Amy Jones,
Agape Coordinator
Dear God, we come to worship you today. 
We come to pray, and listen.
You always hear us. 
Help us to hear you. Amen
Numbers 9:15-23; 10:29-36

15 On the day the tabernacle was set up, the cloud covered the tabernacle, the tent of the covenant; and from evening until morning it was over the tabernacle, having the appearance of fire. 16 It was always so: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 17 Whenever the cloud lifted from over the tent, then the Israelites would set out; and in the place where the cloud settled down, there the Israelites would camp. 18 At the command of the LORD the Israelites would set out, and at the command of the LORD they would camp. As long as the cloud rested over the tabernacle, they would remain in camp. 19 Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the LORD, and would not set out. 20 Sometimes the cloud would remain a few days over the tabernacle, and according to the command of the LORD they would remain in camp; then according to the command of the LORD they would set out. 21 Sometimes the cloud would remain from evening until morning; and when the cloud lifted in the morning, they would set out, or if it continued for a day and a night, when the cloud lifted they would set out. 22 Whether it was two days, or a month, or a longer time, that the cloud continued over the tabernacle, resting upon it, the Israelites would remain in camp and would not set out; but when it lifted they would set out. 23 At the command of the LORD they would camp, and at the command of the LORD they would set out. They kept the charge of the LORD, at the command of the LORD by Moses.

29 Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, 'I will give it to you'; come with us, and we will treat you well; for the LORD has promised good to Israel." 30 But he said to him, "I will not go, but I will go back to my own land and to my kindred." 31 He said, "Do not leave us, for you know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you will serve as eyes for us. 32 Moreover, if you go with us, whatever good the LORD does for us, the same we will do for you." 33 So they set out from the mount of the LORD three days' journey with the ark of the covenant of the LORD going before them three days' journey, to seek out a resting place for them, 34 the cloud of the LORD being over them by day when they set out from the camp. 35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses would say, "Arise, O LORD, let your enemies be scattered, and your foes flee before you." 36 And whenever it came to rest, he would say, "Return, O LORD of the ten thousand thousands of Israel."
I really love the book of Numbers because it tells some of the best stories about the Israelites in the wilderness. I love Moses’s fiery personality in Numbers. And, Numbers tells the story of a people between places, which feels especially relevant right now. 

Although pastoring a church is not my primary ministry right now, I have lots of friends who are pastors. All of them are engaged in conversations about when and how to re-open their buildings, whether worship is safe, what to do about choir practice, who will clean the bathrooms, and how to finance hand-sanitizer stations and masks for worshipers. While they engage all of these conversations about reopening their worship spaces, they’re also creating other spaces - online spaces - where worship, Bible study, and meetings can happen. It is a wilderness experience, but not in the way people describe bewildering or uncertain times (though, I suppose this qualifies). I mean wilderness in the literal sense of space. In the wilderness Israel was always on the move, neither here nor there, and without a fixed worship space. In some ways, the impact of the global pandemic has had this effect. Nothing seems fixed or stable.

When you think about it, most of our holy book is a story about a people without a fixed space. The Israelites wander around the desert, they are exiled from their land, their Temple is destroyed, rebuilt, destroyed again, the people are scattered. Even Jesus was a baby born with no place to lay his head. Paul was itinerant. Being a community without a space is in the lifeblood of our spiritual identity. We have a lot of tradition to draw on for this.

As we reimagine how we will do so many things in our lives, it feels like most of these decisions are guided by the rise and fall of a mysterious cloud, just as the Israelites waited on the cloud of the Lord to determine their next action. No one seems to know how to do this. Most of us weren’t trained for global pandemics, and even those that were are looking for more information about this particular virus. 

Not knowing how to do something is very different from not knowing what to do. Moses did not know the first thing about leading people away from an oppressive state through a barren land and into a place of safety, but he did know to follow God’s lead (even imperfectly at times). The Israelites did not know how to make the journey either, but they did know that the descent of the cloud meant to stop, and the ascent of the cloud meant to go.

I do not know how to do many things during a global pandemic, but I know what to do: love everyone. I know I can be angry, anxious, confused, and bewildered and still love people. Just as Moses was complex enough to be able to be a leader and also need the help of Reuel. We are each complex enough to feel difficult things and still love each other. None of us have to know how to navigate a global pandemic, but we all do have to love each other and show grace to each other.

Many difficult days are behind us, but many more difficult choices are ahead of us in every aspect of our lives. Like the Israelites, we are in between places. I hope you can identify moments when the cloud of the holy surrounds you and let the love of God guide you.
Sometimes the holy cloud feels like a dense fog, and it can be hard for us to know which way to go, holy God. May love for ourselves, for each other, and for you, God, guide the uncertain path ahead.
Amy Jones
Amy Jones, Agape Coordinator
Amy Jones our Agape Coordinator is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. In this tradition, deacons are ordained clergy who bridge the ministry of the church with the needs of the world, and vice versa. In more than 15 years of ministry, she has worked in churches, in children and family ministry, higher education, and nonprofits. In each setting, her focus has been on matching the resources of the church with the needs of the world. Agape Community Kitchen is exactly the type of work she was called to do. 

Amy can be reached by email at:
The Presbyterian Church in Westfield continues to burn as a light in the darkness as our community weathers this fearsome storm of illness. Our reach of care continues to extend far beyond our immediate borders. You can help us make a real impact in the lives of others by joining in our work through your time, your talents, and also in the fruits of your labors.
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