God’s Spirit acts not only through the leaders of the church but in and through any person the Spirit chooses. God’s Spirit acts not only in the church but outside it, in nature and in people of other faiths and people of no faith. Maybe that's why, in much of Christian history, the Spirit has been the ignored(or suppressed) member of the Trinity. To an established hierarchy hanging onto power, the Spirit is dangerous. It is God acting outside the approved channels, shaking things up, making us rethink our ideas about what God expects of us. Some people think they own the franchise on God and they will dole it out to the rest of us. The Spirit terrifies those people. They can't control it!
Brea Congregational UCC
July 1, 2018
Spirit-Led and Humble
Numbers 11:24-30. Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He assembled seventy men from the elders of the people and stationed them round the Tent. Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He withdrew part of the spirit which had been conferred on Moses and bestowed it on the seventy elders; as the spirit alighted on them, they were seized by a prophetic ecstasy, for the first and only time. Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, who had been enrolled with the seventy, were left behind in the camp. Though they had not gone out to the Tent, the spirit alighted on them none the less, and they were seized by prophetic ecstasy there in the camp. A young man ran and told Moses that Eldad and Medad were in an ecstasy in the camp, whereupon Joshua son of Nun, who had served since boyhood with Moses, broke in, ‘Moses my lord, stop them!’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous on my account? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would bestow his spirit on them all!’ Moses then rejoined the camp with the elders of Israel.
Who is in charge of a UCC church? It’s not the pastor, or the moderator, or the church council, though they are each entrusted with certain responsibilities. We have no higher authority, no bishop or presbytery or pope. What we have is a bit of bible that was lifted up by the founders of the UCC, that some UCC churches have put in their mission statement: Christ is the head of the church. (Colossians 1:18)
This means that we are being the church when we are following Jesus’ teachings, seeking to live into the Kin-dom of God. I think we all can get behind that. Good church leadership, whether from a pastor or a lay leader, or a congregational meeting, is leadership that puts Jesus’ teachings into practice. It also means something more. God is active in and through this community, inviting and guiding us to fulfill our mission. Jesus said that wherever two or more are gathered in his name, he is there. And our tradition says we can be “inspired,” filled with God’s spirit, as we do our part, small or large, to put Jesus’ teachings into practice.
No one of us has a special line to God. All of us have the responsibility to think and pray and discuss how we in this church can faithfully serve God. That's the wonderful freedom, and responsibility, of our congregational way.
How do we act responsibly? First, we fill our own cup. Seek the spiritual resources we need to be free of fear and full of faith, hope, love. And then what do we do? Because Christians describe God as Trinity, we can:
Do God's will,
(Or, as process theology would say it, co-create with God,)
Be a follower of Jesus, or
Be led by the Holy Spirit.
These are three different ways of expressing the same thing. I have a fondness for the language of the Spirit, because back when my scientific brain could not wrap itself around human metaphors for the sacred, I could picture a Spirit, like the Force from Star Wars.
Our reading is about some new leaders getting filled with the Spirit, back in Moses’ day. Some people think the Holy Spirit first came to earth on Pentecost. The Spirit first appears in our bible in Genesis chapter 1, hovering over the waters at the dawn of creation. What was new at Pentecost was the realization that God's Spirit comes not only to special people, prophets and leaders. All of us can expect a share of the Spirit.
So, God’s Spirit acts not only through the leaders of the church but in and through any person the Spirit chooses. God’s Spirit acts not only in the church but outside it, in nature and in people of other faiths and people of no faith. Maybe that's why, in much of Christian history, the Spirit has been the ignored member of the Trinity. To an established hierarchy hanging onto power, the Spirit is dangerous. It is God acting outside the approved channels, shaking things up, making us rethink our ideas about what God expects of us. Some people think they own the franchise on God and they will dole it out to the rest of us. The Spirit terrifies those people. They can't control it!
But how do you track this Spirit? We can never prove God did something. That's why we have the Christian Faith, not the Christian Fact. So we can never be one hundred percent sure that it's God inspiring you or me to do this or that. Yet we have to use our best guess. We make space for God’s spirit to act in and through us when we come together with open minds, and learn from one another, and listen.
Those of us with a spiritual bent may claim quite dramatic encounters with the sacred, as Spirit or otherwise. Those of us who are more logical-minded may see this Spirit stuff as metaphor for opening ourselves to fully use the wisdom and sacred values in and beyond our conscious thought. In either case, making room for God’s spirit makes a congregational meeting very different from a business meeting of a company or a governmental body. We consciously seek to follow Jesus, co-create with God, be led by the spirit, right in the middle of Robert’s Rules of Order.
Our bible reading is from the time when Moses was leading the people through their forty years of desert wandering. Moses had so many people to look after. He had practically a small country, or at least a mega-church, because there was no separation of church and state at that time. At the end of each day’s wandering, Moses set up his bench and became the peoples’ governor, judge and mediator. He had to do this late into the night, because there wasn’t enough of Moses to go around for the number of people who had questions to be answered and disputes to settle. When it became clear that he was exhausting himself in a way that wasn’t good for anyone, Moses finally decided to call upon seventy people to help him. At one point the bible says God told him directly to get seventy helpers, and another time his father-in-law told him. No contradiction there; Spirit works through people to guide us, and the Spirit often has to tell us more than once to get through to us. In the case of choosing the seventy leaders, God was guiding Moses to create structures for governing this growing group of people who needed good governance. Seventy district court judges, or clan heads, who could rule on the day-to-day stuff and save Moses’ energy for the big stuff. And Moses gathered them together, a curious thing happened.
The whole group of seventy new leaders (almost) went up to the tent of meeting, and Moses gave them a portion of God's Spirit. Don’t ask me how that works. What did God's Spirit do for them? It sounds downright Pentecostal: ecstatic prophesying. I'm sure there was shouting and dancing too. That may not be how our cup gets filled, but it worked for them.
Moses delegating leadership was a difficult transition. Before, you could bring their concerns directly to the mighty Moses, even if you had to stand in line all night. Now you just brought them to your Uncle Daniel. But everybody knew that something important had happened to Uncle Daniel that day in front of the tent; they saw it. This visible sign that these new leaders were in touch with God helped everyone trust them.
Eldad and Medad (don't you love those names), didn't even go up to tent of meeting with the other sixty-eight, yet somehow they got the Spirit too. But some conscientious people reported Eldad and Medad to Moses, those troublemakers. And Moses said why are you complaining? You’re complaining that God’s spirit filled somebody in the wrong place? You're worried about somebody with God’s spirit undermining my authority? I'm not. I wish all of you could have God’s spirit. Now we know we can.
A lovely Jewish tradition says the reason Eldad and Medad did not go with the rest of the leaders up to the tent of meeting is that they were so humble. And because they were so humble, God chose to fill them with Spirit longer than any of the other new leaders. We might say they got their egos and their own plans out of the way so God’s spirit had room to act.
I trust the decisions and processes of this church because I trust that we are all led by God’s Spirit, and enough of us are paying attention to that leading. No one of us knows the way forward in detail. Yet with sound processes, as humble and Spirit-led people, we will discover it.
We are also led as individuals. Where is God’s Spirit guiding you to serve this church or this community? How is Spirit leading you you to be a parent, or grandparent, or activist, artist, caregiver, or friend? The same principles apply to our whole lives.
Please keep pondering with me: How can we co-create with God? How do we follow Jesus, inside and outside the church? How can we follow the guidance of the Spirit?. I am glad we have this community to learn together to be Spirit-led. That's the way I want to live, and I hope it's the way you want to live too. Amen.