Posts Tagged ‘Rembert SC’

Numbers 18:1-7 (Part 2 of 2)

Duties of the Priest & The Levites

When I was six years old back in the day, my family was living in a small farming community in between Sumter, SC and Camden, SC. Sumter’s claim to fame is that it is home to Shaw Air Force Base and is named after the revolutionary war hero, Thomas “The Fighting Gamecock” Sumter and probably not much else. Camden has a bit richer history in that it is the oldest inland town in South Carolina and there was a major revolutionary war battle fought there for which there is a historical preserve just outside of town that commemorates those events. Both though are small southern towns that are not of any particular import these days. And, we lived in an even smaller town in between the two, Rembert, SC.


In that small area, it was so small population wise, we had to be bussed to our school over near Shaw Air Force Base in Sumter. Back in those days, the elementary school, the junior high and the high school were all on the same property. This point has a lot to do with my illustration this morning. That year, my 1st grade year, it was time for the homecoming football game, and apparently the homecoming committee (some of the high school kids) came down to the elementary school part of the campus on a Monday and was looking for a first grade boy and girl to be the crown bearer and the flower bearer for the homecoming game to held the following Friday. They looked in each classroom of first graders and were going to select some boy and some girl at random to become part of the homecoming court that Friday. By some twist of fate, I was selected. It may have had something to do with my innate cuteness at that age! LOL! However, it was not because of something I had done or something I had qualified for. It was simply that I was chosen by the girls of the homecoming committee because for whatever reason they just liked me.


It got me and the young girl whose name I cannot remember these 48 years later out of class twice that week to practice with the homecoming court. I was to carry the crown, which was attached, to this white satin pillow and my fellow cute first grader girl was to carry the roses that were to be bestowed upon the 1968 Homecoming Queen of Hillcrest High School. We just did what we were told. We were guided into our positions in practice. Then on Friday, during halftime of the homecoming game, we did it all again for real. Although we practiced it twice during the week, being there during the game under the lights with at least two thousand spectators there, I was a bit nervous. Must not drop the crown. Must not drop the crown. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. Must not walk faster than the girl I am with. It was a great honor. Even though we were only first graders, if you find a 1969 Hillcrest yearbook, you will see two little first graders in the homecoming court picture. Why I was chosen for this honor still eludes me a half a century later. No one knows in my family why I was chosen. It was just that the homecoming committee’s teenagers just thought I fit the look or whatever. It was not that I was from a power family in the region. My dad had just been transferred to be the pastor of a couple of rural Methodist churches just a few months before so it wasn’t that I was like the child of this longtime preacher in the region. My mom was a working mom so she was not one of those 1960’s stay at home moms that was heavily involved in the school. None of those reasons that you might think in this situation was an explanation here. I was simply chosen at the whim of a few teenagers who peaked into Mrs. Lipsey’s first grade classroom that day. No pedigree. No history. No who ya know. Just chosen.


It is that idea of unmerited choice that I thought of when I read Numbers 18:1-7 for our second and final pass at this Scripture this morning. Let us read through it together now:



18 The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood. 2 Bring your fellow Levites from your ancestral tribe to join you and assist you when you and your sons minister before the tent of the covenant law. 3 They are to be responsible to you and are to perform all the duties of the tent, but they must not go near the furnishings of the sanctuary or the altar. Otherwise both they and you will die. 4 They are to join you and be responsible for the care of the tent of meeting—all the work at the tent—and no one else may come near where you are.


5 “You are to be responsible for the care of the sanctuary and the altar, so that my wrath will not fall on the Israelites again. 6 I myself have selected your fellow Levites from among the Israelites as a gift to you, dedicated to the Lord to do the work at the tent of meeting. 7 But only you and your sons may serve as priests in connection with everything at the altar and inside the curtain. I am giving you the service of the priesthood as a gift. Anyone else who comes near the sanctuary is to be put to death.”


Here you see that the Levites were chosen by God to serve, not because they were anything special, not that there was a competition among the clans to see which clan got to be the priestly clan and they won out. There was no competition as to which clan was most holy all the time. None of the clans would have qualified under those circumstances. Yet, they were called out by God. They were chosen by Him to carry out the honorable duties of the Tabernacle (and later the Temple). This unmerited choice emphasized the fact that these priests, and these people had done nothing to merit the provision. It was wholly one of grace, a gift from God. Therefore, it was not less, but more, important that they should recognize its sanctity. Whatever service is ours as a result of the giving of grace, is the most holy and sacred service, and therefore to be rendered with the utmost devotion.


When we accept Christ as our Savior, we are given an unmerited gift than cancels out the penalty of our sins for which we deserve eternity in hell, separated from God, where there is burning of flesh and the gnashing of teeth eternally. That is what we deserve. That is what we have earned. We cannot do enough good deeds to undo the effect and the penalty of our sins in the absence of the grace, the unmerited gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ. Why then are we so often seen as a sorrowful people, the people of the church. We should be the most joyous people on the planet. We actually know what we deserve and where we were headed in the absence of the gift that we did not deserve. We know that hell exists and that were pulled back from its precipice. Not because we deserved it, no! We know that we rightfully by our own merits should be eternal residents of hell. But when we throw ourselves on the mercy of the Lord, He released us from our sentence through salvation in Jesus Christ. Through grace by faith, we have been set free. We don’t deserve it by any means. There should be such great joy, tempered with great humility. There should be this outpouring of “this is what Jesus has done for me” that we cannot hide it or help it from pouring out of us. We are like prisoners who are granted a reprieve from the electric chair. We are murders, rapers, liars, whores, prostitutes, thieves, prideful, arrogant, greedy, needful, all of us. None deserve being chosen through grace by faith. But we are chosen and set on the high, dry rock above hell’s flames. We are placed on the rock of Jesus Christ through faith and extended grace that we do not deserve. How’s your joy? How well do you serve the Lord just to pay him back just a .000000000001 of what we should do for our Savior?


Do you see serving the Lord as an imposition? Do you think that other things are higher priorities? Are all these other things that we involve ourselves in more important than showing God honor for what He has done for us through Jesus Christ? Whatever we do, it will never be enough for the grace He has extended us? No way no how. There is not enough we can do to serve our Lord! We must do it with passion and fervor because of what He has done for us. We cannot boast because we do not deserve anything other than the fiery flames of hell. Grace is a gift. We should be like kids on Christmas morning with our gift of grace that we do not deserve.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 10:11-36 (Part 1)

The Israelites Leave Sinai

Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange ( David Bowie had it right when in the song by the same name, he tells us that we must turn and face the strange. Change is never familiar. It is always different. If it was the same ol’, same ol’, it would not be change. I guess for me, in my life, change has been the only thing that hasn’t changed. I grew up, as many of you know who follow my blog, as a preacher’s kid, a PK, a son of a United Methodist preacher, a SOUMP, if you will. I was born on August 25, 1962 (yes my birthday is next Thursday and even though it will be the 54th anniversary of my birth, I still look forward to my birthday – it’s Christmas in the summertime!). At the time I was born, my dad was serving three churches in the Lamar, SC area (yeah, see if you can find that on a map of South Carolina), where he had been serving since June 1960. The Lamar Circuit (as this group of churches was called in the South Carolina Methodist Church) was my dad’s first full-time appointment after he was ordained as a pastor. He was a mere 21 years old at the time he was appointed. Mom was already one-month pregnant with my older brother when dad was appointed his first churches. She was a just a girl herself at age 20 at the time. She was only 18 years old when they married back on Christmas Day 1958. My brother was born in February 1961. My mom was only “un-pregnant” between my brother’s birth and my conception for 9 months. I came along in August 1962.


After those things happening, dad marries his high school sweetheart near the end of 1958. He gets his first appointment as a Methodist preacher, a year and half later in June 1960. My brother was born in February 1961. I follow up 18 months later in August 1962. Talk about the changes to my dad’s life all in a matter of 44 months. Guess what happened next? We moved in June 1963. I wasn’t even a year old, the first time we moved. My brother was just a little over 2 years old. My life was full of changes from that point. We moved from Lamar in June 1963 to Anderson, SC where we lived and dad served until June 1966. That year we moved to Walhalla, SC where my dad served 4 churches in the extreme northwestern part of South Carolina, at the tip of the Appalachian Mountain chain. Two years later in June 1968, we moved to another of the small towns of my life, Rembert, SC (near Sumter, SC which about an hour southeast of Columbia, home of Shaw AFB). In June 1970, we moved on again. I guess you have noticed, by now, that Methodist preachers move in June. In the 1970 version of June, we moved to Hartsville, SC. Hartsville’s claim to fame is that it the home to a huge Sonoco Paper Mill and that it is about 20 minutes away from the Darlington Raceway (over in, you guessed it, Darlington, SC). After that in June 1972, the Methodist Church moved us to Elgin, SC (just outside of Columbia). Elgin was at one time Blaney, SC. But at some point when the Elgin Watch Company built a plant there, they changed the name of the town. Talk about trying to make a new employer in town happy! In June 1974, in the wisdom of the Methodist Church, it was time for us to move again. This time, we moved to Anderson, SC for the second time. We were there until June of 1976. That particular June, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (yes, that’s an actual town name – look it up, it’s a neat little town now as a suburb of Greenville, SC, but back in 1976 it was still very small town). By the grace of the Methodist Church, my dad was able to stay there until 1980. By that time, I had graduated high school and was in college down the road from Travelers Rest at Furman University – the Yale of the South, as it is called.


So, when you add it up. I went to K5 in Walhalla at Walhalla Elementary School. I went to 1st grade and 2nd grade at Hillcrest Elementary School in Dalzell, SC (yeah another small town) when we were living in Rembert, SC. I went to third and fourth grade at Thornwell Elementary School in Hartsville, SC. I went to 5th grade at Blaney Elementary School in Elgin and to Lugoff-Elgin Middle School for the 6th grade. Seventh and eighth grade saw me at Lakeside Middle School in Anderson, SC and then I actually got to put four grades back to back in one place in high school at Travelers Rest High School.  Let’s count that up. That’s seven different schools that I went to by the time I graduated from Devildog Nation in Travelers Rest. Change was simply part of my life. Change continues now in my adult life but God tends to let me live places a little longer now than He did went I was a kid. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange. I guess because of the multitude of changes that I grew up with as a child, I tend to adjust to change pretty well. That was one of the advantages of growing up the way that I did. Some people have a hard time with change. I think all of us do to a certain extent. In order for many of us survive change, there must be some things that we hold onto. Family. Familiar objects like toys, cars, blankeys. All these things give us constants in times of change. For me it was family and the Methodist Church. No matter where we moved. I had my family. We were a tight-knit foursome, our little family was. Sure, me and my brother had our knock-down, drag-out fights but the family was the constant. And the church nearby that we served was a constant. I say we served. Because as a preacher’s family, the preacher might be the one getting paid but the whole family is serving even the kids. The church was the family business. It was the constant and we were the traveling band going from town to town. We were the Jesus gypsies. The Methodist vagabonds moving from one town to the next. The church was always there. The local franchise of the Methodist Church was there.


That was the thing that came to mind this morning. My vagabond, traveling vaudeville show of a lifestyle that I lived (and loved and sometimes hated) growing up. That moving from one place to the next but there being constants in all that change was what I thought of as the Israelites move from Sinai to begin their, what would become, circuitous journey to the Promised Land. The constant in all of that was the constancy of the Tabernacle and the presence of the Lord. Let’s think about that as we read this passage for the first time today, Numbers 10:11-36:


11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.


14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.


18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.


22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.


25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.


29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about 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 things to Israel.”


30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”


31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”


33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.


35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,


“Rise up, Lord!

    May your enemies be scattered;

    may your foes flee before you.”


36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,


“Return, Lord,

    to the countless thousands of Israel.”



Those who travel, move, or face new challenges know what it is to be uprooted. Life is full of changes. It is “fuller” of changes for some than for others, but we all face change at some point or points in our lives. Few things remain stable forever in our lives. Friends come. Friends go. Wives and husbands may even come and go. Houses are bought. Houses are sold. We move from town to town. We may even move from state to state or country to country. Through the circumstances of our lives, God leads us through many changes.  The people, places, and things in our lives change constantly. For example, in our church and if you work in a large enough church, there are constant changes in the staff. The only constant to a church staff is that is frequently changes. If you lead a small group, the people in it tend to change over time as the changes of participants lives cause them to leave or to come to your small group. Changes happen. My daughter and her husband face the daunting changes to the rest of their lives that a baby brings. Ralyn has already changed their lives in many ways. A birth can bring about major changes to our lives. Death can too. A friend of mine right now, whose wife died at age 41 after succumbing to the ravages of cancer, is dealing with a change that he did not desire. Life changes. Changes in jobs. Changes in schools. Changes. Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange.


The Israelites were constantly moving through the wilderness. They were able to handle change only because of God’s presence in the Tabernacle was always with them. He was their constant. He was their familiar. The portable Tabernacle signified God and his people moving together. For us, God, too, is our stability. He is our constant when life around us is changing. Life is a river that is constantly changing. It is not meant to stay the same. Time presses on and change is a result of that. The universe was created by God in one big instant and the universe has been evolving and changing ever since. It is simply the way things are. Change is real and change is constant. But, amidst all the changes, just as wherever I lived as a child I knew our church was nearby, we too know that God is nearby to us. He is with us. He is the pillar of smoke and fire that is the constant leading in our lives. God is with us always. He is our permanence. He is our reliability. He is our constant. He is the one thing that we can count on always. When everything else is changing around us, God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is perfection. He is permanence. He is our rock. He is our anchor in the stormy sea of changes.


Ch-ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange…with full knowledge of the constancy of God!


Amen and Amen.