Pentecost is one of the big annual celebrations in the Church. Sometimes it is called the birthday of the Church, as we remember when the Holy Spirit was poured out with power upon the disciples.
One of the miracles of the day was that when the disciples began to preach the Gospel, everyone within earshot could understand what they were saying—no matter what language they themselves spoke. As a control freak, this gives me the shakes because, through this gift of the Spirit, the disciples lost control of the Gospel.
Think about it—once the moment had passed and the Spirit was no longer providing interpretation, the disciples could not communicate with those that spoke other languages!
They could not clarify. They could not answer questions. They could not verify that the version of the Gospel these people might share with others was 100% correct.
Now, part of Jesus’ core mission was to reveal the character and will of God, which the religious leaders of the time were getting wrong. A good bit of Paul’s writing was meant to correct churches that weren’t quite getting it right. And the Council at Jerusalem in Acts was just the first of many gatherings throughout Church history designed to clarify how we are to understand and live out central aspects of our faith.
But from the very beginning—literally day and hour one of the Church as we know it—the Spirit gave away a measure of control.
An accompanying text in the lectionary for Pentecost is the story of Eldad and Medad from Numbers 11. While Moses had gathered the elders of Israel to receive a measure of God’s Spirit, Eldad and Medad didn’t make it to the meeting.
There are lots of ideas for why they didn’t show up—perhaps they were away from their tent when the summons came, or they were so humble that they didn’t feel worthy to attend—but despite their absence, the Spirit came upon them anyway. While the rest of the elders were miraculously led to prophecy (much like the disciples in Acts 2), Eldad and Medad began to prophecy as well in a different part of the camp.
For some reason, this really bothered Joshua, Moses’ assistant. This wasn’t right. They didn’t come to the meeting. They weren’t in the tent. This wasn’t supposed to be how it worked. So he called on Moses to stop them.
Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!”
In a similar story from the Gospels, the disciples try to get Jesus to stop someone who was not an “official disciple” from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Like Moses, Jesus refused. It is faith, not status or title, that empowers ministry.
As we celebrate the birthday of the Church every year, it is easy to put the focus on the institution and its leaders. It is easy to proclaim how the Spirit enabled the disciples to preach and lead 3,000 people to salvation in Christ. And we proclaim that the Spirit is now available to all who believe, making for a great altar call. Then we, like the disciples, become a great preacher who leads people to salvation on Pentecost.
But this year, I would challenge you to go one step further. Make clear that the same Spirit that was in Christ Jesus, and that is in you as a pastor and leader in the Church, is in your congregation too. They may not all be called to vocational ministry or to preach. They may not have the same familiarity with the Scriptures as someone with a seminary degree. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t called to tell the truth of God, which is ultimately what prophecy is all about.
Do we have the same perspective Moses had? That Jesus had? Are we willing to give up a little bit of control so that the Gospel can be unleashed in our communities?
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