I find that I am simply captivated by the scene painted for us in Numbers today:
The faulty memory of the Israelites weeping over all they left behind in Egypt: the fish which came free, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, and the garlic. And their weeping complaint that now ‘there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” (Numbers 11:1-6)
And the outraged response of Moses who takes his despair directly to the one who he believe got him into this desperate situation in the first place, the Lord.
And oh, isn’t it clear that Moses has had it as he compares these people in his charge to a nursing child, totally dependent on him for food and drink, for direction and hope, for safe passage to a land long promised to them?
Now it is not as though any situation I have found myself in comes close to where Moses is today. Indeed, my resilience is not nearly what Moses possessed. Sometimes all it takes is one difficult person or one nagging problem to have me wailing the same chorus Moses does today.
And so it is that I am especially fascinated by the response to Moses’ plea, that no easy answer is offered to assuage the people’s complaint. No new variety in the menu is immediately extended to them. Indeed, the Lord doesn’t go there at all, for the problem was not really the food at all. Rather, he sees the utter weariness which Moses is so clearly articulating and goes after that instead. He took the very gift which was first given to Moses and extends it to dozens of others, thus multiplying the number of those who will have encountered God’s gifts and power face to face. Perhaps the Lord’s response builds a community of others around Moses as the people of Israel face decades more of such challenges as he showers on them the very same spirit which had Moses:
- responding to God’s voice in a burning bush;
- traveling back to Egypt where he was a wanted man,
- standing up again and again to a ruthless leader who had no qualms about building an empire on the backs of and at the cost of the freedom and fullness of life of the very people Moses was sent to rescue;
- and then leading those same people out into the wilderness alive, but with no real sense of what would happen next!
And oh, I cannot help but think of all those times when along with the people of Israel, I have only wished and sometimes pleaded that God would hand me a quick solution to whatever problem has me struggling now. For instance:
- God, won’t you just take this challenging person away — or at least make them easier to please?
- Couldn’t you see a way to provide a windfall of cash so that we can meet the bills, finance that project, help every poor person who walks through the door?
- How is that you have left me with a culture where people have lost their way and so many other things have become so much more pressing than worship, more important than educating our children in the faith?
- Oh, God, can’t you just turn back time to when there were so many people in worship that not an empty spot in a pew could be found, when every room in the education wing was teeming with children and young people, and where devoted, talented people with time on their hands were standing in line to do the necessary work to keep ministry moving forward?
But, oh. Even as I write this litany of wailing complaints I know I have shared in with other church leaders, I find myself wondering if in this last one might not especially echo that of the weeping Israelites so long ago. Now I cannot say that I am even misremembering something from my own experience as surely this generation of Israelites were, for the time I propose to describe above was well on its way out by the time I stepped into leadership in the church. And yet, this is so:
- While those who do remember such a ‘ better’ time may well recall that the church and its leaders occupied a place of much deeper respect in the larger community, it is also so that for many people were part of churches just because it was ‘what you did.’
- Church membership was often a way and a means to prestige and belonging and opportunity.
- It was simply expected in that time when Christendom still prevailed.
But for all that may have been perceived as good, it was also a time when, for the most part, women and children were given no voice and limited place. It was also a time when the church’s calling to account of ‘powers that be’ was less likely because we were all one and the same. One might even say that in a time when involvement in the church was expected and rewarded, that faith, for some at least, did not run as deep or at least had no need to develop resilience in the face of this world’s challenges and needs. Oh, maybe it was more like Egypt than we care to recall. Perhaps we were enslaved in ways we have long forgotten.
And so it is, I cannot help but wonder now how God will answer our pleas — not with more money, or more people, or the means to please people, or with a culture more amenable to our efforts to reach it, but with the same spirit God gave to Moses so long ago:
- A spirit with enabled him to look again and listen to that voice in a bush which burned but which did not go out;
- which prompted him to go home even at the risk of his own life;
- which empowered him to stand up to forces of evil wherever he encountered them;
- and which equipped him to lead even into times and places of which he could not see the ending.
As much as this, I cannot help but wonder who else that spirit might just fall upon — what unexpected, hopeful, life-giving, faith-sustaining people like Eldad and Medad might just show up alongside us, to sustain on us the way! Don’t you?
- I have suggested some of the ways in which the spirit Moses was given manifested itself in his life. What would you add?
- Can you see the parallel between the complaints of modern church leaders and that of the people of Israel in the wilderness? Why or why not? What would you add or subtract to what I have offered?
- Who is Eldad and Medad for you? Are there unexpected people upon whom the spirit of the Lord has fallen who are sustaining you even now?