The Spirit of God can’t be controlled, and that’s a huge gift and blessing.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Day of Pentecost, year A
Texts: Numbers 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It was supposed to be a gift. A blessing.
Moses is exhausted from leading an ungrateful, complaining, angry people through the wilderness. Surrounding today’s reading from Numbers, Moses unburdens his heart to God, saying he’s about done. It’s too much of a weight to be the only one filled with God’s Spirit, proclaiming God’s voice.
The God who is called I AM agrees, and tells Moses to choose 70 elders who will also receive the Spirit of God, and they will carry some of the burden of leadership. It will be a blessing. Except, well, rules were broken. Or something. All 70 who were chosen from all the tribes were to be gathered around the tent of meeting. And all at the tent received the Holy Spirit and prophesied.
But back in the camp were two others, Eldad and Medad, who also received the Spirit and also prophesied, but in the camp. So either Eldad and Medad were in the 70 and didn’t follow the instructions to gather at the tent, or the God called I AM decided there were a couple others needed for leadership.
For Joshua, second in command, this was intolerable. He tells Moses to shut them down.
But Joshua’s problem isn’t Moses. It’s God.
Either God chose to ignore the rule that everyone of the 70 had to be at the tent, or God chose to ignore the list of 70 and added a couple extra. Either way, it wasn’t Moses’ decision.
Joshua wanted everything to be organized, controlled. That’s not possible with God’s Spirit. Moses has the wisdom to see this, and the exhaustion to rejoice in this. He wishes everyone would get the Spirit poured on them. But it isn’t hard to imagine Joshua’s horror at that thought: all these common folks, filled with the Spirit of God. How would you control them?
But that’s the point. God is out of your control.
That first day of Pentecost was out of control, too.
One hundred and twenty women and men woke up that morning, with no idea what would happen. By nine that morning they were all speaking in languages they’d never spoken before. 120 voices in dozens and dozens of languages, all at the same time, all proclaiming Christ’s resurrection. It was chaos. It was so disruptive, so out of control, that their opponents derided them and said they were drunk.
But God had a vision. Thousands of pilgrims were in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Pentecost, from all the countries of the known world. God wanted them to hear of Christ in their own language and take it back home. It would quickly spread the Good News across the world.
Since it was God’s vision, even the leaders, Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the others, weren’t in charge. They didn’t know what was next even that day, let alone the years to come. They weren’t in control.
Today we celebrate the coming of the Spirit to all who follow Christ.
What happened for Moses happened again. Once it was just Jesus, Spirit-filled Son of God, doing God’s wonders, bearing God’s love. Now all who trust in Christ for life are filled with the Spirit. To spread the burden of ministry, to share the joy of God’s presence, to carry God in our bodies as moving temples wherever we go.
But if you trust what we proclaim about the Holy Spirit, that the Spirit calls God’s children, fills them, gives them gifts, empowers them for service and love, and moves throughout the world like the wind wherever she wants to go, know this: None of the work of the Spirit is in your control.
Your life in the Spirit is God’s to reveal, not yours to plan. Your gifts are God’s to give, not yours to create. Your path of service and love is God’s path to guide you on, not yours to design. And like the Spirit-filled followers on that first Pentecost, you have no idea what’s next.
Stephanie and Rose, when they affirm their baptism before you all, their family in Christ, will claim the promises others made at their baptism as their own promises: to live among God’s people, proclaim Christ in their words and actions, strive for justice and peace. We’ll ask the Spirit to stir up in them.
But what that will look like, they don’t know yet. They’re remarkable young women, convinced of God’s love for them, and God’s call to them to love others. But they don’t know what’s next. And neither do you. Because God is out of our control.
And that’s the best news about Pentecost, about the promise that you are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit: you don’t have to be in charge.
There’s a prayer beloved to us and to many. We pray it often, and a beautiful carving of it hangs in our north entrance. The prayer begins, “O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown.” That’s the frightening thing about the promise of the Spirit, the gift of Pentecost, the same thing that frightened Joshua. If you’re not in control, you have so many unknown paths, unknown threats, unknown challenges.
If you’re on a journey and you can’t see the ending of it, how do you know where you are? If the Spirit takes you on roads you’ve never walked, calls you to new experiences, challenges your heart to be changed, that’s frightening. And if on the Spirit’s journey there are threats, risks you can’t imagine, that’s daunting. This path God calls you to might painfully challenge your certainty, your point of view, your way of being.
But this prayer says there’s no need to fear. No worry about being confused. No problem with potential difficulties. Because if you’re not in control, God is.
This was supposed to be a gift, a blessing, this coming of the Spirit.
A gift to Moses and the people, so leadership was shared and reached more. A gift to the newborn Church so that what Jesus, God-with-us, was able to do now could be done and would be done by hundreds and then thousands and then millions more.
And it’s a gift to you, to me. Because if you are on the path the Spirit of God has called you to walk, and you’re walking with all these other Spirit-filled people, then you know all will be well. And if you know that the Spirit of God who is calling, empowering, gifting, enlightening, and leading you is the Spirit of God in Christ that is love for you and the whole creation, then you know that this whole life – unknowns and all – is a life of grace and hope and joy, no matter what happens.
And so the prayer concludes: give us faith.
“Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Christ our Lord.” That’s all you need. Whatever lies ahead, God is holding you by the hand and carrying you in love. God’s got this, so you don’t need to.
This is a gift. A blessing, not to be in control. Beloved of God, remember that you are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen