Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“Trained and Empowered”

Old Testament Reading Numbers 11: 25-29

So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD ; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rest upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again.

Two men remained in the camp, one named Eldad, and the other named Medad, and the spirit rested on them, they were among those registered, but they had not gone out to the tent, and so they prophesied in the camp. And a young man ran and told Moses, Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp. And Joshua son of Nun, the assistant of Moses, one of his chosen men, said, “My lord Moses, stop them!” But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’s people would be prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

New Testament Reading Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divide tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Today we celebrate the various graduations of our members. Usually graduation is accompanied by speeches and exhortations. There is a lot of proverbial wisdom (of the. fortune cookie type) that are. given to the graduates.

You younger folk have no idea who the great humorist Will Rogers was, but he had profound ability to see the complex and state it in simple terms.

Things like: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

Or this, "The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket."

And of course this bit of very practical advice, "Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.”

Seriously though, We feel the need to give advice at this special point in the graduates life, because we know that things are about to change for them.

They have been trained but now they are about to be empowered!

This is particularly true of the college grads who now have a degree. The degree says you know ‘how”. But until you have been hired to perform that job, you haven’t been empowered.

Notice that you can have knowledge, skill, even wisdom and experience. These can be something inside you however empowerment comes from the outside.

It is the final ingredient needed to get the job done.

Empowerment happens where the rubber meets the road.

Using this line of thinking, I tried to imagine what graduation day would look like in the Kingdom of God.

At first I thought the moment when we accept Christ as Lord would be our graduation day. But that is just the begining of our education.

Then the thought occured that when we got to heaven was graduation. But that is when we receive our reward. Seems more like retirement than graduation.

So when is it that we graduate? Certainly there would be crowds watching and lots of shouting. And when is it that we are empowered for our task?

Our scripture readings show us two incidents when God empowered not just individuals but groups of people.

The elders in our old testament reading were already leaders. Here is some backgrond on these men.

Exodus the 18th chapter says this group of 70 men were chosen as leaders of thousands and hundreds and fiftys because they were men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain.

It sounds like they had the right mind set to me. But that's not all.

The 24th chapter of Exodus says, "then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up (the mountain), and they saw the God of Israel." This was when Moses went further alone and received the 10 commandments. These 70 were to be the first to receive instruction in God's law.

Natural skills and formal training - but it wasn't enough!

Here is a condensed version of the scriptures preceeding our Old Testament reading for today.

Number chapter 11

4 And the mixed multitude that was among them lusted exceedingly: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? 5 We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt for nought; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all save this manna to look upon.(I just want to interupt the reading here to point out that they left Eygpt with cattle, sheep and goats. And they arrived in the promised land with goats, sheep and cattle. So it wasn't true that they had nothing to eat but manna.

(But that's another sermon for another day!)

Back to my reading.

10 And Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, every man at the door of his tent: and the anger of Jehovah was kindled greatly; and Moses was displeased.

13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they weep unto me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favor in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.

The Hebrew scripture passage we read today takes place after they were placed in these positions of leadership - and what are they doing?

Not leading! Not being spokespersons for God!! No they were complaining!

They were supposed to be lifting some of the burden of leadership from Moses' shoulders. Instead they had added to his burden to the place that Moses asked God to kill him and give him release.

These 70 had been trained in how to lead. They knew all the laws. But they had no idea of the difference between training and empowered by God for the task.

Our new testament reading finds a different group of men. We are more familiar with their backgrounds. These men of widely diverse backgrounds were hand picked by Jesus.

Presumably he saw some native skill or attribute in these men that he could develop to do the task ahead. Then he spent 3 years training them. Imagine personally instructed by God incarnate!

Not just trained but commanded to go into all the world spreading the good news!

And what are they doing? They are still banded together but in hiding. Keeping the good news to themselves!

Two groups of good men, skilled men, trained men. But men that hadn't yet been empowered for the job.

But in an instant that changed. God touched them and they were changed.

I like the way one of the modern translations states the experience. It reads, “They began to shout like prophets.”

Shout like prophets! Spokes people for God.

What they should have been all along. Establishing the kingdom of God.

That Penticost two thousand years ago was their graduation day!

This touch of God, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter wasn't just for the people huddled in that upper room. It was promised to all who believe and confess with their lips that Jesus Christ is Lord.

We, in this room, are another group of people.

We come week after week and hear our Sunday school teachers, the pastor and the choir proclaiming the good news.

We have been trained.

Now what?

We need to be empowered!

Are we going to see tongues of fire resting on each other or hear the rush of a mighty wind?

There are times that I've longed for those miraculous displays of God's power or as Moses said, "I Would that all the LORD’s people would be prophets, and that the LORD would put his spirit on them!”

But the truth is we don't need to see MORE miracles. .

You want miracles and mighty works? Look around you. This congregation does them so often that they seem commonplace! You feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, care for the sick, educate the unschooled and care for the imprisoned!

You see, the moment that you believed in your heart and confessed with your lips that Jesus is Lord, you were infilled with the Spirit of God.

You have been empowered! God has injected himself into your very being!

And you plus God can do anything.

Go into all the world and proclaim the good news. (By the way, that wasn't a suggestion - it was a command)

There are countless ways to do that.

We all have our own jobs in this Kingdom of God.

There are no non-participating members, no bench warmers, not even any second string!

So, how do we do this job?  Now, not all of us are required to shout like prophets.

Some of us whisper words of encouragement.

Some are silent prayer warriors who lift others up to the Lord in prayer.

Some are called to heal body, mind or spirit.

Some are called to teach. Some to teach children and some to instruct adults.

Some are called to be care givers and some to be care takers,

To be builders or creators.

To invite others into the kingdom.

Remember, there are no unimportant jobs! If you are called to cook or clean and do it as a service dedicated to God it is important and an acceptable sacrifice before His altar.

And the good news is … Whatever job we are called to perform in the Kingdom of God, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to do it.

Now, maybe you are sitting there thinking, "I don't feel empowered."

There are a couple of reasons we can feel that way.

1. Maybe we haven't made Jesus the Lord of our lifes.

2. Perhaps we're not doing the job he has empowered us to do.

3. Maybe we have secured our salvation but haven't quite turned our will over to Him.

I can relate to that. There are some of us who just need to be in control. However, we need to get to the point where we can say, "Not my will but your's Lord." Otherwise we are trying to wear the crown that only he can wear. .

Sometimes we need to be reminded that God does not need us to be his advisors. He needs us to be His spokes persons, His hands and His feet. He needs us to be about the job he has for us.

If you feel powerless, take a moment now and ask God to touch you and empower you for YOUR job in His kingdom, or to clearly show you what your job is to be.

Remember that when you are called upon to perform your Kingdom task. There is no need for fear - for you, as a child of God in His kingdom, are empowered for the duty.

This is your graduation day!

God is with you. Amen!!

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