Sermon; Pentecost; Numbers & Acts
Today is the familiar story of Pentecost. Today we hear of the 70 elders who were filled with the spirit of God and began prophesying. Today we hear of Eldad and Medad who also prophesied but did not follow the rules and were reported to Moses for disobeying. Today we hear of the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles and how they spoke in tongues and were heard by people of every nation. And in that moment when the Holy Spirit descended, we are told there was the sound of a violent, rushing wind.
As usual there is a lot going on in the lessons. But there are two things that I want to specifically focus on today.
First, I want to look at – as one of my favorite preachers called them – the Dad brothers, Eldad and Medad. Today's story comes from a section of the Exodus where the Israelites were whining to God and Moses about their situation and only having manna to eat. They were complaining that at least back in Egypt they had meat and leeks and cucumbers. Never mind that they were slaves, it was better back there. It's been said that it took 40 days for the Israelites to get out of Egypt, but it took 40 years to get Egypt out of the Israelites. This is the whiny, pessimistic, never satisfied group of people that Moses is trying to lead all by himself.
Eventually God tells Moses to take 70 elders to the tent of meeting outside the camp and he would distribute his spirit among them. In other words, this is a delegation of duties and a sharing of power. All goes well until the Dads begin prophesying INSIDE the camp, a clear violation of the rules and established protocol. They get ratted out to Moses who, to his credit, basically says to leave them alone.
As I read through this story, I was reminded that the Dad boys were being compared to the other 70. Those others were following established protocol, but these two were off doing their own thing, and some people didn't like that, complaining to Moses to make them stop.
We are in a situation with some parallels here. We have been given established protocols to follow when considering a regathering procedure. There is a clear list of what we need to take into account and steps we need to follow. And we are doing our best to follow these protocols with our main focus of keeping everyone safe.
But every once in awhile I will get a text or an email or a phone call that goes something like this: “Did you see that Church X is reopening?” Like with Eldad and Medad, there's a comparison going on between us, the given protocols, and that church over there. But our job is not to compare ourselves with that church over there or wonder why they get to open when we do not. Our job is to do what we can in our context for the safety, health, and benefit of our people.
Second, I want to look at the story of Pentecost when the apostles received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Acts, this happens on the Day of Pentecost, for the Jewish people that was 50 days after Passover, and now for us Christians, it's 50 days after the Resurrection. Those 50 days were filled with fear, uncertainty, disbelief, faith, surprise, and joy, to name just a few emotions going on. And remember, it wasn't that long ago when they all locked themselves in a room to hide.
But now, on the Day of Pentecost, the apostles are filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to proclaim the Good News to everyone in the city, speaking to them in languages the people could understand – Parthians and Medes, Elamites and people from Mesopotamia and Cappadocia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, and others. They spoke in new and different ways so the people around them could hear in ways they needed to hear.
Again, we are in a situation with some parallels here. It wasn't that long ago (although it feels like forever) when we were all locked away in our homes. Were we there out of fear or out of safety? Maybe a little of both. It is only now that we are beginning to venture out into the world at large. And as we venture out, we, like the apostles, are stepping out into a world that desperately needs to hear some good news.
In a few minutes we will renew our baptismal vows. One of the questions I will ask is, “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” Your answer will be, “I will, with God's help.”
There are lots of ways to do this, and very few of them require standing on the street corner shouting in tongues. Oh, I suppose you could do that; but how many people will hear what you are saying, let along actually stop to listen? Probably the most important thing to understand about the Day of Pentecost ISN'T that the apostles spoke in tongues, but that they spoke in a way that people could hear the message.
This has been a bad week here in the U.S. The murder of George Floyd by white police officers sparked protests around the country which, unfortunately, have turned violent and deadly. But it wasn't just the murder of George Floyd, it was a culmination of the murders of Amaud Arbery, Bothem Sean, Atatian Jefferson, Jordan Davis, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Sean Bell, Sandra Bland, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and so many others at the hands of white people for no other reason than that they were not white.
Why am I bringing this up? Because the challenge for us is the same as it was for the apostles – to speak in ways that people hear us. It is not incumbent upon minorities or people seen as “less than” to prove that they are equal and have worth. Instead, it is upon the white majority and people with power and influence to treat others with dignity, respect, and equality.
We, not only as Episcopalians but as the Church, the Body of Christ, must speak out in ways that people hear us and the message of God. The message people desperately need to hear is the Good News of God in Christ, that all people are created in the image of God, that there is no more Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white, male or female, but that all are one in Christ. Messages that contradict that may be louder and more popular with some, but that just means that we must all the more find a way to counteract that message and deliver a message of God's love for all that people can hear.
These are new and difficult times. But they are also times filled with opportunity. And rather than hide away behind locked doors, these are the days when we need to let the violent, rushing wind of the Holy Spirit push us out into the world to proclaim the message of the Good News in ways that people can hear.
On a parish level, we need to find ways to speak about God, Jesus, and the Church in ways that people will hear us. An increased online presence is one way. In these times of COVID separation, we need to find ways to remain connected and ways to invite others to be connected with us. Virtual Sunday school and bible studies are one way. Telling people about our online presence is another. Finding new and creative ways to live into the mission of the church is another.
On a wider level, we must also be willing to speak out against injustices and inequality. We must be willing to say that the old way of doing things is no longer tenable and we need to find new ways, Spirit-filled ways, to do everything from healthcare to employment to basic rights. We cannot afford to be the silent ones who simply want to get back to “normal.” Instead, we must also allow ourselves to be pushed by the Spirit into changing this severely damaged world.
So, let us not spend our time comparing where we are as a church with others around us, because that will only lead to spiritual jealousy and eventually do more harm than good. Instead, let us take this time to find new ways to proclaim the Good News so that those around us can hear the message in ways they understand.