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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, June 21, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Numbers 17:1–11

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelites, and get twelve staffs from them, one for each ancestral house, from all the leaders of their ancestral houses. Write each man’s name on his staff, and write Aaron’s name on the staff of Levi. For there shall be one staff for the head of each ancestral house. Place them in the tent of meeting before the covenant, where I meet with you. And the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout; thus I will put a stop to the complaints of the Israelites that they continually make against you. Moses spoke to the Israelites; and all their leaders gave him staffs, one for each leader, according to their ancestral houses, twelve staffs; and the staff of Aaron was among theirs. So Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the tent of the covenant.

When Moses went into the tent of the covenant on the next day, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted. It put forth buds, produced blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from before the Lord to all the Israelites; and they looked, and each man took his staff. And the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the staff of Aaron before the covenant, to be kept as a warning to rebels, so that you may make an end of their complaints against me, or else they will die.” Moses did so; just as the Lord commanded him, so he did. (NRSV)

The background of this remarkable story is a conflict over leadership, namely Moses and Aaron’s assertion that God had appointed them to particular roles among God’s people and the protest from some, recorded in chapter 16, that “all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them.” The protestors lob an accusatory question at the two: “So why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

This is nasty stuff. If you’ve ever felt compelled to lead, particularly to lead in a faith community, you most definitely don’t want people to perceive your leadership as self-exaltation. Neither does Moses. Thankfully he’s not left to defend himself and Aaron against this charge. God is the one who appointed Moses and Aaron to their leadership responsibilities, so God will be the one to justify that choice. It’s strange and hard to prove and stirring and lovely, and by the end of the story the question of who did the elevating of whom to what should clearly be settled.

It mostly is, although that is no cause for celebration by the elevated. Among the assembly of the faithful, leadership is not designed as a passport to prestige. Indeed, chapter 17 ends with the leaders holding the panic of their people, who say, “We are perishing; we are lost, all of us are lost!” And if that kind of angst isn’t enough to carry, the next chapter begins with God telling Aaron that he and his sons will bear responsibility for all of the offenses the people might commit in the sanctuary.

What was that about self-exaltation again?

I think the lesson is this: if you sense a call to lead, don’t expect everyone to celebrate with you. Lean into that sense of God’s call for justification, and steel yourself for difficult, difficult work.

God who calls and sends, help us to respond to your prompting of women and men to lead your people in particular ways, even when those women and men turn out to be us. Give us resolve and courage for the work, that your justice, mercy, and love may be seen in all we do. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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