THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Don’t Dodge the Spirit
Many believers think of the Spirit as a late arrival, an afterthought, or perhaps, to use a movie metaphor, a sequel to the original story. It’s easy enough to do. The Spirit doesn’t arrive until chapter two of Acts, after all the goings and comings, dyings and risings of the gospels. Jesus mentions the Spirit, usually with a code-worded alias: comforter, advocate, companion, counselor. But there were no real guarantees that the Spirit would actually show up.
In John’s great gospel prologue, it’s a two-person show. Word and God. There is no mention of a Spirit. Light is a significant image, but that is synonymous with Word. Word is Light. Still no report of the Spirit.
In the opening verses of Genesis, we have a mention of the Spirit. The Spirit of God – or “wind of God,” as our sanctuary Bibles and the New Revised Standard Version translate it – is right there with God in the beginning, seeming to be the same kind of co-agent of creation as John describes the Word. But in Genesis it is again a two-person operation. There is no mention of the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Human One, Christ, Messiah, or Anointed One.
This could be the lead-in to a sermon on the Holy Trinity, but that’s the topic for next week. Today – the Holy Spirit’s day – is focused on the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is not a Johnny or Janie come lately. The Spirit is as old as scripture, as old as creation. And if we didn’t have John’s attestation about the Word and creation, we could think of Jesus as the newbie in God’s group. Just so you don’t get that impression, remember that Jesus was born of flesh and Spirit in the fullness of time, God’s time. When the need was the greatest, then God sent the Son, as John says, “not to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17closeAn error occurred.).
The Spirit lurks through much of the Hebrew scriptures. One of the places where its presence is more evident is the episode I just read from the Book of Numbers.
The movement of all the Hebrews out of Egypt must have been a logistical nightmare. If the numbers which scripture gives are accurate and not just story-telling methods of saying there were a “lot of people,” moving that many people over long distances would have made the D-Day invasion of France look simple, which it wasn’t. Moving people and herds would have been akin to rush hour in Los Angeles or Chicago or Washington DC. You know how traffic moves when there is a tie up. You move a car length or two for no apparent reason other than the space opens up. It is a chain of movings. Everyone doesn’t move at the same time. First one, then the next all down the line. It’s like the rippling of waves.
So it would have been with the Hebrews leaving the edge of the Reed Sea and moving through the years of wandering in Sinai. When the front of the line got to a stopping place, the back may not have started yet.
No wonder the people were cranky and cantankerous. And that didn’t put Moses in the best of humor when he was dealing with God. Just before the account I read earlier, Moses tells God,
“The people I’m with are six hundred thousand on foot and you’re saying, ‘I will give them meat, and they will eat for a month.’ Can flocks and herds be found and slaughtered for them? Or can all the fish in the sea be found and caught for them?” The Lord said to Moses, “Is the Lord’s power too weak? Now you will see whether my word will come true for you or not.”
At God’s direction Moses assembles a cadre of seventy men to encircle the Tent of Meeting which contained the Ark or Covenant Chest. The Lord descended in the cloud distributed to the seventy some of the Spirit which he had previously placed on Moses. And they all prophesied at once for one time only.
But were there were seventy men surrounding the Meeting Tent? The text is not absolutely clear. At first it suggests that all seventy were there, but then it goes on to say that two had stayed home, Eldad and Medad. Assuming that they were numbered in the seventy, we don’t know why they weren’t there. Had they not gotten the memo? Did they not know they were short-listed for this particular activity? Or did they know about it and didn’t care about it or wanted no part of it? Were they hiding? Were they trying to avoid the Spirit?
It didn’t work. The Spirit found them and they went to prophesying inside the camp rather than beyond it at the Meeting Tent. And not only did the Spirit catch and start them prophesying, they didn’t stop, like the others did. They kept it up.
We wouldn’t know about this episode if someone hadn’t been so taken aback by the activity of the two. They ran and told Moses. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, was so upset at the report that he wanted Moses to stop Eldad and Medad. He may have thought that the two were stealing Moses’ power, that they had caught the Spirit without authorization. After all, they hadn’t been to the gathering at the Meeting Tent.
For someone who would later blow trumpets to bring down a walled fortress at Jericho, it seems like this younger Joshua was trying to build a wall to keep God’s Spirit from getting into too many people without an orderly process. After all the gift of the Spirit on the men encircling the Meeting Tent was of limited duration for a set number of people. If Eldad and Medad were supposed to be there and weren’t, then it was their loss. The Spirit shouldn’t have gone and found them.
If all seventy men were standing around the Meeting Tent, then the Spirit got to seventy plus two. Can God’s Spirit do that? Does the Spirit only come in limited quantities? I think we know the answer to that. “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s power too weak? Now you will see whether my word will come true for you or not.’”
A lot of us battle with the same queasiness that inflicted Joshua when he thought about the Lord giving out more Spirit than has been promised, particularly when that Spirit is given to cantankerous, unpredictable, and often ungrateful people. How can we control such gifts if we cannot count and register them or, at least, their recipients? And while the sixty-eight or seventy got the prescribed 15 minutes of Spirit time, Eldad and Medad got more. It’s unfair. Whoever put this story down in ink or edited it is worried about an oversupply of the Spirit.
I think that Moses would be upset if he thought that people were thinking that the Spirit should be given in limited amounts to elite groups of people. He said as much to Joshua, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!”
There are lots of threads in this story.
1. We can’t tell God to whom to give or not give the Spirit.
2. We can’t tell God how long the Spirit should rest on anyone who receives it.
3. We can’t tell God where or when to give the Spirit.
4. God has more than enough Spirit to go around.
5. We can run from the Spirit, but we can’t hide.
While all these take-aways are valuable, I think that last one is the most practical for us. Yes, we wrestle with the tendency to tell God what to do and how to do it. That’s part of our humanness handed down from the first parents once they took on God’s word and doubted it.
Not being able to hide from the Spirit is what really messes us up. Except when life is going sour, we would really rather have God stay away from us. We are afraid of being found. Being found limits us, we think. We want freedom but no responsibility. We want God’s largess, but we don’t want to be obligated. We don’t want to hear God’s clarion call to serve in ways that challenge life-long behaviors and thinking, We don’t want to have to leave our zones of comfort – physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual. We want Christ’s salvation, but we don’t want the purpose for which we were saved, that is to share it with others and to give it away to others who respond to different pictures, words, music, ideas than we do.
So we try to dodge the Spirit, perhaps like Eldad and Medad may have, They didn’t get a little bit of Spirit, they got a lot. And a lot is what we are afraid of. God can have all the Spirit God wants and give it out anyway God wants. Just don’t give us too much. Pentecost is about God giving us more Spirit than we either want or know what to do with. That’s God’s pleasure.
This table tells us of God’s lavish gift of grace. Jesus didn’t die a little for us, a breadcrumb’s worth and thimbleful’s amount. He died all the way. He rose all the way. He reigns all the way. He pours out the Spirit all the way. So don’t dodge the Spirit.