Would That All Were Prophets – Lectionary 05/31/2020

Numbers 11:24-30

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all 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 when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.

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 son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, 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, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” And Moses and the elders of Israel returned to the camp.

Acts 2:1-12

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 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, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

Sermon Text

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[1] These words of Jesus initiated his ministry in the world. The work from the Incarnation to the cross can be found in the words of this proclamation. The Spirit of the Lord, resting upon Jesus, is prepared to go into the world and bring good news to those in it.

The mission of the Church began in full at the Pentecost. When the Spirit of God was poured out on the followers of Christ, the 12 apostles, yes, but also the multitude of the believers. The Spirit manifested by giving the disciples the ability to speak in numerous languages. Whether this was through the sudden knowledge of foreign languages or through the Spirit translating the words of the Church to those who heard it, we cannot know, but God allowed for preaching to happen where none was possible before.

Greek, Aramaic, Farsi, Latin, all dialects and tongues, were suddenly being used to proclaim the spectacular story of Christ. That God had taken on human form, had died on a Roman cross, and then been risen from the dead. This same Lord was then raised into the Heavens and will one day return to establish a kingdom founded on love and righteousness, free of evil and abundant in all respects. The Son of God, the incarnate Word of God, the one named Jesus of Nazareth who is called the Christ, this is who has delivered the world through the proclamation of his Good News, his Gospel.

The Church, in receiving the Spirit, takes up the mantel of Christ’s work in the world. Like Elisha taking over for Elijah, we receive a double share – the life of Christ and the presence of the Spirit as a testament of how we ought to live. When we enter into the Church and the Spirit unites us to the body of Christ that is the people of God, then we are able to become prophets and ministers of the Gospel. We serve one another through actions of love and through our promotion of our mutual good. Yet, we often minimize our ability to do the work that is set before us.

Whether out of a misplaced sense of humility or a legitimate sense that we are insufficient to the task, we do not trust our words to be refined enough to preach the Gospel, or we consider such work to be the task of a select chosen few. Certainly, the vocation of ministry is a valid designation for a person to take on. If it was not, I certainly would not be here speaking today. However, the vocation of ministry is not all that there is to do in the Church. Pastors, Priests, Bishops, Elders, whatever name that they are given they hold administrative roles in the church. Likewise, they proclaim the word and administer the sacraments.

However, if only these ministers were called to speak for God and to proclaim the Gospel, then the work would be severely limited. There are 328 million people in the United States and only a little over 440 thousand ministers. That’s ca. 1 minister for ever thousand people in the US, two if we are being generous.[2] Even the most prolific of minister could hardly be able to serve that many people, definitely not responsibly.

The preaching of the Gospel, the administration of the Church’s service, the community of love which defines the Kingdom of God, all these are accomplished not by single leaders of communities, but by the whole body of the faithful. The gift of the Spirit at Pentecost remained with us, being passed from one generation of the faithful to the next to the next.

If we believe that every member of the Church has their own ministry, their own call to act as prophets, then the task of ministry is far less daunting. A conservative estimate of active Christians in the United States sees the potential for us to understand the ratio of ministers to those ministered to as suddenly 1:5.[3] If we can imagine having an impact upon even 5 people, then we can imagine becoming ministers to those around us.

There has forever been conflict between our understanding of ministry as the work of those in the vocation of ministry and the duty of each and every Christian. Throughout history we have placed emphasis either entirely upon the ministry of the ordained or upon the priesthood of all believers. We, like the people of God in our reading from Numbers see people doing the work of God and immediately ask for credentials. Either we, as they often did in the wilderness, question the leadership and ask who gave them the right to lead or else we question the people and ask them where they got it in their head they can do the work of ministry.

Balance between these two realities is not easy. It requires all persons in the church work together humbly and trust one another. It requires that we see value in one another, that we regard one another as a diverse but united group. There is no hierarchy that can find its home in Christianity. Creating a hierarchy of race, of ethnicity, of wealth, of state of origin, of country of origin, of anything that demarcates the body of Christ in antagonism to itself is unacceptable. The Church established from the beginning that it was not an affair for any one group of people, not something to remain in Jerusalem or Judea or the Levant, but every corner of the Earth. It shows preference only for the poor and powerless, in all things it shuns accolades for righteousness. The Church is a kingdom that reinvents itself constantly to democratize itself.

The dream of Moses is that we all would become prophets. That each and every person who is called by name to be a part of God’s kingdom would be able to take on a role like Moses and to speak to the world boldly about the Good News of God. That dream is fulfilled in the giving of the Spirit at the Pentecost. We in the Church today are each called to be like Moses, the Holy Nation of Priests that was anointed by God continues today in our work. There are always those in the Church who will be called to specific roles of leadership, but the work of God is never limited to a select group.

The individual discernment of what our individual work may be, that is a more difficult path to chase. It takes prayer, it takes fellowship with one another, it requires that we are honest in every aspect of our life. Yet, when we are willing to ask questions, when we believe that our mission which God has initiated will be provided for by the Spirit, then we can work wonders. The words of Jesus which rang out so long ago, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This is the proclamation that we in the Church now continue.

Limited to no place, no time, no single class or vocation, the word of God flows out from each person who finds the object of their love in Christ. The Spirit is able to spread from one person to another, a flame that cannot be quenched, it consumes the world in a fire that does not burn but sustains itself and the object it finds itself upon. The mission of the Church, the inheritance we receive from Christ, is passed on to us through the Spirit. The Spirit which we remember being given today, that lives within us, that unites us together as one. This is what we celebrate in the Pentecost and this is what enlivens us to take hold of the mission that we, the Church, the Body of Christ, are called to. – Amen

[1] Luke 4:18-19

[2] Statistics taken from DATA USA’s presentation of US Census Data Available at: https://datausa.io/profile/soc/212011

[3] Data taken from the Pew Research Center’s In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace. Available at: https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

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