Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
[If the passage from Numbers is chosen for the First Reading, the passage from Acts is used as the Second Reading.]
We have mused and bemused over this story for years now; most of you have tried to preach it every which way you could possibly think of. I heartily commend the sermon below by my Brother Bubba, Dr. Chilton, for a fresh take on the activity of God the Spirit in the midst of the believers on this Pentecost Sunday.
It may not be necessary, but I like to point out the miracle of “spiritual hearing” in this text — not the generally-assumed miracle of “speaking in tongues” that is so often accentuated. Vv. 6 and 8 clearly indicate that, no matter where you were from or what language you spoke, if you were in the room that day you heard the gospel proclaimed in your native tongue (I have, at times, wondered if I’d been there, would Peter have begun his address with, “Now, ya’ll settle down…?”)
We don’t often think of this way, but Moses and 70 of his friends got together for a little “pre-Pentecost” warmup in the wilderness here in Numbers. God “comes down” to speak with Moses, and the spirit is divided ( whether in tongues of fire or not, we are not told) so that a portion rests on each of the elders.
There were two guys who were lagging behind — Eldad and Medad (I just love those names!) — but they got a dose of the spirit, too! Similarly to the Pentecost experience, all of these gentlemen began to speak the words of God at the prompting of the Spirit.
Three things strike me:
- God evidently feels pretty strongly about God’s people sharing God’s word
- The task belongs to all of God’s people, not just the Moses’ and Peters of the church
- If God has called you, sooner or later God is going to find you no matter where you are (in the tent or not!)
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
The psalm reminds us of the creative work of the Spirit, echoing the opening passages of Genesis. It was the ruach (“wind, breath, spirit”) of God present in the beginning that brought order to the creation. It is the same ruach that brings renewal to our lives — re-creation, if you will, over and over again!
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
The Holy Spirit brings many gifts into the lives of Christ’s followers; the first gift is the ability (or will or desire, depending on your theological perspective) to say, “Jesus is Lord.”
After that — both occasionally and consistently — the Spirit gives other gifts of grace that are expressed in the lives of Christians. Some of these expressions are for the purpose of “work” that needs doing; others are for “service” that needs rendering. But some of the greatest gifts are those that simply demonstrate God’s “grace”– unexpected, unearned, just because.
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
We read this snippet from John 20 earlier in Eastertide; sometimes overlooked in that dramatic account that results in Thomas’ profession of faith is the “breathing” of Jesus on his disciples so that they can receive the Spirit.
Is this a separate manifestation from the day of Pentecost? Why are there no “tongues” evident here (the spoken kind or the fiery kind?) What is the purpose of Jesus’ breath on the 10 (remember that Judas and Thomas were absent this day.)
This could be seen as a preparatory movement toward the coming experience of Pentecost; Jesus could be preparing their minds and hearts for the “coming” of the Spirit. Or, this could just be a Johannine quirk or twist in the text. As students of the Synoptic gospels like to say, “Oh, well — that’s John for you!”
The close tie to forgiveness of sins is interesting; but, in the context of the rest of the story, I believe that it is the closeness of the Savior himself that is the real key. Jesus, though different than he was when they knew him before his death, is still with them. He is close enough that they can feel his breath. And with the coming of the Spirit, that’s just how close he will always be.
The earlier cut from John 7 connects with Jesus’ language to the woman at the well in chapter 4; the Spirit is the source for “rivers of living water” in the lives of believers.
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
Acts 2: 2 – 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.
And here’s my question. If the Holy Spirit is indeed like a “violent wind,” like an untamed hurricane or a sudden and destructive tornado, what makes us think we want it in our lives?
In my mother’s Methodist Church they sing a song that goes, “Breathe on me Breath of God.” It’s a comforting image; like a baby sleeping on your chest, or a wife or husband curled up, dozing at your back, breathing a sweet gentle breath.
Or, have you heard this one? Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me, Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me. That one’s best if you sway and hold your arms up. Spirit of the Living God, Fall afresh on me. Or close your eyes: Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on me.
Or, do you know this one? There’s a sweet, sweet spirit in this place, And I know that it’s the spirit of the LORD. You know that do you? I wish I could be so sure; then maybe I wouldn’t be so afraid.
For you see, the Bible says that is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God, and I think our scriptures show us this fearfulness very clearly. I don’t think the Spirit is always all that sweet and gentle. Indeed I think the Spirit is a lot like my Mama.
When I was a young teenager; Mama and Daddy went to work in the Cotton Mill to supplement the family income. Up until then we got by on just the tobacco crop. They still raised tobacco, they did it after work and on weekends, and expected a lot of help from their children.
They would leave for the mill around 6:30 AM. They would put a list of things to get done in the middle of the table for the children to see when we got up, some to be done around the house, most in the fields. They got home around 3:30. We tried to figure out how long it would take to get the jobs on the list done, then we always waited until the last possible minute to start working.
One day, we had done nothing on the list. It was about 11:00 or 11:30 AM. We were drinking Kool-Aid and eating peanut butter and cracker sandwiches and watching the Dialing for Dollars movie on Channel 8 out of High Point, NC when: “. . .suddenly, from the kitchen door there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire room where we were sitting . . . “
and the name of that wind was Mama and she was some kind of mad. She had gotten sick at work and came home early, and instead of finding her children busy about the business she had left them to do, she found them sitting around, doing nothing.
Mama roared into the den, the fly swatter she had grabbed off the hook by the kitchen stove in hand. She drove us out of that house, across the yard and up the hill, into the fields where we were supposed to be hoeing tobacco.
We danced into that field – Mama’s hand on the back of our neck, swatting at our legs and behinds, while we stretched our feet and bottom as far away from her as we could get to avoid the switch. Yes, brothers and sisters, I believe the Spirit in Acts, Chapter 2 is a whole lot more like my Mama on a bad day than any sweet, sweet spirit, any gentle breath of God, we might conjure up.
It was fifty days after Easter. And the disciples had done very little in that time but hang out with Jesus, spending some quality time with their Risen Lord. Then he left, really left, ascended into heaven left. And before he went, he told them to get busy, he told them in Acts 1: 8, “you will be my witnesses . . . to the ends of the earth.” And then he ascended. And after he went up, angels came to them and said, in essence, “Quit standing around. Get busy.” (Vs.11)
But, they really hadn’t been doing anything yet. And as our story opens, they were all together in one place, probably drinking first century Kool-aid, i.e. watered down wine, and munching on fig and bread sandwiches, looking out at the crowded city streets, which are, after all, more entertaining than a TV movie. “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 .”
And, as the rest of the story tells us, that wind gave them a job, and the ability to do the job, and then it drove them out into the street so that they would get busy doing that job.Which is why the Holy Spirit, the mighty and powerful wind of God, is more like an angry Mama than any sweet baby or gentle lover.
And, on this Pentecost Sunday, 2014, that Holy Spirit is after us.
It is after us to get out into the world with the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ.
It is after us to get busy with what we have been called to do.
It is after us to quit worrying about being together in one room and to start worrying about going out together to witness to those in need of God’s love.
It is after us to look around us and see who it is that we know or know about who needs to know about the love and grace and forgiveness of God in Christ.
It is after us, and the only question right now is this:
Are we going to go voluntarily, or is Mama Spirit going to have to make us go?
Amen and amen.