Don’t Dodge the Spirit

Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div. - June 4, 2017

Numbers 11:24-29closeNumbers 11:24-29 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then 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 as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two 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. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (ESV)

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THE WAVERLY PULPIT
Richard Secrest Hays, M.Div.
First Presbyterian Church of Waverly
211 Schmitt Dr., Waverly, Ohio 45690 + 740.947.2905
www.firstpresbyterianwaverly.com

 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Don’t Dodge the Spirit

Numbers 11:24-29closeNumbers 11:24-29 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 25 Then 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 as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it. 26 Now two 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. 27 And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, “My lord Moses, stop them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord's people were prophets, that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (ESV) ; John 7:37-39closeJohn 7:37-39 37 On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (ESV) ; Acts 2:1-21closeActs 2:1-21 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And spanided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” 12 And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. 15 For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. 16 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: 17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
20 the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
21 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”’ (ESV)

 

Listen to the Sermon

 

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 3:17closeJohn 3:17 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (ESV) ).

 

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.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all scripture references are from The Common English Bible, © 2011 www.commonenglishbible.com.
Copyright © 2017 First Presbyterian Church of Waverly, Ohio. Reprinted by permission.