First, let me introduce myself, as this is my first post at Quest for Meaning. I am Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle, minister of Central Unitarian Church in Paramus, NJ. I have been blogging since 2006, most prominently at the Houston Chronicle from 2006-2010. I am delighted to begin blogging here, where I will post every other Monday. You can read a more complete bio at the “bloggers” link above.
When I was kid growing up in Charleston, South Carolina, there was an old man who we called the “peanut man” at the downtown market. Everyday, he would push a wooden cart around selling boiled peanuts. I love boiled peanuts! The peanut man would constantly sing a little jingle. You could hear him coming like an ice cream truck. He would sing, “Peanuts. Get your peanuts here. Boiled peanuts. I can’t eat all these peanuts by myself.” We always bought a bag or two of boiled peanuts whether we needed them or not.
The peanut man was an evangelist. You couldn’t go to the Charleston Market without knowing about boiled peanuts, because he was always sharing his good news. Some people tried the peanuts and didn’t like them, and that was ok. Maybe they preferred roasted, or a different kind of nut altogether: macadamias, walnuts, almonds and pecans, or the ever-elusive and always hard-to-crack filbert. I love boiled peanuts, but I never tried them until I bought some from the peanut man because I didn’t know about them. I try to be like the peanut man in my own evangelism, never pushy, but always present.
In the Bible, there is a similar story of evangelism. After the Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the Israelites set out into the Sinai wilderness where they wandered for forty years, eventually crossing the Jordan River near the plains of Moab, east of the Dead Sea, before going on to their conquest of Canaan. During their wanderings, the people, some 600,000 of them, did a lot of complaining. They were hungry and wanted more meat, they longed for the fish and abundant produce they left behind in Egypt, even though they had been slaves there. Sometimes God would just punish them for their complaining, and sometimes Moses would intercede on their behalf.
One night, early in the journey, sometime probably during their third year, the people were complaining and Moses was having a really bad day. After walking around the camps listening to the crying families inside their tents, he spoke to God and said,
Why have I not found favor in your sight that, that you lay the burden of all these people on me? Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me “carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries a sucking child,” to the land that you promised on the oath of their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give all these people? For they come weeping to me and say, “Give us meat to eat!” I am not able to carry all these people by myself, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once – if I have found favor in your sight – and do not let me see my misery.”
Of course, God knew that Moses couldn’t eat all those peanuts by himself—that he couldn’t minister to 600,000 people on his own, so he told Moses to find seventy others. God put the spirit into them—ordained them if you will—to let them share the burden of the 600,000 with Moses. Hey, that’s less than 8,572 people per prophet, there are many larger congregations.
But, as is often the case, not all of these new preachers followed the rules. Two of the newly ordained prophets, Eldad and Medad, stayed in the camp among the people, and preached there instead of in the tent where prophesying was supposed to take place. When some complained to Moses that there were people preaching in the camp, Moses replied: “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his spirit upon them.”
All the Lord’s people as prophets is a message that has continued throughout the ages. In the 16th century, Martin Luther promoted the idea of the priesthood of all believers when he taught that everyone has access to the divine, not just the priests. In the 20th century, Unitarian minister James Luther Adams framed this idea again in terms of prophesy when he promoted the prophethood of all believers. Each one of us is a prophet. Each of you is a prophetic voice in the wilderness with something to say about your faith. Share it. Use your voice. Don’t squander it out of fear or uncertainty.
“Peanuts. Boiled peanuts. Get your peanuts here. I can’t eat all these peanuts by myself.”