Tagged with "7/8/2018"
"Bureaucracy and Blessing"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 7/8/2018



I Chronicles 18:14-17, 29:26-30
“Bureaucracy and Blessing”
July 8, 2018
            So we continue this summer’s sermon series on the books of the Bible that are most overlooked, and we come to I Chronicles.  I and II Chronicles tend to take a back seat to I and II Kings because they cover a lot of the same territory, but the books of the Kings tell the story of Israel with a focus on – obviously enough – the kings and queens, the movers and shakers, the generals and armies.  The Chronicles include those folks, of course, but are not exclusively focused on them.  The Chronicles remind us that governments and military are made up of people, each of whom plays a part in the histories, and each of whom has a life, even if it doesn’t make headlines.
            At the end of I Chronicles there is an appreciation of King David, appropriate and well-earned.
“Thus David son of Jesse reigned over all Israel. The period that he reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned for seven years in Hebron and thirty-three years in Jerusalem. He died at a good old age, full of days, riches, and honor; and his son Solomon succeeded him.” [I Chronicles 29:26-28]
One thing you pick up as you read the historical books of the Bible is that you cannot count on a king dying peacefully, nor on a smooth succession, nor that whoever steps up to the throne will be competent to rule.
            Earlier in the book, though, we read about one of the things about David’s rule that left a good feeling about this period for the people of God was that David paid attention to the organization of his kingdom, put capable administrators in place, and made sure that it was a multigenerational project with on-the-job training for younger folks.
“Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests; Shavsha was secretary; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David’s sons were the chief officials in the service of the king.” [I Chronicles 18:15-17]
            All of us have had to deal with incompetent or stupid bureaucrats from time to time.  I can still remember a woman who worked for the city of Philadelphia when I submitted a form to reimburse the Frankford Group Ministry for some paint we provided for a neighborhood mural.  The receipt I submitted had a “Sold to” line.  I’d picked it up at the factory and that line read, “Showroom Counter Sale” because it was not on account and they weren’t delivering it.  She would not refund the money to us because the city had agreed to pay the Frankford Group Ministry and obviously this paint was sold to someone named “Showroom Counter Sale”.  There was no arguing with this woman, no reasoning was possible.  I ended up driving back to the factory and having a completely new receipt issued to the Frankford Group Ministry, and then the same woman was suspicious of the date, because the same paint seemed to have been sold to Showroom Counter Sale.  On that one she had to give way, though, because the paper had the right wording.  That’s the kind of stupidity you cannot make up.
            On the other hand, consider (for all the times that it drives any of us crazy) all that PennDOT, for example, gets right.  I had my license renewed a few weeks ago, and went to the Malvern office expecting the usual three-hour experience.  They had reworked their system since I was there, and I was in and out in fifteen minutes even though there were people all over the place, taking drivers’ tests and filing registrations and who knows what-all.  The woman at the front desk was handing out the right forms and sending people to the right counters, and everything functioned well.  Maybe I just hit the right time on the right day, but I had a sense of order and productivity that isn’t always associated with government offices.
            Things go well when people understand their work, and when there are clear guidelines.
“Joab son of Zeruiah was over the army; Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud was recorder; Zadok son of Ahitub and Ahimelech son of Abiathar were priests; Shavsha was secretary; Benaiah son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David’s sons were the chief officials in the service of the king.”
Recorders and secretaries are important, right there beside the generals and the priests.  We have no idea what Benaiah son of Jehoiada did when he was overseeing those Cherethites and Pelethites, but we can be pretty sure that Jehoshaphat son of Ahilud made sure that they were paid and that Shavsha kept track of the laws they worked under.
            Church administration echoes the work done by those ancient administrators, and always has, and buried in the petty details are both long periods of boredom and moments of heroism.  Last Sunday afternoon, I finished reading a fascinating book called Voices of Morebath.[1]  The title sounds like it would be science fiction, but it’s actually an historian’s analysis of the account books of St. George’s church in the village of Morebath in southwestern England over a period of fifty-four years, beginning in 1520, when Henry VIII was still friends with the pope and ending when Shakespeare was ten years old.  Throughout those decades, the place had one priest who audited the books twice a year and made notes about how much wool the church sheep had produced and what it cost to repair the roof and who was in charge of the parish beef-and-beer each summer.  (Don’t even go there…)  He also noted, when royal officials began to confiscate church property, where various items were quietly distributed for safekeeping, and when they were returned years later and in what condition.  Most of it, however, reads like a memorial book, which it was, with thanks for people who left gifts to the church in their wills and notes certifying that the gifts were used for the purposes they were given.
            One other thing that happened in both David’s Israel and in that distant corner of Henry VIII’s England was that younger leaders were consciously paired up with older leaders, so that nobody would feel that they had to re-invent the wheel or go into anything unsupported, nor would anybody get stuck in the awful position of holding a job beyond when it was someone else’s turn. 
            So here is your chance to be part of that long chain of unsung and sometimes thankless ministry without which nothing worthwhile would ever happen.  This week our Nominations Committee is going to begin its annual duty of matching people’s gifts and graces to jobs that need to be done.  Around the sanctuary are the names of some of the ministries we depend on, with a short description of what they do and space to sign up.  Please do not put your spouse’s name on any of these sheets unless you are prepared to let them know before we contact them.  We are not responsible for what happens in such a case.
            Do take a look at them, though, because there are names there already of people whose activities in these areas are recorded in the Bible, so that you know you would be in good company.  Find which one your name belongs on, or talk to me and we will see if we can ask the Lord together about it.
            And let me add one more name to past contributors: that of C. Howard Peters.  He headed up a committee that wrote and published a book in 1926 that was called The Story of One Hundred Years of Methodism in Phoenixville, in which he says,
“What the future has in store for this society, we may not record.  But to say this is in the hands of God would not be the whole truth.  As God works through the agency of man, His purposes and plans concerning this church will be wrought, according to the obedience, fidelity, and loyalty of those who shall read these lines, and of the generations which shall follow.  …May God be the more honored in the days that are to come, and may their ministry be even more blessed, and their history yet more glorious than thine!”[2]

[1] Eamon Duffy, Voices of Morebath (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003).
[2] Op. cit., p. 175, 176.
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