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It Takes A Team
February 18, 1996

EXODUS 24:12-18, MATTHEW 17:1-9

I find it intriguing to speculate why Moses didn't become a Jewish Pope! The Hebrews never developed a Moses-centered religion. It was Moses who confronted and outsmarted the Pharaoh. It was Moses who led the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt in what can only be called a miraculous, breath-taking exodus. It was Moses who led them through the wilderness, organized them, fed and watered them, and received direct instructions from God, including the Ten Commandments. Yet, Moses was never deified. He certainly was the administrative and spiritual leader while he was alive, yet Moses never reached divine heights, even though the Hebrews came out of Egypt where the Pharaoh was not only the undisputed leader, but was deified as well. Yet, the Hebrews did not make Moses their Pharaoh or Pope. Why?

The Scripture lesson from Exodus this morning gives a clue. At your leisure, read the entire chapter 24 of Exodus to get the full import. What happened was that the priests institutionalized the covenantal relationship between God and the people. They formalized it into a complex hierarchy of relationships and symbolic rituals to where eventually, only priests had direct access to God, where priests interceded between the people and God. In chapter 24, we begin to see the development of a pecking order, a pyramid with priests at the top, between the people and God.

Even the cloud and fire were removed from the people. In the early days of the wilderness wandering, the Hebrews were led by the cloud in the daytime, and the fire by night. In Exodus 24:12-18, the cloud and fire are where? The cloud and the fire are now located on top of the mountain, with admission restricted to Moses. The simple covenant relationship between God and the people is now changed to where Moses alone is the one who communicates with God on top of Mount Sinai.

However, Moses does not become a pope. By the end of the book of Exodus (read Exodus 40:34), the cloud and the fire-- now called the glory of the Lord-- are located in the tabernacle, which was a portable tent. Inside the tabernacle were fancy lamp stands, ornaments and a box called the ark of the covenant which contained the Ten Commandments. When Solomon, centuries later, built the temple in Jerusalem, a holy of holies or tabernacle was built inside the temple to house the ark of the covenant, and only the priests were allowed access.

How significant it was for Jesus, centuries later, to again climb a mountain with three members of his team-- Peter, James and John-- as did Moses with Joshua, Aaron and Hur. On top of the mountain the disciples saw the cloud and brilliant light surrounding Jesus. Jesus, in a sense, released the cloud and fire from the temple. Jesus was at odds with the priests and the entire temple religion, and Jesus' attack on the temple and the organized religion of his day led to his death. But, it didn't take long before the church got it all organized and institutionalized again.

On the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples as they gathered together in prayer, and the church was born. Again, there was a fire. Like tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit blessed the disciples. There was a direct relationship with God! But, it didn't take long before the church organized, and what happened? A pyramid resulted with a pope at the top, and a large hierarchy of cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests separated the people from direct access to God. In fact, the people felt so far removed from God, they began to pray to saints to intercede with God on their behalf. It took the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century with Luther's doctrine of the Priesthood of all Believers to restore the direct connection between God and his people.

By the time Moses died, and Joshua succeeded him, Joshua was strictly a military leader, and not a religious leader, as was Moses. There is an interesting parallel here with Methodist history. When Methodists began arriving in America prior to the Revolutionary War, John Wesley sent ministers. He took the radical step of ordaining them himself because the Church of England bishops would not ordain Methodists. Wesley broke the pyramid hierarchical structure, but he built one of his own. Wesley, like Moses, was the undisputed leader. Wesley was leader of the Methodist movement in England, and wanted to be the leader of American Methodism as well.

But, the American Methodists felt Wesley was too far away to be an effective leader, and the Americans were also unhappy with Wesley because he supported the King during the Revolutionary War. That did not sit well with Americans, so they organized their own Methodist Episcopal Church, and elected Francis Asbury to be the General Superintendent. However, Asbury called himself a bishop which caused quite a commotion. But, the title remained and we now have bishops and a hierarchical, pyramid structure in the Methodist Church. However, like Joshua who did not have spiritual authority, the bishops and superintendents within Methodism were never given spiritual authority. They have temporal or administrative authority, but not spiritual authority. Therefore, we have no head bishop or pope, and Methodist lay people have direct access to God.

It has been difficult for the church to retain the simple covenantal relationship with God. We try to organize it, institutionalize it, and design a hierarchy of authority. However, the exciting times we live in give us a golden opportunity to understand and reclaim the relationship God wants with us. For, we are going through a paradigm shift in our culture. The pyramid structure is crumbling all around us.

Successful businesses are moving from a hierarchy to a team approach. The notion that one or a few people know enough to run a business is gone. Wise managers involve the workers. Employees don't work for McDonald's. They become members of the McDonald's team. If you work at Disney, you're not an employee, but a cast member. The TV show ER is popular because we are galvanized by the way in which a motivated team can take on a challenge. Emergencies, crisis management, require not solo players but team play.

The ideal marriage today is a team effort. Gone is the autocratic, patriarchal structure with a head of the house, and the spouse and children quivering with "Yes, sir" or "No, Ma'am". The ideal family is a team approach where Family Councils make the decisions. Family Councils include the children. Each member of the family has a voice, and is a responsible team member of the family.

To do God's work takes a team approach. The hierarchical pyramid structure does not work anymore. Not only do we all have equal access to God, no one person has sufficient knowledge or skill to do all that needs to be done. Gone is the notion that the pastor is all-wise or sufficient. Gone is the notion that the staff run the church with the congregation spectating.

In our congregation, we are taking very seriously the belief that God organizes us to do ministry. God gives each of us, everyone of you, spiritual gifts to do God's work of ministry. None of us have all the spiritual gifts, and there is no one who has none. Each of you has spiritual gifts. Each of you has a ministry. We are a team. The staff does not do the ministry, do the work; but enables, teaches, encourages the members of the church to be the ministers of the church. We are beginning to learn that prayer is the basis of our work, for it is through prayer that we discover what God is doing, and what God wants us to be doing.

It takes a team of superstars to do God's work. Every member of the team is a superstar in his or her own right. We are a team, dependent on one another. A turtle wanted to go south for the winter. He knew he could never walk all the way, so he talked to the two ducks who shared his pond. They were better equipped for long-distance travel. The turtle found a piece of cord and persuaded each of the ducks to take an end while, he with his strong jaws, held on in the center. It was a pleasant flight and everything was going as planned until someone on the ground looked up and said with admiration, "Who in the world thought of that?" Unable to restrain the impulse to take full credit for the idea, the turtle opened his mouth to say, "I did."

Whatever your gift, whatever your role, whether you are ducks or turtles, dreamers or doers, movers or planners, you are needed. You are all superstars-- magnificent, unique, unbelievable, irreplaceable creations of God. You are all gifts of God. You are members of the ministry team, and it takes a team to do God's work today.

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris