NUMBERS 9: FOLLOW THE CLOUD
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. It was always so: the cloud covered it by day and the appearance of fire by night. 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. 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. Even when the cloud continued over the tabernacle many days, the Israelites would keep the charge of the Lord, and would not set out. 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. 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. 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. 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 (NUMBERS 9:15-23 NRSV).
Memorial Drive Church of Christ, a sister church (1 Peter 5:13) we fellowship with closely in Tulsa, has a great and uncommon mission statement. There's probably a longer one but the elevator one their members mention is this: "Follow the Cloud."
Where did they get this image? From the internet idea of cloud? No, but it doesn't hurt that people wonder what they are talking about and ask which cloud they might be talking about. No, the cloud they are referring to is a cloud in the narrative of our ancient faith of Israel.
Here in Numbers 9 we get a detailed description of a very simple idea fleshed out in several scenarios, but the core idea is always the same. They do whatever the Lord tells them to do. If the Lord says stay, they stay. If the Lord tells them go, they go.
I have long remembered the Memorial Drive Church of Christ this way. For many years I have heard of their leaders listening for the voice of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit for direction. They are not into traditional programs and ministries but into what God's Spirit leads them to do for the poor, people needing a home, protection from persecution, food, clothing, a loving touch (they are huggers over there, so watch out).
We at The Journey have learned many things from the way Memorial Drive Church of Christ follows the cloud. We asked them to take on full leadership of an annual Christian workshop that we used to alternate years to lead, and they took it on gladly most of the time. Hard to believe someone didn't occasionally grumble like the Israelites because they had to schlep our part, but I digress. They followed the cloud and provided a beautiful fellowship, encouragement, inspirational, and evangelistic environment with that workshop for ten more years after we were dog tired of planning it and called it quits. We ran the half marathon, and Memorial followed the cloud to run the full marathon. I know we've thanked them but in case anyone feels we haven't thanked them enough, here's another one, with a hug included next time I see you: Thank you, Memorial Drive Church of Christ, for following the cloud.
Our churches work together in many ways to plan and run children's and youth camps, and we are kindred spirits in the desire to reach across religious, ethic, economic lines and any other lines or walls that may already exist or get cobbled together by hate in our culture. The cloud of God is not one of hate but of love, and we see Memorial following that cloud over and over as they welcome those many churches have chosen to hate: Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, people from all walks of social, ethnic, and economic life. We are not called to hate any of those people but to welcome them as our fellow humans created in God's image. Thank you Memorial Drive Church of Christ for your example to us and the world.
Dear Holy God Who Leads Your People by Cloud and Spirit,
Thank you for the Memorial Drive Church of Christ, a vivid contemporary image of Israel in this Numbers 9 text. We bless them with the Numbers 6 blessing. Lord, bless our fellow sojourners at the Memorial Drive Church of Christ as they stay when you say stay and go when you say go. Bless the Memorialites and keep them. Make your face shine upon Memorial Drive, to the North and South and East and West of them, wherever you send them, and let that light of your face shine on those they reach out to, because they reflect your image. Turn your face toward the Memorialites and protect them. Be gracious to Memorial Drive Church of Christ, and give them Shalom, a peace that continues to far surpass understanding, the mystery of Christ in them, the hope of glory with the coming Messiah who will come in the clouds, and together with them we will meet Him in the air and come back and see the good works we have done that remain in the new heaven and new earth.
In Your Precious Name we pray, Amen.
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ. Greg's wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.