May 31, 2020
“Help Is On The Way” - Numbers 11:24-30
During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode past a group of soldiers who were repairing a small defensive barrier. Their leader was shouting instructions, but he was making no attempt to help them with the work. That’s when a man on horseback stopped by. He asked the man why he was not helping. He retorted with great dignity, “Sir, I am a corporal!” With that the stranger apologized, dismounted, and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers. When the job was finished he turned to the corporal and said these words which that man probably never forgot. “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and not enough men to do it, go to your commander-in-chief. And I promise that I will come and help you again.” As you’ve probably guessed, that man was that commander. General George Washington.
Today, we celebrate Pentecost. We celebrate it as the birthday of the church. And our Older Testament reading is about another great leader. A leader who is exhausted. A leader who’s worn slick. A leader who’s in need of some much-needed rest. A leader who could very much use a vacation. He thinks he’s out of his depth. In fact, he feels so overwhelmed that he wants to throw in the towel. He doesn’t think he can take it any more. It’s reached the point he wishes he was dead.
You see, he’s been leading a group of stubborn people for quite a while now. He’s been guiding them. Teaching them. Ministering to them. And listening to them. Getting an ear full of their complaints, their frustrations, their grumblings, and their worries.
And he’s been doing this backbreaking work all by his lonesome. It’s beginning to take its toll. So, he cries out. “I can’t take it anymore! It’s driving me insane! It’s just too much. I need help. I need it now!”
As you may have guessed, the man who is crying out for help is none other than the great leader Moses. And believe it or not, someone actually hears his cry. Someone who can do something about it. Someone who lends a hand. Someone who offers some much-needed counsel and such much-needed help. That someone is God. Let’s look.
Let us pray. Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Moses has been leading God’s people for some time now. He’s led them out of Egypt. He’s led them through the wilderness. He’s led them in search of the Promised Land. A land that is just waiting for them. A land promised to be flowing with milk and honey.
But all along the way, these people do nothing but gripe and grumble and complain. And they aren’t quiet about it. They get right in his face and let Moses know that they are definitely not happy campers.
Just listen. “We would be much better off in Egypt. Now we’re out here in the wilderness. We’re lost. Wandering around in circles. We have no signal. The GPS on our phones isn’t working. And to top it off, all we have to eat is that boring manna. Fried manna. Barbecue manna. Manna stew. Manna casserole. It’s coming out of our ears, and we’re sick of it. How about a new menu? How about a nice juicy steak? Some chicken? Even some bacon and eggs? Anything but this blasted manna.”
Moses does what anyone with a lick of sense and a bit of faith would do at a time like this. At a time when life seems too hard. At a time when life feels like one big struggle. A struggle to go on. A struggle to keep one’s head above water. Moses goes to God. He goes to God in prayer. He pours out heart and soul to God. “I can’t take it anymore. I can’t bear all of these people and their grumbling and complaining. It’s all just too much for me. I simply can’t keep on carrying them.”
God hears his prayer and understands. And lo and behold, God does something about it. God tells Moses to select seventy elders from among the people. By the way, in Hebrew thought seventy means superabundant. It’s also the number Jesus would send out to help him with his work. At any rate, God then takes some of the Spirit that fills Moses and gives it to them. They can now help him carry the burden.
So, Moses does exactly as he is told. He stands before all of the people of Israel and addresses them. He tells them what God has told him to do. Then, he invites the seventy to gather around the tent. Of course, they’re confused, but they do as Moses asks. And that’s when God shows up. God shows up and acts in a big and powerful way.
Yes, on that day all heaven breaks loose. The LORD comes down in a cloud and speaks. Just like God would later do at the baptism of Jesus. And God takes some of the Spirit that was on Moses and spreads it around. God gives each of those seventy elders a portion. And right there and then as the Spirit hits them, they break into praise.
That ‘s when the writer of Numbers lets us know all of the elders weren’t there. Two men were still in the camp. And get a load of their names. Eldad and Medad. And there in the camp, the Spirit lands on them as well. And immediately they break loose with praise. They begin to prophecy right there in front of God and everybody.
Word of this gets to Moses. A young man who was at the camp sees and hears all that is going on. With his own two ears, he hears Eldad and Medad prophesying. So, he runs to tell Moses about the awesome and yet troubling thing that he has witnessed. He catches his breath and blurts it out. “Guess what? Eldad and Medad are prophets!”
Now this is not good news to some people. In fact, it’s downright troubling. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, was one of them. He becomes quite upset upon hearing about it. He judges it is not good. Not good at all. To him it spells big trouble. He fears that these men are stealing some of the thunder and glory and authority that is meant only for Moses. So he warns Moses. “My lord, you must do something! You must stop them!”
But Moses doesn’t listen to Joshua. He outright refuses to put a damper on their enthusiasm. He trusts God. He trusts God to work in whatever way God chooses. So he says these amazing words to Joshua. “Are you jealous for my sake? Don’t be. Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”
Moses tells Joshua that there’s no need to be frightened. That there’s no need for jealousy. Moses seems to trust that there’s more than enough of God’s Spirit to go around. In fact, he longs for the day when God pours that Spirit out on everyone. And that’s exactly what happens on that first Pentecost. God pours the Spirit out on all who are there. And God still does that. Pours the Spirit out on the church. Pours the Spirit out on us. Enabling us to do far more than we can even imagine.
The Master was searching for a vessel to use; On the shelf there were many—which one would He choose? Take me, cried the gold one, I’m shiny and bright. I’m of great value and I do things just right. My beauty and luster will outshine the rest. And for someone like You, Master, gold would be the best!
Unheeding, the Master passed on to the brass. It was wide mouthed and shallow, and polished like glass. “Here! Here!” cried the vessel, I know I will do. Place me on Your table for all men to view.
Look at me, called the goblet of crystal so clear. My transparency shows my contents so dear. Though fragile am I, I will serve You with pride. And I’m sure I’ll be happy in your house to abide.
The Master came next to a vessel of wood. Polished and carved, it solidly stood. “You may use me, dear Master,” the wooden bowl said. “But I’d rather You used me for fruit, not for bread!”
Then the Master looked down and saw a vessel of clay. Empty and broken it helplessly lay. No hope had the vessel that the Master might choose. To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.
“Ah! This is the vessel I’ve been hoping to find. “I will mend and use it and make it all Mine. I need not the vessel with pride of itself. Nor the one who is narrow to sit on the shelf. Nor the one who is big-mouthed and shallow and loud. Nor one who displays his contents so proud. Not the one who thinks he can do all things just right. But this plain earthy vessel filled with My power and might.”
Then gently He lifted the vessel of clay. Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day. Spoke to it kindly. “There’s work you must do, Just pour out to others as I pour into you.”
That’s very good news for us on this Pentecost Sunday. Good news at a time when we might be feeling frightened and discouraged and overwhelmed. God still pours out the Spirit. Pours it out on all of us at Hickman Mills Community Christian Church. Pours it out to energize us. Pours it out to share with the world.
The same Spirit that energized and empowered Moses is there for us. The same Spirit that filled Jesus is there for us. We, too, can be empowered and energized by God’s Spirit. A Spirit filled to overflowing. With love. Peace. Forgiveness. Healing. And hope. Gifts straight from the hands of a loving and gracious God. And we need not worry. There’s plenty more where those came from. Thanks be to God. Amen.