Sunnyside Reformed Church
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed
Pentecostal, Num 11:24-30 & Acts 2:1-21
6/4/17, Neil A. Margetson
Today is Pentecost Sunday, so named because it celebrates the NT Day of Pentecost that we just now read about from The Book of Acts. We have spoken of this before. Both on past Pentecost Sundays, as well as on other Sundays when we have talked about The Holy Spirit. According to Christian tradition this was the day on which The Holy Spirit first became manifest. There are some problems with that contention however, and one example arises out of the OT reading we heard earlier.
The context of that reading is this. Moses had been working overtime. First, to get his people out of reach of the Egyptian Army and then to keep them moving and keep them fed and happy. Even so, they grumbled continually, complaining about the hardships they faced and the uncertainty of life in the wilderness. Well, Moses had just about had enough when God said to him, Hey listen, I hear you. This must have been really tough on you! Tell you what. I’m going to relieve you of a part of the spirit that’s been weighing on you, and I’ll share it out among seventy of your elders. Bring them to the Tent of Meeting and leave the rest to me!
Moses did as instructed and sure enough God put some of The Spirit on each of them, thereby relieving Moses of part of his burden. The description of that event contains language very similar to that which we find in Acts.
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.
Compare that to what we find in The Book of Acts.
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,
Both accounts speak of the spirit resting upon those present and both accounts tell us that those so affected immediately began to prophesy. What this suggests to me is that the Christian contention that The Holy Spirit of Pentecost was a special Holy Spirit which had never before appeared on Earth, may be overstated. The similarities are hard to ignore. It seems to me that it could only affirm our faith to know that The Holy Spirit is, was and will be with us - from the beginning of time until the end. That, just as The Son - The Holy Word - has existed with God since The Beginning, so has The Holy Spirit been with God from The Beginning. Otherwise we have to accept the notion that God created The Holy Spirit as a Servant to humanity in response to the death of Christ, and I cannot see what the theological rationale for that would be?
I want to consider the parts of our two texts that aren’t generally used in Pentecost Day sermons. I’m talking about the second half of each selection.
In the case of the OT reading the second paragraph is about two elders who for whatever reason were not in The Tent of Meeting when God visited. While they were in camp - just kind of hanging out - both were taken by The Holy Spirit and began to prophesy. Just like the others who had been with God and Moses in the tent. When word came to Moses about it, Joshua who was his lieutenant, said, I’ll stop them for you Moses! But Moses wasn’t feeling that way about it at all. He said, What’s up with that, Josh? Why would we want to stop them? Did you think I would be jealous? Let them preach! I wish everyone would prophesy! Make my job a lot easier, that’s for sure. Which was pretty cool, I think.
The NT also has a second section that is a sermon from Peter. When the Holy Spirit fell on the disciples and they began to prophesy, they did so in several foreign languages. In fact, in the native languages of all the people who were watching. Most of the witnesses were amazed, but as always there was another group watching - the negatives - and they sneered and said, Pay no attention to those men! They’re not prophets, they’re drunks! Peter couldn’t let that pass, and he let them have it. He said, You people know nothing. These men aren’t even nearly drunk. Hell, it’s early morning. You all are too shallow to know a miracle when you see one. We are Followers of The Way and our Master - Jesus of Nazareth - has just recently been executed right here in Jerusalem. Know you that he was The Messiah, of whom The Law and The Prophets speak, and these are his apostles. Do you not know your scriptures? Do you not remember what was spoken by the Prophet Joel?
And with that he recited from memory a long passage from the OT that described the very thing they were witnessing.
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.
Most importantly, he was telling them, in no uncertain terms, that they were in The Last Days, when soon God would deliver The Judgement and all of them would be answerable for their lives and the way they had conducted themselves.
It was a harsh condemnation, but it was also dead on, and the people watching knew it. So they did not resent him, but rather accepted his rebuke and many of them were baptized that day, with water and with The Holy Spirit.
We cannot hide from or avoid God or God’s Judgement. Nor can we hide from or avoid our destinies. The two men in Moses camp who didn’t go to the meeting with God, may have thought to escape God’s scrutiny. Maybe they were simply afraid, or maybe they had something to hide. Whatever the reason was, their effort didn’t work. The Holy Spirit found them - just as it had found the others. And just like the others, when The Holy Spirit rested upon them, they gave voice to the truth...which had been granted to them by God alone.
Encountering the Holy Spirit in such a way - not through reading of scripture nor of study nor of worship - but directly through a connection to God - is the pure water of which Jesus spoke to the Samaritan Woman at the Well of Joseph. And it is or should be something each of us strives for and hopes for. Most of us will never have that experience, but must be satisfied with the reports of others. That’s why we treasure the OT and NT accounts so much.
The Holy Spirit is one of those things that is hard to explain but easy to feel. In fact, I would say it can be felt every Sunday right here in this sanctuary. We...you...invoke it by your faith in what we do and what we stand for here. The Holy Spirit is that which is highest and best in us. That which leads us to Christ and connects us to each other. The Holy Spirit is that part of God that human beings can feel and experience directly. It is the animating force which defines life and which keeps life alive. You can think of it as spirit or soul or sentience or conscience. It’s all those and more.
When I was making a lot of AA meetings - I think most of you have heard me talk about recovery before...I’m an alcoholic who hasn’t had a drink in twenty-six years now - when I was making a lot of meetings sometimes I’d see or feel something happen. Like I’d be sharing, and I’d get to something really personal, something I’d not ever shared before, and I’d start shaking. My voice would start shaking and before you knew it my whole body would be quivering and shaking, and I’d try to control it, you know? But everyone could see it. And somehow I’d get through it. I also saw the same thing happen to others. They’d be telling their story and they’d start, you know, like shaking. I thought, Well, nerves. Stagefright. Because sharing in public like they do in AA is hard. But then I heard one of the old heads there say, That’s God shaking the truth out of you. And I immediately felt myself think, That’s it! That’s the God of My Understanding, making me know that it’s all real. God is here. God is with us. God is paying attention. I didn’t really have any framework or vocabulary with which to take in an experience like that. Had never really been attentive to faith. I mean, I believed, but in an abstract and distracted kind of way. The notion that God was
interested in what I was saying to a small room full of drunks was totally foreign. Now I see things...understand things differently. Now I see that it all makes perfect sense. Of course! God is shaking the truth out of me... that’s The Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit isn’t just something from The Bible. The Holy Spirit is right here, right now. When you get to church and you’re all het up from the week and the madness of the times, and before long you feel yourself kind of unwinding and thinking maybe it’s not as bad as I thought it was. That’s The Holy Spirit. Working in your life. And when you look around and think, wow...the world is a pretty miraculous place, isn’t it? That’s the Holy Spirit too.
I don’t know whether The Spirit was before Jesus came, whether it is OT or NT or prophetic or pastoral. In fact, yes I do...it’s all of those things. For, like God, The Spirit is all paradoxes and infinities and miracles and tragedies. Wrapped up together. Like humanity.
When we read the Day of Pentecost text from Acts we kind of see all the contradictions that make up our human race. The infinite nobility of Christ. The faith of his disciples, as they struggle to make sense of what’s happened and what’s likely to happen to them once the authorities find them. And then at the same time, the people who - when faced with a miracle of faith - can only think to say, Oh...it’s those guys again...they’re just drunks...like their so-called rabbi...always out drinking with the nut-jobs, sinners and tax collectors. Be good when they finally get lost…
Of course, we know they never did get lost...matter of fact, they became a World Religion. And that drunk who was their rabbi just may have been the holiest human any of us is ever likely to meet or hear about.
These stories are our stories. They’re about our struggle to connect with God and with one another. Because even though the events took place thousands of years ago, the feelings and the meanings are as fresh as yesterday. We are constantly being challenged to make right choices and maintain our hope and our faith in the midst of events that daily threaten to overwhelm us. Only with God can we expect to understand and progress. Only when God’s Breath blows the Holy Spirit our way, are we in a position to courageously face the day we have made. The term Pentecostal has come to refer to a certain kind of church - a born again church that’s culturally conservative but exuberant in worship style. But I’m not so satisfied with that. Because for me Pentecostal is really about Pentecost - about receiving The Holy Spirit and letting it work in us for good. Turning us into God’s Instruments, people who can make a difference in this world because that’s the work to which human beings are called.
By those criteria I think we are...certainly...God’s Pentecostal Sunnyside Reformed Church!
And all God’s People did say...
Sunnyside Reformed Church
48-03 Skillman Avenue
Sunnyside, N.Y. 11104
A Christian Community Church Making Christ Known Through Word & Deed