Anyone and Everyone

Anyone and Everyone

Pentecost 3 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Acts 6:1-10 June 26, 2022


So .... the grandsons ... or at least a couple of our grandsons ... have been visiting for the past couple of weeks ... while their mom does a brief stint as the Lead Teacher in our Preschool Summer Session.

That means:

• The noise level in our house has gone WAY up ... and

• The activity level in our backyard has gone WAY up ... and

• The exhaustion level of Grammie and Grandpa has gone WAY up too!

But it also means I’ve been getting to do some things I haven’t done too much of for a whole number of years .... like occasionally being the one who gets to read books before bedtime!

So it must have been like Tuesday or Wednesday night that I was reading bedtime stories ...

• And Xander picked a story ...

• And then Nathan picked a story ...

• And then Grandpa got to pick a story ... and the story I picked was ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’.

Which got me thinking ....

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You know how it is ... when it comes to fairy-tales and fables and the like ... that three is a very important number???

Not just because there were three bears in Goldilocks and the Three Bears ... but because:

• There’s the THREE Billy Goats Gruff ... and

• There’s the THREE Little Pigs ... and

• There’s THREE sisters in the story of Cinderella ... and

• There’s the THREE wishes in the story of Aladdin ...and

• There’s THREE parts to the Trinity ... Father, Son and Holy Spirit ... no ... I’m just messing with you on that one.

But seriously ... authors and storytellers and comedians have been using this thing called ‘The Rule of Three’ ... ‘The Pattern of Three’ ... the rhythm of three ... for years and years and years.

Because ... apparently ... THREE is the smallest recognizable pattern ... and

Storylines based on THREES are more suspenseful and memorable than storylines based on twos or fours ... and

THREE is what it takes to have a beginning .... and a middle ... and an end.

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Now the reason I tell you about this literary theory about ‘The Pattern of Three’ is NOT because the number THREE shows up prominently in this morning’s Bible lesson.

No ... that story we heard read from Acts ... chapter six ... about life in the early church ... mentions a lot of numbers ... but THREE is not one of them!

• There’s TWO dissenting factions ... the Hebrews and the Hellenists ... both clamoring for the disciples attention ...

• There’s TWELVE apostles ... the twelve recognized leaders of this ... the earliest church ... and ...

• There’s SEVEN deacons that get appointed ... seven “men of good standing full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint” to the tasks of service and leadership in and among the community and in and among the people of God.

Rather ... it’s because this story ... from Acts ... chapter six ... is part of a larger ‘pattern of three’ that is intended to teach us a rather specific lesson.

+ + + + +

Now the FIRST of those three elements doesn’t ... or didn’t ... take place in the Book of Acts ... no ... it’s recorded in the fourth book of the Bible ... the Book of Numbers ... and happens roughly twelve hundred years before the story we heard read earlier today.

You see ... in Numbers ... chapter eleven ... there’s this guy Moses who’s been hired on as the manager of the “Promised Land Development Corporation.”

God Almighty ... the owner of the company and the Chief Visionary Officer ... has dreamed up this far-fetched scheme to develop a distant piece of property in a spectacular fashion.

The in-the-field employees of the “Promised Land Development Corporation” are a group of folks who are sometimes hard-working and always hard-headed.

So Moses’ job one is to serve as the liaison between corporate headquarters and the folks in the field.

Now ... prior to this point ... the employees ... under Moses’ direction ... have made it out of Egypt and they’re in the wilderness ... on their way to the Promised Land ...

But as of this moment ... they’re fed up.

• Fed up with the Big Boss’s demands ...
• Fed up with the lousy pay ....
• Fed up with the food in the company cafeteria. (Nothing but manna ... manna ... manna ... day after day after day!!)

On the other hand ......

God Almighty ... up at the corporate office ... is none too happy either! After all ...

• God isn’t going to make any profit out of this venture.

• God had dreamed up this plan just in order to help these folks out in the first place!

• How dare they think about quitting and going back to Egypt ... maybe God should be quit with them!

And ... in the middle ... you’ve got Moses ...

Stuck in the middle ... betwixt this disgruntled batch of laborers and a C.E.O. who is about to lose his patience and isn’t about to budge ... ALL stressed out on his own.

So God says “Moses, let’s get you some help. This isn’t just your job alone.”

And so ... at God’s direction ... Moses and the Israelites identify seventy respected leaders in the community ... and call them into a meeting ...

And give each of them a gift and a calling so that they can share the burdens of leadership together.

And those seventy are a gift to a stressed-out leader (Moses) ...

They’re a gift to a whole bunch of anxious people (the Israelites) ... and

They’re gift to this whole project called the ‘Promised Land Development Corporation’ and it’s mission in the first place.

That’s the FIRST element in our pattern of three ... as it were.

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Now ... the SECOND element in our pattern of three is our lesson today from Acts ... chapter six.

Are you beginning to see the pattern???

• The ‘Promised Land Development Corporation’ from that story in the Book of Numbers is replaced by this thing we call ‘The Church’ ... what Jesus called ‘The Kingdom (or the People) of God’ ... but in both of these stories ... it is God who is driving the mission and setting the agenda and funding the whole operation ...

• The anxious and quarreling Israelites from the first story have been replaced by the bickering Hellenists and Hebrews in the second ...

• And stressed-out Moses in the first story has been replaced by the twelve stressed-out apostles ...

But ... as was the case in the first story ... in the second story God’s solution is the same ...

To come up with a team of talented and capable lay leaders to take on the day-to-day duties and demands of ministry ... and

To take the mantle of stress off the totally overwrought few in the awareness that “many hands make light work” ... as it were.

+ + + + +

But the THIRD of those elements didn’t happen thirty-five-hundred years ago like that story in Numbers ...

Nor did it happen two-thousand years ago like that story we read from the Book of Acts ...

No ... it is happening yet today.

And the THIRD of those elements didn’t happen out in the wilderness ... between Egypt and Judea ...

Nor did it happen in the ancient city of Jerusalem where the early church first formed ...

No ... it is happening HERE today.

Can you perchance fill in the pieces of the pattern???

• The ‘Promised Land Development Corporation’ from that story in the Book of Numbers and the ‘Early Church’ thing from the Book of Acts have been replaced by this thing we call ‘Holy Shepherd Lutheran Church’ in Orinda California.

• And in all three of these stories ... it is God who is driving the mission and setting the agenda ...

• The anxious Israelites from the first story and the bickering Hellenists and Hebrews in the second have been replaced by you folks ...

• And stressed-out Moses and those stressed-out apostles have been replaced by Pastor Pam and me ...

But ... as was the case in the other two stories ... God’s solution has been and still is the same ...

To come up with a team of talented and capable lay leaders to take on the day-to-day duties and demands of ministry ... and

To take the mantle of stress off the totally overwrought few in the awareness that “many hands make light work” ... as it were.

I mean ... do you realize all the ways in which those TEN who comprise our church council has been at work over the past two-and-a-half years in the midst of all of this pandemic chaos???

They signed up for three year terms on a staggered basis ... and most of them should have termed-out by now ... but we haven’t had opportunity to hold a semi-annual meeting and vote them out of office ...

And so they’ve hung in there ... and done amazing work on all of our behalfs ... taking on many of the day-to-day duties and demands of ministry ... and taking the mantle of stress off the overwrought few.

I suspect you know most of their names and their faces ... but it’s fitting to state them again here today ... just as Luke named names in this morning’s Bible story ...

Tom Gilbertson and Elaine Nielsen and Diana Riveness Young and Elizabeth Humphrey and Howard Harpham and Nina Hannawalt Berchtold ...

And Secretary Dave Lausch ... and Treasurer Steve Swanback ... and Vice-President Joan Kiekhaefer ... and President Fred Schroeder ...

THEY have done amazing work through this pandemic ... and THEY are worthy of our appreciation ... because they have given of their best energy for all of our sakes.

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You know ... back in the day ... it used to be said that the recipe for any good sermon consisted of “three points and a poem” ...

And I’ve given you my three points ... which is really just one point ... that God calls and gifts ... equips and empowers ... ordinary people to be about the work of the Kingdom ... just like those seventy ... just like those seven ... just like those ten.

So let me leave you with this poem ... by the long-time bard of CBS radio ... a fellow named Charlie Osgood:

There was a most important job that needed to be done,
And no reason not to do it, there was absolutely none.
But in vital matters such as this, the thing you have to ask
Is who exactly will it be who’ll carry out the task?

Anybody could have told you that everybody knew
That this was something somebody would surely have to do.
Nobody was unwilling; anybody had the ability.
But nobody believed that it was their responsibility.

It seemed to be a job that anybody could have done,
If anybody thought he was supposed to be the one.
But since everybody recognized that anybody could,
Everybody took for granted that somebody would.

But nobody told anybody that we are aware of,
That he would be in charge of seeing it was taken care of.
And nobody took it on himself to follow through,
And do what everybody thought that somebody would do.

When what everybody needed so did not get done at all,
Everybody was complaining that somebody’d dropped the ball.
Anybody then could see it was an awful crying shame,
And everybody looked around for somebody to blame.

Somebody should have done the job
And Everybody should have,
But in the end Nobody did
What Anybody could have.

“Anyone and Everyone” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine in conjunction with our worship service on June 26, 2022 — the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost.  The Text upon which it is based is Acts 6:1-10, the story of the appointment of the first seven deacons to be of service in the earliest church.  To access a copy of the worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220626