The rabble among them had a strong craving: we’re tired of being isolated! They said. We remember the fun we used to have, at leisurely church potlucks, the table overflowing with foods and desserts. We miss fellowship time with coffee and donuts, the sweet taste of being in a room full of people. Sure, we’re alive during a pandemic, and we have our health, but we’ve lost so much of the richness and variety of life worth savoring, not to mention the many people whose lives have been lost because of Covid-19.
The rabble who approach Moses, complaining about the monotony of manna, sound a lot like me. Does anyone else miss the traditions we have had to set aside? Does anyone else miss the food that tastes so much better when it is shared with friends? I can commiserate with Moses, who complains to God, who is also angry. No one is happy about this situation, and Moses wants so badly to fix it that he would rather die than endure the unpleasantness of subsistence living in the wilderness.
We don’t just want to live: we want to flourish. We don’t just want life: we want abundant life.
God answers Moses, although indirectly. First, gather seventy of your leaders, and let the spirit of the Lord rest on them as well, and they will prophesy. Before satisfying all that hunger, God responds to that all-too-human fear of abandonment.
The first thing to notice is that you’re not alone.
When two men, Eldad and Medad, start prophesying, even though they weren’t in the tent with Moses and God, it worries Moses’ assistant, Joshua. Moses was unbothered, saying wouldn’t it be great if there were more prophets willing to speak for God?
The second thing to notice is that you’re not in charge of where God’s Spirit is working.
For those of us navigating this wilderness of pandemic life, it is encouraging to remember that we are not alone in this struggle. We may long for the traditions of the past, and we may grieve the losses of loved ones, but we are not alone in this. God grieves with us and surrounds us with support.
That support of community may not be obvious at first. I’ve heard from so many people here at Gethsemane about what fellowship time used to look like, that time between two worship services: gathering with friends, convening informal committee meetings and planning sessions, and the kinds of spontaneous interactions that really illuminate the work of the Holy Spirit—the unexpected person arriving with a hug or with just the right words to move forward through a difficult situation.
These are beautiful moments in the Body of Christ, a healing balm for those who are suffering. These interpersonal interactions are signposts on the journey of faith, helping a believer to discern their direction or to be encouraged to keep going on the path that is right for them. When we’re not gathering in person in the same way, we can’t rely on these spontaneous meetings. I miss it, too, but it doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t still working. The Holy Spirit may just be working in a different way.
The Holy Spirit isn’t limited by human imagination, but she is continuously going out ahead of us, always inviting, always drawing us closer to God’s presence and drawing us closer to one another as well. We may be accustomed to one way of relating, and we may have preferences for fellowship in large gatherings, but in this world of many possibilities for communication, we may just have to try other ways.
We might rather meet new people by greeting them at a potluck, but we may have to reach out by telephone instead. Maybe something in the sermon caught your attention and you’d like to shake the pastor’s hand and tell her about it after worship, but perhaps you put that into an e-mail instead.
Or maybe you answer your own phone when an unfamiliar number is calling you, and you hear the voice of one of our church leaders serving on the council, just calling to check on you, which they’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks. And if you don’t hear from somebody, maybe we don’t have your correct phone number—some of you have already contacted the church office to update your information: thank you!
Or perhaps you got a letter in the mail after our God’s Work, Our Hands Sunday—some of our volunteers that day were writing cards to church members. We have so many ways to reach out to each other, and the Holy Spirit is in that interaction, for the mutual encouragement of the saints. The first thing to notice is that you’re not alone.
The second thing to notice is that you can’t stop the work of God’s Spirit, and you never know where it moving. Yesterday was the long-awaited Tower Grove Pride festival, first scheduled for June of last year. The festival is a celebration of LGBTQ visibility and welcome, and even though the attendance yesterday might have been less than in previous years, there were still plenty of people showing up.
The Lutherans showed up, too. Our congregation along with several other ELCA congregations in the St. Louis area organized a booth we called Lutherans for Love and Pride. We shared temporary tattoos, rainbow-colored candy, t-shirts, can koozies, and lots of joy. Volunteers and pastors from these churches met people and talked about congregations that are specifically welcoming of LGBTQIA+ people. We wore rainbow-striped masks but you could still tell that we were smiling.
And because this was a festival, there were many booths. The Lutherans for Love and Pride were between a booth selling original artworks and decorating people’s hands with henna designs and a booth for the Democratic Socialists of America. Just across the way was parked a big yellow school bus and a tent for signing people up to become bus drivers, and next to that was the booth for the Satanist Temple.