“How to Lift the Load of the Christian Faith”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
Numbers 11: 4-29
September 30, 2018
Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ – Numbers 11:13i
Man, does that sound familiar – literally. I may have told some of you that I was the co-founder of Metropolitan Camden Habitat for Humanity. At the time I was the pastor of an affluent suburban church and Camden, New Jersey resembled Dresden after the Allied bombing of World War II. There were whole streets with nothing more than abandoned tenements.
When a pastor of one the churches in Camden took me to see the city, we witnessed drug deals going down on far more than one corner. So I was doing a good thing. Right? I was trying to make a difference where I could and was giving other Christians an opportunity to put their faith into action.
Moses was doing a good thing, too. It’s true he didn’t want to do it, but God didn’t care. There was a job to be done, a people to be delivered, a promised land to enter and Moses was chosen by God to do it. Fair enough. Who can withstand the purposes of God? Moses couldn’t. But he was doing a good thing and if God can deliver a people from the clutches of Pharaoh, surely God could have lifted the load of Moses.
I was doing a good thing, too. But the founder of Habitat for Humanity, International, Millard Fuller, decided one summer to raise some money for this noble effort. He asked folks to get sponsors and join him for a walk that would start in Maine and terminate in Washington, D.C. There were over a thousand people and they were going to be coming right through Camden. My job? To find housing for a thousand people, provide them with dinner and breakfast and see them on their way. I’m a pretty laid back guy. My wife says that if I were any more laid back I’d fall over! But I was in a panic. I had no idea what I was going to do. Where do you house a thousand people? Who feeds them? What do you feed them? Where are facilities large enough to cook that much food? I didn’t know and I didn’t see any solution. I had a thousand people to take care of for one day. Moses had 600,000 for forty years! But his question was remarkably similar to my own: “Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’”
I want to suggest this morning that Moses lament and my panic are not all that unique. Let me ask, are you supposed to cloth the naked; feed the hungry; set at liberty those who are oppressed; work for justice and practice the way of peace? Are you? And look around you. You don’t have to go far to find folks who need help. Walk out the doors of this church and you will find lives that have been torn apart by the horror of addiction, children who go to bed hungry, women whose lives have been forever changed by abusive men. When did we see thee hungry? Every single day. Moses had 600,000 souls to guide to freedom, but we, too, know something about being overwhelmed by the need set before us and the commands of Jesus.
Moses shows us the way to lift the load of the Christian faith. Here are some things to consider.
First, he holds nothing back. It’s amazing how honest he is and it is also amazing how desperate he is. Look at verse 15. What do you read? He is totally, completely and unequivocally burned out. He’s had it and here Moses is saying that if God loves him, God will take his life! He cannot bear his own misery.
The woman who feels she has no place to turn. The man who cannot find work and is about to lose his family’s home. The young person who looks out on a world of environmental ruin and sees no future. The parent who has loved long and deep only to see the self-destruction of the ones that parent loved. Misery is not the private possession of Moses and look what he does with it. He raises a lament to God. In honest fury Moses outlines the burden placed upon his back. Do the same. Never worry about complaining to God. Indeed, I would recommend it. Had Moses never complained would God have answered? So first, hold nothing back.
Second, be clear about the burden. This is the genius of Moses’ lament. He let’s God know exactly what the problem is. Moses is alone with his problem. Oh, how often we feel alone. The burden placed upon us is ours to bear, ours to solve, ours to endure. There is someone here today who knows exactly what I am talking about. Their spouse may seem distant, disengaged and oblivious to the pressing need of the family. It has fallen to you and you alone to solve this problem. This is how you feel so let God know it. Prayer is not some pious action that requires well crafted words or precise language. God gets it. God got Moses and God will get you. Be clear about your problem.
Third, realize that sometimes the problem confronting you is not yours alone to solve. Moses didn’t understand this deep and abiding truth – we are isolated in our need because we have not shared it. It is my deepest hope that you will come to feel safe enough to share your need with the church. Seated next to you is someone who has committed his or her life to Jesus. They have pledged to seek to serve and to follow Him forever. Oh, how I hope you can share your need with the Body of Christ assembled in this place.
But perhaps you do not feel safe in letting this people know. Then find a safe place, a counselor you trust, a friend who is always there for you. Go where you are safe enough to let the need be known. Moses finally did as God directed. He called 70 leaders of the people. Would they have come to the meeting if they knew what they were going to be stuck with? I think they would. These select 70, these leaders of the people, wanted what was best for the people they led. And what did God do? He shared the spirit of Moses, his love, concern, vision and commitment, with those who had been assembled.
Notice something. They didn’t have to take this on. But they knew that if they walked away Moses would parish and the dream of liberation would be dead. Those you trust know the same. They will not let you languish alone. They have been given to you by God and they will rise to the need set before them. Realize that the problem confronting you is not yours alone to solve.
There’s probably more that can be said, but we close with this fourth point – namely, trust that God is not indifferent to your lament. This, I think, is the hardest lesson of all. It is made all the harder by our having to wait for a resolution. But I remind you that Israel wondered in the desert for 40 years. That is longer than some of you in this room have been alive. Waiting and wandering. It is little wonder that the people complained. It is little wonder that the mother who has to endure the hardship of poverty for year after year feels abandoned by the God whom we proclaim to be perfect love.
I don’t know why the wait is so long. I could give trite answers that might make me feel better, but I doubt if they would stand the test of scrutiny. What I do know is that some of us must wait for a long time for God to act. You may be living in just such a moment. Use this time to reframe the problem, to see in the wait the very answer you seek. Sometimes our desperation leads us to a newfound openness to the grace that has been placed before us. To the end that you find this helpful, well and good. Know that you do not wait alone.
Christians have been given a mission that is boundless because human need is inexhaustible. Yet it is in living in the midst of the seemingly impossible that nobility is born. So I cling to these words of Robert Browning, “A man’s (sic.) reach should exceed his (sic.) grasp or what’s a heaven for.” Christ has called us to live our faith in the world. It is that call that has placed an immeasurable burden upon us, but would you lessen the call to lighten the load and still be able to claim the title “Christian?” Christ has given to us a calling that exceeds our grasp. Yet it is in bearing that burden that Christian virtue is forged. Let us pray…
i Numbers 11:4-29
4The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.” 7Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. 8The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it. 10Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. 11So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12Did I conceive all this 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 oath to their ancestors?13Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. 15If 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.”
16So the Lord said to Moses, “Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. 17I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. 18And say to the people: Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat; for you have wailed in the hearing of the Lord, saying, ‘If only we had meat to eat! Surely it was better for us in Egypt.’ Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. 19You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, 20but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you—because you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, ‘Why did we ever leave Egypt?’” 21But Moses said, “The people I am with number six hundred thousand on foot; and you say, ‘I will give them meat, that they may eat for a whole month’! 22Are there enough flocks and herds to slaughter for them? Are there enough fish in the sea to catch for them?”23The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power limited? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. 26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” 29But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
What a strange passage of scripture – not because it doesn’t make