A strangely-timed message came the other day from the Census Bureau, asking for help in counting the people of our area. Every ten years, of course, the federal government must do this. The effort this year has proven difficult, because even though many people are out of work, for some reason they're not interested in going door-to-door.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, some folks downplayed the danger, saying that it was much like the flu and that in any event, healthy young people had little to worry about. The numbers have shown otherwise. Day after day, as the cases in our country grow, we're taking it more seriously.
As of today, 70,000 Americans have died. By the end of the summer, that number is projected to double. We are told to expect losses of 3,000 fellow citizens every day -- the casualties of September 11 every day. That's more than anyone can truly comprehend.
We could be overwhelmed with grief and fear. Or the numbers could make us numb.
Or we could take a deep breath, open our hearts, and respond as people of faith have in countless crises.
The Book of Numbers begins with the first census taken of Israel, a time when many were losing heart. They had been in the wilderness with Moses for two years. Again and again they complained about their hardships. Moses gathered them by tribes to be counted, separated out those whose health might endanger the others, and counseled patience. Some grew so impatient that they even spoke of going back to Egypt and the plagues they had escaped. As it was, a plague fell upon them right where they were, in the wilderness, and thousands died.
By the grace of God, a faithful remnant continued on and eventually reached the Promised Land.
The message of the Book of Numbers is that God's goodness cannot be counted. If we try, we will only come up short and will miss what he has in store. The reality of human life is that we are always in the wilderness, on our way to the fullness of his promise. That is why a healthy life involves patience.
In the middle of the Book of Numbers, we find this famous benediction: The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26) To which we may say, Amen.