Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Today is Pentecost when we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now the spirit often does unusual things that require stepping into new territory.
The person in Scripture who is the epitome of someone stepping out into new territory is Joshua, who led the people of Israel into the Promised Land. But ironically, Joshua in our reading today, evidences a clear fear of anything different.
Moses calls a select group of people to the enclosure that surrounds the Tent of Meeting. With that the Lord comes down in the cloud and imparts his Spirit to them and we read, when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied.
Now Joshua takes note of this religious happening and that it takes place within the bounds of the tabernacle.
When two men by the names of Eldad and Medad begin prophesying outside the religious zone, he immediately jumps in with ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’
Oh dear! Over-keen to please the boss and he puts his foot in it with a legalistic response. 29But 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!’
Eldad and Medad were doing something surprising amongst the people! Here’s a tip: the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring the life of God to the people. There is no better place for someone to begin manifesting an influence of the Holy Spirit than amongst the general population. It’s no wonder that in Joshua chapter one God has to say to Joshua at least four times, “Be strong and courageous.”
The Holy Spirit always moves from a point of gathering, outward. God renews us as individuals in the ekklesia (the gathering/the church) and sends us out in the power of the Holy Spirit. And we are almost always caught off-guard by what God does.
2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
Gathered in the Upper Room in prayer, it is then that the Holy Spirit is poured out and in the next sentence Peter is preaching to various nationalities of people in Jerusalem for the Passover.
To reach that audience they would have needed to get out!
That’s the first thing about the Holy Spirit: the Spirit is given to individuals in the context of gathering, almost always surprises, and is used primarily in the context of mission.
But something else happens in our readings from the Books of Numbers and Acts. There is always opposition.
In the first instance it came from Joshua. ‘My lord Moses, stop them!’ Joshua’s timidity leads to a knee-jerk reaction. Fear does that.
In Acts the reaction is 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
When God begins a work of renewal there will always be criticism. Motives will be questioned. In Joshua’s case he was no doubt thinking, “Who do these characters Eldad and Medad think they are prophesying in the camp of the people?” What he was really saying is, “I can’t control this. Who knows what might happen? I feel uncomfortable.”
Every move of God, since Pa fell off the bus, has first been criticised and opposed before being adopted. Someone has had to run interference for it. In Numbers it was Moses. In Acts it was Peter.
Here’s my final point: God sends his Holy Spirit to give life, life, life!
37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, 38and let the one who believes in me drink. As* the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart* shall flow rivers of living water.” ’ 39Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit,* because Jesus was not yet glorified.
Life! Living water. We can live a few days without food, but we die of thirst a lot sooner.
The Holy Spirit (the third person of the Trinity) is someone to be experienced rather than understood. He conveys the very life of God. The Holy Spirit pursues everyone with the love of God.
At Pentecost, which we celebrate today, Peter responded to the somewhat disconcerting sign of a loud wind and tongues of fire hovering above heads with an open heart, and the church was born! New life!
How open are you to the disconcerting presence of God’s Holy Spirit? More especially how open are you to what the Holy Spirit wants to achieve in and through you? Renewal always disturbs our comfort but ends in joy.
Sometimes we get so used to the deadly dull we are almost afraid to have faith in case we are disappointed.
God never disappoints. Where we are genuinely open to God, God more than comes to the party. He never leaves us hanging. In Jesus’ words in Luke 11: 33, If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
I ‘d like to end with a short story.
It tells of the small group of islands that make up Mauritius that had housed the Dodo bird. Now we all know the saying, As dead as the Dodo. The reason for this is that early sailors had killed all the Dodos for food – although apparently they tasted a bit like the Pukeko does. Nonetheless they scoffed the lot and that was the end of the Dodo.
Some years later it was discovered that the Calvary tree (calvaria grandiflora) had depended upon the Dodo to digest the tough pod that held its seeds and that without the Dodo, the trees were in danger of dying out.
But – and here’s the renewal bit – it was discovered that the digestive processes of a certain kind of turkey had the same effect. These turkeys were brought in and the Calvary tree was saved.
The Dodo had been unable to adjust to its environment which, unfortunately, included the invasion of hungry human beings. However, renewal came in the unexpected and surprising form of some turkeys.
The work of the Holy Spirit, in renewing God’s church, in renewing us as individuals, is almost always surprising, disturbing at first, but ultimately life-giving.
Let’s remain open to whatever surprising thing God wants to do within us by his Holy Spirit.
- We’ll always perceive the work of the Holy Spirit as something that affects us personally.
- We should not oppose what is happening because we are threatened by it. Fear is never a good motivator. Faith always demands a healthy dose of inability so that we rest on God’s
- Be open to the unexpected because it brings life! Who would have thought that a breed of turkey would have saved the Calvary tree? Who would have thought that a group of Galilean fishermen held the key to God’s salvation of the entire universe? As the Bishop of Wellington says, God renews the church from the fringes. Let us be open to the fringe element.
Scripture References: Numbers 11: 24 – 30, Acts 2: 1 – 21, John 7: 37 – 39