Wednesday April 22, 2020
21 But Moses responded to the Lord, “There are 600,000 foot soldiers here with me, and yet you say, ‘I will give them meat for a whole month!’ 22 Even if we butchered all our flocks and herds, would that satisfy them? Even if we caught all the fish in the sea, would that be enough?”
23 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!”
24 So Moses went out and reported the Lord’s words to the people. He gathered the seventy elders and stationed them around the Tabernacle. 25 And the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to Moses. Then he gave the seventy elders the same Spirit that was upon Moses. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But this never happened again.
26 Two men, Eldad and Medad, had stayed behind in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but they had not gone out to the Tabernacle. Yet the Spirit rested upon them as well, so they prophesied there in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp!”Numbers 11:21-30 (NLT)
28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ assistant since his youth, protested, “Moses, my master, make them stop!”
29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit upon them all!” 30 Then Moses returned to the camp with the elders of Israel.
We are definitely swimming in unchartered waters; there has never been a pandemic like COVID-19 in recent history. During this unsettling time, we have heard many, many stories of people who went the extra mile or many, many extra miles to help others. They have put their own lives in jeopardy in order to help others. We have also heard stories of other folks who, instead of helping others, have thought only of themselves and calming their own fears. How else can we explain the empty shelves in stores, shelves that once held enough toilet paper and hand sanitizer for everyone to have some? It seems that this time of social distancing and sheltering in place has brought out both the good side and the not so good side in people.
It would be wonderful if I could say with certainty that all the folks who volunteered in so many ways to help others were all committed Christians. And conversely to be able to say with equal certainty that all the hoarders and price gougers were atheists. However, I know that neither is the case; faith in God, no matter how deep, does not guarantee that we will always do the right thing. And having shallow faith or no faith at all doesn’t guarantee that anyone will disappoint and fail to help others. People react to fear and uncertainty in many different ways.
However, we can feel that our belief in God’s love for us gives us a reason to do the right thing. In our scripture today we see that this is not always the case. Moses asked his seventy elders to come with him to the Tabernacle, and God came down among them and they were able to prophesy – something that had never happened in the past, nor would it happen again in the future. What an experience that must have been!
However, there were two elders who chose not to follow Moses’ direction. They didn’t go to the Tabernacle as requested, but – they received the same gift of prophecy. That didn’t seem to be right to Joshua – they didn’t do the right thing and yet they got the same gift.
Jesus’ disciples had a similar problem. In Mark 9:38-40 we read, “38 John said to Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone using your name to cast out demons, but we told him to stop because he wasn’t in our group.” 39 “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said. “No one who performs a miracle in my name will soon be able to speak evil of me. 40 Anyone who is not against us is for us.”
The concept that is missing in both of these accounts is this fact: God is in control. God acts the ways that God wants. We can’t win God’s favor by doing the right things. We can’t earn our salvation. We can’t earn our way into heaven. Yet we seem to want to be able to influence God by the things we do. None of us wants to be considered self-righteous, thinking we are able to control God’s opinion of us. But that’s the description of someone who believes that salvation can be earned or maintained by their own good works. That logic says that we are righteous in the sight of God because we are obedient. In Jesus’ time, that was the belief of the Pharisees. That isn’t what Jesus asks of us.
It is equally misguided to think that what we do here on earth doesn’t matter because God is an all-forgiving God, and so we all will meet in heaven no matter how we behave. This has been called the “ticket to heaven syndrome.”
So why then should we obey God’s will for us? Because doing God’s will flows out of our love and gratitude toward God for what God has done for us through Christ. We are in a love affair with God. When we are in a loving relationship, we want to please the one we love. We obey because we want to, not because we think we can earn something. We give our faith, trust, and devotion to that One we love, the One who loves us more than we can imagine. We are saved by that faith alone, but the faith that saves us does not stop there. It will always be accompanied by good works.
So that explains why believers do good things. But what about those lukewarm Christians or non-believers who do equally good works? That’s where this scripture can teach us something. God can and does use anyone God chooses to accomplish God’s good work. That means God can use believers, but also God can use a person who happens to be in the right place at the right time.
Our faith can be expressed in our actions. God’s faith in God’s creation, whether believer or otherwise, can be expressed in God’s calling on anyone to do what needs to be done. So it truly does come down to this: It’s not about you, it’s not about me, it’s all about God. Thanks be to God!
-Pastor Joyce Donigian