The video above includes the full service for today. You can click on the four arrows in the bottom right of the video to make it full screen. Clicking the three lines next to that will pull up the menu.
Special thanks to Elisa and Matthew Leahy for video production.
Permission to podcast/stream the music in this service obtained through One License with license A-727859
Peace Candle | Gretchen Geyer and Thomas Leonard
As we worship in place today, we light a Peace Candle in our home, inviting you to light a Peace Candle in your home. The flame joins us in spirit across distance, along with our sister church in Armenia, Colombia.
Welcome and Opening | Joel Call
Call to Worship | Joel Call
Hymn | Holy Spirit, come with power | Tom Blosser, Debra and Galen Martin
Children's Time | Kelsey and Mike Ryan-Simkins
Mission Moment | Comforter Blessing | Joyce Wyse
Pastoral Prayer and Offering Dedication | Robin Walton
Special Music | O healing river | Tom Blosser
Scripture | Acts 2
v. 1 - 2 | Japanese | Charlie Shenk
v. 3 - 4 | Spanish | Edith Espinal
v. 5 - 6 | German | Roberta Gerlach
v. 7 - 8 | French | Isaac Ruggles
v. 14 - 16 | Mandarin | Ruth Leonard
v. 17 - 18 | Turkish | Wilbur Miller
Sermon | Holy Spirit everywhere | Joel Miller
STJ 33 | Come, Holy Spirit, descend | Tom Blosser
Benediction | Joel Call
There’s a story in the Torah, the book of Numbers chapter 11. It takes place just after the Israelites depart from Mt Sinai where Moses received the teachings of the law. They are again on the move and they are again complaining about the lack of dining options in the desert. Nothing but this bland manna to eat. The people are upset, and this makes Moses, their leader, upset. Moses has it out with the Lord, Yahweh, saying that this is an impossible task, too heavy a burden to bear, and that if the Lord is indeed merciful, the Lord should end his life at once.
The Lord’s response is to have Moses gather 70 of the elders. Yahweh says, “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.” Moses is skeptical, but goes along with the idea. He calls these elders together, takes them outside the encampment and has them circle up around the tent of meeting, which was the place Moses would go to meet with Yahweh. Kind of a mobile mini temple. A temple for nomads. They circle up around this tent of meeting, and sure enough, Yahweh comes down in a cloud and takes some of the spirit that was on Moses and distributes it to the 70 elders. The spirit rests on them, and they begin prophesying, speaking profound and insightful words.
The only catch to the situation was that two of the elders either didn’t get the memo or were lagging behind, still back in the camp with the people, not gathered at that special tent of meeting. But when the spirit came on all the others out there, it still came on those two in the camp. And they prophesied as well.
A young man in the camp sees this and runs out to tell Moses that these two elders are prophesying. One of the elders, Joshua, son of Nun, hears the news first and tells Moses to make those men stop. Moses answers by saying this: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all Yahweh’s people were prophets, and that Yahweh would put the spirit on them.”
There’re a couple important things going on in this story. One of them, perhaps the more obvious one, is that the special spirit of wisdom and leadership that Moses possessed, or that possessed Moses, is being spread around to a wider group. Rather than Moses being the singular leader, we have the beginnings of a leadership group, a council of elders, with each having the spirit on them. This is a new development, but it’s not what bothers Joshua.
What bothers Joshua is that two of these elders had not been in the right place when this happened, and yet it still happened to them. They had not been at the holy, sacred, set apart location where gods and humans talk. They had been in the camp, with the common people and common articles of life, and yet they too had the spirit. There is a boundary violation going on between the holy and the common, and it messes with Joshua’s sense of proper order. He doesn’t want Moses to put an end to what’s happening at the tent of meeting with the 68 elders, that’s where that kind of thing is supposed to happen. He wants Moses to shut down those two others who have no right prophesying away from that sacred circle around the tent of meeting.
Today is Pentecost Sunday. What we celebrate today has everything to do with the Holy, and how that relates with community and, ultimately, all of creation.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we each have places that are more holy than others, or at least places where it’s much easier to see the holy. The tent of meeting is pitched in different places of our lives, usually in a similar fashion as it was in the desert for the Israelites: outside the encampment. Which is to say - outside the place where the common things of life take place. We need to escape that to find the holy. Go out for a walk, take a retreat, take a vacation. Or, hey, even go to church.
Pentecost is a not-so-gentle reminder that the Holy has invaded every aspect of our lives and does not depart from us. In Acts 2, a group that had known Jesus in his lifetime, now wondering what is next, is gathered together in one place. They experience the sound of violent wind, and fire, a presence among them which they decide is best named not just spirit, but Holy Spirit. Each of them has something like a tongue of fire “resting on them” as Luke says, and they begin speaking all these different languages. These are real languages and because this is a festival day in Jerusalem Jews from all over the world are gathered, and they each hear these wonderful things being expressed in their own native language. The Holy is not contained within one particular people or one particular language, but is native to all people, and all languages. The Holy is native to all places. The Holy is native to you.
There is this movement in scripture from holiness being that which is set apart and separated, to holiness being that which overcomes and breaks down that very separation. From boundary making to boundary breaking. From outside the encampment, to all throughout the encampment. And this is really the main point here. Holiness becomes not so much about taboos and forbidden practices as it becomes about entering into loving relationship with the brokenness of the world, recognizing one’s own brokenness, encountering the Holy in the very space once deemed unholy.
The Pentecost event takes place in our New Testament, but it’s not a new idea. There are pictures of this throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The story of Moses and the 70 elders being one of them. The passage from the prophet Joel that Peter quotes at Pentecost being another. “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, old and young, even on the slaves I shall pour out my spirit.” This is the pattern of Jesus’ life. This is what he did all the time, entering into the spaces and lives deemed unholy. This is what’s going on on the cross. Crucifixion is not a holy thing, it’s a complete desecration of a human life. Jesus even cries out, “My God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s a God-forsaken scene, yet it’s that very location of God-forsakenness that becomes the ultimate revelation of the Divine presence. Even the most unholy space is made holy.
Simon and Garfunkel famously sang that the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls. They most likely did not consult with Joshua, son of Nun, before writing these lyrics, but I can hear Moses and Jesus saying “Yes, would that all my people were prophets. They too have the Holy Spirit, the prophethood of all believers.” Columbus doesn’t have any subway or subway walls, except for all those sandwich shops where you can occasionally get a five dollar foot long. But if any of you are looking for a summer alternative-to-canceled-vacation project you could go around the city and take pictures of the words of the prophets written under the bridges and on the sides of buildings. And maybe a few bumper stickers. If you get a good collection it could find its way into a summer worship recording.
We’ve been spending a lot of time recently in the encampment. Life is happening amidst the common things of home – kitchen and bed, office and screen, yard and neighborhood. And it can be hard to see Holy Spirit here. You almost have to see it in other people’s lives before you can see it in your own. You make your venture to the grocery store and you see a mother with two kids, each wearing a mask, and you can see that what she’s doing is holy, raising these children. Even heroic, and essential gift to the world. It’s harder for her to see that. From her perspective, she’s just barely holding it together. Or you have a friend who’s caring for an aging parent, navigating the added complexities of social distancing. You can see that this is clearly a holy task. But the friend is overwhelmed, and grieving.
Holy Spirit is among us, we just sometimes need other people to remind us that the flame of the Spirit is burning over our head – because we can’t see it ourselves.
We’re here to remind each other that the flame is there. Here, being wherever here is for each of us right now.
We have these special places outside our encampment to get in touch with Holy Spirit. For some of us, a church building is one of those places. But the point isn’t that this is where Holy Spirit dwells, the point is to remind ourselves, while there, that Holy Spirit is everywhere, in all things.
This morning we can imagine a tongue of fire resting on each person in our dispersed congregation. Or shall we just say, each person, full stop. The most difficult person on which to recognize the flame might be yourself.
And since today doubles as the day of comforter blessing, we can also imagine these comforters lovingly made, charged with Holy Spirit, going out into the desecrated parts of the earth. Where the Holy wanders as a refugee.
We send these comforters as a sign that the Spirit of Pentecost is unleashed upon the whole world. That she seeks out the people and places most forgotten. Meets them with radiant beauty, and enfolds them into the family of God, where they have always belonged. These comforters are part of our mission as a Pentecost people, speaking the native language of warmth, of love, of comfort. Common cloth and threads made holy by the one who makes all things holy.
May we each be attentive to this Spirit. May it surprise us, change us, comfort, and upset us.
May it be so.