24So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 25Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
26Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them; they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. 27And a young man ran and told Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. 28And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said,My lord Moses, stop them!29But Moses said to him,Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!30And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.
2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs in our own languages we hear them speaking about God s deeds of power. 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, What does this mean? 13But others sneered and said, They are filled with new wine.
14But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
17 In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
18Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
19And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord s great and glorious day.
21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.
Pentecost… it's an amazing story, most often called the
birthday of the church… The scripture has images of tongues of
fire, a violent wind, people from all over the known world able to
hear the story of God's deeds of power in their own language. And
ultimately the story is about the power of God. Often times people
understand the celebration of Pentecost to be when the Holy Spirit
first arrived on the scene… but that's not exactly right. The
spirit of God is alluded to or even specifically mentioned in lots of
places in the scripture… Some are well known… the spirit
moved over the waters at creation, God breathed the breath of life
into all of creation, including us and gave life. And some are less
known… One of the people who came to Job in the time of his
the Spirit of God made me and the breath of
the almighty gives me life. Saul and instructed him to create an
And what I noticed as I looked at the pattern of how the spirit works in our scripture is that often, when the spirit comes, people seem to be enabled to speak something that needs to be spoken for the benefit of the community… or people are able to hear something that they needed to hear to be able to grow in their faith and in their understanding of God.
The passage from Numbers is a prime example, the people of Israel were
frustrated. They were wandering in the desert. They were new to the
journey, they hadn't even seen the promised land and already they had
begun murmuring about everything that was wrong; even to the point of
wondering whether they should have stayed in Egypt. It wasn't shaping
up to be a great situation for the emergence of God's chosen
people. So Moses asked for God to share God's spirit. Moses
recognized that he was in over his head when it came to leading the
people… a few verses before the part of the story we read,
I'm not able to carry all this people alone, for they
are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me
[Lord] put me to death at once. God heard Moses' prayer and told
him to gather seventy people who would receive the same spirit that
Moses had received and join in the task of leading the people. So
Moses recognized his need and spoke it so that the need might be able
to be addressed… and then as the seventy were given the spirit,
he also spoke truth to the community. When Joshua who was effectively
the second in command to Moses tried to stop Eldad and Medad those
were the two who weren't among the seventy who had been chosen to
receive the spirit but by all appearances they had still received the
spirit, Moses said
why in the world would I want to do that?
Wouldn't it be wonderful if God gave the same spirit to
everyone… if everyone spoke truth and listened to others, if
everyone paid attention to the instruction and the guidance of the
spirit of God? How could that possibly be a bad thing?
And we can probably agree in principle, but the practicality of listening for God's spirit in the real world is much more difficult. We live in a world where there is information overload. Even for me, it's hard to imagine what life would look like without my computer and cell phone and all the information I could possibly want at my fingertips just about every hour of every day… It truly is impossible to take in everything. And in the midst of all the possibility, it's not easy to know what's an invitation of the spirit and what comes from the myriad of other voices that call out to us.
Our passage from Acts starts off with something spectacular. Tongues of fire and rushing wind and miracle of hearing or miracle of speaking that enabled everyone who was there to understand what was going on… And in some regards it sure would be nice if we had the benefit of all of that when the spirit of God came… then it would be different and we could be sure of what we were hearing. But that's not often what we get… what we get are the little nudges that work on our hearts. We get the little tugs, the little pulls, the possibility of a new thing or a new way of being that that excites us and maybe even that scares us just a little bit because they beckon us to be transformed and to transform our community.
I'm convinced that those nudges, those tugs, those interior movements
are some of the primary ways that the spirit works in us. And every
day, all the time, there's a choice to make. And the choice is this:
whether to explore or to ignore… to explore those movements to
see where they go and see what fruit comes, to see what possibilities
open up and where the road leads; or to ignore the movements, to
pretend they don't exist, to resign ourselves to being locked into
what already is at the expense of what could possibly be. Verses
12-13 seem to point to that choice in the text…
amazed and perplexed, saying to each other what does this mean? But
others sneered and said they must be drunk! Some explored and
others mocked, some pondered others ridiculed.
But as I was thinking this week about the way people I know have
experienced the spirit at work in their lives, it occurred to me that
it's a little more complicated than a simple choice. Many of us,
maybe even most of us don't consciously face that kind of
choice… especially at this time in the history of the world and
in this cultural context the reality we deal with more often is that
we simply aren't aware of the nudges… occasionally we are and
we ignore them and sometimes we notice them and pay attention…
but often those little tugs and little nudges have an awfully tough
time competing for our time and energy in the midst of all the other
possibilities… The movies and the television and the internet
and the pressure of work and the pressure of finances and the
responsibilities and the requirements. And the list of what we must
do and the list of what we
should do goes on and on and on and
the nudges get lost… and the tugs go unnoticed… and the
invitation, the beautiful possibility of today fades into a wistful
wondering about what might have been.
And don't get me wrong the advances made by our society really are remarkable, but one of the great tragedies of our American culture is that those advances seem to have come at the expense of listening for God's spirit and connecting with each other in community.
In the Acts passage, the coming of the spirit allowed those who had a story to tell to speak… and it also allowed those who needed to hear the message to hear. In the passage from Numbers, Moses spoke about his needs and about his understanding of how God worked… and the community was better off for it. And four times in the last month different people in this congregation, in different contexts have told me that they long for authentic connection with other people in the congregation. They want to connect around things that really matter and they don't know how to make it happen. And so today, on Pentecost Sunday, here in the park, I thought it would be good to not just talk… but to listen also… to listen to the nudges of the spirit, to listen to each other… to listen for how we might be being led.
Brennan Manning writes about it as the Geography of Nowhere… at least that's what it looks like on paper when you first read it… but when you look closer nowhere has double meaning… N-o-w-h-e-r-e, when it is given a chance to breathe… is also n-o-w h-e-r-e… Now, Here. and that has to be where and when we to listen for God's spirit. So I'm going to stop talking for a few minutes. At first I want you to just notice what you notice about now and here… (the children's voices in the distance, the birds singing, the people around you, the warmth of the sunshine, the gentle breeze, whatever it is, just let it draw your attention to the present moment.) And then I'm going to invite you to notice what has been nudging you lately… what's been tugging on your heart? What's do you want to do? Who do you want to be? What possibility excites you?… and then finally we'll move into a time of sharing together around the tables… what did you notice in the prayer time?
A year and a half ago as a church we completed the natural church development survey and the single place that survey invited us to focus was paying attention to the spirit… engaging in a passionate, meaningful kind of spirituality. And I think it has to start with noticing and sharing those nudges, and those tugs, and those interior movements that are drawing us each and all of us together toward life because that's how we'll grow together, that's how our faith will become so much more significant in our life together… so if something came up for you in the prayer time that you'd like to share, please do. If you find something in your personal prayer time draws you forward, follow it… Because that's how we will experience Pentecost, here. Thanks be to God
The foregoing sermon was given by Rev. Dan Holland at the United Parish's Church at the Park, Allen Pond Park, Bowie, on June 12, 2011.
© 2011 Daniel Holland