden of leadership.


Were the founders of our church, our congregational forebears, guided by this ancient method of sharing the burden of leadership?  As they devised a way to govern themselves, were they thinking about who would have power to lead?  Did they think about who would be in charge?  I don’t know.  I do know that, in the churches I’ve served, that question sometimes comes up: Who’s in charge? Our church doesn’t have a bishop or an archbishop or a pope.  In the congregational tradition, leadership comes from the members of the church, gathered in meeting.  Sort of like Moses and his elders.  It may be hard at times to know who’s in charge.


But our by-laws are very clear: Jesus Christ is in charge.  The by-laws say, “this church recognizes Jesus Christ as its head.  We declare that all who share that recognition are sisters and brothers in Christ.  And we “look to the Word of God in the Scriptures, and to the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, to prosper the church’s creative and redemptive work in the world.”

Who’s in charge of day to day decisions about our common life?  The by-laws state, “The governing body will be the membership assembled in a church meeting.”  We come together in meeting, to discuss and deliberate, to elect leaders, or officers, to make decisions about our budget and our building.


Today after worship, we’ll gather for our Annual Meeting, to go about what we hope will be creative and redemptive work in the world.  Our work will bear fruit as long as we remember two things.  First, our work will bear fruit if we remember who’s in charge: if we remember that Jesus Christ is the head of the church.  In other words, in all our decisions we look to the teachings of Jesus.  We live by Jesus’ call to treat one another as loving sisters and brothers, and to have compassion for those in need.  The second thing grows out of that commitment to Jesus.  We commit to communicate with one another, to really listen to one another, to be open to what others are saying.  And we commit to expressing our own ideas clearly, to speaking out about things that matter to us.


Some of the things we will discuss are very mundane: paying our bills, taking care of our building.  But even in those mundane decisions, let’s remember who’s in charge.  Jesus Christ is in charge.  We look to his teachings to guide us.  We look to his example of compassion as we listen and speak to one another.  We pray that, through God’s Holy Spirit, Jesus will speak to us and through us.  We pray that our meeting will be pleasing in God’s sight.


Like other congregational churches, we are united by our church covenant.  I invite you now to hear our covenant, stated our by-laws:


We covenant with one another to seek and respond to the word and the will of God.  We purpose to walk together in the ways of God, made known and to be made known to us.  We hold it to be the mission of the church to witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in all the world, while worshipping God, and striving for truth, justice, and peace.  As did our ancestors, we depend on the Holy Spirit to lead and empower us.  We pray for the coming of the Kingdom of God, and we look with faith toward the triumph of righteousness and eternal life.

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany 6


Come Sunday Duke Ellington

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist