Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21 or Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 or Acts 2:1-21
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39

Would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!

When asked what the opportunity means to them, many reality show contestants answer that the prize money will be life changing. During the food competitions like Chopped or Master Chef, the chefs often talk about a lifelong goal of opening a restaurant. On Cupcake Wars, the bakers want to expand their business, have greater visibility in their communities and accomplish great things. The dancing or singing shows have contestants that have always wanted to be professionals. Winning the competitions is life changing for each and every one of them.

Yet, the life changing effects are not always positive. Take, for instance, the many lottery winners who have discovered that winning the lottery is often disastrous. They find that their lives are not changed in a good way. They find every distant relative crawling out of the woodwork asking for money. Sales people won’t leave them alone. People they trust stop being trustworthy when they try to discover ways to get the most for themselves out of the prize. Plans fall apart because the winners quickly discover that everyone is willing to take advantage of them.

Some of the problems are not solely the fault of others, though. A million dollars may sound like a lot of money, but it quickly disappears. The government takes a portion for taxes. A new house, car and other material possessions can eat up the pennies faster than you might realize. Then what happens? The expensive house and car means high taxes and maintenance. When they can’t afford it, they end up in debt and often lose everything they bought. They often end up in worse shape than when they started because they were not careful with the gift. It was life changing, but not in a good way.

Have you ever gotten something that was life changing? Did you get that perfect job or find the right mate? Were you ever in the right place at the right time to receive something that was life changing? You may not have even realized that you were looking for something. You may have thought that you had everything you needed, but then one day you had an opportunity to do something new or to look at the world through a new point of view. Did you take advantage of that opportunity? How did it turn out? Did it turn out for good, or was it, in the end, life changing in a negative way?

When we look at the lives of the apostles, we might wonder if it ended well. After all, they suffered horrendous persecution and most died horrible deaths. John was apparently the only one who died of old age. Peter was crucified upside down. James was put to death by Herod Agrippa I. Legends and traditions surround the deaths of the rest of the apostles, though evidence is sketchy. Despite the uncertainty around their lives and deaths, we do know that being a Christian is not an easy life to live. The Holy Spirit is life changing, but if we look at those lives through modern, secular eyes, we might think that it is not a good way to go. Who wants to be persecuted? Who wants to lose everything? Who wants to die over something like this?

The apostles received a life changing gift on that Pentecost. The promised Holy Spirit came and changed the way they see the world and the way they respond to it. It might have been easier to return to their fishing boats or tax collector’s table, but they couldn’t do that once they had the Spirit. Living with Jesus might have been enough, although we did see that in the first moments after the crucifixion, they returned to their old lives. They were probably excited to have had Jesus for another forty days, but how long would that excitement have lasted after Jesus ascended to heaven if they didn’t have something to keep them going?

They lasted ten days, but how long would they have gone on? When would that first disciple have said, “Hey, I can’t just sit here day after day, I’m going home.” Do you think they would have stayed if they’d known what was really coming? Would it have mattered? They were the ones chosen by Jesus to continue the work. Would the Holy Spirit have found them anyway?

That’s what happened in the passage from Numbers. Moses was tired. He asked God for help with the people of Israel. He couldn’t serve them all, so God agreed to anoint elders to serve as judges with Moses. While the chosen men were gathered at the tent of meeting, God took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and gave it to them. When it happened, the men began to prophesy. At the same time, two men in the camp also received the Spirit of God and prophesied. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, was upset by this unexpected anointing. “Do something!” he cried out to Moses. But Moses was not bothered by it. “And Moses said unto him, Art thou jealous for my sake? would that all Jehovah's people were prophets, that Jehovah would put his Spirit upon them!”

In this, Moses prophesied what God would do one day, and we know that it happened Pentecost. Jesus Christ opened the door for all God’s people to live out a real and active faith that speaks God’s Word in the world. The elders in Moses’ day were charged with doing God’s work, and so are those who receive His Holy Spirit now. It began at Pentecost and we benefit from His grace even now, as He showers His Spirit on all those who believe. This anointing is life changing.

And the anointing is necessary in this age after Christ. Paul tells us that no one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. We can’t choose to be a Christian without that gift from God. Even the disciples, who’d spent three long years learning from Jesus, could not say that Jesus is Lord without the power of the Spirit. Even to the moment Jesus was taken into heaven, they were still seeing the work of Christ through their own eyes and expectations. They were anxiously awaiting a kingdom that would not come because it was not what God intended. In those ten days while they were constantly in prayer waiting for the promised Comforter, they still did not know what to expect. It was not until the power of the Holy Spirit came upon them that they could prophesy with power.

In a world where power is everything, this might seem like something toward which we should strive, but the power given by God in the Holy Spirit is much different than the power the world values. This power won’t make anyone the head of a company or get them elected to political office. This kind of power will not earn anyone respect or money or position. It will not guarantee success or promise popularity. As a matter of fact, the power given by the Holy Spirit is more likely to bring persecution and rejection. The world has rejected God and continues to reject those who serve Him.

In the Gospel lesson, Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Again, this peace is not as the world might expect. We talk of peace between nations and people, a world without conflict. Does having the Holy Spirit guarantee a life without conflict? No, it does not. The peace Jesus guarantees is the peace that comes from turning toward God and trusting in Him. No matter what our circumstances, we dwell in peace when we dwell in God. It doesn’t matter if the world rejects us because God accepts us and loves us and fills us with His grace. By the power of God’s Spirit, we become one with Christ and part of His Church.

Paul refers to the Church as the body of Christ and Christians as the parts. “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of the body, being many, are one body; so also is Christ.” We are made one in Christ, each with our own individual gifts. Paul also says, “For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether bond or free; and were all made to drink of one Spirit.”

The Spirit from which we drink is the gift Jesus promised. The work He does in this world through His Spirit is to quench the thirst of those who are thirsty for the Living Water, which is Jesus. In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus tells the listeners to come to Him. He was in the Temple during Sukkoth, or the festival of Booths. It was a time to thank God for His abundance at the harvest. The adherents built small booths to represent God’s protection. They lived and ate in the booths for seven days.

These traditions were a part of the life of the Jews. They traveled to Jerusalem out of a sense of duty and faith. Yet, many of the rituals that accompanied the celebrations were not given to them by God. They were not originally part of the festival but became part of the celebration as the Jews embraced the practices of their neighbors. Take, for instance, the ritual of libation. In this ritual the people poured great quantities of water over the altar. The water ran off the altar, onto the floor and it flowed out of the temple into the valley below. This was not an act of faith, defined by God to be part of the celebration, but a pagan ritual that the people wanted to give them assurance that God would meet their needs. It was as if they thought God did not know they needed water to live. Jesus spoke to them on the seventh day, when the water was pouring out of the Temple. He cried, “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” He was calling God’s people to look to Him for blessing rather than through rituals that had no real meaning in God’s kingdom.

Jesus then said, “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water.” This passage finishes with the promise of the Spirit, the Spirit received at Pentecost. The Spirit comes from Jesus, into our hearts and into our lives. It is a living Spirit, like flowing water. It is not meant to be hidden away in our hearts or behind the walls of a church building. God gives us the gift of His Spirit, and the gifts that come with His presence in our lives, to be used for the sake of the world. It is living water that flows, into and out of our hearts. We are given the Holy Spirit so that we will take Him into the world so that others will also hear and believe and receive.

We might not have won a reality television show or even been in the right place at the right time to receive something life changing. But we have been changed and the world in which we live will look different to us because of it. The Holy Spirit has come upon us. We know this because we could not call Jesus our Lord without that Spirit. But has our life really been changed? Are we really living in the faith we have been given and using the gifts we have received? Are we being prophets in a world that needs to hear God’s Word more than ever?

It might be frightening to follow this reality, but we need not fear. God is with us. He has given us all we need, including that promise that no matter what happens in this world, we will spend eternity with Him in the next. We may suffer persecution. We may be rejected. It is not even out of the realm of possibility that we could die for our bold faith.

The psalmist says, “Thou sendest forth they Spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the ground.” God breathes on every baby born and they become living beings. Every baby born changes and renews the earth. There is no person who has been created by God that is not loved by Him and for whom He has a great and wonderful purpose. Their very existence means that the world will be a new and different place. When God sent His Spirit to rest upon the disciples on that first Pentecost, the world was changed.

Our reading from the Psalm for today does not include verse 35a. The reason for ignoring this passage is because it does not seem to be in keeping with the praise and worship of the rest of psalm. The psalmist writes, “And let the wicked be no more.” I think we should keep it in, because it is not a condemnation of wickedness but rather a hope for sinners. If we read it in the context of the promise of Pentecost and the reality of God’s life-changing breath, we can see that when God breathes on His people, they are changed. Though they are sinners, by faith they become saints. When God transforms a person, he or she is wicked no more. We are made righteous by God’s breath, created and the earth is renewed. The world is changed because God has taken away the wickedness by which all human flesh is oppressed and makes us new to go out and glorify God by sharing His Word and His goodness with others.

You may not be a prophet, but all Christians are called and gifted to prophesy: to speak the word of God that points to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We are all gifted with special talents and abilities to be used in sharing God’s grace in our own individual ways, each a part of the whole doing what we are called to do. Our lives have been changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, so let us go now in peace and let the Living Water flow from our hearts so that all might hear, believe and be saved.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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