Our scripture readings show us two incidents when God empowered not just individuals but groups of people.
The elders in our old testament rackground on these men.
Exodus the 18th chapter says this group of 70 men were chosand hundreds and fiftys because they were men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain.
It sounds like they had the right mind set to me.But that’s not all.The 24th chapter of Exodus says, “then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders ofIsraelwent up (the mountain), and they saw the God of Israel.”
This was when Moses went further alone and received the 10 commandments.
These 70 were the first to receive instruction in God’s law. They had natural skills and formal training –but it wasn’t enough!
Here is a condensed version of the scriptures preceding our Old Testament reading for today.Numbers chapter 11
“The rabble who were among them had greedy desires; and also the sons ofIsraelwept again and said, “Who will give us meat to eat? “We remember the fish which we used to eat free inEgypt, the cucumbers and the melons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic,
but now our appetite is gone. There is nothing at all to look at except this manna.”
(I just want to interrupt the reading here to point out that they leftEgyptwith cattle, sheep and goats. As it says in Exodus 12:36b-38 “Thus they plundered the Egyptians. Now the sons ofIsraelwere about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children.A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock.“
And they arrived in the promised land with goats, sheep and cattle. So it wasn’t true that they had nothing to eat but manna.
(But that’s another sermon for another day!)
Back to my reading.
“Now Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, each man at the doorway of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, “Why have You been so hard on Your servant? And why have I not found favor in Your sight, that You have laid the burden of all this people on me?
“I alone am not able to carry all this people, because it is too burdensome for me.So if You are going to deal thus with me, please kill me at once,“
The Hebrew scripture passage we read today takes place about a year after they were placed in these positions of leadership – and what are they doing?
Not leading! Not being spokespersons for God!! No they were complaining!
They were supposed to be lifting some of the burden of leadership from Moses’ shoulders.Instead they had added to his burden to the place that Moses asked God to kill him and give him release.
These 70 had been trained in how to lead. They knew all the laws.But they had no idea of the difference between training and empowered by God for the task.
Our new testament reading finds a different group of men. We are more familiar with their backgrounds.These men of widely diverse backgrounds: fishermen, tax collectors, working men and business owners.They were hand picked by Jesus.Presumably he saw some native skill or attribute in these men that he could develop to do the task ahead.Then he spent 3 years training them.
Imagine personally instructed by God incarnate!Not just trained but commanded to go into all the world spreading the good news!
And what are they doing?
They are still banded together and spending time in prayer.They were not telling others the story of Jesus. They were keeping the good news to themselves!
Two groups of good men, skilled men, trained men.But men that hadn’t yet been empowered for the job.
But in an instant that changed. God touched them and they were changed.
I like the way one of the modern translations states the experience. It reads, “They began to shout like prophets.”
Shout like prophets! Spokes people for God.
What they should have been all along. Establishing thekingdomofGod.
That Pentecost two thousand years ago was the beginning of the era of the church!It was our Birthday.
This touch of God, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter wasn’t just for the people huddled in that upper room.It was promised to all who believe and confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.
We, in this room, are another group of people. We come to worship, to praise, to sing and to hear the leader proclaiming the good news.We have been trained.Now what?
We need to be empowered!Are we going to see tongues of fire resting on each other or hear the rush of a mighty windThere are times that I’ve longed for those miraculous displays of God’s poweror as Moses said, “I Would that all the Lord’s people would be prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”
But we don’t need MORE demonstrations of God’s power.You see, the moment that you believed in your heart and confessed with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you were infilled with the Spirit of God.You have been empowered!God has injected himself into your very being! And you plus God can do anything.
We all have our own jobs in this KingdomofGod.There are no non-participating members.I Corinthians 12 addresses the outpouring and flow of the Spirit in concrete ways –An empowerment that flows in and through everyone who has been baptized by water and the Spiritin nearly as many ways as may be imagined.
Paul’s list of gifts here is expansive, but by no means exhaustive.Every disciple of Jesus Christ who is walking in the power of the Spirit has been given many giftsnot just for use within the Christian community—whether a congregation, a society, a meeting or a class,but to bless people wherever we may go as representatives and embodiment of Jesus Christ.
All of these gifts not only “build up the body,”they also send that body out to be the body of Christ in the world.
All these gifts have both an “inside face” for strengthening Christian communitiesand a “public face” for blessing and a witness to others.
First Corinthians 12 provides a good starting place for putting names to some of the ways the Spirit is flowing among us and through us to bless the world.Who among us is prophesying,not just in worship but in daily life?How is healing happening around us because of the work of the Spirit in our midst?How are people growing in knowledge and wisdom,and who is helping folks do that with the Spirit’s power?
John 7 records the words of Jesus at another Jewish pilgrimage festival, the Feast of Tabernacles/Booths.Beginning five days after Yom Kippur, this week-long celebration remembers the wilderness wandering ofIsraelwhen the people lived in tents and ends with an even greater time of rejoicing in a day called Rejoicing in the Torah.It is also historically a fall harvest festival of barley, in which, as at Pentecost, there would have been a great “ingathering” of the harvest past and blessings for the new planting season to come.
The words of Jesus in the temple on the day of Rejoicing in Torah were thus incredibly provocative.“You want living water? Come to me! Come to me, and you’ll not only get living water… streams of living water will flow out of you!”
This teaching is still provocative today, even for longtime church members.He’s not saying, “Come to me and I’ll bless you and make you feel good and loved by God.” He’s saying, “Come to me, and become stream-sources yourselves!”
The end of the work of the Spirit is not the individual.The end of the work of the Spirit is not realized until every corner of creation is reached with living streams.The streams aren’t there just for us individually, to make us feel good.Instead, Jesus intends us and the Spirit that empowers us to become life-giving change agentsfor the most abundant harvest of blessing the world will ever see.
The way of Jesus is personal, but it is not private. Experiencing his word speaking to us in worship, in the world, and in our hearts profoundly affects our own lives and perceptions,but that’s not the point, any more than the spiritual gifts described in First Corinthians 12 are for us only.That transformation in our minds and hearts and feelings is intended to overflow into the whole world around us.Wherever we go, we are to become streams of the life-giving flow of Christ.We are to live in the flow of the Spirit in every way we can, not just in worship,but in all the ways the Spirit already flows among and throughand even outside uswhether we gather for worship or live as Christ’s representatives in the world.
If the Spirit has been nudging you to some special calling, now is the time to acknowledge and “give in” to the Spirit.
Maybe there is someone that God has laid on your heart for a special purpose.Today is the day to follow His prompting.
Maybe back in January you made a “resolution” to spend more time in prayer, or reading the Bible, or to increase your giving, or to sing in the choir, or teach a class, or visit the sick or the imprisoned.Or perhaps yours was for a personal healing whether physical, spiritual, mental or financial.
Well, now is the time and this is the day to claim it.You are empowered.And the good news is … Whatever job we are called to perform in theKingdomofGod, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do it.
Now, maybe you are sitting there thinking, “I don’t feel empowered.”
There are a couple of reasons we can feel that way.
Maybe we haven’t made Jesus the Lord of our lives.If you haven’t yet made that commitment, NOW is the time.
Pray a simple prayer such as:“Father, I am a sinner.Forgive me. I believe in you. I believe your word is true I believe that Jesus is your Son.That He gave his life in exchange for my sins.I believe by your power He was raised from the dead and now sits with you in heaven.I give you my life from this moment on.I pray in the name of Jesus Christ.
2. Maybe we gave our lives to Godbut haven’t quite turned ourwillover to Him.
Perhaps we’re not doing the job he has empowered us to do.
I can relate to that. There are some of us who just need to be in control.
However, we need to get to the point where we can say, “Not my will but Yours, Lord.”
Otherwise we are trying to wear the crown that only he can wear. Sometimes we need to be reminded that God does not need us to be his advisors.He needs us to be His spokes persons, to shout like prophetsHe needs us to be His hands and His feet.He needs us to be about the job he has for us.
I used to pray, “Lord lead me.”
Now I pray, “Lord lead me, push me, pull me, put me to doing what is Your will for me.”
If you feel powerless, take a moment now and ask God to touch you and empower you for YOUR job in His kingdom, or to clearly show you what your job is to be.
Empowerment happens where the rubber meets the road.
Remember, this isn’t a club we’ve joined.It is a workforce.