Sermon 2017 June 4th

ST COLUMBA’S, PONT STREET

SUN 04 JUN 17, PENTECOST

 Revd Angus MacLeod

 

Listen here: https://youtu.be/QjBwek7AeHY

 

[Moses said to Joshua] “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,

and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!” Numbers 11:29
From the Old Testament’s Book of Numbers comes part of the story

of the Children of Israel escaping slavery in Egypt

and on their travels in the wilderness, led by Moses.

It is still early in their forty year wanderings

before entering the promised land.

Already complaints are running high.

Mutterings: The life of the slave was better than this!

Among general grumblings the specific one that they have no meat –

this after the miraculous provision of manna – the bread of heaven.

 

Moses is at breaking point, lamenting to God:

Why have you treated your servant so badly?

Why lay the burden of all this people on me?

I am not able to carry this people alone, for they are too heavy for me.

It would be better if I were to die.

 

So, to this morning’s vignette.

Moses’ plea to God is matched by the sharing of the spirit,

that rests upon Moses, with seventy others.

And I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them;

and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you

so that you will not bear it all by yourself. Numbers 11:17

In time of calamity God makes possible a spreading of the load,

lest circumstance or despair, break the individual.

 

There is a further twist to this moment of this Spirit-giving, burden-sharing.

Two named characters – Eldad and Medad –

are not part of the choreography at the tent of meeting –

the place where the designated seventy are to await the outcome

of Moses’ encounter with God.

Inside the camp, away from the expected place, unsupervised –

the Spirit falls unexpectedly upon them.

This becomes clear, as they too, prophesy.

 

Joshua, Moses’ right-hand man, wants them closed down.

“My lord Moses, stop them!”

Advocate of good order, perhaps fearful of the unpredictable,

Joshua wants Moses to exert control,

to re-establish clear lines of authority.

But the old prophet won’t.

Instead he responds:

“Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets,

and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

 

Moses refuses to be/become a messiah figure – that is part of his grandeur.

Recognising God’s Spirit will not be bound by human expectation,

he resists the temptation to determine the spirit’s resting places

or corral its outpouring.

Moses understands God’s spirit is more like the wind than a Book of Order.

So, he trusts.

 

In 2005 the requiem mass for Pope John Paul II was televised.

In front of St Peter’s mighty façade, it was choreographed splendour,

magnificent of its kind.

Huge crowds, beautiful music and rank upon rank of scarlet-clad cardinals.

But the image that remains from that day

was the late Pope’s coffin in the middle of all this pageantry;

a copy of the gospels upon it.

At a particular moment, the wind catching its pages –

so that they flickered up before settling again.

As a Roman Catholic nun said to me later:

“A reminder that the Spirit of God will not be bound.”

 

“The wind blows where it chooses

and you do not know where it chooses

and you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit.” John 3:8

 

How might we be people of God’s spirit;

how might we honour the spirit of Pentecost, the birth of the Church

in times of complaint and anger, fear and uncertainty?

 

Firstly in the spirit of this morning’s story of burden sharing

let us seek God in our normal ways –

gathering for worship, welcoming each other,

nurturing our young  and caring for our frail;

celebrating in word and sacrament

the promise that where two or three are gathered together

the presence of Christ is promised.

 

But also let us be mindful of the spirit’s working

beyond the bounds of hallowed building and fellow worshipper.

Keep an eye out for the Eldads and Medads,

who are somewhere outside the gathering every day,

yet also visited by the spirit of God.

Let us honour the Divine in the voice and experience of brothers and sisters

of traditions/faiths other than our own.

 

Next month the principal speaker at our elders’ Away Day

will be Iman Faiz Qureshy – one of the chaplains for West London Mental Health Trust.

Faiz’s home mosque is in Woking – the oldest mosque in Northern Europe –

founded in the same decade as St Columba’s.

Faiz has been invited to share something of the spiritual realities

that underpin the pillars of his faith.

He will reflect a little on his experience of being a Muslim in this time and place.

He freely acknowledges that those from outside his faith community

will have many questions.

In a time of heightened mistrust, I pray that this small invitation,

this tentative conversation

will be a quiet, but intentional counter, to alternative, angrier voices.

 

I recognise too that others within our community, families and workplaces

will feel far from engaging with people of other faiths at this exact moment.

The reach for swift or easy answers

or the papering-over of real fears is of little help.

So, I finish with the prayer of someone who has the voice of authority;

whose faith has been forged in the furnace of struggle, violence and despair;

someone who has been sorely tested, but kept hope alive.

South Africa’s Desmond Tutu fully acknowledges the difficulty of forgiveness:

 

He speaks of the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness:

 

I want to be willing to forgive
But I dare not ask for the will to forgive…
I am not yet ready for my heart to soften
I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again
I am not yet ready for the journey
I am not yet interested in the path
I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness
Grant me the will to want to forgive
Grant it to me not yet but soon

 

Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets –

that together, we might bear the burden of the people;

that together, we might not bear these things alone.