Summary: A sermon based on all three Year A lectionary pericopes for the Day of Pentecost: Numbers 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21; John 7:37-39.
Day of Pentecost Yr A, 4/06/2017
Num 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21; Jn 7:37-39
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
“The amazing Holy Spirit”
Today we celebrate the third major festival of the church year, the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost means fifty, and so it is an appropriate name, since Pentecost Sunday falls fifty days after Easter Sunday. What exactly do we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost anyways? Well, all three of today’s scripture readings give us the clue—we celebrate the amazing Holy Spirit active and present among God’s people. With that in mind, let’s have a look at each of our scripture passages and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, see what God is saying to us today.
In our passage from Numbers, the Israelites are still wandering about in the wilderness. There are some 600,000 of them, and Moses as their leader is getting burned out. He needs some help in caring for all of these people. So the LORD tells him to select 70 elders from among the people. Moses does so, and then suddenly, something wonderful and surprising happens. God places God’s Spirit in them and they are able to prophesy. What exactly prophesying means here, we are not told. Some scholars think that it may have included things like speaking, singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, or even collapsing into a mystical trance-like state, or possibly visions from God.
An instructive part of this passage is the reference to two men who were not among the elders that were all around the tent of meeting. These two men, Eldad and Medad, were back at the camp. Yet God’s Spirit also rested on them, and they too were able to prophesy in the camp. This detail of the Spirit resting on Eldad and Medad in the camp and prophesying there, is a lesson to Joshua, Moses’s assistant, that human beings cannot restrict, manipulate or give orders to God’s Spirit. The Spirit of God is present and active whenever and wherever he chooses to be. In this particular case, to drive home this point even further, we are told that this happened only as a one-time event.
Joshua, Moses’s assistant isn’t too happy about Eldad and Medad, so Moses tells him that he shouldn’t be jealous of Eldad and Medad. Instead, Moses says, something that centuries later comes true on the day of Pentecost—he tells Joshua that he wished the LORD would put his Spirit on all God’s people, so that all of them could be prophets. So, Moses’ words were a foreshadowing of what God the Holy Spirit would do on the day of Pentecost, which is described in our passage from Acts.
The arrival of the Holy Spirit was phenomenal. Many strange and wonderful things occurred. There was a mighty wind, tongues of fire appeared on the heads of the apostles, many languages were spoken, yet everyone understood what was being said.
The rush of a mighty wind has been reproduced. I once sat in the large field-house of a college at commencement. The college choir was to perform before the huge commencement audience. As the choir members took their places on the platform, a recording began to play softly a sound like the wind. At first people in the audience wondered what was happening. Then the sound became louder and louder, filling the large auditorium with a terrific sound as if a wind were bringing a tornado. Abruptly the sound stopped, and in the stillness the choir began its hymn of praise to the Holy Spirit. It was a thrilling experience for those who were present, for it made them feel they had experienced the same wonder which the apostles had felt on the first Pentecost.
The experience of the first Pentecost needs to grip the hearts of all believers today. It is the feeling of God’s presence in our hearts, in the form of the Holy Spirit. There are ways we can welcome him into our hearts, so that he becomes a reality to us. His coming brings faith and guidance as he leads us to Jesus Christ as Saviour and on into the heavenly Father’s home.1
Turning to our gospel now, Jesus is in Jerusalem celebrating the last day of the Festival of Tabernacles, also known as the Festival of Booths, and Sukkot. It is an eight day celebration, that takes place in the fall, and the Jewish people build temporary shelters, which serve to remind them of God being with them leading them out of Egypt in their wilderness journey when they had no home, and therefore to be compassionate to those who are homeless.
One part of the festival involved water. According Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple: Water in the literal sense revives the earth as well as human beings. In the metaphorical sense it stands for a new age of joy and fulfilment. The water represents redemption, the overflowing of God’s blessing: “You shall draw water in joy from the wellsprings of salvation,” says the Prophet (Isa. 12:2-3).”2