Monday, June 5, 2017

One for All - Pentecost

This is a sermon that was preached on June 4, 2017 at United Presbyterian Church, Sterling, KS, my first as their pastor. Listen to the audio here.

Read Numbers 11 and Acts 2.


You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.   

This was the jingle for a series of TV commercials back in the ‘70’s.  Someone would ask something like, “Where can I find a dependable car for under $3000?”  Bam, the car would appear, and the jingle would play.  You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.[1]

That jingle fits our Old Testament reading for today from Numbers.  The of Israel are wandering in the desert, led by Moses.  They’ve already been given the daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground every morning.  But now they’re getting tired of manna and they start complaining.  They want some meat.  Something different.  Bam, God sends them quail.  You asked for it, you got it. Lots and lots of quail.  So much that they then get sick of quail.

Complaining is a common part of the story of Israel wandering in the desert.  Not surprising.  It’s tough wandering in the desert.  What’s different in Numbers 11 is that Moses also complains.  He tells God it’s too much being responsible for all these people.  Bam.  God sends a solution.  God sends the Spirit on 70 elders to help Moses lead.

You asked for it, you got it, Holy Spirit.

We read two stories about the Holy Spirit this morning.  Connected stories – Numbers and Acts.  In Numbers, the Holy Spirit comes upon 70 elders – and those other two guys (Eldad & Medad).  Then there is Jealousy.  Hey, Mo, those two guys are stealing our spirit!

In response, Moses makes a prophecy, a wish that points forward to Pentecost.  He says, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (11:29)

Travel forward about 1500 years.  Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 24:49, “Wait in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”  So they wait and pray, and then 50 days after the resurrection on the day of Pentecost, a big Jewish festival day, the Holy Spirit comes dramatically.  Moses’ wish is fulfilled
And then again there is jealousy.  People say, “Hey, look, they’re drunk, they’re acting weird.”

This time Peter responds.  “They aren’t drunk, it’s the Holy Spirit.” Peter reminds them of the prophesy from Joel that points forward to us.  “In the last days I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and all of them, young and old, slaves and free, will prophesy and see visions and dream dreams.”

Moses wished for it.  Joel foretold it.  Jesus promised it - in John 14 he said. “I will send you a helper who will always be with you because he will be in you.”[2] 

It’s the beginning of a whole new era in the life of God’s people, the beginning of a community of faith united by the gift of the Holy Spirit – God with us in a whole new way.
Today churches around the world are celebrating Pentecost in a variety of ways.  Some are quite creative.  There was a pastor once who had the idea that they would reenact the Pentecost story on the front steps of the church, and when he said. “Come, Holy Spirit!” a parishioner would release a white dove from up in the bell tower.  Pentecost came, and the parishioner put a pigeon in a bag, went upstairs to the bell tower and waited. When the pastor pronounced the words, nothing happened.  A few seconds later, they heard a voice from the bell tower, "Maybe I shouldn’t have put the Holy Spirit in an airtight bag!"[3]

He stifled the Holy Spirit!

One thing we see in both stories, the one in Numbers and the one in Acts, is that the Holy Spirit challenges us.  The Spirit does things that go beyond our expectations – and we, not knowing what to do with this unexpected movement of the Spirit, sometimes reject it or stifle it.

Joshua did.  He was helping Moses execute the plan – bring 70 elders to the tent to meet with God.  The Spirit came upon those 70 elders.  Fine.  But then there are those other two.  Wait!  What’s going on here?  So Joshua wanted Moses to go after Eldad and Medad because what they were doing was different, not according to the plan, outside of expectations.

There was a similar problem for those observing at Pentecost.  They were criticizing what was happening because it was different, or maybe because it wasn’t happening to them, too.  They said, “This isn’t how godly people are supposed to act!  They must be drunk.”

I have rejected the unexpected, and maybe you can think of a time you have, too.  One time was when I was in a period of transition, one of several times that I was trying to finish my bachelor’s degree, figuring out my career path.  I heard a speaker at a conference describing these times of transition as being in a dark hallway in which we’ve left one room and closed that door, but are now looking for the next door that leads us into the next room.  That was a great description for how I felt at that point – walking in the dark, trying to trust God to lead to whatever he had prepared for me beyond the next door.  But I also had the sense that I had opened a door to the next thing, and looking into that next room had seen a mountain that I either didn’t want to or didn’t know how to climb, and so I had closed the door.  I wasn’t quite sure then what that mountain represented.  Now looking back, I know it was the path to becoming a pastor, but at that point it was so far outside of my expectations that I couldn’t conceive it.  So I shut the door.  The Holy Spirit was leading but I wasn’t ready to follow yet.

We don’t always know how to deal with the unexpected ways the Spirit works. How might the Holy Spirit be working in ways that are outside our normal expectations now?  How will we respond?  Will we trust that God has already prepared the next thing for us?

We also see in these stories that the Spirit brings power.  In Numbers, that power is displayed when the elders and the two other men prophesyTo prophesy means that they were telling about God.  In Acts, the people are also prophesying, and in addition there is that powerful, loud wind, and the tongues of fire descending onto the people’s heads. 

Theologian and reformer John Calvin says that the Spirit showed up dramatically that day so we would trust and believe the spirit had come.[4]  Trust is key.  We will not always understand the work of the Holy Spirit, but we can trust that the Spirit is working, and that the Holy Spirit is the power of God.

The situation in Numbers was challenging. The people were complaining about the manna.  When Moses talked to God about it, God said he would provide meat.  But Moses couldn’t see how it would be possible to have meat for 600,000 people.  There weren’t enough in their flocks and herds to make that possible.  God responded, “Is the Lord’s arm too short?  Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not.”[5]  Or in other words, “Trust me.  I’ve got this.”

And then God sent the Spirit on the 70 elders and enough quail to feed everyone for a month.  You asked for it, you got it.

The work of the Holy Spirit is sometimes dramatic like that, but not always.  Often it’s much more subtle.  The Apostle Paul tells the importance of being on the lookout for the subtle work of the Spirit. He says in 2 Corinthians, we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. (4:18)

How do we see evidence of the Spirit’s work?  [Listen to audio for congregation's answers]
Or….Here are some ways:
·       Softened hearts
·       Healed hurts
·       Comfort in the midst of pain and sorrow
·       Forgiveness
·       Creativity/inspiration
·       Unity
·       Peace (and other fruits – love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control)

We’ll be talking more about the gifts of the Holy Spirit over the next few weeks, and how the Spirit is at work in all areas of our lives.

The third thing we learn about the Holy Spirit from the stories in Numbers and Acts is that the Holy Spirit brings new life.

In Numbers, Moses was tired and frustrated with leading Israel in the wilderness.  The Holy Spirit brought new life to the community through a new shared leadership.  The people were frustrated with all that manna and God sent a wind to blow in the quail so they could have meat – new life for their diets, and renewed hope and trust in God to take care of them.

In Acts, the disciples were waiting as Jesus had told them to do, waiting to see what would happen next, now that Jesus had died and been resurrected and ascended into heaven.  Then the Spirit came and gave them a new vision, a new life as a community of faith.  This is why we call Pentecost the birthday of the church.

The Holy Spirit is an important part of our lives as people of faith.  Jesus told us to stay connected to him.  He said, “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Remain in me.  Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15)  We need the Holy Spirit to be at work in us and among us to guide us, to teach us, and to strengthen us for the work that God has ahead for us.

On Pentecost we celebrate the day on which the Holy Spirit was given to all.  Moses had hoped that it would be available to all, and through Jesus Christ Moses’ wish came true.  The Holy Spirit is a tremendous gift.  God with us, living in our hearts, speaking to us.  We can ignore him, stifle him, or embrace and share him.

God clearly meant this gift to be shared.  You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.  Holy Spirit.  Actually, Toyota has the right idea in another way.  The Toyota company follows a Japanese practice called Yokoten[6] which means “across everywhere.” They apply Yokoten through what’s called “best practice sharing.”  The idea is that if a good idea is shared, then everyone benefits.  They believe in this so much that they made it a rule.  If a new idea or practice is being implemented in one area, then they are required to also share it and help implement it across the company so that everyone can benefit. 

It is interesting to ponder how we might practice Yokoten by sharing the gifts and inspiration of the Holy Spirit with one another and with the world around us.

In Numbers 11, Moses said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” (11:29) 

Then in Acts 2 we see that very thing coming to pass.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit. That same Holy Spirit lives in us all, and is working among us today. 

Moses asked for it.  We got it.  One Spirit for all people.

May that same Spirit unite us and renew us so that in us the face of Jesus Christ may be clear for all the world to see.


Then we sang verse 3 of the song we sang at the beginning of the service – Holy Spirit (Getty, Townend)

Holy Spirit, from creation’s birth,

Giving life to all that God has made,

Show Your power once again on earth;
Cause Your church to hunger for Your ways.
Let the fragrance of our prayers arise.
Lead us on the road of sacrifice
That in unity the face of Christ
Will be clear for all the world to see.

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