A Walk in Her Shoes

July 14, 2019
Reverend Sarah Brouwer

Numbers 12:1-16

How many of you watched the Women’s World Cup? I know you recorded it and watched it after you came to church, like I did. And, like many of you I have been captivated by one of their lead players, Meghan Rapinoe, and it’s not just because I’m jealous of her purple hair. She has grit, works hard, plays hard, and uses her platform to speak out about important, difficult issues. As an an out gay woman, she knows what it feels like to be on the margins and has decided to take a stand on behalf of those in the same position, even if it has meant being critical of those in power. And then, of course, she has been criticized for that. Some have called her unpatriotic, but she has stayed the course and her teammates along with her. One of her goals is to further equal pay for female professional athletes. The hope is that might trickle down and become true for women in all lines of work. Meghan Rapinoe chooses to speak out against those who would humiliate her. She makes it look easy, but I’m sure it’s not. If it was, why wouldn’t more women do it? Meghan Rapinoe talks the talk and walks the walk.

In our story for today a similar woman speaks up- Miriam. We aren’t exactly sure why she and her brother Aaron take issue with their other sibling, Moses. But they do. The text says it had something to do with Moses’ wife, but as with most family arguments we can assume there was likely more going on. That’s probably why Aaron and Miriam say, “Is it through Moses alone that the LORD has spoken? Has He not spoke through us as well?” Maybe there was some jealousy going on, a vying for power. Moses was the one called by God, but Miriam had been there for him from his birth, first seeking out his protection from being killed as an infant, and then helping him lead the people of Israel out of slavery and through the Red Sea. We know from these stories, Miriam had a following. She was a leader. There were covert operations that she led behind the scenes, and songs of victory and praise sung in her own voice. And she is the first person- not the first woman- the first person in the Old Testament to be named a prophet.

Times in the wilderness, were difficult. In fact, the book of Numbers in Hebrew is actually called Bemidbar, which means, in the wilderness. The whole book is about the chaos of those 40 years. A female minister once told me last fall that it’s only when the institutions break down that women get important jobs. That was certainly true for the wilderness times, and it was the reality for Miriam, too. Women filled the needs in those wandering years. They stepped up to the plate. They used all the tricks in the book- all the tools at their disposal in order to get the job done. Many of them, over the years, have been called tricksters, as if their deceptiveness, cunning and wit, were negative traits. But, historically, we know, the people of Israel valued this kind of wisdom and craftiness, and those women who used it for the sake of God’s people were often rewarded.

Miriam sees something happening with Moses that she doesn’t like, so she stands up to him, and it’s almost as if she is standing up to God, as well. But it doesn’t go well. God calls the three siblings out to the meeting tent for a little redirection. God reminds them that, essentially, Moses is in charge, and not to question him. We can tell God is angry. About what, really, I’m not sure. I get the sense that God is frustrated more than anything- God is over it with the people of Israel for not being “all in,” not being faithful, not being grateful. We read that God leaves in a huff and moments later a cloud comes over Miriam and she ends up with leprosy. The story doesn’t specifically say that God gave her leprosy, but she definitely gets the short end of the stick, and it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that it’s her and not Aaron. Her brothers pray to God on her behalf that she be healed, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say, too little, too late. In a moment of compassion, God reduces her expulsion from the camp to seven days, rather than a lifelong excommunication.

The story doesn’t end terribly, though. In fact, the most beautiful thing happens. You might have even missed it. The community waits for her. They don’t leave. Despite God’s anger, and difficult family dynamics among their leadership, and what might be an infectious disease, the people wait. They stay for Miriam, deciding they are not complete, not whole, not kindred without her.

My friend Taylor writes about this story that, “It can make God [out to be] the stereotypically vindictive god of the Old Testament and it can be a story about family or power or about community. [In so many ways, it’s not a simple story] but we’re [not here] because [we’re] interested in simplicity.” We, too, are not interested in simplicity. We are curious. We are empathetic. We all wonder about how to live a life of meaning, in which we risk our own safety and reputation, in which we surrender our precious time and resources, to live courageously. In considering Miriam’s un-simple life and walk of faith, we can’t not evaluate our own.

Some of my cousins live in North Carolina, which during the winter in Minnesota seems like the obvious place one should live. My cousin’s wife Penny, Penny Small, was telling me, a few summers ago on family vacation, about being raised a Methodist in the Bible Belt. Penny is one of the most faithful people I know. They go to church every Sunday because that’s just what you do in the South. And she was describing her pastor to me, with her sweet southern drawl, “he’s really worried about your walk.” “Your walk,” I said? “Your walk with Jesus. He’s always asking you how you’re doing on your walk with the Lord.” What I gleaned from this was, her pastor had no problem talking to his parishioners about exactly what they were doing to be Christians in the world. Exactly what they were doing. Maybe that seems a little invasive to me because we live in Minnesota- meaning you don’t tend to pry. But, I also found this interesting because it didn’t have anything to do with doctrine or what they believed, which is what we are usually so nervous about imposing on people. He just genuinely wanted to make sure their lives reflected Jesus, or, at the very least, that they were spending significant time workin’ on it.

You know, even though Miriam’s story is troubling in many ways, with its angry God and its treatment of a woman who speaks her mind, it reminds me that life isn’t supposed to be not troubling, not complicated and not a constant opportunity to choose what is right. Miriam is convicting, she makes me want to talk the talk, and those people of Israel, they make me want to walk the walk. In fact, I bet even God was surprised when the people stuck around for her, in a good way of course. I imagine that moment, for God, felt like being a parent when your kids’ teachers tell you how well they behave when they’re at school. The Israelites did the right thing, even when God was at wits end. They used their power for non-violent resistance. They stuck together, remembered their faith, and used their own wits to protect the leader they loved.

Do we do what is right even when we’re at wits end? Do we walk the walk and talk the talk? Do we make decisions- big and small- that reflect a life that is about more than just our own? Do we risk speaking up even when we might be humiliated for it? I have to say, I too am worried about our walk. Not in a condemning way. We’re all good people. But, I wonder what makes us different from the world. I genuinely am concerned about what we would be willing to speak about or show an act of resistance towards or show up for that got our hands dirty. Really, how is your walk today?

Back in April, after the United Methodist Church voted against performing same-sex marriages and ordaining openly LGBTQ folks, a story came out about a confirmation class from First United Methodist Church in Omaha. On April 28, they stood before their congregation and read a letter explaining why they are not becoming members at that time. This is what they said: “Most of us started the confirmation year assuming that we would join the church at the end. But we are disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading. We want to be clear that, while we love our congregation, we believe that the United Methodist policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same sex marriage are immoral. Depending on how this church responds to the general conference action, we will decide at a later time whether or not to become officially confirmed. Until then, we will continue to stand up against the unjust actions the denomination is taking. We are not standing just for ourselves, we are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now. Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.”

“Because we were raised in this church. Because we were raised in this church, if we stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.”

I remember on my ordination day my dad preaching about how people would now pay attention to me and how I lived my life- they’d pay attention to the gate of my walk. Not in a gotcha kind of way if I messed up, but in a curious way. People want to know how faith changes you, creates a desire in you to live differently, with purpose and intention, and in community. They also want to see that faith has the ability to change the lives of others. These kids from Omaha got the idea to stick together and be allies with their LGBTQ siblings, because their church had taught them to do that. To risk, and resist. And now our youth are out on their mission trip. They are showing us what it means walk the walk. How will we show them?

Miriam risked a lot. And she paid for it. But the community waited on her. They made a choice to follow her, because she had lived for them. May we too, take a walk in those kinds of shoes. Thanks be to God. Amen.

*** My friend Taylor is the Rev. Taylor Lewis Guthrie Hartman, the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Statesborough, GA, and she provided the listed quote as well as the story about the youth in in Omaha.

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