Inter-dependence – Part 2

Scripture: Exodus 18:13-26; Mark 6:6b-13; Luke 19:1-10

Title: Inter-dependence – Part 2

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Moses transitioned from independence to inter-dependence
  • Jesus works inter-dependently
  • Jesus opens the door of inter-dependence for Zacchaeus
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Robyn teaches five year olds and is always on the lookout for good picture books to read to her class

–         Recently she bought a book which gives the plural nouns for various groups of animals – for example, a school of fish and a gaggle of geese

–         Many of the plurals I hadn’t heard of before – like a loveliness of ladybirds, that was new to me

–         Thought we might see if people here knew their plural nouns

–         We’ll start with something easy…

What is a group of cows called? (A herd, a drove or a team)

–         What about a group of wolves? (A pack)

–         What about a group of zebras? (A dazzle or a zeal)

–         What about a group of butterflies? (A kaleidoscope, flutter, or swarm)

–         What about a group of bacteria? (A colony)

–         What about a group of giraffes? (A tower)

–         What about a group of elephants? (A parade)

Perhaps you knew the answers to most of these but many I didn’t know, which might reflect the way NZ culture has shaped my thinking – that is, to focus on the individual rather than the group

–         None of the creatures we just looked at exist in isolation – they all function as part of a group within a wider eco system.

 

Today we continue our series on well-being and care of the soul, using the acronym: HEALING.

–         Each letter represents a word which, when properly applied, is life giving to the human soul…

–         Hope Energy Appreciation Lament Inter-dependence Nurture & Giving

–         Last week we looked at inter-dependence with particular reference to Paul’s image of the body of Christ as an inter-dependent unity

Inter-dependence is about depending on one another – it is mutual reliance

–         To be inter-dependent is to function as part of a group and not in isolation

Today we explore some other Biblical examples of inter-dependence in practice, beginning with Moses – please turn with me to Exodus 18, page 79 towards the front of your pew Bibles

 

Moses transitioned from independence to inter-dependence:

Moses was famous for leading the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and for giving the Law, including the 10 commandments

–         In Exodus 18 the Israelites are living in the wilderness when Moses receives a visit from his father-in-law Jethro. From verse 13, we read…

13 The next day Moses was settling disputes among the people, and he was kept busy from morning till night. 14 When Jethro saw everything that Moses had to do, he asked, “What is all this that you are doing for the people? Why are you doing this all alone, with people standing here from morning till night to consult you?”

15 Moses answered, “I must do this because the people come to me to learn God’s will. 16 When two people have a dispute, they come to me, and I decide which one of them is right, and I tell them God’s commands and laws.”

17 Then Jethro said, “You are not doing this right. 18 You will wear yourself out and these people as well. This is too much for you to do alone. 19 Now let me give you some good advice, and God will be with you. It is right for you to represent the people before God and bring their disputes to him. 20 You should teach them God’s commands and explain to them how they should live and what they should do. 21 But in addition, you should choose some capable men and appoint them as leaders of the people: leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They must be God-fearing men who can be trusted and who cannot be bribed. 22 Let them serve as judges for the people on a permanent basis. They can bring all the difficult cases to you, but they themselves can decide all the smaller disputes. That will make it easier for you, as they share your burden. 23 If you do this, as God commands, you will not wear yourself out, and all these people can go home with their disputes settled.”

24 Moses took Jethro’s advice 25 and chose capable men from among all the Israelites. He appointed them as leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. 26 They served as judges for the people on a permanent basis, bringing the difficult cases to Moses but deciding the smaller disputes themselves.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

On the wall here we have some examples of bottle necks

–         A bottle neck is a narrow point which slows the flow of something – whether that’s liquid out of a bottle or people through a wall or traffic on the road

–         Sometimes bottle necks are good – they give us more control over things

–         Other times though bottle necks are just frustrating – like when you are driving south into Otaki or north into Pukerua Bay

 

Inter-dependence is different from independence

–         To be inter-dependent is to function in harmony with a group

–         To be independent is to rely on yourself and therefore to operate separately from the group

Independence is narrow, restrictive, unyielding and inflexible – like a bottleneck

–         By contrast inter-dependence is more open and flexible – like a net

 

Although Moses was the leader of the Israelites – he wasn’t really functioning as part of the group, at least not at first

–         Moses’ leadership style was independent and this created a bottle neck to justice

It is not surprising that Moses should operate in an independent way

–         He was raised in an Egyptian palace apart from his people

–         When he did try to help his people they rejected him and he spent the next 40 years working on his own as a shepherd in the desert

–         Moses was used to doing things in an independent way

–         Now it’s not that Moses did everything independently

–         He certainly didn’t operate independently of Yahweh – Moses worked in partnership with the Lord and with his brother Aaron

–         But somehow that didn’t translate to his leadership of the nation of Israel

When it came to settling disputes (large & small) Moses did it all himself

–         To borrow from Paul’s metaphor of the body, Moses tried to be the head, hands and feet

–         Moses’ independent approach made everyone dependent on him and dependencies are generally not healthy

–         As a consequence Moses was over worked and the people became exhausted and frustrated as they waited for days to have their case heard – justice delayed is not justice

 

Often when we are in the thick of it – head down and tail up – we lose sight of the bigger picture

–         As an outsider looking in, Jethro could see that Moses needed to delegate more and so he suggested an inter-dependent network of judges

–         This network of judges would catch any of the bigger issues for Moses to handle (with God) and all the smaller more routine things could be managed by the judges – competent people of good moral character

This was a far better system because it released both Moses and the people from an unhealthy dependency

–         It meant that justice was no longer the sole responsibility of Moses – justice was now everyone’s responsibility

–         Previously it was only Moses who had to think about God’s will

–         Now thousands of people in the community were thinking about it

–         In this way inter-dependence creates a kind of safety net

–         If you fall independently, without a safety net, the landing is painful

–         But if you fall inter-dependently, with a community of mutual reliance underneath you, the landing is not fatal

 

Of course this shift from independence to inter-dependence required Moses to listen with humility to Jethro and to trust and empower other people

–         And that’s the difficult part isn’t it – inter-dependence should make us feel safer but ironically it sometimes makes us feel more vulnerable, because we aren’t in control of other people. What if they let us down?

–         Well, inter-dependence is like a net – sometimes a fishing net rips or develops a tear. When that happens we don’t throw the net away, we mend the net – we face the truth, we forgive each other and we move on

 

Okay, Moses offers us one example of someone who transitioned from independence to inter-dependence. What about Jesus – how did he operate?

 

Jesus works inter-dependently:

Please turn with me to Mark chapter 6, verse 7 – page 53 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         Unlike Moses, Jesus didn’t try to do everything himself

–         Jesus gathered a team of disciples (or apprentices) around him and trained them to carry on his work

–         These disciples, men & women, came from a variety of backgrounds – they were a diverse group with one thing in common: they trusted Jesus

–         From Mark chapter 6, verse 7 we read…

Then Jesus went to the villages around there, teaching the people. He called the twelve disciples together and sent them out two by two. He gave them authority over the evil spirits and ordered them, “Don’t take anything with you on the trip except a walking stick—no bread, no beggar’s bag, no money in your pockets. Wear sandals, but don’t carry an extra shirt.” 10 He also told them, “Wherever you are welcomed, stay in the same house until you leave that place. 11 If you come to a town where people do not welcome you or will not listen to you, leave it and shake the dust off your feet. That will be a warning to them!”

12 So they went out and preached that people should turn away from their sins. 13 They drove out many demons, and rubbed olive oil on many sick people and healed them.

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

On the wall here is a graph which illustrates the law of diminishing returns

–         The vertical axis measures output or return, while the horizontal axis measures input or effort

–         Up to a certain point (point number 1) you get a good return for your effort, but after that point the rate of return starts to decrease and so you get less return for your effort

For example, imagine you are contracted to pick apples, but you don’t get paid by the hour you get paid by the number of apples you pick

–         You might find that in the first half of the day you are able to pick 1000 kilos of apples

–         But as the day goes on, you get more weary and the apples get thinner on the trees and you find you can only pick 500 kilos in the second half of the day

–         Although you are putting in the same amount of time & effort your return in the second half of the day diminishes significantly

–         That’s one example of the law of diminishing returns

Eventually there comes a point when it doesn’t make sense to carry on by yourself – you need to stop and rest or change one of the other variables like getting someone to help

–         You could carry on working after 10pm but it would become counter-productive because you would be tired and grumpy the next day

–         You could go 18 months without a holiday but it would become counter-productive because you would lose perspective and joy

 

In Mark 6 Jesus doesn’t try to do everything himself – he empowers his disciples to help him in an inter-dependent way

–         First Jesus gives them authority to do the job and then he sends them out to heal people and preach repentance

–         Six teams of disciples working in multiple orchards can pick more apples than one Messiah – Jesus overcomes the law of diminishing returns

Two things Jesus recommends here to encourage inter-dependence…

–         Firstly, the disciples are to minister together in pairs

–         There were a number of reasons Jesus sent his disciples out two by two

–         For instance, 2 witnesses gives more credibility to the message than 1

–         More importantly though, having a companion guards against loneliness

–         At the end of the day we need someone to talk to and understand us

Like the philosopher says in Ecclesiastes chapter 4…

–         Two are better off than one, because together they can work more effectively. If one of them falls down, the other can help him up. But if someone is alone and falls, it’s just too bad, because there is no one to help him. If it is cold, two can sleep together and stay warm, but how can you keep warm by yourself. Two people can resist an attack that would defeat one person alone. A rope made of three cords is hard to break.

  

The other thing Jesus tells his disciples is: don’t take food or money to provide for yourself, rely on the locals to provide for you

–         Remember that inter-dependence is mutual reliance – it’s a two way street where both parties give and take

–         The disciples would give healing and deliverance and a message for salvation, while those they ministered to would give food and shelter and friendship in return

–         Now this wasn’t a hard and fast rule for all time – later on Jesus told his disciples they should be prepared and provide for themselves – but on this occasion the disciples went in vulnerability and trust

 

Jesus opens the door to inter-dependence for Zacchaeus;

We see Jesus relying on the hospitality of locals in Luke 19 – please turn with me to page 105 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         In this passage Jesus opens the door to inter-dependence for Zacchaeus

–         From Luke 19, verses 1-10, we read…

Jesus went on into Jericho and was passing through. There was a chief tax collector there named Zacchaeus, who was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but he was a little man and could not see Jesus because of the crowd. So he ran ahead of the crowd and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus, who was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to that place, he looked up and said to Zacchaeus, “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.”

Zacchaeus hurried down and welcomed him with great joy. All the people who saw it started grumbling, “This man has gone as a guest to the home of a sinner!”

Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Listen, sir! I will give half my belongings to the poor, and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much.”

Jesus said to him, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man, also, is a descendant of Abraham. 10 The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

There was a 12 year boy who was being bullied at school

–         His parents went to his teacher to talk with him about it

–         The teacher listened and then went home to sleep on it

–         The next day he asked the boy (who was being bullied) if he would like to try out for the school cricket team – the teacher happened to be the coach. The boy was keen and joined the team

–         He wasn’t the best player on the side but he turned up to practice regularly and showed commitment to his team mates

–         Things changed for him after that – he made some friends and didn’t have to sit alone at lunchtime

–         He became less afraid and less of a target – the kids that had been giving him a hard time lost interest in him and the bullying stopped

 

Zacchaeus was alone in a crowd

–         I’m not sure if he was the bully or the one being bullied – I expect it was a bit of both

–         Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus because of the crowd – if people liked him or respected him they would have let him through, but Zacchaeus isn’t allowed through – he has to climb a tree to see Jesus, extremely undignified and humiliating for a man in that culture

–         People excluded Zacchaeus because they saw him as colluding with the enemy (those Roman bullies) who oppressed them with taxes

–         He was perceived as a parasite – someone who depended on the community without giving anything back

–         Zacchaeus wasn’t connected in an inter-dependent way

 

But Jesus changes that by inviting himself to stay at Zacchaeus’ house

–         Now what we need to understand is that in Middle Eastern culture hospitality is an extremely important social obligation

–         To host someone important is an honour and a privilege, like getting to meet Harry & Megan or Jacinda & Clark

–         Not only that but the host carries the reputation of the whole community on their shoulders

–         If the host doesn’t do a good job then this reflects badly on everyone else

–         The people of Jericho don’t like that Jesus has gone to Zacchaeus’ house for two reasons:

o   They don’t think Zacchaeus is worthy of the honour

o   And they are anxious that Zacchaeus will make them look bad

–         But Jesus is more concerned for well-being than reputation, both Zacchaeus’ well-being and the well-being of the whole community

 

Interestingly Jesus doesn’t need to tell Zacchaeus to repent – the grace Jesus shows in honouring Zacchaeus opens Zacchaeus’ heart in generosity

–         Zacchaeus is really responding to Jesus’ generosity

–         “I will give half my belongings to the poor and if I have cheated anyone, I will pay him back four times as much”  

–         And Jesus replies, “Salvation has come to this house today, for this man also is a descendant of Abraham”

–         In other words, Zacchaeus belongs – he is not a parasite – he is needed, with something good to offer the community of God’s people

 

As I said last week, healing, wholeness, growth – these things don’t happen in isolation, they happen in community

–         If you injure your finger the doctors don’t seek to heal the finger by separating it from the hand – no, they keep the finger attached because the finger is an inter-dependent part of the body

 

We don’t know how the community responded to Zacchaeus after Jesus’ visit but if they were smart they would have included Zacchaeus

–         Someone had to collect the taxes – better to have that person on your side than against you

 

Conclusion:

Moses and Zacchaeus were similar but different

–         They were similar in that they both operated alone – they weren’t connected to their communities in an inter-dependent way

–         But they were different in that Moses was alone because of his independence – he tried to do everything himself without help

–         Whereas Zacchaeus was alone because of his dependency on the community – he took from people without giving anything back

–         Independence and dependence are roadblocks to inter-dependence

In both cases it took a third person with an outside perspective to shine light on the problem so that the solution became obvious

–         In Moses’ case that third person was Jethro and in Zacchaeus’ case it was Jesus

 

We also notice that in both cases the solution was found in sharing power

–         Moses delegated judicial power so that others had authority to help resolve certain disputes

–         And Zacchaeus dispersed power in the form of money to the poor and to those he had cheated

–         Inter-dependence is achieved through generosity – by letting go of power & control and sharing what we have with others

 

What I like about Jethro & Jesus is the grace with which they handled the situation – they did it in such a gentle, respectful and kind way

–         Jethro didn’t force Moses’ hand

–         And Jesus didn’t force Zacchaeus’ hand either

–         At the end of day inter-dependence needs to be a free choice

–         What will we choose?

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What is inter-dependence?

–         In what sense is inter-dependence like a net? (as opposed to a bottleneck)

3.)    What problems did Moses’ independent approach create? (both for himself and others)

4.)    How did Moses transition from independence to inter-dependence?

–         What might we need to do to become more inter-dependent?

5.)    How did Jesus overcome the law of diminishing returns in his ministry?

–         What made Jesus’ approach to mission (in Mark 6:7-13) inter-dependent?

6.)    How did Jesus open the door to inter-dependence for Zacchaeus?

–         What did Zacchaeus do to walk through that door?

7.)    How were Moses & Zacchaeus similar?

–         How were they different?

8.)    How did Jethro and Jesus approach Moses and Zacchaeus respectively?

9.)    Who do you identify with most – Moses, Zacchaeus, Jethro or Jesus? Why?

 

 

 

 

 

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