Forget the Tent
A Sermon for Covenant
“Forget the Tent”
Numbers 11:24-30 (with Acts 2:1-21)
Covenant Baptist Church, San Antonio
June 8, 2014
Kyndall Rae Rothaus
(To listen to the audio, click “play” button above. To download audio, click here.)
Eldad and Medad—I love those guys! They’re prophesying in camp, doing their own thing, telling of God, causing a ruckus. They don’t even bother with the tent. THE TENT where all the official, important, fancy people are. They don’t wait for Moses or for approval. They don’t bother with the elders. They are just overcome and so they speak out without a backwards glance at where the sacred speech is supposed to happen, outside the camp. They talk in the camp, to the camp, as part of the camp.
But some young man, full of concern, books it to Moses and cries, “Ah!” to which Joshua replies, “Oh no!” but Moses merely laughs, “Yes! That’s what I’m talking about! This, every day, please!”
It is a good leader who knows to embrace Spirit wherever Spirit lands. It’s the young men full of nervous energy, the Joshuas, and us apprentices in the faith who get uptight when God breaks out in some sector we can’t control.
This story is the spirit of Pentecost. This story where God speaks through the unexpected. Reminds you of Acts 2, does it not? Pentecost: where no matter who you are, God speaks your language and if you start speaking back, people are just as likely to think you are drunk as they are to think you are divine. This is Pentecost: where anyone, anyone, anyone—everyone, everyone, everyone—has access to God, no barriers, no limits, no cuts.
The people in the tent just thought they were experiencing a spiritual explosion—what, with seventy more spirit-filled guys, even if it was only a one-time event. They had no idea what was happening outside their borders and beyond their sight and beyond their expectations. I mean, the tent—that’s where God was—everyone knew that. They’d watched Moses a thousand times walking all the way out there to the tent of meeting, and when he came back he’d have to cover his face because it was still glowing of God, too bright to be seen by naked eye. (Exodus 34:34-35)
It was said that anyone who wanted to seek God went to the tent to do so, and when Moses went there, all the people would rise and stand at the entrances to their tents until he entered, so great was their reverence. And when Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud that symbolized the Lord’s presence would descend upon the tent, and when the pillar came down, the people would rise, then bow down, and it was said that the Lord would speak to Moses “face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (Exodus 33:4-7)
What they did not understand is that neither Moses nor God wanted it this way—this segregated space with more God here, less Divine Presence there. God had always wanted to pour over everything, and once Moses had a taste of the pouring, he too understood this was not a thing to be contained or sanctioned off. This was a thing to be spilt, to be shared, to be spread. Gladly he let some of the spirit be taken from him, and apparently from Moses alone came enough spirit to fill seventy more. This is the way God works—stuff’s always multiplying.
What we don’t count on is it multiplying behind our backs, in places and people unseen. Like Jesus with the five loaves and two fish—let’s say, some million miles away, that same moment, a widowed mother of eight walked in the house to find a basket of bread and she had no idea where it came from. Let’s say, you are wondering where help is ever going to come from, and in some basement you don’t even know about, angels are concocting your deliverance. Let’s say, you are wondering whether or not God still speaks—will ever speak to you—and right behind you, God is babbling in the mouth of a babe, singing love throughout the room in the form of a child’s laughter. Let’s say, someone in you family’s been called by God to be a minister, and it turns out to be your daughter—and the shy one at that.
This is Pentecost, folks. God showing up in places we haven’t even thought to look. This is Pentecost: God, disobeying the parameters somebody set so carefully in place. This is Pentecost: when no matter who you are, God speaks your language, and if you start speaking back, God and everyone who has God in them will know to say, “Amen.” Nothing holy will try to shut down your God-given voice. Only devils and very anxious people will do that . . . unfortunately, most of us are anxious people. But when we recognize God in one another, we get a little holier and a little less uptight.
This is Pentecost: the loosening of our tongues and the loosening of our prejudices and the loosening of our judgments. The shoulds and supposed-tos fall away and the surprises begin. As long as you hold on tightly to the notion that God is in the tent, you miss out on the glory of God in the camp, will think it’s a freak show and in need of censorship. But when Pentecost happens, there is a tightness in your chest that poof! disappears and in its place, wide open space, and Spirit comes falling in from everywhere.
I know, I know the Spirit of God often seems far away and inaccessible and unavailable to you where you are. I know. It seems that God is only active way over there, in a far-away tent, in a secret place among anointed people, and you haven’t been given the password to get in. It’s enough to make you think it’s all a joke, or at least, very unfair, or worse, a total confirmation of your unworthiness. I know it often seems like some great, uncrossable distance exists between where you are and where the Spirit resides and pours forth generously. It’s enough to make you think God loving everyone is a hoax or God himself is a myth.
But here’s the thing: every now and again you’ll feel the spark—just a tiny spark—within yourself, and that is when you choose whether to kindle it into a fire or smother it out for fear it isn’t real, for fear you are not worthy, for fear it will leave you. Just think, how many others were there, when Eldad and Medad had the Spirit rest upon them? How many others felt it too, but they stifled it? Was there a young woman who heard the Spirit stir within her, but deemed it impossible because she wasn’t a man? Some young man who silenced the impulse because he wasn’t an elder, didn’t think himself ready? Some foreigner in the camp who had a burst of energy, but hushed it, because he was not an Israelite and he did not speak the language? Was there some timid soul who did not consider themselves good with words or some seasoned sinner with a record who did not see themselves forgiven enough to speak of God?
We may wonder why God doesn’t go ahead and pour the Spirit on all God’s people. Why the long wait? That is a question above my pay grade. But another question (and one we might even be able to answer) is the personal one: what keeps me from believing God’s Spirit rests and resides with me? Why do I block the Spirit from filling me? What long-winded tale of unworthiness do I keep repeating to myself again and again to keep the Spirit out and myself inside these limits? What stops me from joining the Eldads and the Medads? And if I name the thing that stops me my sin, and I confess it out loud, might the Wind sweep through and blow it away? Will it feel like tongues of fire licking my doubts clean? Will Pentecost start small, like a mini-explosion inside my insecurity, and then, might it spread like raging wildfire (or like quiet yeast)? Either way, a growth nearly impossible to stop once it’s been set in motion.
May Pentecost begin now, inside your heart, as the inkling that you have been deemed worthy to encounter God, worthy to hear God in your very own language, worthy to speak with the voice you have been given. May Pentecost begin now, as the startling idea that no one has to be left out, that no one is beyond the limit of God’s great love, that everyone in this place and outside this place has a voice to be heard. Amen.