Numbers 6:22-27 (Part 6) – The Summer of My Discontent & What Gracious Means

Posted: July 22, 2016 in Book of Numbers

Numbers 6:22-27 (Part 6)

The Priestly Blessing

When I was about to be 14 years old, in the Summer of 1976, I was an angry young boy. That summer, we had to move from Anderson, SC to Travelers Rest, SC because my dad was being transferred by the United Methodist Church in South Carolina from his post as the Associate Pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church to his new post as the Pastor of Travelers Rest United Methodist Church and Jackson Grove United Methodist Church in Travelers Rest. It was the first that we would be making a move to which I had objection. In all our previous moves, I had not been a teenager. In our previous moves, I kind of just rolled with the flow. Not this time, though. I was teenager with my own opinions about things and a growing discontent with parental authority just as most 13-14 year old boys. I did not want to make this move. I was, in fact, totally against it. In coming of age in Anderson, I was becoming socially aware. In Anderson, I had a wide circle of friends. I was a big man on campus at Lakeside Middle School. I had really established myself in the political-social landscape of that school. I was a member of the middle school football team. I would have been moving up to Westside High School in the fall. In the social circles of Lakeside Middle School, I was in the “in-crowd”. Having a girlfriend was like pushing buttons on a vending machine. I had my choice. Girls just thought I was the cutest thing. I had it made. I was about to move with my entourage of 8th graders to being in high school. It was going to be so cool!

 

All of that was ripped away from me in the Summer of ’76. We had to move to…where? Travelers Rest? What’s that? A rest stop? It’s an actual town? I had lived in South Carolina for almost 14 years at that point and was kind of a map aficionado. I love to study maps and particularly ones of South Carolina. I had never even noticed Travelers Rest before dad said that we were being moved there. That conversation was a bombshell to me. I was being ripped away from the one place that I had come of age. Everything was easy and I was set in my social circles in Anderson. To move to a town where they could not even come up with an original name – Travelers Rest? Back before the days of the internet, Facebook, and other means of staying connected, a teenager moving to a town an hour away might as well have been moving across the globe. I knew it was the end of my perfect moment in time in Anderson, SC. I hated this move more than any other we had made as I was growing up as a Methodist preacher’s kid. I was not the type to blatantly rebel against my father. I was always more subtle and passive-aggressive. I was say yes to his face and let my actions say no. The move was met with rebellion but it was not like I was violent toward dad or anything.

 

Not too long after we moved to Travelers Rest, though, I asked my best friend, from Anderson, Donnie Garrison, to come up and spend the week with me (as at the end of the week, the youth of dad’s two churches in Travelers Rest were going to Six Flags over Georgia for the day). Before that, Donnie and I could hang out and catch up and go explore Travelers Rest on my and my brother’s mopeds. One day though, being the mischievous boys we, as best friends, were, we started doing stuff that led us down a road we would never forget. It started with stealing things from the local drugstore, the local convenience store. We had never done that before when we living in Anderson. We were either in Lake Hartwell swimming, skiing, or exploring. We were playing music and imitating that we were the band, KISS. We stayed out of trouble in Anderson. Any mischief we did there had low impact because we were always out on the lake or in the woods around the lake. No lake in this God-forsaken town of Travelers Rest, or so I thought of it at the time. We had to roam around this po-dunk town (it was not the chic suburb of Greenville that it is now). The thefts of goods from the drug store and the convenience store near the parsonage emboldened us. Next up was vandalism of the nearby elementary school. We decided that it was a good idea to break some windows and to pull the phone wires out of the junction box that led all those phone wires to the school office. The city cops of Travelers Rest were called. We were arrested. We were in deep ka-ka not just with the law but, worse than that, with my dad and Donnie’s dad. We suffered through the summer with many punishments and extra work details (Donnie in Anderson dealing with his dad and me in Travelers Rest dealing with mine).

 

Finally, the day of our trial came. It was not a traditional trial like you might think of in a courtroom. Since we were juveniles, we had to meet with a juvenile justice judge. He would decide our fate. We could very easily end up at the John G. Richard School for Boys in Columbia. It was the prison of sorts for juvenile delinquent boys. In those days, it involved hard labor and such. Not the coddling of youth in detention as you might find today. Worse yet, we would have had a criminal record that would follow us the rest of our lives. What happened? I found out that day that my dad and Donnie’s dad had paid to get the repairs done to the school’s phone system and that the school district was not really interested in sending us to prison. The judge could have done that any way though. However, he was gracious to us because our dads had paid the price for us. We were going to be set free with no criminal record. The price had been paid and there was going to be no record, no prison, no hard labor for two years. The weight of seeing down the barrel of the gun of prison was as if the dark had been replaced by light. The heavy air had been replaced with light air. The depression turned to happiness.

 

That episode of my life where I avoided juvenile prison because my dad paid my price for me was what came immediately to mind when I think of graciousness in the context of this passage. Let us read through today’s passage and think of what “and be gracious to you” really means here. Here, again, we read Numbers 6:22-27 once again for today:

 

22 The Lord said to Moses, 23 “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

 

24

“‘“The Lord bless you

    and keep you;

25

the Lord make his face shine on you

    and be gracious to you;

26

the Lord turn his face toward you

    and give you peace.”’

 

27 “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

 

In this case, the word we translate into English as “gracious” is the word, hanan, in Hebrew. When the Old Testament uses this verb of God, it conveys the idea of God’s unmerited but nevertheless unlimited love for His children.  God willingly favors us with His love and blessings entirely because He chooses to pour His mercy upon us. He chooses to love us despite our wrongdoing. He is gracious. Love despite wrong. He is that Father who will judge us, punish us when we deserve but nonetheless loves us and still accepts us into His arms.

 

We do not deserve his graciousness toward us. By all rights, we have sinned against God, rebelled against his loving commands, and thumbed our noses up at Him, and deserve to be separated from Him forever. One sin, a crime against the holy nature of God, should send us to the prison of hell. That is what we deserve with our evil sin, just one, staining us. It does not matter how God we are otherwise, just one sin, just one crime against God, makes us impure and unworthy to be in His presence. We should be sent away to prison after committing just one crime. Sin is a heinous crime against a pure and holy God. We deserve to have the book through at us for that first sin not to mention the piles and piles of sin we commit over the course of our lives. How does God reconcile unpure us with His holy Self. It is through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ on the cross.

 

Just as my dad paid the price to compensate for my crime instead letting me pay for it with prison time, Jesus went to the cross and took the sentencing that we deserve for our sins. We are set free to be in the presence of God through this death on the cross. Jesus took on all the sins of the world that day on the cross. It is that gracious gift that allows us to be set free from God’s rightful and just punishment of us for our sins. All we have to do to access this gracious pardon is believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that He did indeed die on the cross for our sins. You are made whole and pure to God by this belief in what Jesus did for us on the cross. He paid the price so that we could live free from the right and just punishment that we deserve. Just as my dad paid my price to keep me from experiencing the right and just punishment for my crime in Travelers Rest in the Summer of My Discontent in 1976. Who knows where I would be this day in 2016 if he had not.

 

Where would we be without the gracious nature of God who loves us so much despite our wrongdoing that he sent His Son to do what He did for us. That is a Father’s love. Love despite wrongdoing. Love despite the fact that we deserve judgment. Love despite rebellion. Love always. Gracious always.

 

Amen and Amen.

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