Saturday, May 10, 2008

Let's Hear it for the Prophets

Numbers 11:24-30

It’s not often that we celebrate Mother’s Day and Pentecost on the same day, and when it does preachers get put in a difficult situation. You could try to mix them together in a sermon, and I’m sure that mothers can be prophets, but it’s still hard to put them together. As you can see from the sermon title, I’ve decided to focus on Pentecost – sorry Mom!

I have a question for you: Moses says he wishes everyone was a prophet, so are you ready to be a prophet? When you hear that question you may be wondering what a prophet does, or you have an idea and it doesn’t sound very promising.

I expect the image most people have is a strange looking guy with a long scraggly beard. He stands on street corners yelling at people who walk by, wearing rough burlap robes and a sandwich board that boldly declares: REPENT, THE END IS NEAR! If that’s your picture of a typical prophet, I doubt you’d be interested in the job.
It’s true that biblical prophets could be a bit strange. Think of John the Baptist or maybe Jeremiah. They definitely weren’t beloved figures. Frederick Buechner puts it this way:

The one whom in their unfathomable audacity the prophets claimed to speak for was the Lord and Creator of the universe. There is no evidence to suggest that anyone ever asked a prophet home for supper more than once.1

But, even if prophets seemed a bit odd or even mad, the prophet’s message really was one of love, it’s just that it was what we tend to call tough love. Buechner goes on to say:

[A] prophet’s quarrel with the world is deep-down a lover’s quarrel. If they didn’t love the world, they probably wouldn’t bother to tell it that it’s going to Hell. They’d just let it go. Their quarrel is God’s quarrel.2

I doubt that this helps, but if we take to heart these words of Moses and the words of Acts 2, it’s something we must wrestle with.

While we didn’t read Acts 2 this morning, that story can help us understand what Moses had in mind. As Luke tells it, on the Day of Pentecost, a small group of Jesus’ followers gathered in the Upper Room, unsure about their future. As they sat there, the Spirit fell and empowered them to declare the good news of God’s kingdom.
And as Peter interpreted the event, he told the gathering crowd in the square below that this was what the prophet Joel had in mind when he said that in the last days the Spirit would fall on male and female, young and old, and that the people of God would dream dreams and prophesy. In other words, the Spirit had made them all prophets, just as Moses had hoped. This is also the message of Pentecost for us. It doesn’t mean that we have to grow scraggly beards, wear burlap sacks, and carry sandwich boards, which should come as a relief to you – especially the scraggly beard part if you’re a mother – but it does seem to mean that we’re called to declare God’s message of love with the world.


This morning’s text deals with a common dilemma of ministry. Moses had been called to lead his people, but he quickly discovered that the job was too big for him. You can tell how frustrated he was by what he said to God:

If this is the way you're going to treat me, just kill me now and end my miserable life! (Numbers 11:15).

Now that’s frustration – but, instead of sending lightening bolts, God gave Moses an idea. Why don’t you share the load? Then, God tells Moses to choose 70 leaders and take them to the Tabernacle. When they got to the tent, God took a portion of the spirit from Moses and distributed this power to the 70 elders, and they began to prophesy. In other words, they’d be called on to share the load.

That’s an important message for us to hear. I know that this congregation has always understood ministry to be a shared vocation. I’m amazed out how much each of you does. But it doesn’t take much to become dependent on a pastor and expect the pastor to do the ministry of the church. The search committee will encounter candidates who are quite willing to do everything, who would be jealous of sharing the load. I expect they won’t recommend such a candidate. Still, it’s good to be reminded that ministry isn’t something just one person does or that any one person is irreplaceable. Moses learned that the hard way!

Now at first glance it would seem that Moses was simply sharing leadership with the 70 elders, but the story doesn’t end there. Even as the 70 Elders were in the Tabernacle receiving the Spirit, the Spirit was falling on two others back at the camp that Moses hadn’t selected. Yes, the Spirit also fell on two brothers named Eldad and Medad, and when they too began to prophesy, Joshua, Moses’ assistant, got a bit jealous for Moses. He told Moses he should make them stop. It was one thing for the 70 to share the ministry, but this seemed sort of indiscriminate. After all, they were operating outside the system. Surprisingly Moses declined to follow his aide’s suggestion. And told Joshua:

I wish the Lord would give his Spirit to all his people so everyone could be a prophet (vs. 29 CEV).

Well, that’s exactly what happened on the first Pentecost Sunday. Everyone, young and old, male and female, broke out in praise to God and declared God’s glory to the world. They all became prophets, and the good news is this - God has called each of us to be prophets as well.

Like I said earlier, I know some of you are leery about becoming a prophet. But don’t worry, you don’t have to become a fortune teller or shout from the street corners words of judgment. But, empowered by the Spirit we’re all called upon to proclaim God’s love of the world and speak out against injustice in our world. It can happen with words or without words, but what we say and how we act will declare the message of God to the world – and that’s what it means to be a prophet.
And so, on this Mother's Day/Pentecost Sunday, let us hear God’s call to be prophets. After all, the message of Pentecost is that we’re all prophets of God.
1. Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, (HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 88-89.
2. Buechner, 91.
Preached by:
Rev. Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Lompoc, CA
Pentecost Sunday
May 11, 2008

No comments: