The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: Take a census of the whole congregation of Israelites, in their clans, by ancestral houses, according to the number of names, every male individually; from twenty years old and upward, everyone in Israel able to go to war. You and Aaron shall enroll them, company by company. A man from each tribe shall be with you, each man the head of his ancestral house. These are the names of the men who shall assist you: From Reuben, Elizur son of Shedeur. From Simeon, Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai. From Judah, Nahshon son of Amminadab. From Issachar, Nethanel son of Zuar. From Zebulun, Eliab son of Helon. From the sons of Joseph: from Ephraim, Elishama son of Ammihud; from Manasseh, Gamaliel son of Pedahzur. From Benjamin, Abidan son of Gideoni. From Dan, Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai. From Asher, Pagiel son of Ochran. From Gad, Eliasaph son of Deuel. From Naphtali, Ahira son of Enan. These were the ones chosen from the congregation, the leaders of their ancestral tribes, the heads of the divisions of Israel.

Moses and Aaron took these men who had been designated by name, and on the first day of the second month they assembled the whole congregation together. They registered themselves in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, individually, as the Lord commanded Moses. So he enrolled them in the wilderness of Sinai. The descendants of Reuben, Israel’s firstborn, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Reuben were forty-six thousand five hundred. The descendants of Simeon, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, those of them that were numbered, according to the number of names, individually, every male from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Simeon were fifty-nine thousand three hundred. The descendants of Gad, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of the names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Gad were forty-five thousand six hundred fifty. The descendants of Judah, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Judah were seventy-four thousand six hundred. The descendants of Issachar, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Issachar were fifty-four thousand four hundred. The descendants of Zebulun, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Zebulun were fifty-seven thousand four hundred. The descendants of Joseph, namely, the descendants of Ephraim, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Ephraim were forty thousand five hundred. The descendants of Manasseh, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Manasseh were thirty-two thousand two hundred. The descendants of Benjamin, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Benjamin were thirty-five thousand four hundred. The descendants of Dan, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Dan were sixty-two thousand seven hundred. The descendants of Asher, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Asher were forty-one thousand five hundred. The descendants of Naphtali, their lineage, in their clans, by their ancestral houses, according to the number of names, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war: those enrolled of the tribe of Naphtali were fifty-three thousand four hundred.

These are those who were enrolled, whom Moses and Aaron enrolled with the help of the leaders of Israel, twelve men, each representing his ancestral house. So the whole number of the Israelites, by their ancestral houses, from twenty years old and upward, everyone able to go to war in Israel— their whole number was six hundred three thousand five hundred fifty.

The Levites, however, were not numbered by their ancestral tribe along with them. The Lord had said to Moses: Only the tribe of Levi you shall not enroll, and you shall not take a census of them with the other Israelites. Rather you shall appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of the covenant, and over all its equipment, and over all that belongs to it; they are to carry the tabernacle and all its equipment, and they shall tend it, and shall camp around the tabernacle. When the tabernacle is to set out, the Levites shall take it down; and when the tabernacle is to be pitched, the Levites shall set it up. And any outsider who comes near shall be put to death. The other Israelites shall camp in their respective regimental camps, by companies; but the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the covenant, that there may be no wrath on the congregation of the Israelites; and the Levites shall perform the guard duty of the tabernacle of the covenant. The Israelites did so; they did just as the Lord commanded Moses.

Numbers 1

Pastor Marc's sermon on the First Sunday in Lent (February 14, 2016) on Numbers 1. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 

****************************

So today isn’t only the First Sunday in Lent. It isn’t only a day when a dozen roses all of the sudden cost 4x what they did last week and when Candy Hearts are a language all it’s own. No, today is also, according to the movie Ghost Busters 2, the end. Dr. Peter Venkman, ghostbuster, has his own tv show called World of Psychics. He’s interviewing a woman who claims that an alien told her about the end of the world while she was staying at a Holiday Inn in Paramus. She was sitting on the bar when this alien approached her, bought her a drink, and told her about the end of the world. The alien gave her the date and a detailed account of what the end of the world would look like. She spills the beans on Dr. Venkman’s show, giving everyone a foretaste of what’s to come. Now, aliens, ghosts, the End of the World, and Bill Murray:  that’s one entertaining narrative for what an unknown, for what a wilderness might actually look like. Without that unknowning, without the unexpected and the unexplained, a wilderness can’t be a wilderness. We probably know what a Holiday Inn looks like. We might even have stayed in one once or twice. And if we all carpooled for a field trip after church and headed down Route 17 - we would, in fact, find a Holiday Inn in Paramus. When we walked through its front doors and headed into the hotel lobby, I’m sure the Holiday Inn would meet our expectations of what a Holiday Inn should be. But if it just so happens that we might meet an alien there - or discover that today is the end of the world - well - that Holiday Inn starts being a wilderness. It starts being a place where the unexpected happens. In fact, that Holiday Inn becomes a place where the only thing we can expected is the unexpected. So if we did head over to the Holiday Inn in Paramus after church, maybe we should take the time to prepare ourselves for anything that could happen. Maybe we need to invite Peter Venkman and the rest of the Ghostbusters team to come along. When we’re about to face the unexpected, it makes sense to take stock of what we have and muster our strengths so that we’re as ready as we can be to face anything that comes our way. And that’s what our first reading from Numbers feels like. God orders the Israelites to take a census before they move on from their camp at the foot of Mt. Sinai. They’re going to discover just how many military fighting men they have available. The Israelites are about to take a new journey, heading into the a new wilderness, towards the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The people prepare themselves by counting their strengths - because they have no idea what their future might bring. 

Now, each tribe is given a general and each tribe is counted. Everyone, minus the Levites, are counted to try and figure out how large of an army they might have. Now the number counted is huge - 600,355. And that doesn’t include women, children, senior citizens, servants and slaves. If we tried to add those unknown people into this miltary number, we suddenly have millions of people marching through the wilderness. This is mind boggling since, at this time, cities were huge if they had 10,000 people or more. Even if we think this number is accurate or if it’s impossible, our take on the number doesn’t  undo the vision of what is being laid out here. An entire people are on the move. Everyone is going. This army isn’t just keeping an eye on itself. It’s guarding, protecting, and leading this mass of humanity into a new place. The numbers are large because the magnitude of what’s going on is massive. And the Israelites have no idea what’s coming up ahead. These lands were originally crossed by their ancestors but, for 400 years, Egypt is all they knew. They knew Egyptian government, ate Egyptian food, and lived as Egyptian slaves. But now they’re free, heading into a place filled with people and dangers they don’t know. They’re heading into a wilderness so they arm up - preparing themselves for whatever they might run into. 

And that whatever just might be the devil. 

But this devil might do more than just tempt them and tempt us to do an unexpected thing. The devil might do more than invite us to make an immoral choice. The devil we meets in the wilderness - in our unknowns and in places outside our comfort zone - that devil devil might try to get us to forget who we are. When a difficulty arises and our food runs short, or when an opportunity to become rich and powerful shows up on our doorstep, we just might forget who called us to enter this wilderness. We might fall back on ourselves, looking to our own own strengths to overcome our fears. We might believe that we’re here in this wilderness alone, with no need for the Ghostbusters, or anyone else’s help. The devil’s great trick, as we see in Luke 4, isn’t when the devil tries to tempt us to make an immoral choice. The devil’s great trick is trying to convince us that we’re in our wilderness alone. The devil wants us to believe that God isn’t with us in our wilderness. As we take a step into our unknowns - our new adventures, our new challenges, and even our new tragedies - when we believe that God isn’t there, we forget who we are. We forget that we were made in God’s image. We forget that we are loved. We forget that God didn’t tell Moses to bring the people to a Holiday Inn but took them straight into the wilderness, into their unknowns. God took them there because that’s where God is too - in those unknown places and our unknown journeys - because God is too big to stay confined to only what we know. We head into the wilderness, into that place where devils lie in wait, because we know that God is there too. 

When the Israelites move, God is with them, right in the center of their formation. When they end up somewhere new, God is with them. When they face a new challenge, God is with them. God is right besides them when some tragedy and loss makes them wonder just what they’re going to do next. Even when Faith is hard, God is right there because God knows that our lives are more wilderness and knowns. Jesus came to live and see our wildernesses first hand, and when the devil tempted him to stop living that human life, he said no. He knew that a God in the wilderness means that we’re never alone. 

We might not have the Ghost Busters on speed dial. We might not have access to our own alien who knows just what unknown thing will happen next. We, sadly, might not have Bill Murray hanging with us as much as we might like. But we don’t live our lives alone. Our wildernesses aren’t places where only we are allowed to go. Our God is there with us too. The way through the wilderness isn’t easy. The path might be difficult and hard. We might need to take bold new step to find out just exactly why Jesus brought us to this place. We know that the path forward isn’t always clear - but we also know that One who’s there with us - is clear. Jesus: a child of God, a child of Mary, who loved sinners enough to make us all into struggling saints - Jesus is our known. Jesus is who we belong too. Being with Jesus is part of who we are. And no matter what wilderness we find ourselves in, even if it’s in a Holiday Inn in Paramus, Jesus is there too because no matter where we are, Jesus will be there too. 

Amen.