Would that All the Lord’s People Were Prophets!
One of the ministries PB and I have helped to start in the parishes we’ve served is a visitation ministry. It involves training lay people to go out in pairs to people’s homes or assisted living To visit with them and pray, and in some cases, to bring holy communion.
Doug was one of these. I suppose in some ways he was an unlikely candidate.
He had been raised in the Lutheran church, but after he came back from Vietnam, he quit going. Doug had seen some action while he was overseas, and he carried a heavy does of survivor’s guilt. He didn’t feel worthy to be in a church. I met Doug when his mother was dying. We were meeting to plan her funeral, but Doug ended up telling me the whole story— Of his best friend’s death in the war, of his own struggle with PTSD, and of the ‘rap group’ as he called it, the support group of other veterans of which he was now the only living member. After his mother died, to my surprise, Doug started coming to church. Doug was open about his experiences and the healing that he needed, And the community welcomed him. Pretty soon Doug and his wife Cookie were coming to bible study and cooking for the church potluck. It was like Doug had finally come home. So when I issued the invitation to learn about a visitation ministry, Doug and Cookie responded.
They were a great team—
They were interested in the stories these old timers had to share And had compassion for their struggles. They were good listeners. And when it came time to pray, they simply lifted up what had been in the conversation, Asking God to help and thanking God for the gifts. They were naturals, and the homebound people they visited loved it.
Now don’t get me wrong—Doug and Cookie had some training for this ministry.
They had training with me in how to visit, what boundaries to observe for safety and confidentiality The visiting teams practiced listening and praying for one another
They learned the liturgy that laypeople use when bringing the sacrament to homebound.
But my point is that God gifted them for this ministry— the training simply aided them in their ability to share their gift. The gift of the Spirit reminds me of the story we have today from Numbers, which Jews call “In the Wilderness” The story occurs some weeks after Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. It wasn’t an easy time:
The people were wandering in the wilderness, not sure where they were headed.
They were worried they would run out of food and water, they fought and complained and threatened to go back to Egypt. Moses spent all his time tending to the needs of his people and dealing with their problems—and he was exhausted.
When Moses complained to God, God suggested a solution.
“Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them.” Moses brought the 70 to the Tent of Meeting, their moveable worship space where God’s presence rested in the form of a cloud.
Numbers says, “God took some of the spirit that was on Moses and put it on the seventy elders, and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.” With this gift of the Spirit, God expanded the circle of leaders who could speak God’s word, And something that had seemed solely Moses’ line of work became a shared ministry.
God keeps expanding the circle of ministry—It happened with Moses and the Israelites, it happened with Doug and Cookie, and it’s happening here today.
James records that elders of the early church who had the spiritual gift of prayer should lay on hands. So today, lay people will join Pastor Bill and I in laying on hands as we pray for healing. We have selected people who are engaged in ministries of prayer here in the congregation. You may come with a particular request, or simply ask for ‘general healing.’ Our lay partners will silently join their prayers with ours as we pray.
As with any prayer request, we will hold it with care and confidentiality. Adding lay people to our healing prayer ministry recognizes just one of the many ways
God has gifted people in our community. It is an example of what Martin Luther called “the priesthood of all believers,” That all Christians, by virtue of their baptism, have been called by the Holy Spirit and enlightened with the Spirit’s gifts for the work of ministry.
It is the radical notion that we are all vessels of God’s Spirit, and that our ministry is a privilege and responsibility for each of us. Our story in Numbers points out that God’s spirit is spread wide—it wasn’t enough to keep it to a few. and here’s the kicker:
Sometimes God’s gifts come to unexpected people: Eldad and Medad were just two regular guys who hadn’t been invited to the Tent of Meeting But the Spirit came upon them too.
Moses defends them when Joshua objects that they had no official sanction, saying,
Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!
That’s the call of Christ’s mission today—
that God’s spirit would rest of all of us, that we all would be prophets
not just the ones trained by seminaries
not just the ones who sit on the council
or the ones who are old enough, or successful enough
but anyone who has been touched by these baptismal waters
and even some who haven’t.
Would that all the Lord’s people-- all of us here-- be prophets--
People who recognize the gift of God’s Spirit in one each other, and receive that gift with gratitude.