Every Wednesday in Marquand Chapel at Yale Divinity School there is a service of Sung Morning Prayer (currently a setting for Lent) which includes a scripture reading and a short homily. Today I was asked to give the homily, which you can read below.
The reading for todays service was from Numbers chapter 13: the people of Israel sending spies into the land ahead of them.
I don’t know about anyone else here today, but I am tired.
I’m tired of temperatures so cold that this poor southern boy is dreaming of getting a surprise phone-call with a job-offer in the Caribbean.
I’m tired of giant hills of snow and of the giant hill this school sits on.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the symbolism… but do we really have to walk up this thing every single day?
I’m tired because what they don’t tell you, first and second year students take note, is that searching for a job is exhausting!
And I’m tired because I’ve been on an educational journey for about twenty years now, and the closer I get to the end of this journey the less clear I seem to be about what exactly the destination is.
So I don’t know about anyone else here today, but I sympathize a little bit with the people of Israel.
By the time we get to our reading, they’ve been on a journey for years following this guy Moses, a guy that most of them had probably never heard of before he wandered out of the desert, a guy who calls down fire from heaven and who glows in the dark whenever he comes out of the tent of meeting. And even though he’s obviously an extraterrestrial, Dr. Who hadn’t shown up yet to save them, so they’re stuck wandering through the desert going God only knows where. None of them had ever been to this mythic “land of their ancestors” that Moses talked about, they didn’t know where he’s taking them.
Now I haven’t been to the desert of Sinai, but I’ve spent a little bit of time in the deserts of Arizona and Nevada. To me deserts seem like pretty bleak places that bear a striking resemblance to cat litter. So my apologies to anybody here from Arizona, but if I’d been following some guy who glowed in the dark around in the desert for, really, any amount of time, and he said, “we’re almost there, just on the other side of that mountain,” I’d be saying, “Moses, whatever is on the other side of that mountain, it had better be good!”
So I don’t know about anyone else here today, but I get what’s happening in this story: the people want to know what they have gotten themselves into, so they send spies out ahead of them on a 40-day scouting mission.
In scripture, and in the church calendar, the number 40 often signifies a time of waiting or anticipation, as in the 40 days Noah spent on the ark waiting for the flood to subside or the 40 days of the people at the base of the mountain waiting while Moses received the law.
Or Lent, the 40 days leading up to the celebration of Easter.
And during Lent we often reflect on Christ’s 40-day journey of temptation in the wilderness as he takes on our weaknesses to enact our redemption, a journey which is probably a literary echo of the 40 years the people spent in the desert waiting to enter the land right after the 40 days waiting to hear the report of the spies we just read about, because when the spies come back the people have to make a choice.
So all of this leads me to wonder, what if, during this season, we take some time to ask ourselves, “What exactly are we waiting for? What exactly are we anticipating?”
Then what if we ask ourselves, “What are we going to do when we get there?”
- Prayer, Fasting and Obedience to the Word of God: Jesus’ way to beat the tempter (junjunfaithbook.com)
- In the Desert for 40 Days (wordsonheaven.net)
- To Walk Away, A Short Story (goplayintraffic.wordpress.com)