Today's Reading: Numbers 11-13
The best time to talk about church conflict is when there is peace...to prepare ourselves before the storm hits, so to speak. I think the hardest thing about conflict in the church is that we don't expect conflict to occur between kind, loving, thoughtful Christians. It seems so out of place. It hits us blindsighted. And yet, there is not a single group of faithful people who worship together who at one time or another have not experienced some level of conflict.
Today we hear Moses and the Israelites had the same experience.
In the previous chapters, Moses has been arranging the camp by tribes as the Lord directed him. The Levites were chosen from the tribes to serve in the tabernacle. The group was told they would move as God directed them according to the sign of the cloud which covered their camp.
As we enter Numbers 11, the people are complaining...murmuring.
Perhaps some didn't like their tent assignment.
Perhaps some thought they should have been chosen to work in the tabernacle.
Perhaps some who were chosen to work in the tabernacle wanted to tend the flocks instead.
Perhaps some thought moving when the cloud moved was stupid.
Some might have liked where the camp was and didn't want to leave.
Some might have wanted to get to the promised land and felt the group wasn't moving fast enough toward the goal.
Then the rabble, the non-Israelites (v.4), starts complaining and wants meat to eat. Manna just isn't good enough for them. Back in the good old days, meat was available. Wouldn't it be nice to have cucumbers, melons, onions and leeks like other people?
Moses is fed up with all the complaining, so he complains to God. He basically says, "I didn't want this job in the first place. These are your people. I'm tired of taking care of them. Just let me curl up and die."
Complaining and murmuring have a ripple effect, don't they. Complaints sap energy in a way few other things can. It is hard to hear the complaints without taking them personally. People get frustrated, leaders get anxious, all of a sudden the problem is personal.
Complaining effects God. God gets angry when all the complaining occurs. First God sends down fire against the complainers. Then God sends meat...but states, "I'm sending you so much meat it will make you sick."
Moses decides he's carrying too much, so the LORD tells Moses to gather 70 elders to help with all the needs. But even the elders start complaining. And what is their issue? Some elders have gone on a prophesying mission by themselves! How dare they!
The upset elders tattle to Moses who says, "Are you jealous? They're doing what they are supposed to be doing. I wish all of you would prophesy!"
Then, Moses' co-pastors begin to challenge his integrity and authority. Aaron amd Miriam begin speaking against Moses because he can't perfectly keep the law. They get real snippy and ask, "just who does he think he is? Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? has he not spoken though us also?"
In one short passage, we have a faith community run amuck. It's easy to spot looking from the outside in. So how are we to deal with conflict in the church.
I don't think our job is to avoid conflict. Jesus didn't. But perhaps we can listen to this story and learn something from the Israelites mistakes.
Here's what I've been thinking.
1. Complaining is dangerous. We need to learn how to express our needs and desires with one another without attacking. We will not always get our way or be pleased with everything that occurs, inside or outside the church. We need to choose wisely what we complain about, and when we complain, we need to be willing to be a part of the solution. There needs to be cooperation, give and take.
2. Comparing is dangerous. Working together with skill, imagination and creativity are important. God might be working in one group's life in a different way than God is working with us. We need to be discerning.
3. Jealousy is dangerous. We are all a part of the body of Christ. When one person or one group is honored and experiences success, we should all rejoice. We're all on the same team!
4. Meanness is not allowed. Dealing with an issue is one thing. Attacking a person is another. There is no room for gossip, especially when there is a conflict. Boundaries and confidentiality are essential.
Lord, today we pray for every group experiencing strife. May they reconcile quickly, forgiving and being honest with one another in love.