I've been taking a break from Monday's spiritual posts, but my husband, Dan, who blogs over at toucanic.net, had a great sermon yesterday that I thought was worth sharing. Dan was a pastor for many years - we started a non-denominational church in Maryland in the 80s, before heading south to Chile and then Costa Rica - and after a stint as a mission exec is now between jobs. He's been busy on the writing front, however, with some novels and a project on Glory which is in search of a publisher.
Occasionally there are invitations to guest preach; often the text is chosen for him, either through the lectionary, or a series the pastor is moving through. Yesterday found the congregation knee deep in the story of Moses. The Exodus is over, but Moses must navigate leadership that would try the most patient of men. And what happens when the dissent comes from those one counts on the most? (You can find the scriptural text in Numbers 12)
You spent 40 years in Egypt, leaving suddenly after killing a man. That’s a story
for another day, but it forced you to hightail it out of town. You went east–far
east, to Midian, the homeland of traders who brought Joseph to Egypt a few
centuries earlier and got the whole emigration thing rolling for the children of
You spent 40 more years in the deserts of Midian. You slipped into a new career,
married, started a family. One day, there was this burning bush, near the base
of a mountain. Horeb. God spoke to you from this bush, the God your mom–and
Miriam–talked about when you were a kid. Long story short, you returned to
Frogs, gnats, hail, and darkness later, you’re back in the desert. You’re not alone
this time, though; you’re leading a million people. You’re heading to Canaan, a
land God has promised to this crowd of people. Your people.
This is not a great job. Not a great life, either.
(more after the break)
you and you fled the land where you’d been raised. You settled among foreigners,
and enjoyed a certain détente, only to be asked–pressed, really–to leave that
behind and go back to Egypt. There you butted heads with Pharoah. The people you were supposed to lead turned against you. You got sick.
You left Egypt–again–with soldiers on your heels. Again. True, along the way, God
showed up and did stuff. Amazing stuff. And yes, you’ve been learning to trust
God. But the job He’s given you–leading a million whiners across hostile territory with limited supplies to Canaan. They’re people who don’t particularly want to be led. They want life as it was. They want their leeks and onions, their camp fires in Goshen. They don’t want you telling them what to do.
Thankfully, Miriam is there. Aaron, too–your older brother, the guy who so faithfully stood at your side during those grueling encounters with Pharoah.
Except that today, Miriam and Aaron have turned against you.
They say it’s your wife: you married outside the family someone nobody else knew. But as they go on, you see that it’s more than a matter of not liking their
sister-in-law. Hasn’t God spoken to us? they’re asking. Is Moses–our little brother, they mutter under their breath–God’s only messenger?
In your younger days, you would have let fly by now. You killed that Egyptian when
you saw an injustice, and now, with Aaron and Miriam making these accusations,
your righteous indignation ought to be in high gear.
It’s not. You discover what they’re saying rolls off you. You realize God is giving
you strength so that you’re less inclined to spring to your own defense. God, on the other hand, is not so sanguine. He ushers the 3 of you outside the main camp for a private interview. God starts by explaining how interaction with you differs from the way others have connected with God. You’re nodding your head. You have seen a lot of God in your life -especially recently. It hits you then, how you’ve found yourself settling, too–not into a place, so much as into a person: God. You are growing easy with this God whom previously you thought of as troubling your
And now, this God you’ve come to respect, admire, worship, love–this God strikes
Miriam with leprosy.
It seems a bit much, even to you.
But upon reflection, it occurs to you that Miriam and Aaron really do present a
threat–not simply to your leadership (which you’re not all that concerned about
anyway), but to God’s authority. They’re basically questioning God’s good sense
at putting you in charge. They’re calling into doubt the wisdom of God’s plan.
And they’re prominent people. Aaron’s been tapped to lead the priests who stand
between God and the community. Miriam–well, everyone knows that story of how she rescued you. Plus, she’s a really good singer, and people are just drawn to
So, in a way, God has to make an example of them, has to squash this rebellion fast and decisively. He does, by dousing Miriam in leprosy. Miriam, but not Aaron,
which seems strange, until you remember that Aaron is the leader of priests, and priests with leprosy can’t serve. So, not only is God showing His strength here, but God is also keeping to His plan. The very plan Aaron and Miriam tried to derail.
Clever, to be sure, but still: Miriam has leprosy. Miriam, whom you love despite her
occasional grand-standing. That’s just older sisters, right? But there she sits,
collapsed, deathly ill. Aaron, watching, suddenly comes to his senses. Please
my lord, do not hold against us the sin we have so foolishly committed. He is on his knees. He is talking to you.
And you–you’re swept up into all of this. Aaron, Miriam–you forget completely about the job you thought was such a bad fit, about having to leave your parents,
flee your home, wander the desert with a million complainers. You forget about
how your gifts had not been properly recognized, how your certain, bright prospects had withered. You forget about what might have been. Miriam is all you see.
Up to now, you’ve been quiet. Miriam and Aaron have been talking trash about your wife–about Zipporah who, in your eyes, hung the moon–about Jethro, too,
her dad, your mentor. You’ve heard them challenge your authority, question
whether you deserve the position you never wanted anyway, but which you took
because God asked. You’ve been quiet as God spoke, as Miriam suddenly contracts
the worst case of leprosy you’ve ever seen.
Then Aaron is on his knees, contrite, repentant, aware, scared. He’s convinced you
can do something. Please, he says. You turn from Aaron, from Miriam, straight to God. It catches you, that this turning is what you’ve been doing for a long time now: not running, not fleeing, not leaving, but turning. Heal her, O God, you blurt. Please.
Not your fanciest prayer. Not very long, complicated, detailed. Pure heart.
The prayer of the righteous avails much. That will be voiced by another
God-follower centuries later, but you know its truth deep in your gut today.
You’re righteous–God has seen to that. Your life has been aimed at God, too, despite all sorts of natural inclination and external pressure to the contrary.
You’re trusting God to do the right thing. You believe that whatever God does will be the right thing.
God speaks to you. Miriam must stay here, outside the camp, God says. That will send a message to people who might be having their own thoughts of rebellion. Aaron will get it; Miriam, too. Miriam–healed, but outside, alone with her thoughts
for a while. Her influence will wane. Aaron will mature.
And you? You’ll go back to work. You’ll get the people ready to move again, to pack up and leave Horeb, or Sinai, as you call it now–the very place you saw that
bush, years ago–for more wilderness. This time, it’s the Desert of Paran, just a stone’s throw from Canaan. You’re very close now. You’re hoping the rest of the journey will be smooth.