The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
June 4, 2017 – Pentecost
Moses had come to the end of his endurance. The incessant whining and second-guessing from the people he was meant to lead had worn him down and burned him out. Exhausted and exasperated, he told God that, if things didn’t change for the better, he’d just as soon God would kill him and put him out of his misery. The sleep of death seemed preferable to the stress of his life.
But help came to earth from heaven. God put on the seventy elders He’d raised up to ease up Moses’ duties “some of the Spirit”, the scripture says, that the 70 also might “prophesy” – that is, proclaim God’s messages. This they did, though only temporarily, for after this one occasion, the scripture says, “they did not do so again”.
Now two of the seventy elders so endowed with this supernatural ability to speak for God had not been with Moses and the other elders when the Spirit came. Yet, those two prophesied as much as the other 68. When, however, Moses’ right-hand man, Joshua, found out that they were doing so apart from Moses’ supervision, he wanted Moses to put a stop to it. But Moses felt neither jealous nor threatened by the Spirit’s independence. He was thrilled at the far reach of God’s grace. He exclaimed, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
I believe that God shares Moses’ sentiment, that God would love to fill all His people with all His Spirit all the time, for the delivering of His messages of love and truth! So why didn’t that happen back then? I suspect that God put only some of His Spirit into some of His people for some short bit of time because people like Joshua did not yet want to let anything more than that happen!
Here is a strange assertion but a true one: The Almighty has deliberately created a situation where human choices can restrict divine omnipotence. For God has bound Himself by self-imposed commitments, even if His keeping them limits His ability to make happen what He would love to see happen. Among those commitments, God has promised to respect human self-sovereignty and freedom of choice, and not override our decisions. That means that our refusal to let God have His way can inhibit the free movement of His Spirit and stifle the working of His power among us. That’s why the first martyr Stephen, “filled with the Holy Spirit” Acts 7:51-55 says, warned the elders in his day not to “resist” or “oppose the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.” That’s why Ephesians 4:30 tells believers, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” That’s why 1 Thessalonians 5:19 tells them, “Do not quench the Spirit.” We can throw water on the fire of Pentecost. We can break God’s heart and frustrate God’s intentions. We can block the flow of God’s grace. We can do what Mark 6:1-6 tells us that the people of Nazareth did: prevent the Lord from doing deeds of power by their unbelief and disobedience.
Conversely, we can set the Spirit free to do whatever He wishes. We can unleash the mighty force of Him by permitting Him to come into our lives and take things over. We can allow Him to infuse us with His own power and so enable us to win over hearts to Christ. We can let Him make us more than ourselves, and through us bless others beyond our natural capacity!
How do we welcome this gift from heaven for earth?
First, we believe Jesus’ saying that apart from Him we can do “nothing”. Sure, we can on our own accomplish much; we can build wealth, erect magnificent buildings, change the course of human history. But, try long enough to turn around the lives of people in the deepest way, and you soon run headlong into the unbreakable wall of your limitations and face the hard fact you don’t have what it takes to make the difference you desire. We need outside, even divine help. But will we own up to that truth?
Second, we dedicate ourselves first and foremost to God’s purposes, for God’s power is shared for nothing but the fulfillment of God’s agenda. Acts 8:9-24 tells the story of a magician named Simon who could not receive the gift from heaven for earth until he repented of seeking to use the Spirit to make some money. The Spirit inhabits those who are devoted to God’s goals, particularly that of introducing others to the love and grace of Christ. Thus, to have God’s Spirit in our lives we need to have God’s purposes in our hearts.
Third, we surrender control to the Spirit. We loosen our prideful and/or fearful grip on ourselves and give ourselves over to the Spirit who has a mind of His own and might do anything. We grant Him permission to do whatever He wants with us, in us and through us.
The issue is never whether we can have all of the Spirit – for God would like nothing better – but always whether the Spirit can have all of us – for which God has to await our decision. Thus we do well to watch whether we are saying to God: “I want to be all yours, but I want to hold on to pleasures that darken my soul and lead me from you.” “I want to be all yours, but I’m not going to lose the good opinion of those I mean to impress.” “I want to be all yours, but I won’t sacrifice seeking my own glory for the sake of proclaiming Christ’s.”
Who become more than themselves alone? Those who turn over their life to God and become His alone!
Fourth, we put ourselves in a position to catch and ride the waves of the Spirit’s grace.
The spiritual life is like surfing. Waves break where they will, and surfers have to paddle out to where they can be taken up by their power. Surfers use the relatively meager might of their arms and backs to experience the enormous might of the ocean.
In the same way, we need to use our relatively meager might to put ourselves in the right position to experience the enormous might of the Spirit. We need to paddle over to where the waves of His grace are breaking that they might catch hold of us and carry us. So we get up and get to our morning devotions, get up and get to church worship, get up and put ourselves out to share the news too good to keep to ourselves, get up and get going to help those in need of compassion and justice.
To be taken up by the waves of grace we need to keep paddling over to where the Spirit is cresting.
Fifth, we dare to believe that we can have a higher and holier life than we’ve ever had before, a more supernatural life than we’ve ever had before, a life in which God works in and through us to enable us to have an impact for good beyond our human potential. And to be caught up in the Spirit’s surpassing power, we just need to do the little, obedient things anyone could do.
For God, nothing is impossible. But, without our choosing to let the supernatural happen, nothing much will. Let us then this Pentecost decide to let loose the gift from heaven for earth, and wait upon the Spirit to take over and take us away, at the time and in the way of His own choosing!