In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.
Today I want to tell you a story about Joe. Joe is 30 years old. He has a wife named Sarah and two boys of his own, John and Jim. Joe’s life is a little unsettled at the moment, because a little over a month ago, he just had a career change, and 6 months before that he was doing something entirely different as well. Six months ago, Joe was a slave, then he celebrated Passover, and suddenly he was no longer a slave. He and his family have been drifting along ever since.
I guess since then his job title could be farmer, since it was his job as head of house to go out each morning to gather…whatever it was that formed on the ground each morning. Life hasn’t been all boring, he has now seen more of the world than he ever thought possible. But that world is proving to be a very scary place indeed.
Here lately they have been at this mountain, Joe is not even sure where this is. All he knows is that he followed a huge cloud of fire here, and it settled on this mountain. About a week later, Moses, their leader, went up on top of this mountain, and they were left to fend for themselves. After a couple weeks of his being gone, the leaders became anxious enough to act. They made Aaron, Moses’ brother, make a golden calf out of our jewelry and then they threw a party. Joe participated in the party, but he felt bad about it.
During the party, Moses came back, and he was mad. He smashed the thing he had been working on for all the days he was gone, burned the calf, smashed it, and made everyone drink it. Then called to everyone, and asked who was on the side of the Lord? Joe did feel bad about what had just happened and all his brothers and kinsmen started volunteering, so Joe stood along with them. Moses told them to perform a task, and they carried it out, exactly as he asked.
That was the day that Joe changed his career path. Moses told Joe and his kinsmen that day was the day of his ordination for the service of the Lord, and now his job title was no longer farmer, but priest. Moses then left again. He went back up the mountain—into the cloud on top. He was gone a long time, but this time, they trusted that he would come back.
When Moses came back, he had all sorts of rules and a plan for building what was called a tabernacle. Moses gave specific instructions as to how to create this tabernacle and they followed his plans exactly.
Work began immediately on all that Moses told them. They would work, and while they worked Moses would teach them all the things that he was told when he was on the top of the mountain.
During this time, Moses sent out two censuses to gather the numbers of all the people who were with him. One went to the 12 tribes of Israel, and one went to this newly ordained tribe of Levi. The census went to all the tribes of the people, but not to Joe’s. Joe is a Levite and the Levites were given special assignments. They were to guard the tabernacle and all of its pieces during its construction.
Joe and his family were even told where to camp—near the tabernacle. A space was set apart for the tabernacle once it was finished. To the immediate north of that, Joe and his family were given their assigned space. This was a good thing, because whereas before they camped as a rabble—wherever fit their fancy—now order was beginning to take shape. Joe’s space was right in between his brothers in the fourth row, fifteen spaces in. Moses told them that wherever God lead them, no matter what, this was the way they were to camp. So each day, after the work was done, Joe would head to his home, 4 rows from the space for the tabernacle, and 15 tents in, right in between his brothers.
After a few months of work, they finally finished all the parts of the tabernacle and put it together. The jobs are handed out for the tabernacle. This was exciting. Now that he has his new vocation, he was finally going to find out what his area of responsibility was going to be. The anticipation for the new role was palpable. He just knew that his role was going to be of the utmost importance.
Moses came with his list of jobs. The jobs were to be distributed according to the clans of the three sons of Levi: the tribes of Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. Moses began with the tribe of Kohath. They were to be in charge of the big items: the Ark of the Covenant, the Table of the Bread of the Presence, and the Lampstand. This was a bit of a blow to Joe’s ego, his clan not being selected for this great honor, but there was still plenty of responsibility to go around.
Next was the clan of Gershon. They were given charge of the curtain of the tabernacle and of all the hangings. Now was Joe’s clan’s turn. They were given the task of caring for the framework of the entire tabernacle and of the court—the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories, and also all the pillars around the court, with their bases, pegs, and chords. Well that is not ideal, but still a very noble role.
So they handed out the tasks: the bars—no Joe; the pillars—no Joe; the bases—no Joe. Now there was only the supporting chords and the pegs that secured them. The chords were handed out first, but they stopped right before Joe’s family. Joes was reduced to the lowest role. He was given a tent peg, in the middle of the northern wall of the tabernacle. This devastated Joe. How could he go to back to his wife and kids to tell them that his role given to him by God through Moses was only one tent peg on a side of the wall that no one would ever see?
On his way home, Joe spoke with his father to lament their role in this. After he relayed all his worries to his father, and in the midst of his anger, he threw down the peg. And there was silence. Joe’s father took a deep breath and said, “My son, I understand your frustration. This seems like a task meant for the lowest of the low. No strength is required, no vigilance, because who would steal a peg? But God chose YOU to carry this peg. This peg, though seemingly insignificant in the grand scheme, seems unimpressive to you because you are so close to it. Take a step back and look at it from God’s perspective.
Without this peg, the whole wall could not stand as strong as it was designed to be. We are now a people who wander the desert as we go to the land God promised to Abraham. Until then, the walls need to be strong against all that this land has to offer. It must stand against wind storms, flash floods and robbers who would take from us that which the Lord has given. In order for this to happen, this peg must be planted firmly in the ground. This peg is essential to the strength of the whole, as is its guardian.
Sure it is not grand, and no one will write songs about you, but God has called you to be the keeper of the entire strength of the structure. And though you do not do this alone, if you do not do this, we should have stayed in Egypt is slavery. But God has called us out, and has seen fit to give you this task. And so my son, do not diminish that to which God calls you.”
Joe saw his tent peg there on the ground, and it seemed to have a new glow about it. This was now his calling in life. And he picked it up and proudly took it home to show his wife. The next day Joe brought his peg to the place where the tabernacle was to be erected and when it was time, he placed his peg in the ground and with a hammer, drove it in and stepped back. Another came forward and tied his chord to the peg and then secured it to the curtain, placed there by another. And all the men stepped back and witnessed the glory of that which God had called them.
The Tabernacle was then consecrated and set apart for God’s use. And when it was finished, Joe and the rest of the Levites went through an elaborate cleansing ceremony, setting them too apart as priests for God. And the Passover was celebrated as God had commanded, and at the conclusion of the Passover, the glory of the Lord, the cloud, moved from the top of the mountain and covered the tabernacle. Now God dwelt in the presence of all of Israel his chosen people. And that day, Joe knew who he was, where he belongs, and exactly what God had called him to do.
In the name of the F, S, and HS. Amen.