May 21, 2023 homily on Exodus 18:13-27 and 1 Peter 5:1-7 by Pastor Galen
Cast All Your Cares
Today we come to the end of our study of 1 Peter. Throughout our study of this letter, we have considered some of the similarities between what was going on when 1 Peter was written, and the times we are living in today.
Like today, the recipients of this letter lived during a time when it was not popular to be a Christian. They experienced stigma for being followers of Christ and were subjected to rumors and misconceptions about the practice of their faith. But there were other accusations towards Christians that were based on truth—some based on the wrongdoings of high-profile church leaders who abused their power to hurt others, while other accusations were based on aspects of the Gospel that were considered scandalous in Roman society, such as the radically egalitarian nature of the early church, evidenced in the fact that women and men and people of every cultural background and status of society held positions of leadership and authority in the Church—something that the Romans feared would upend the social mores of the day.
But now as we come to the end of 1 Peter, we are reminded of another similarity, and that is that despite the egalitarian nature of the Gospel, there is a tendency for all of us, particularly those of us in leadership roles, to try to grasp or hold onto power, rather than using the authority we’ve been granted to empower others. When we cling to power for ourselves, we end up hurting both ourselves and others.
And so Peter exhorts those in leadership positions to tend to those under your care, “not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2b-3), and he reminds us that Christ is our Chief Shepherd. And then Peter goes on to say, “All of you [leaders and members alike] must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5b-7).
The antidote, then, for grasping and clinging to power is to humble ourselves, remembering that Christ is our Good Shepherd, and casting all of our cares and concerns upon the Lord.
The truth is that when we cling to power and don’t cast our cares upon the Lord, it becomes a vicious downward spiral. Seeking and grasping for power and influence leads to anxiety, as we worry that our power or influence over others might slip away, and so we try all the harder to hold onto whatever shred of power we have, leading to even more fear and anxiety. Peter challenges us to humble ourselves, to clothe ourselves with humility, and to cast all of our cares upon the Lord, because God cares for us. This is something we need to do day in and day out.
One practice that can help in this is the Examen—an ancient Christian practice of taking a few moments at the end of your day to reflect on what gave you life that day, and what took life from you, and just simply holding that before the Lord. The other day one of my coworkers—who teaches spiritual disciples like this at the seminary where I work—emailed me at the end of the day and said that as she was reflecting back on her day she realized something she wished she had done differently in an interaction we had earlier that day. She apologized and said that she would try to do better in the future. Now the reality was that I really wasn’t bothered or concerned by our interaction that day, and I had no idea how she felt about it until she emailed me. But she clothed herself with humility and brought her concern before me and the Lord, and because of her diligence and humility, we had an opportunity to clear the air. What a difference it would make if each of us would take a few minutes at the end of each day to do likewise!
And so, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
The Example of Jethro and Moses
The story of Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18 provides a wonderful illustration of what it looks like to humble ourselves and to cast our cares and concerns upon God, believing that God cares for us.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, Moses has led the people out of slavery in Egypt, and they are walking through the wilderness on their way to the promised land. Moses is carrying a lot of responsibilities for the people. He’s a prophet who speaks God’s words to the people. He is responsible for providing for the physical needs of the people, and indeed they blame him when they don’t have enough food to eat or water to drink. Moses is also a military leader, leading the people into battle against their enemies. And he is their defacto king, enforcing the laws that God had given to the people. And here in Exodus 18, we also see that Moses is the judge of the people, listening to their arguments from sunup to sundown, and deciding who is at fault.
Moses’s father-in-law Jethro visits Moses and observes all the things that Moses is doing, and he stages a sort of intervention, telling Moses, “What you are doing is not good. You will surely wear yourself out, both you and these people with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” Exodus 18:17-18). He encourages Moses to set up a system of judges who can decide the lesser matters, freeing him up to teach the people God’s statutes and provide the higher level of leadership that the people need.
Now this is probably difficult for Moses to hear, but he accepts his father-in-law’s exhortation with grace and humility, acknowledging that he will eventually burn out if he keeps going at the pace he is going, and he humbles himself and follows his father-in-law’s advice to delegate some of his power and authority to others.
This is something that can be difficult for any of us, at any stage of our lives. We like to think that we can just keep going and going, that we don’t need anyone else to help us, and that we can do it all on our own. It’s humbling to acknowledge that we need help or to entrust some of our responsibilities to others. But it’s so needed and so necessary—not just for those of us in formal leadership roles, but also in our workplaces, our schools, our homes, and our families.
And so I’ve asked my daughter Zachiah (age 17) to share a testimony that she shared the other night at Youth Group, about how God challenged her through this story of Jethro and Moses to entrust her cares to God and to trust others, and not to try to do it all on her own.
Good morning everyone! This morning I’d love to provide an example of casting your cares upon Jesus, specifically by discussing a particular lesson and what it taught me.
Several months ago, our youth group read the story of Jethro visiting Moses. By read, I really mean acted out, with scripts, on the stage. I’m fairly certain that, because I played Moses, I turned my hair into a beard – let’s just say that was pretty memorable. The story of Jethro and Moses feels like a “newer” one for me, because I was never actually taught it in church- I only came across it as I was reading Exodus, and thought little of it. I think some of its themes – leadership, and responsibility – are deemed to be only for adults and not kids.
But while acting it out – I mean analyzing it – I was able to understand a lot more of the dynamics within the passage – and how it’s relevant to today. It’s not just an “adult story”, it’s an example of someone dealing with a lot to do, but wants to accomplish it all on his own. It’s one we call relate to, from the kid at the dinner table who wants to serve themself, to preteen or teen working in a school production or working at their first job. Really, at any point in our life, we can fall into the trap of believing that we are the one person who has to do it all.
In Exodus Chapter 18, Moses does so much for the Israelites that he literally works from sunup to sundown, helping the people with their various jobs. Even on a day when his father-in-law is visiting! It would be rude if Moses wasn’t doing God’s work. But Jethro helps Moses to realize that he doesn’t have to do it all. Listen, this man is amazing – kind and supportive. One of the first things he does is simply listen to Moses, as he explains everything that happened in Egypt and everything since – including the “hardships they had met along the way and how the Lord had saved them.” Verse 8
It’s not just Moses being vulnerable – showing not just everything that went well, but also what didn’t – Jethro is showing support. And it’s by listening to him and later watching him work so hard for the people of Israel that Jethro realizes – there’s a better way.
Moses can delegate his tasks. Specifically, Jethro advises him to teach other God-fearing people His laws, in order to help all the Israelites.
Thus, according to Jethro, Moses’ load would be lightened, because he shared it with others. Just take a second to imagine that – your load is lightened. Doesn’t that sound appealing to all?
In this passage, Moses learns that God provides us with people we can trust in our lives to help us. When we feel stressed, it’s a sign we’re not letting them – or God – help us.
If God himself works with the Holy Spirit and Jesus…Then who are we to think that we can do everything by ourselves? This lesson stood out to me because it’s one that I struggle with.
I’ve been known to do plenty of things by myself, even when I didn’t have to – such as sweeping and mopping the huge stage in my school’s proscenium theater. I could have let someone else know that I was going to start and that they could join me, and I didn’t. So reading the passage made me realize that I needed to adjust my approach. Especially because I had a big job coming up – working in the Expressions Gala. It’s a huge fundraiser featuring the best performances by each of the art departments – dancers, actors, singers, musicians, film people, visual artists, etc.
It’s a lot of pressure, and I was assigned the role of the assistant stage manager. I knew I wanted to be as kind as Jethro and as responsible a leader as Moses. And I failed. At least at first. When we first started rehearsals, there were plenty of times when I wasn’t nearly as communicative as I should have been with my stage crew. Rather than delegate tasks to them, I tried to do things myself. But of course, I couldn’t set up an entire orchestral piece by myself. I tried delegating, learning to teach and guide my crew about all the different tasks they’d undertake, from setting up things to ‘striking’ or putting them away.
And I did my best to practice kindness. I heard their concerns, did my best to compliment and praise them, and quite literally held their hand when things got stressful. Over time, I gained their trust and respect. They came to me with questions, because they knew I could answer them, they came to me with problems and I worked with them to fix them – from broken mic stands to missing instruments. Things I wouldn’t have noticed if not for them letting me know. Most of all, when I made mistakes, (plenty of them) I apologized. One of my favorite moments ever was when they advocated for me when I received some not-so-great feedback from the head of our department.
In short, don’t hold yourself to an impossible standard. Just like the people in your life who help you because they care about you – God wants to help you because he cares about you!
God Cares for You
So this morning, no matter our station in life, may we not try to grasp or hold on to power, but instead may we humble ourselves, trusting God and others to help us through whatever it is that we are facing. May we experience God as our Good Shepherd, watching over us and protecting us. And may we cast our cares and concerns upon the Lord, remembering that God does indeed care for us.