Monday, September 28, 2009

Sermon for 27 September 2009, Proper 21B

The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.

Numbers 11

The Spirit Rested on Them

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

27 September 2009

Immanuel Lutheran Church

Sheridan, Wyoming

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

“…Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" Moses’ prayer for the rebellious people of the Exodus from Egypt says more than we see at a first look—more than we comprehend in a first hearing of this text. In Old Testament times, even in the years following Jesus’ birth until the Day of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit was not poured out on all believers. It just wasn’t. In the Lord’s perfect wisdom and perfect timing, for a long while He reserved the gift of His Spirit to prophets and other faithful people as He had use of them.

Often, the challenge we face in comprehending difficult sections of the Holy Scripture is because we hear words out of context, we don’t understand the linguistic or cultural idioms, we are intimidated by unfamiliar multiple-syllable names, or we just don’t understand the context.

Numbers chapter 9 records the Israelites celebrating the Passover in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt. Two years. The golden calf incident is behind them. They have heard the Ten Commandments from the second set that the Lord inscribed Himself. The report of the spies to Canaan is yet to come, as well as the Lord’s judgment upon them for being intimidated by those whom the Lord would have given into their hands. Their time in the wilderness would be much longer than 2 years—forty. The old generation would die here. Their children would see the promised land.

Chapter 11 helps us to better understand God’s wrath upon these people. Their unfaith at hearing about the strong and fortified peoples guarding Canaan’s land of milk and honey will make more sense to us, because such grumbling and worrying is part of their pattern.

And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. Then the people cried out to Moses, and Moses prayed to the LORD, and the fire died down. So the name of that place was called [burning, or] Taberah, because the fire of the LORD burned among them.

This isn’t just an example of a powerful deity zapping people for no reason. The Lord’s plan, power, and authority were being questioned. These people second-guessed the loving-care of the creator and guardian of the universe, and for their unbelief, they got burned.

Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."

The burning judgment at Taberah was intended as a memorable object lesson. We must be careful not to judge them too harshly for their short memories. We have them too!

Their new complaint centered around food. Mmmm…Meat! Mmmm…fish! Mmmm…cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic! Apart from meat, which was relatively expensive for them, all of the rest of the items on their menu were plentiful, readily available, and most importantly for slaves, cheap! Yet, in the wilderness, not one of these things on their list could be found. Their rumbling tummies gave witness to their lack of trust in the Lord, and in Moses, and gave voice to their greed.

It appears they didn’t care for Manna. Even after the many months the Lord had provided it to them, they still didn’t know what it was. The Hebrew word “Manna” literally means, “What is it?” It looked like a gum resin related to myrrh.

Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in hand-mills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

Moses heard the people weeping throughout their clans, everyone at the door of his tent. And the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. Moses said to the LORD, "Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,' to the land that you swore to give their fathers? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."

The Hebrew idiom sounds odd in our ears. The Lord’s nose burned with anger. And Moses was displeased. He’s overwhelmed. He groans words that every prophet, evangelist, apostle, and pastor have at least thought at one time or another, during a period of stress, frustration, or difficulty. “I can’t do this by myself. The burden is too heavy. Take me home to You now. I’ve had my fill.”

But the Lord does Him one better. The burden is not to be on Moses’ shoulders alone.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Gather for me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them, and bring them to the tent of meeting, and let them take their stand there with you. And I will come down and talk with you there. And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, so that you may not bear it yourself alone. And say to the people, 'Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow, and you shall eat meat, for you have wept in the hearing of the LORD, saying, "Who will give us meat to eat? For it was better for us in Egypt." Therefore the LORD will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall not eat just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you, because you have rejected the LORD who is among you and have wept before him, saying, "Why did we come out of Egypt?" ' “ But Moses said, "The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot, and you have said, 'I will give them meat, that they may eat a whole month!' Shall flocks and herds be slaughtered for them, and be enough for them? Or shall all the fish of the sea be gathered together for them, and be enough for them?" And the LORD said to Moses, "Is the LORD's hand shortened? Now you shall see whether my word will come true for you or not."

The people had been punished earlier for doubting the Lord. Moses was just dancing on that line. But he hasn’t crossed it. The people would get their meat—and a plague for their greed. A large group of quail was miraculously blown to their camp, about 3 feet thick on the ground. Those who gathered least had at least 6 bushels’ worth. As a result of their sin, the Lord sent a plague. And that place was called Kibroth-hattaavah, which means graves of craving. All that was to come. For now, Moses was to speak to the people.

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. And he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them around the tent. 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 as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.

Now two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the Spirit rested on them. They were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, "Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp." And Joshua the son of Nun, the assistant of Moses from his youth, said, "My lord Moses, stop them." But Moses said to him, "Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

The Third Article of the Apostles’ Creed speaks about the work of the Holy Spirit, Sanctification.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen. What does this mean? I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to His church. They teach that in apostolic times the Holy Spirit also gave some Christians the gift to perform miraculous signs and wonders (for example, healings, speaking in unlearned languages, and raising the dead). The Scriptures do not teach, however, that God will necessarily give all Christians in every time and place special miraculous gifts. The Holy Spirit bestows His blessings according to His good pleasure. However, both the Old and New Testaments teach that the Holy Spirit through the Word and sacraments freely gives to all Christians the most precious gifts: faith in Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life.

At times the Lord’s prophets used symbolism. At other times, they delivered messages through direct proclamation. Often their prophetic ministry involved foretelling, or predicting, what God would do in Christ. It is important to note that prophecy was not just about telling the future. The work of prophets then, and the Lord’s people today has another important component: forth-telling. We all are given to tell others who God is and what His work was among the people. Not only is the Holy Spirit poured out on God’s sons and daughters, male and female servants, but we are given the privilege to tell the Good News about Jesus.

You don’t have to go door to door. You don’t have to go overseas. You don’t have to prepare and bear an elaborate personal Christian testimony. Simply tell the Good News About Jesus. Speak of sin and forgiveness in Christ. Confess the Biblical truths of the Creed. And, when you need help and support, that’s what your congregation and pastor are here for! The Wyoming District is preparing to help you to share Christ with hurting people. Plan now to attend the District Tell the Good News About Jesus Convocation in Casper next January.

“…Would that all the LORD's people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" Moses prayer for the rebellious people of the Exodus from Egypt says more than we see at a first look—more than we comprehend in a first hearing of this text. In Old Testament times, even in the years following Jesus birth until the Day of Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit was not poured out on all believers. In the Lord’s perfect wisdom and perfect timing, for a long while He reserved the gift of His Spirit to prophets and other faithful people as He had use of them.

But now, in these last days, God has spoken to us by His Son. He has given you the gift of forgiveness, the gift of faith, and the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that you, too, can prophesy, i.e. tell forth what God has already done in Christ, what He has already revealed in His Word. Today, the Holy Spirit rests on you. Go tell the good news about Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.