Sunday, June 4, 2017

Pentecost
Numbers 11:24-30
Psalm 25:1-15
Acts 2:1-21
John 7:37-30

He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, from within him will flow rivers of living water.

There is a popular saying among Christians, ďGod doesnít call the equipped, He equips the called.Ē The origin of this saying is unknown, or rather, it has been credited to several different people. There are certainly scriptures texts that suggest this very thought. It means that God will provide whatever you need to do His work. Sadly, many people think they are unqualified to be witnesses for Jesus Christ, to be His servants, to share His Gospel. There seems to be people who seem much more able to preach or teach or serve. They are. But they arenít more able because there is something particularly special about them, except that they have received Godís grace and theyíve responded to the opportunities to use their gifts for His glory. We are all unqualified by our own power or gifts. It is Godís power and His gifts that make us His witnesses in the world in word and in deed.

I was in a conversation with a friend a number of years ago about the Holy Spirit. She insisted that all people had the Holy Spirit. She conceded, perhaps, that it might be only believers who have the Holy Spirit, but continued to insist that Old Testament believers had Godís Spirit just as we do. I think she confused the idea that we have spirit as well as flesh with the infilling of the Holy Spirit. There were certainly people throughout the Old Testament who were equipped with Godís Spirit. Saul, as king, had Godís Spirit until God took it away and anointed David. The judges and prophets had Godís Spirit. The elders found in todayís Old Testament lesson were given Godís Spirit so that they could help Moses.

While there were those in the Old Testament who were equipped with Godís Spirit to do His work, I think there is a difference between what happened in the camp of the Israelites and what happened with the Christians at Pentecost in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit rested on those who were called in the Old Testament, but Luke tells us in the passage from Acts that ďThey were all filled with the Holy Spirit...Ē

We know that Moses was greatly blessed by God. The people were afraid of Moses because of the relationship he had with God. Moses came out glowing with the glory of God whenever he went into the Tent to meet with the LORD. Yet, even though Moses was the greatest prophet of the Israelites, the glow did not last. In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul tells us that Moses wore a veil to prevent the people from seeing that the glory faded away. God did pour His Spirit upon men and women in the Old Testament, but it was temporary. He gave it as needed.

Sometimes we are surprised by the people who have received gifts from God.

God told Moses to gather the elders of Israel. When they were gathered, He took the spirit that rested on Moses and divided it among the other elders. He gave them the authority to lead the people, to share in Mosesí responsibility. He took some of the burden from Moses and laid it on others. Joshua was not ready for Moses to let go of the control. It was not a problem that the elders were gathered and given some of the Spirit. It was not a problem that those who had been gathered were going to share in the responsibility and burden of care for the people. However, he was disturbed when the Spirit also fell on some men who had not come to the gathering. ďTell them to stop,Ē Joshua told Moses. Moses was not bothered by this development because he knew that it came from God. God is in control, not Moses. Moses would have preferred for every Hebrew to prophecy for the Lord. This was a hope that would come into fulfillment long after Moses died, after Jesus, when God did give the Spirit to all those who believe.

Thatís what Pentecost is all about. In the life of Peter we see our own reality. Peter was chosen by Christ, he was a leader of the disciples. He was in Jesusí inner circle, perhaps even Jesusí best friend. He was given a lot of responsibility, and in many ways filled Jesusí shoes when He ascended to heaven. He was the first to speak in Acts 1:16, encouraging the gathered assembly of believers to get on with the business of Church. He was the first to speak in todayís second lesson; his speech at Pentecost was the first public ministry of the Church without Jesus. Yet, this Peter who is given so much authority by Jesus and the other disciples was as imperfect as the rest of us. He failed Jesus in many ways while He was still among the disciples. Peter never fully understood what Jesus was teaching. Peter might have gone his own way if it hadnít been for Godís answer to the prayers of todayís psalmist.

The psalmist lists his hope for a relationship with the divine. He does not want to be put to shame. He does not want his enemies to triumph over him. He believes that those who trust in God will never be put to shame, but the treacherous enemies will. The psalmist hopes that God will show His ways and teach His paths to those who believe. He wants to be guided in truth and to be taught by the only one in whom we can have hope. He hopes God will remember His mercy and love. He hopes God will forget his sin. ďRemember me according to your loving kindness, for your goodnessí sake, Yahweh.Ē His hope is based entirely on Godís goodness. The psalmist goes on to describe the reason we can trust in God. God is good and upright. He instructs, guides and teaches His people in the right way. His way is loving and faithful. He takes care of those who live according to His Word.

The disciples were abandoned briefly when Jesus ascended into heaven, but even then they had experienced the promised Spirit. Jesus had breathed on them that first night after His resurrection. They received the Holy Spirit in that breath, just as the Old Testament judges, kings and prophets, but there was more to come. The Spirit breathed on them was enough to help them learn and understand what Jesus taught them for forty days, and to patiently wait for the fulfillment of Jesusí gift. They waited and they prayed until the right time.

The Holy Spirit came upon those disciples at Pentecost, not just as a breath like they experienced seven weeks ago, or like it came upon those in the Old Testament who had been so blessed. The Holy Spirit came into the world in a whole new way. They were not just kissed by the Spirit. The Spirit did not just land on them. At Pentecost they were filled with Godís Holy Spirit. They were filled. God was no longer going to work at them from the outside, pushing, leading, guiding; now He would move them from within. They would not just learn Godís Word in their heads, it would be written on their hearts. The words they spoke, though in their own voice, would be Godís Word as He spoke through them. At Pentecost we also see the hope of Moses fulfilled.

The Jewish people celebrated the Feast of Weeks fifty days after Passover, also known as Shavuíot or Pentecost. This was a festival of joyful thanksgiving to God for blessing the harvest by giving offerings from the first fruits of their work. Pentecost was also a time to remember the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai. Just as the people stopped briefly between their exodus out of Egypt and their journey to Canaan at the foot of the mountain, so too the people stopped briefly during the year to thank God for the blessings He has already given and to hear once again the words given to them on the mountain. The giving of the Law occurred fifty days after the Passover in Egypt, so it occurred fifty days later in the yearly remembrance of Godís mercy. The reading of the Law was an important part of this festival.

The word Pentecost means ďfifty days.Ē Jesus was crucified during the celebration of Passover, taken to the cross as the perfect Lamb of God. It is no surprise then that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples fifty days later while the city was filled with people attending the Feast of Pentecost. On the first Pentecost, the people of Israel were given Godís law. On the first Christian Pentecost, the people were given the Holy Spirit, along with Godís power and authority. Godís Word was written on their hearts instead of tablets of stone.

The Old was great. The New is greater.

Jews from all over the known world were in Jerusalem for the Pentecost celebration. They brought with them offerings of wheat, figs, olives and grapes to praise God for His goodness. I imagine it was an exciting time, but also a confusing time. After all, though they were Jews, they lived in foreign lands and knew foreign tongues. They may have been familiar with Hebrew from the scriptures, but Hebrew was not the commonly spoken language of the day.

In todayís passage from Acts, we hear how the listeners felt about this experience. Some were perplexed, others were amazed and some just thought it was silliness due to drunkenness. Peter stood up before the people and explained that this was the fulfillment of the hope of Moses, the promise given through the prophet Joel that the Spirit would come upon all people and they would do amazing things. Certainly, the fact that people from all over the world could hear the message in their own language was a most miraculous thing, especially since most of the disciples were uneducated laborers who probably knew Aramaic fluently, enough Hebrew for worship and perhaps just enough Greek necessary for business. Those disciples barely even understood the message they were giving with their own tongues! But Jesus sent the helper, the Spirit of God who gave voice to what they knew to be true in their hearts and the words to make it understandable to others.

In the passage from John 7, Jesus was teaching in the temple during Sukkoth, or the festival of Booths. It was a time to thank God for His abundant generosity at the harvest. The adherents built small booths, or tabernacles, to represent Godís protection. They lived and ate in the booths for seven days. Other rituals accompanied the celebrations. Jesus spoke to them on the seventh day, when great quantities of water were poured over the altar. The water ran off of the altar, onto the floor and it flowed out of the temple into the valley below. Though this was not originally part of the festival, it had become an important aspect to the people as they sought Godís blessings for their winter planting. It was not an act of faith or obedience, defined by God to be a part of the celebration. It was a pagan ritual that the people had adopted so that they might feel assured of Godís provision. It was as if they thought God did not know they needed water to live.

Jesus saw this ritual and cried out, ďIf any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.Ē When we drink of the water that comes from God, by His Holy Spirit, living water will wash through our lives into the world. The promised Spirit came to the disciples at Pentecost; He comes to us at baptism and continues to come to us as we live our lives of faith. The Spirit does not come for our own assurance or benefit, but so that the living water of Christ might flow into the world. We use our gifts to share the message which Christ came to giveóforgiveness. He sent the disciples, and so now sends us, to take that message into the world so that the world might be saved.

As we look at the motley crew of disciples that Jesus called, we know that He didnít choose people who were equipped to continue His work. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen. Others may have been fishermen, too, although we donít know the occupation of all the disciples before they met Jesus. Matthew was a tax collector. Simon was a Zealot and possibly a warrior, passionate about defeating the Romans. Judas may not have been a criminal, but he certainly had scandalous intentions. They werenít schooled in religious teachings, although I am sure that they all had learned enough at the feet of their mothers and in the temple or synagogues. They werenít trained to be preachers or teachers. They probably knew as much about the scriptures as the average Christian knows today. They were no different than you and I.

Yet, they were called to do great things! I doubt any of them could have imagined where their lives would lead after meeting Jesus Christ. We may never accomplish as much as those disciples. Very few of us will be involved in the establishment of new churches. I donít think many of us will ever say that weíve been the hands through which God healed someone who is sick or raised someone through the dead. Most of us donít even think we can speak well enough to share the Good News with our neighbors. The scriptures tell us the disciples did all those things. The church grew in number and geographically. People were healed and raised. God changed the world through that motley crew of people.

And He changes the world through you and I. We arenít called because we are equipped, we are equipped because we are called. We have been filled with Godís Holy Spirit, given every good gift needed to respond to the opportunities that God puts before us each day. We donít know how our one life might make a difference in the world. It may be something as simple as a word of kindness for someone weíll never remember but who went on to do great things because we gave them the courage or strength to get through another day. Our children may go on to change the world with their gifts and talents. A small donation to a food bank might give someone a second chance and then that person might just go on to change a town, a country or even the world.

The world is different because Jesus passed His ministry on to His people. As we celebrate another Pentecost, it is time for us to pause and consider whether we have been using our gifts to pursue our calling, glorifying God with our lives. And so we ask on this Pentecost, what is our purpose? Why were we born into such a body as the Church? Why did God send His Spirit to rest on His people? Are we responding to those opportunities to speak Godís Word and serve others to bring healing and life and hope in a world that so desperately needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Ever since that first Pentecost, the Church and individual Christians have had the power of God indwells in our hearts, the Living Water flows to quench the thirst of the world. Godís power and His gifts make us His witnesses in word and in deed.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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