Today is Pentecost Sunday and while we don’t quite make as much of it as we used to in the Church, it is considered to be one of the high holy days. Now the biggies are Christmas and Easter – especially Christmas. That’s the celebration that everyone knows because that’s when we do all the shopping and decorating and gift giving.
But that’s not the way it’s always been done. Back when this congregation was formed in the 1867 the most important Christians festivals were first Good Friday and Easter. This is, of course, the celebration of the crucifiction and resurrection of Jesus. The second most important celebration was Pentecost. That’s because Pentecost is, effectively, the birthday of the Church. It is when the Holy Spirit came upon the earliest followers of Jesus and filled them, giving them the strength, the wisdom and the courage to go out and share the Gospel with all peoples. This was key to the development and growth of the Church because without the Spirit, the good news of Jesus Christ would have died back in the Holy Land when Jesus died. It didn’t and it didn’t because of the Holy Spirit. Next to Easter, this was the most important festival of the Christian year.
While we’re at it, do you know what traditionally was the third most Christian important festival? It was All Saints Day which falls on November 1. Most of you probably didn’t even know that. We actually don’t do much with All Saints Day anymore but it is intended to celebrate the way that all Christians throughout history are bond together by the same Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost. Whether someone is alive or gone to be with the Lord, we maintain a spiritual connection of faith through the power of the Holy Spirit. The only real holdover for All Saints Day is now Hallowe’en. Despite the urban legend to the contrary, Hallowe’en is and never was a celebration of evil or the birthday of the devil or any such thing. It was the evening of preparation for All Saints Day. Just as Christmas Eve falls before Christmas, All Hallows Eve – or Hallowe’en, is the evening before All Saints Day.
Now you must be able to guess the fourth most important Christian festival for our ancestors. It was Christmas. 150 years ago, however, Christmas was not such a big deal. Sure, the Church celebrated the birth of Christ. Many of our best known Christmas carols were introduced back then. Some families may have stuck a tree up in the house but it was probably gone the next day. And there might have been a gift or two but nothing extravagant. In fact, if you know the Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge was not being the least bit mean to Bob Cratchet by making him come into work on Christmas Day. That’s because everyone worked on Christmas Day. Statutory holidays had not yet been invented. Sometimes I wish we could go back to that and focus on what is really important to our faith but I don’t think Walmart and Amazon will let us do that.
THE COMING OF THE SPIRIT
So what do we do about Pentecost? There is, of course, the story of Pentecost in Acts 2 that we often read. But I thought that this morning, I’d take a different tack and read the Old Testament version of the Holy Spirit coming to be with the people of God in Numbers 11. Back in that era, of course, God’s people were the Jews. Christianity was still about 1,500 years away from being established. But the Spirit was still active. The people of Israel had just come out of Egypt under the leadership of Moses and were beginning the forty years of wandering through the wilderness. They were also just getting to know God and how God works in the lives of his people. And they were in for a surprise.
God needed to show the people that he was a powerful and loving God. He needed to let them know that he could do miracles and look after them while they were in the wilderness. God had already done a few things. Earlier in Numbers 11 God had sent them quails to eat to satisfy their hunger. God had given them water when Moses struck a rock with his staff. But now, God was going to do something completely different.
God has Moses gather seventy elders, some from each of the twelve tribes of Israel and he has them all stand around a Tent outside the camp where Moses had spoken with God. The elders are all standing there when suddenly the Holy Spirit descends upon them. Numbers doesn’t really go into what that was like but it’s not hard to imagine that it was similar to what happened when God sent the Holy Spirit to be with the Church in Acts 2. After all, usually in the Bible, when God makes an entrance, he does it big. In Acts 2 it says that the Spirit came like tongues of fire and spread out to all of the Christians who were there, filling them with the Spirit and they began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Something happened. Something powerful happened. Something happened that had never happened quite like it before. And the initial sign of that powerful event was that the Christians began to speak in tongues. I’m not going to go into what that means right now because that is worth it’s own sermon or two. But let’s just understand that God did something extraordinary and the sign was a verbal response.
The same sort of thing happens in Numbers 11. Numbers 11:25 (NIV) says, “Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke with [Moses], and he took the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders.” God took the Spirit that had been put on Moses and shared it with the seventy elders. Did it happen like in the Pentecost story in Acts 2? We don’t know, but it’s not beyond God to do something like that so that the people realized that something significant had happened. Now let’s read the rest of verse 25: “When the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not do it again.” What happened? They prophesied. They spoke something out of their mouths and it was their confirmation that God had moved in their lives. There is an interesting little caveat in this verse which says that they only prophesied once but that’s all it took. That’s all that they needed.
This sounds very similar to what happened on the day of Pentecost. In both stories, the Holy Spirit came to the faithful people. It rested upon them and they responded verbally either by speaking in tongues or prophesying.
So something important has happened in the lives of the people of Israel. God has come to them in a whole new way. God has given them his Spirit and empowered them to prophesy. That would certainly get the people’s attention. What is even more impressive is that it didn’t just happen to one person. If it did, then people could still wonder if it was from God. After all, maybe the person prophesying was just a bit loopy and known to do some strange things like pretending to be filled with the Spirit and prophesying.
But that’s not the case here. It wasn’t just one person who was affected. It was seventy. And these were not just your normal average every day Joes either. They were elders from each tribe of Israel. Elders are people who are not only older – that’s what the word “elder” means – they are also considered to be wiser and more stable. They are people to whom the other people look for guidance and wisdom. These elders then, are the cream of the crop. They are seventy of the most respected people of all of the Israelites. So when they are filled with the Holy Spirit and start to prophesy, the other people know that this is the real deal.
ELDAD & MEDAD
But hold on because we’re not done yet. Something else happens that is important to this story. Let’s move to Numbers 11:26 which says, “However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders but did not go out to the Tent.” So, for whatever reason, they were not at the Tent with the other elders. We don’t know why. Maybe they didn’t get the meeting instructions. Maybe they weren’t feeling well. Maybe there was a family emergency or maybe they just had a lousy sense of timing. We don’t know but whatever the reason, they weren’t there. But then verse 26 goes on to say this: “A young man ran and told Moses, ‘Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.’” So these two men who didn’t make it out to the Tent and weren’t there when the Spirit descended upon the other sixty-eight elders are affected in the very same way. They too are prophesying.
What does this say to us? It says that the Spirit will blow where it will. That’s what Jesus said in John 3:8 (CEV): “The Spirit is like the wind that blows wherever it wants to.” So the Spirit blew around the Tent outside the camp and the Spirit also blew though the camp. As people of God, we don’t get to pick and choose where the Spirit blows and who the Spirit impacts. All we do is let it go where it will and see if we can follow.
But then we get a reaction from those who managed to get out to the Tent and didn’t stay back at the camp like Eldad and Medad. Numbers 11:28 (NIV) says, “Joshua, son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, ‘Moses, my lord, stop them!’” This Joshua is the same man who would eventually lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. But now he’s upset. Why? Because the way he saw it, Eldad and Medad weren’t playing by the rules. They didn’t go out to the Tent with Moses. They stayed back at the camp so how come they got the Spirit too? It’s like Joshua is saying. “Hey Moses, how come those two guys get to prophesy? We did what we were supposed to do and they didn’t. So they shouldn’t be rewarded. It’s not fair. It’s just not fair.” Clearly Joshua has his nose out of joint.
But here’s a question. Why did God give his Spirit to the elders in the first place? Was it to reward them for their obedience? Did they somehow deserve it? Was it an at-a-boy for doing all the right things? I don’t think so. When you think about it there’s only one reason why God gave the Spirit to any of them. It’s because they needed it to do God’s work. Remember that before God asks us to do anything, God will first equip us to do what we are called to do. That means that God gave Eldad and Medad the Spirit because they needed it to fulfill their mission. Unfortunately, we don’t know what that mission was. They are never again mentioned in the Bible. After Numbers 11 they just sort of disappear but then again so did virtually all the rest of the seventy elders as well.
But the point of this story is that God’s Spirit will rest upon whom God wants it to rest. In the same way, God gives other spiritual gifts to those whom he chooses. God gives talents and abilities to people according to their missions and purposes in life. And just because we don’t all get the same gifts, that does not mean that we need to be upset about it. Not everyone will sing like a bird. Not everyone will be able to play the piano and provide music leadership. Not everyone is called to preach or teach or provide leadership. As it says in Ephesians 4:11-12 (NIV): “It was [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles and some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up.” You see, it’s not about you. It’s about God and God’s desire to give the appropriate gifts and talents to those who need them to serve in various capacities in order to build up the Church. And by Church, I do not mean the buildings. I mean the people. That’s the body of Christ that we are enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to build up.
You may wish you had this or that talent or ability. There are times when you might wonder why God didn’t give you a better voice for reading Scripture or why God didn’t give you the gift of discernment. There are all kinds of gifts and talents that we wish we had. But, at the same time, it’s so easy to forget that God gave you all kinds of other gifts that the Church desperately needs. Maybe you have a heart for children or a desire to help the poor. Maybe God has given you the ability to see both sides of a conflict so that you can plant seeds of reconciliation. Maybe you’re really good at visiting people who are going through hard times. Where would the church be without those things? Don’t be jealous for what you don’t have. Rather rejoice for what God has given to you.
That’s sort of what Moses says to Joshua in response to his demand that Eldad and Medad be silenced. Numbers 11:29 (NIV) says, “Moses replied, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!’” What that means is that there is no reason for any of us to be jealous of what God has or has not give to us and to others. The Spirit blows where it will and it will rest upon whom God wants it to rest. It will equip each of us differently depending on the purpose for which God put us on this earth.
But just know this. I don’t what gifts God gives to people. I don’t know why certain people are equipped to do some things and some are equipped to do others. But this I do know. All of us are gifted and equipped to do something.
When you gave your life to Christ, you were filled with the Holy Spirit. In fact, one of the definitions of a Christian is one who is filled with the Spirit. As the Holy Spirit came upon all of the Christians on the day of Pentecost, so too the Holy Spirit continues to come to all those who call upon the name of Jesus. That very same Spirit rests on you and me and gives us gifts and talents to use for God’s purpose. No believer is excluded. No believer is left behind.
Spirit blows where it will. It gives gifts, talents and abilities to each one
of us according to our need. Embrace that Spirit and all that he has given you.
Use it to fulfill the mission and purpose for which God breathed life into you.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Grace and Glory, shine upon us with the light of Heaven. Radiate within the deepest recesses of our souls so that we may glow in response to your never ending love and care. How wonderful you are and how good to us. Who are we that you defend us? What have we done to deserve your compassion? Your gifts to us are unearned and undeserved, given freely by your grace. For your many blessings we give you thanks and praise.
We thank you God for the many activities that are being done around our church. We thank you for yard sales and BBQ’s, for Sunday School classes and visitation teams. We thank you for the choir and musicians, for the gifts of music and song. We thank you for the various committees, the UCW and the trustees along with all of the other groups that do your work in this place and in this community.
We remember too those who have been affected yet again by another cowardly terrorist attack in London. Grant healing to the wounded and peace for those who mourn. We pray, O God, that your Spirit may stir in the hearts of people to bring peace and reconciliation.
In the midst of our praise and thanks, we come with our concerns. We lift up in prayer the many students who will writing exams these next few weeks as another school year draws to a close. Bless them with clear minds and good study habits that they may do their best in all that they do. Bless with travelling mercies the many class trips that are taking place. May the roads be clear and the activities safe for all those involved.
We remember before you those who are suffering from any number of natural disasters that we hear about on the earth. Rains, winds and floods have taken their toll. And yet we still ask for your protection and blessing as we live within the world of your making. Help us to live with respect in creation and to turn towards you in all things.
We pray for those who need healing this day; for Millecent Wormald, Sharon Chalmers, Helen Upcott, Don Raymont and Jacqui Seguin. We also pray for peace for the family and friends of Jack Roadhouse whose life was celebrated this week.
God of all the Ages, we pray with open hearts, knowing that you hear and answer our prayers. We pray in Jesus’ name through whom you gave us the great gift of eternal life. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
June 4, 2017 / Pentecost
Numbers 11: 24 – 30; Psalm 104: 24 – 34, 35b; Acts 2: 1 – 21; John 20: 19 – 23
CALL TO WORSHIP
The earth is full of your majesty, O God.
As long as we have breath we will sing to you.
May our words and rejoicings be pleasing to the Living God;
Praise the Lord forever!
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Breathe on us, breath of God, and fill us with life anew. Help us to love what you love and do what you would do. Send the Holy Spirit into our gathering. Anoint us and refresh us. Blow through us and around us. As we worship this day, may we glow with the divine fire of Pentecost. Make us like Jesus who brought your divine healing to a hurting world. Make us like the disciples who shared his salvation with all people. Come, Holy Spirit, come! Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We confess, O God, that the fire of your Spirit does not always glow as brightly within us as it could. We want our comforts instead of your compassion. We seek power over others and neglect your passion for justice. We hold onto our opinions and judgments when you call us to listen for your truth. We remain silent when we are supposed to speak your Word and share your Gospel. Forgive us, O God, and open our hearts, that we may celebrate your Spirit within and among us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Like a gentle breeze, God fans the flame of the Spirit within us. Like a strong wind, God reminds us of the need to forgive and be forgiven. Like a mighty storm, God cleans away the past and forces us to look at a new future. Forgiven and renewed, we are free to dance where the Spirit leads us.
DEDICATION OF OFFERINGYour Spirit breathed upon the Church at Pentecost giving life and purpose. As you gave your Spirit to us, we surrender our spirits to you. We bring our gifts with the courage and hope that you will bless us with the wisdom to us them for your holy purpose. Amen.
As we go to our daily living, may the Spirit come to us in new and
exciting ways. God comes as a gentle whisper, as a strong wind, as a mighty
storm. Let us go, filled with the Spirit to share the Good News of salvation
with all people.