Numbering the People

February 17, 2016

     In the Church Manual, there are specific instructions regarding “Numbering the People.” The Manual states:

“Christian Scientists shall not report for publication the number of the members of The Mother Church, nor that of the branch churches. According to the Scripture they shall turn away from personality and numbering the people.” (Man. 48)

Have you ever wondered why Mrs. Eddy included this rule in the church bylaws?  What scripture was she referencing when she wrote, “According to the Scripture they shall turn away from personality and numbering the people.”? This Wednesday, we will be searching the scriptures to answer these questions, and in doing so, we will be blessing our church as well as ourselves in our prayers about repenting from pride or evidencing lack.

     In the readings today, I have an obscure quote from Agassiz about how certain animals increase by self-division instead of through sexual conditions. (I’ve included a link to a podcast on Agassiz if you haven’t heard of this naturalist whom MBE mentions several times in her writings.) What does that reference have to do with numbering the people? Well, think of how many times we are tempted to judge the success of a lecture or a church service by how many people are there. Do we think that the Science of the Christ is limited by the number of people present in our church? A contributor on our Wednesday reading email list gave me a great answer to that question through a Facebook photo showing the wide spread of the Comforter. (You can see the photo on our readings page.)
     I have thought about this a lot as First Reader because if I am seeing personalities in the pews while reading on Sundays, then I am not seeing the one man.  And if I am counting people (David’s mistake) or depending on apparently safe and solid buildings (David’s mistake again), then matter is playing a trick on me because you can’t count or see what is truly infinite and everlasting. In other words, instead of seeing people or buildings, I have to feel what is permanent and solid — the harmony of the unity of man and God.
     Actually, I had an epiphany about this when I first began reading. My faithful husband who always supports me on a Wednesday night was traveling and another faithful participant was in Mississippi, so I was wondering if I was going to be all by myself in the church at night.  I had a Mary moment because I realized that the Holy Ghost would be there.  And, if I was receptive to the Holy Ghost, then the Christ would be there too. And of course, God would be there, so I was alone but not alone (John 16:32). That night we had a visitor from Minnesota (or Milwaukee) who found out about our church service from our website; then a member showed up; then my husband called in on his cell phone, so there was fellowship. Now we’ve moved to a daytime service with better hours for more people, but not before I learned this really good lesson!
     Just a quick Bible note in today’s readings. The first temple (built by Solomon) was destroyed in 586 BCE by the Babylonians. When Jesus was walking in Solomon’s porch, he was in the second temple (Herod’s ongoing construction project) which was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE.  Did you notice that David chose the location of the temple as the threshing floor where he offered to sacrifice himself for his sin instead of sacrificing his innocent people (I Chron. 21:17)?  It is an interesting twist because the New Testament Messiah was a sinless Redeemer sacrificing himself for the sins of his people. I love finding these connections in the Bible, and discovering that David’s remorse for his sin of pride in numbers was the very foundation (the threshing floor) of the original temple!




April 1, 2015

     We are completing our study of Jacob’s sons with Judah (although we might return to learn about some of Jacob’s other sons at another time).
     Last week the readings ended with Simeon remaining a prisoner until Benjamin is brought to Egypt to be presented to Joseph.  Reuben offered to kill his own sons if he did not return to Canaan with Benjamin, Jacob’s youngest son. This “eye for an eye” mentality did not persuade Jacob, and Reuben had already broken promises before, such as his infidelity with his father’s wife and his failure in shepherding (or watching over) his brother Joseph. Simeon and Levi had shown that they were controlled by wrath and revenge, so the next son in chronological order was Judah.
     Judah learned (and I think in a very embarrassing way) the value of keeping pledges and promises, and he offered to be a “surety” for Benjamin in returning him to his father Jacob. A surety means to be sure, and it also means a person who takes responsibility for another’s performance of an undertaking, such as the payment of a debt. Instead of the word “surety,” the Revised Standard Version occasionally uses the phrase “guarantee your servant’s well-being” (Psalms 119:122). The Book of Isaiah uses the word “Redeemer,” and Paul speaks of Jesus as being the “surety of a better testament.” (Heb. 7:22) Perhaps you were wondering what Judah had to do with the Easter story, but I love how this concept of the Messiah’s role was brought forth in Judah’s offering of himself for his brother. I had never made this connection until I read all the verses of Joseph’s story in preparing this lesson. In reading Judah’s speech before Jacob and Joseph, you can certainly feel the tone of Jesus statement: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13) 
     Jacob’s sons were all “wrestling with error,” (SH 308) much like their earthly father, so I’ve included a copy of Rembrandt’s “Jacob and the Angel” on the readings page. I also have a link to a short podcast on ”MBE Mentioned Louis Agassiz” who is in our readings (and who is mentioned more than any other contemporary individual by Mrs. Eddy).
Comment from a reader – Thank you for including me in your practice for the materials.  I see it also as the lesson about “being our brother’s keeper.” (pun not intended)