It is Pentecost Sunday! Everywhere you look, you can see red and doves. Red paraments, doves in the air, all symbols of the Holy Spirit. This is when we celebrate the birth of the church—the event that is described in our reading from Acts. Today is a day when we pay special attention to the Holy Spirit. When we worship, we worship the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and since that is all one God, we don’t divide up our worship amongst the three. However there are festivals that we focus more on one particular person of the trinity and today that’s the Spirit. The breath of God or, as it’s said in the Old Testament in Hebrew: Ruach! The breath of God.
The lectionary texts for this week have a set of texts to choose from. What we just heard read is slightly different from what your bulletin lists. We heard first from the book of Numbers, a book of history and of the law. This text is similar to the story of Pentecost we are familiar with because it is about God giving his Spirit. In this case, it is to seventy elders that Moses had chosen.
God told Moses to choose these men so they could share and make manageable all his many responsibilities that he had caring for the people. What makes all of this interesting, though, is what happens just before this section and the surprising twist at the end.
The people of God, recently sprung from their Egyptian slavery by the mighty hand of God and his prophet, Moses, are wandering in the desert. First they were thirsty, as anyone would be in the desert, and God found water for them. Then they were hungry, the next logical thing for a group just wandering around, and God fed them on Manna. And yet they are still whining about how things were so much better in their slavery days because they had meat to eat. They really are the ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’ people. They begin to whine to Moses about their wishes for meat and Moses, in turn, complains to God about the heavy burden placed on him to care for all these people. How am I suppose to care for all these people—he asks God. I cannot keep doing this!
As God as always done, he provides for them, this time by giving them quail meat –all they can eat and then some! But God also hears not just the people’s needs but Moses’ needs as well. Just as he provides what the people need to survive, God also provides for Moses, too. And that’s where we get to today’s text. God has Moses to select seventy elders from all the tribes and bring them to the Tent of Meeting. It is then that God comes down and divides the Ruach–the Spirit–that has been placed upon Moses, so that a portion of it is shared amongst these men as well. They prophecy as the spirit is given to them. These men were then able to share with Moses in some of the many jobs he had in taking care of, leading, teaching and guiding the people of God.
That’s all well and good. Very good, actually. But here’s the twist in the story. There are two men who had not been in the Tent of Meeting and, presumably, hadn’t been chosen by Moses, were also given a portion of that Ruach and they, too, began to prophecy right out there in the regular area of camp. Right there amongst everyone else.
Well, where did that come from? That wasn’t part of the plan, neither the plan Moses had nor the plan God presented to Moses! Joshua, one of the most faithful and Moses’ right hand helper, and a few others, were quite a bit unsettled by this turn of events, too, and went to tell Moses to get them knock it off. They weren’t part of the group and shouldn’t be doing that.
It wasn’t part of the plan. It wasn’t the way it was ‘supposed’ to be.