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“The More, The Better”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 2:1-21
Numbers 11:24-30

 

Acts 2:1-21

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

 

Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. 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 when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

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. And a young man ran and told Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.


 

Just before this part in Moses’ story among the people of Israel journeying in the wilderness, the people have been complaining.  For though God has been supplying them with manna – simply forming on surfaces early in the morning – for which they had neither to plant nor reap, some among them are disgruntled as they recall how they ate in Egypt: the fish, leeks, garlic and chives,…and on an on and on.  They feel sick of manna and want a change.  They crave meat.

And this sends Moses into his own complaint to God.  He rants:

“Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors’? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once—if I have found favor in your sight—and do not let me see my misery.”

 

Moses doesn’t hold back all!  This must be some trust – to be able to just throw his own tantrum on the floor, as it were, before God Almighty.  But God responds with compassion toward Moses and a measure of anger at the behaviors of those disgruntled and ungrateful among the people.

God tells Moses his will to have others among the people to also help carry the burden of the people.  Moses is to select 70 of the elders and officers over the people.  They are to gather with the Moses in the tent of meeting, and God will speak with Moses there, putting some of God’s spirit on the elders.

 

And so this is what Moses does.  He calls and gathers the elders and officers in the tent of meeting.  And when God’s spirit rests on the elders, they begin to prophesy.  This is the only time they prophesy.

But most surprising, two of those selected (but who do not make it to the tent of meeting) …they also began to prophesy…but in the camp, among the people.  And so, a messenger is sent to tell Moses of the goings-on in the camp – how the two are prophesying.  And before Moses could respond, Joshua, Son of Nun, is indignant on Moses’ behalf saying, “Stop them lord Moses!”

But to their surprise, Moses replies,

“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” …

What a blessed desire.

 

Moses does not want to hoard or control the Spirit of God.  If he has any controlling tendencies in his bones, the sheer emotional and physical exhaustion at bearing the weight of responsibility for all the people is flat wearing him out!  He yearns for more to carry the burden with him.  He yearns for others to also hear God, for others to also prophesy, for others to also speak truth, discern solutions, resolve dissent, and lead this wandering people.

And so God’s response of putting the Spirit on the elders is in direct response to Moses’ human desire and limitation.  Moses needs help!!

So when this young man runs to alert Moses to the two elders in the camp, who are prophesying too, Moses is not threatened at all.  He is elated.  He only wishes ALL the people would be filled with the Spirit of God!

 

And how poetic, that this is exactly what God does, as Jesus returns to heaven.  God sends the Spirit out upon all God’s children – children not by blood, natural birth, personal righteousness, or position, but God’s children because the undeserved grace and mercy, love and redemption of Jesus Christ.  We have only to receive this unbounded gift, that we might enter into the joy and freedom and salvation of our God.

God pours out the Spirit on ALL God’s people. 

 

I am struck by this story.  For one, in all my years growing up in church and studying scripture, I’d never before noticed this passage.

  • I love how Moses rants at God.  I relate.
  • Complaining, venting, and ranting are quite often looked down upon in our Christian culture.
  • I am filled with gratitude that God does not shame Moses but helps him.
  • I appreciate seeing how another servant of God reaches his own limitations. I also relate. Moses give us an example of asking for help.
  • And in God’s response we see compassion and understanding. It gives me hope that we too can ask for help…even through our rants.

I love Moses’ response when Joshua wishes to restrain the Spirit, in order to preserve Moses’ status within the community.  Joshua is concerned that this prophesying might endanger Moses’ respected position.  But Moses is not at all concerned with this political move.  He does not play the game.  He does not grasp to control or restrain the Spirit.  He doesn’t discredit the two men who begin prophesying outside of his purview.  Rather, he is concerned that the people hear truth, receive guidance, and walk in God’s ways.  The more true guides, the better.  The more workers for the harvest, the better.  The more who are led by the Spirit of God, the better.

 

Do you know how many generations of Christians have sought to restrain the Spirit of God?  Though we might not call it that, that is exactly what we have done.  We’ve attempted to define and control who is in and who is out, just as the earliest Jewish Christians did when some required that all Gentile believers be circumcised, refrain from eating meat, and observe all the holiness rituals.  It is what Jonah did when he refused to follow the Spirit of God and sailed in the opposite direction, rather than go and preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.  It is what Peter was tempted to do, when he was called by a Gentile family to come and preach the gospel among them.  It is what the church has done, when it has placed ritual upon doctrine upon confession upon giving – as a requirement for salvation – diminishing the gospel, making it conditional, and in fact, not very good news at all!

Even if you and I, per say, have not participated in these particular efforts to quench and control the movement of the Spirit of God, our own Christian culture, our ancestors who came before, and generation after generation of believer has been tempted in this same way.  And I suspect that when we are truly quieted and listening, we too will discover ways in which we have participated in efforts to limit the expansive love of God, and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit.  For God is moving through-out the world, to seek out and save the lost.

 

Are we?

Are we listening?
Are we following?
Are we obedient?

 

Are there actions we have taken,
prejudices we’ve carried on,
things we have left undone,
words we have said or left unsaid
– even unbeknownst to us –
for which we need to ask forgiveness?

 

Will we set down our temptations to control?
Will we surrender our ego
and take on humility?

 

Will we take our cues from the movements of God by the working of the Holy Spirit, rather than expecting God to follow our strategic plans and secret desires?

 

“Would that ALL God’s people be prophets and that the Lord would put the Spirit onto them!” Moses imagines.

 

Thanks be to God!

For God has anointed you and anointed me!
God has put the Spirit into child and grandparent,…
Men and women and those non-binary,…
The powerful and the powerless,…
God has poured out God’s Spirit upon ALL flesh!

 

What wonder!  What goodness!  What honor!  What opportunity!

May we take this long-desired, unparalleled gift – this pouring out of the Spirit of God – and may we be about the work of our God:

Grateful to share in this gospel work,
Shining our light into the darkness,
Proclaiming freedom to those oppressed,
Doing justice, and thereby ushering in the Kingdom of our God, and
Announcing the mercy and grace of our God.

Thanks be to God! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Answering the Call”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Jonah 1:1-3, 15-17; 2:1,10; and 3:1-5,10
Psalm 139:7-12, 16b-18

Jonah 1:1-3, 15-17; 2:1,10; and 3:1-5, 10

Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai, saying, “Go at once to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah set out to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish; so he paid his fare and went on board, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord. But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and such a mighty storm came upon the sea that the ship threatened to break up.

So they picked Jonah up and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased from its
raging. Then the men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.

Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish.
Then the Lord spoke to the fish, and it spewed Jonah out upon the dry land.

The word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time, saying, “Get up, go to Nineveh, thatgreat city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a threedays’ walk across. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Fortydays more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm 139:7-12, 16b-18

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

In your book were written
all the days that were formed for me,
when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
I come to the end—I am still with you.

Jonah… I love this guy. I love this guy because I see us in him.

As many of us have longed for, God openly speaks with Jonah. I don’t know if it was an audiblevoice of God or a strong stirring of his heart. I don’t know if he heard it in the silence or thenoise. But what we know is that God spoke and Jonah heard.

And Jonah was faced with a choice.

Now unlike so many of us who have grown up in church – knowing the right answers and wanting to appear holy, while all the while secreting wanting to do things in our own way – it does not appear Jonah has or pays any mind to others. There is no audience in this story, judging and weighing Jonah’s choices.

No, Jonah is a free man.

And with that freedom, that many of us may only feel in the dark or away from prying eyes, Jonah chooses to ditch the call of God and get as far from God as possible.

Unfiltered. Unrestrained. He intentionally and openly walks away from the call of God. In fact,walking wasn’t enough, he sought a faster means. He purchased a ticket and boarded a boat bound in the precise opposite direction of God’s call to him – seeking, scripture says, to go away from the presence of God.

Now this is gutsy stuff.
You can’t deny Jonah that.
He hears from the God of the universe and says no, as he runs in the opposite direction.

Gutsy or foolish, perhaps. But one needn’t doubt where Jonah stands. He steps on theopposite side of what God is doing, clearly and decisively.

What about you?

Can you recall moments when you’ve felt God calling you to do or say something? Can yourecall a time when you heard God directing you in the way you should go?

What did you do?
Did you WANT to do what you felt God directing you to do?
How did you feel?
Were you glad to sense direction from God?
Did you joyfully follow God’s leading?
Did you turn up the noise and try to tune God out? Did you start running in the opposite-most direction?

Jonah was not the first and was certainly not the last to decide that HIS way was better thanGod’s way – that God’s call just wasn’t for him – that he wanted to get as far away from God’scalling as possible.

With hearing comes responsibility. With knowing come accountability.

And we are a people who have heard. We are a people who have experienced the love andmight and power of God. We are a people who have received the stories of God’s fiery justice and unfailing love. We have been entrusted with the stories. We have met God in oneanother. We have experienced God’s love calling to us in the darkest hour, speaking hope intoour despair, light into our darkness.

I suspect many of you have heard God calling, in a myriad of ways, for much of your lives –though perhaps you may not have called it God at the time. You may have experienced it to be a lingering thought, a sense of importance, a nagging idea. You have felt compelled to act or to speak. You may have felt your truth burning in your chest, ready to explode if you didn’t give itvoice or feet or wings.

God speaks to us in so many different ways. For Elijah it was in the silence, after the earthquake, storm, and fire. For Moses, it was through the burning bush. For Balam, a character in one of those obscure, surprising Old Testatment stories, it was through his own donkey. And for Jonah, God makes Godself clear through the storm at sea and then in the belly of the large fish.

God speaks in a number of ways.

At first it seems God speaks to Jonah quite plainly. But as Jonah runs and turns away from God,God’s message and discipline get more and more creative. And this is the thing about God –God knows exactly how to speak with each one of us – unique and particular and peculiar as we are. God knows how to get across the message.

So when the tempest picked up and the sea came alive, threatening to swallow up all on board that ship to Tarshish, Jonah knew. He knew it was because of him. He recognized the consequence of his choice and how it was threatening all those around him.

And he makes a choice, in that moment, to take responsibility for his choice, to confess his running from God, and to be thrown overboard that all the others might be saved.

Interestingly enough, it seems, they may have been saved in more than one way, as scripture says this incident caused them to fear God and pay their vows to God.

So here,…even in this brazen act of self-determined disobedience and the severe consequence that followed, God was turning it all into something good…

And then there’s the big fish.

At this moment I confess my mind immediately jumps to finding Nemo. My son was little when Finding Nemo came out, and I watched that movie over and over and over again!

Nemo is the story of a young clown fish and his father Marlin. The gist of the story is that Nemo, in a self-defining act of rebellion against his Father, ventures into dangerous waters on adare from his friends. This one act leads to his Father’s greatest fears being realized, as his sonis discovered by divers and scooped up to become someone’s new pet fish. The Father races after his son, but he’s no match for a motor boat, and soon he’s left swimming fast after avanishing trail, with no hope of ever finding his son.

It’s in this moment that he literally runs into an angel fish Dory who is eager and willing to help but suffers from short-term memory loss. An unlikely pair, they travel together, venturing far beyond the safety of Marlin’s reef, in search of his son Nemo, using only a Sydney Australian street address to guide them (in the ocean!).

At one point in the film, they’ve just come off the East Australian current and have beendumped in what appears to be no-mans-land. With no fish or vegetation in sight, all directions look the same, and they find themselves swimming in circles, lost in a haze of murky water for what seems like hours. Their differences take center stage at this point, and despairing of ever finding his son, Marlin begins laying into Dory, laying on the criticisms, … just as many of ushave been found to do with the very ones walking beside us in our lowest moments…

That’s when they spot a large shadow in the distance. It moves, and seems to come and go.They suspect it to be a whale, so Dory confidently breaks into her best “whale voice” and triesto communicate that they need help getting to Sydney. Marlin, highly doubting Dory’s whalecommunication abilities and fully convinced that Dory is only make things worse for them, piles even higher his criticisms and complaints, just before a school of quail breeze past them, saying,“Run away! Run away!” Peicing together than whales eat quail, it dawns on them that a whale is indeed coming for them, just as they are swallowed whole and find themselves in the belly of that great fish.

And this is why I think of Jonah.

Here in the belly of the whale, Marlin is convinced that they are dead meat. Literally. Dory, ever the optimist keeps talking with the whale in her best whale voice, asking the whale’s helpgetting to Sydney, while the cavity around them begins to drain of water. Believing that the water is definitely draining into one hungry whales stomach, Marlin tries with all his might to swim against the flow and hold on for dear life. What he doesn’t know is that in letting go, thewhale is saving them both, blowing them right out into the Sydney harbor.

And so we return to Jonah in the belly of the great fish. Convinced he is dead meat, he is resigned to his death. He deserves it. He has run from God, disobeying the most high. But on the 3rd day in his dark, nautical dungeon, he prays. Even running from God, God is with him. God speaks and he is amazed, because he knows he is undeserving, and he recommits himself to God, the Great Deliverer.

And this is when, what appeared to be his end, becomes his new beginning, his rebirth. The fish spits him out on land.

And there on the beach, God speaks to Jonah again, saying, “Go to Nineveh and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

What does Jonah willfully do? He turns and goes to Nineveh. He walks through it, proclaiming God’s Word to them, and this greatly wicked city responds. They repent of their sins. They turn away from their violent, wicked ways. And God has mercy upon them. God does not bring the calamity upon them that he had planned to do.

God was giving both Jonah and the people of Nineveh a second chance – the chance to hear to obey, to listen and to follow, to turn away from death and enter into life. And in their different ways, through very different paths, they both returned from great disobedience, to true obedience, from running away to pressing into, from evil to goodness.

God is calling still.

God knows there is much wickedness in the world. Many have blood on their hands. Many have risen on the broken backs of others. Many have built their kingdoms at the expense of our planet.

God knows there is much brokenness in our world. Many despair. Many have given up on trust or hope or justice. Many have given up believing that good is more powerful than evil, that light is more powerful than darkness. Many have given up on the church.

Our God is here. Our God hears. And our God is calling.
To you and to me.

May we be found
to trust and answer the call.