Thoughts for Pentecost.


God Speaking with People, and People Speaking with God

I begin my sharing by telling you how I approach scripture.  I see it on several levels: First, is the obvious description.  I try to imagine myself in that place.  What was the roadway like, the vegetation, the weather- just the general context.  If I can, I find the cultural context.  What period of time is this?

Or, take the phrase in The Revelation: Heaven has “great streets paved with gold and transparent as glass.”

Is gold transparent? Look at gold—what are the qualities of gold?  To me, gold is a symbol of the nature of heaven.  Remember gold is an earthly element…shouldn’t heaven be much, much more glorious than any earthly element? We must remember that heaven is not confined to our literal, earthly reality.  We are given hints, “for now we see through a glass darkly”…as Paul says.

Then, digging deeper in Scripture, what is the message to me? To us?  And even deeper than that, are there underlying eternal principles which might be there?  If I only grasp the surface facts, I know I may end way off what the true message is.

So let’s begin with my approach, no, my approaches, to the Garden of Eden, for example.  I think, on one hand, this may be a description of a real man and woman whom God had chosen to nurture, selecting persons of ability, possibly from a species of Homo Sapiens.  So He chose those two, and they lived a privileged existence in what we call the Garden, talking to God, God talking to them, and God relating to them as a dear friend, but in all innocence.  From them, or their extended family, spread out the people know today.  Except for the Great Flood, another gateway experience humans had to endure…as nearly all cultures claim some sort of flood.

My second approach to Eden, is that the ancient ones described for us “the Before History Times,” when people were innocent, free to live on this beautiful earth and had a connection to a Power greater than themselves.  This Power nurtured some people as being selected special.  As generations came into conflict, we became more sophisticated and complex, leaving behind our primitive dependence on the Creator. Evil conflicts emerged and God was not pleased with our species, so our relationship with Him drastically changed.  We were alienated—separated.

Anyway one looks at it, we lost the intimacy, the dialog and relationship humans had with our Creator.

SEEKING GOD IN HIGH PLACES

However, in longing for this lost relationship, and missing the conversation with the Great One, bits of awareness remained in our collective memories.  This longing showed by our creating our own gods…all over the earth.  And we gave sacrifices to our gods, the ones we hoped to be there on mountaintops—surely god was there!

Tower of Babel—at that time these groups of people seemed to have a common tongue understood by everyone, but God wants them to keep moving on throughout the earth.  They make the decision to build and stay in Babylon, to work together to build a city and be self-sufficient.  Evidently, they are not listening to the Lord, they are listening to each other, and one powerful ruler!

Recently, I saw a documentary on the Smithsonian Channel investigating the Tower of Babel.  The expert showed a large black stone on which a stepped building, a seven-story pyramid, was carved. Nebuchadnezzar had it built in Babylon.  His image was also on the stone.  The writing on the stone described it as a temple-tower, having been constructed by people conscripted all the way from the shores of the Mediterranean, to the Persian Gulf.  I recently found an original design for the Washington monument—it looks as if it copied the original Tower of Babel. Since this temple mountain in Babylon not ordered by the Lord God of Creation, it finally met its fate in dirt and rubble.  Of course, the people who constructed it proceeded to move back home, or wandered on, as people of the tents, nomadic tribes.  Talking with God on top of an unauthorized pyramid, short-circuited the process of divine dialogue completely.

In the scriptures, God trips up the humans’ plans by giving them many languages, and that is the situation today.  So, humans continued their migrations throughout the earth.  What are we to make of this?  The keepers of the narratives are suggesting that when Jehovah God is moving you in one direction, go that way!  Listen to God, wait on the Lord, EVEN if you have to stop a while… and build the ruler’s temple….or, there could be very serious consequences.

Humans continued thinking of God being on the tops of mountains. They made special places there to worship.  Hebrew Scriptures call them, the “asherah.”

Asherah were wooden poles or trees in a grove, or both, for the worship of the Canaanite fertility goddess.  The Israelites became immersed in the Canaanite idol-worshipping culture.  It was very comfortable and convenient to worship Ishtar, or Astarte and Jehovah together.  You covered all your bases at one time! 

God’s Chosen People were NOT to worship home-made gods. The Lord God speaks in Deuteronomy, “You must completely destroy all the places where the people and priests of these religions worship their gods.  These places are on high mountains, on hills and under green trees.”  In some cases a Jewish leader would tear the poles down, break them apart and burn them.  Erecting wooden poles, or worshipping in groves of trees surrounded by altars of various gods; and with prostitutes lurking, was no way to communicate with the Lord.  God would not hear your pleas or accept your worship. 

The prophets had to deal with this fertility worship both at home and in the high places for 700 years until the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians.

People keep trying to go up to speak with their gods and experience a connection in high places.  I believe this is true all over the world.

When we were in China a while ago, we saw small temples sitting atop several high mountains.

The Temple to Athena in Greece is on the Acropolis.

High in the Andes Mountains of America, many mummies of children have been found, dried up by the fierce weather.  They were offered alive there to please their gods centuries ago.

If there are no mountains to build on, many cultures have built pyramids, religious mountains-as in central South America, Egypt and the Near East.  There, they created their own religions, usually putting the “god” at the top of the pyramid. Then, only the high priest communicated with the gods, not regular people.  In the Americas people not only built pyramids, they built mounds of gigantic sizes.

The Lord did meet Chosen people on mountaintops for specific purposes: for instance,

  • Abraham and Isaac, to test the father of the nation.
  • Moses, to receive the commandments of the Law.
  • There is Mount Moriah where Jerusalem was built. 
  • You remember Ezekiel? God always addressed this exceptional man, as “Son of Dust.” Ezekiel received God’s specific instructions for building the temple: The Lord speaks to the prophet, “HOLINESS! The entire top of the hill where the Temple is built is holy!” God was powerful in His specific instructions.
  • And Jesus would go to the Mount of Olives to pray.

THE PROPHETS, HEARING AND ACTING

God spoke and appeared to Abram; He spoke to Samuel, to all the prophets. They hear God’s word, speak with the Lord and act on His instructions.  Because the life of a prophet could be very hard, the conversation between prophet and Creator was an ongoing dialog.  Prophets had to step out bravely, preaching against the evil, ungodly culture of the country and its rulers, often bringing terrible news.  God had the prophets’ backs, they conversed with one another to stay on track.

As the Hebrews moved ahead in the Exodus, The Lord spoke with their leaders, Moses, Aaron and Joshua.  During their wanderings, a generation or two of complainers and idol worshippers were winnowed out.  Their complaints hurt the ears of God. The Lord was also offended when His leaders did not do what He told them to do. As for the complainers and idolaters, He left thousands of their bodies rotting in the desert sands.  Of course, God loved them!  Did they love God?

And there was the time in the desert when the Lord did not modulate his voice down, resulting In the people of Israel falling on their faces in the earth screaming in pain, begging Him to stop.

Noted in the New Testament several times—God Speaks, identifying Jesus, “this is my Son,” but His voice was usually heard as thunder, by outside observers.

John, beloved of Jesus, writes one of the most vibrant descriptions of our Savior, as God’s Living expression of Himself here on earth; when you experience Jesus, you learn Who God is.

Inspired by The Passion Translation, in John we hear

In the time BEFORE time, there was The Living Word.

This part of the Creator was OF Almighty God, yet distinct in PURPOSE from the Eternal Being. He is both part and parcel of God; -the same, yet different.

This very expression of the Lord God, is the being who created everything that ever was, and ever will be!

Nothing is created without God’s Living Word.

The mystery of life, itself, began with the Creative work by His Word.  As the Word brought life, He also brought light, not only visible light, but the powerful, down-to-earth illuminating expression of who God is.  This Light of Glory is so powerful that it overcomes all evil, and evil will always be overcome by God’s Living Word—Jesus!

Jesus is the ultimate example of God’s speaking with us.  This human expression of God is called the Word.  God’s Word is NOT the Bible, even though we call it God’s word.  It is the Man Jesus, the Mighty Arm of the Lord who is the Word- not the Book that tells about Him.

Creator God has spoken His best in Jesus.

Later in Acts, Paul relates that Jesus spoke to him from heaven saying, ‘Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?” Saul replies, “Who are you?” “I am the one whom you are persecuting!” So their conversation began.

Though Saul is blinded, he hears Christ’s words very plainly. However, his companions did hear something; but not the words of Jesus.  On this road to Damascus, Saul’s life was completely turned inside out by this arresting event, and by Jesus’ conversations with him.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

THE LORD GOD COMES DOWN

In stark contrast to our going up for God, Jehovah God keeps coming down to meet with us. God specified the locations for His people to connect with Him. Come up to the Temple in Jerusalem to meet the Lord. The Lord God picked Mount Moriah for His home base; there was the place to connect with Him.  Here the Lord was very specific: this was His temple, built according to His directions.  There the people were to worship Him.

And He also specified how humans were to respond after the temple was finished.

Among many laws for the average person, there were pilgrimages:

For the regular Jews, instructions were for the men of the household to come up to the Temple in Jerusalem. There they would worship Him 3 times a year for pilgrimage feasts- one in autumn and two in spring, one early spring and one late spring.

They were to travel from wherever they lived to the Temple, bring their offerings/pray and have their sacrifice burnt.  If you were the man in the household, your family planned with time and money so you could make the trip up to Jerusalem for the 3 proper feast days.  The worshippers had to bring the appropriate offering, or had to buy it.  The offering represented both obedience to Jehovah, Thanksgiving, and also the forgiveness of their sins.  You were relieved from sin through your sacrifice for that year.

THE PASSOVER FEAST

There is eternal significance that Jesus offered himself for crucifixion at the time of the Passover festival.  This is highly symbolic and the fulfillment of many prophesies; for in that unique sacrifice, the Power of the Passover Angel of Death was cancelled: one eternal sacrifice for all.  Yes, it is hard to imagine why Christ should have such a horrible death; yet, it was authentic to the culture of the time He lived.

However, today there are legions of followers of Christ who have given their lives for His Good News, as have thousands upon thousands of people of Goodwill for the same…dying according to their situation and culture.

There are also legions of military personnel who have given life and limb in horrific struggles for freedom, for love of country.  A personal sacrifice for the love of another—very Biblical.

Jesus knew what was ahead for Him; and what was later ahead for His beloved Jerusalem, and he cried.  His is the great and universal, voluntary giving of Himself, in place of every person’s animal sacrifice.  It may be that Christ’s universal sacrifice also covers sacrifices everywhere, to unknown gods!  His eternal sacrifice covers all sins … for all humans, … for all times.  This cosmic, mysterious event reestablishes the connection for all humans, with our loving Creator in a different, open, personal Way.

As the author of Hebrews to the Jewish church in Rome writes:

We need a priest who doesn’t have to bring daily sacrifices as those chief priests did. First they brought sacrifices for their own sins, and then they brought sacrifices for the sins of the people. Jesus brought the sacrifice for the sins of the people once and for all when he sacrificed himself.

As Jesus begins His resurrected life, the Scriptures tell us that within those forty days, He saw and talked to hundreds of people. We can imagine that for most people, any contact with the Risen Christ would have been a life changing experience—just to hear Him preach, and to possibly talk with Him would have been monumental.  Would you ever forget what He said?

The problem with Jesus is that He was always local.  The Anointed Christ was still under the space/time restrictions.  Before, and after His Resurrection, He could be in only one place at a time.  He had only one body, and that could exist in only one place, at a time.

THE FEAST OF WEEKS- PENTECOST

Let us come to the pilgrimage Feast of Weeks, where we are now.  As you know, Pentecost is the Greek word for the Feast of Weeks. 

Previously, Jesus’ bodily form had disappeared into the heavens. He had called his beloved friends again to a certain place to witness his Home-going.  He lifted up, a cloud covered Him, and then He was gone.  As His beloved followers sat there recovering from what they just witnessed, they were stunned to hear another voice, straight from a heavenly messenger: “Why are you sitting there looking up in the air?  He is gone!!!  But He will be back, returning the same manner as He left.”

We cannot begin to imagine the emotional impact His leaving had on His followers.  There was certainly confusion and a sense of loss.  “How do we pull ourselves together?”  So they met together, prayed for guidance, worshipped and sang songs of God’s greatness. And began to remember all the things Jesus had taught them about what would happen, and Who He was, to them, the Messiah.  In a private, but probably large meeting room, they waited on God … God who would give them guidance and direction.

Reading of the scripture in Acts 2:1- 32 (excerpted)

Acts 2:17-21

“Hear what God says! In the last days,

 I will offer My Spirit to humanity as a libation.

 Your children will boldly speak the word of the Lord.

 Young warriors will see visions,

   and your elders will dream dreams.

18   Yes, in those days I shall offer My Spirit to all servants,

   both male and female, and they will boldly speak My word.

19   And in the heaven above and on the earth below,

 I shall give signs of impending judgment: blood, fire, and clouds of smoke.

20   The sun will become a void of darkness,

   and the moon will become blood.

 Then the great and dreadful day of the Lord will arrive,

21   And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord

   will be liberated into God’s freedom and peace.”

WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

I often wonder, seriously, about all these list of names in the Bible. Well, clearly here there is a purpose, so whoever heard of these locations would know they are from all over their known world!

Rabbi Daniel Kohn (My Jewish Learning):

“Historical texts and archaeological evidence indicates that in late antiquity, during the Hellenistic and Roman eras, the pilgrimage festivals were a profoundly significant social and religious institution, bringing Jews from all over the ancient world of the Mediterranean to Jerusalem.  Thousands upon thousands of Jews made these pilgrimages throughout the year and supported a vast commercial enterprise including the raising of animals for sacrifices, a lively animal market, a complex banking community to enable pilgrims to exchange currencies, and hundreds if inns and taverns to lodge the travelers.

Let’s take off our shoes now, and put on our sandals.  Let’s walk here in the Temple area, here we see crowds of merchants from the trade routes and sounds of their bargaining.  And while walking there, we see many hundreds of pilgrims attending the festival,- there are the Roman soldiers- (Stay out of their way!); - vendors selling sacrificial animals and birds to the pilgrims, money changers, dealing with several kinds of money.  Crafts people are there, hawking their wares; and food sellers offering breakfast fast food. Is that the smell of roast lamb?  Oriental rugs are on the ground and hanging from nearby windows. There are children playing and laughing.  A din of noises comes from every corner of the great courtyard plazas around the Temple. Even under the Temple Mount we can see the cave-like shops catering to every need of these devout travelers.  Listen to their dialogue:

“Sir, can you direct me to the next caravan to Babylon or Elam?” “Oh gladly sir, step right this way!”

“Hey there,, can you help me?  I have only 100 Bythnian gold pieces, can you change some into your shekels? And how much is the Temple tax?”

’Dear sir, please have a seat.  I can help you for a small fee.  Is this your first pilgrimage?”

‘Greetings, dear lady, can you direct me to the animal pens?” ‘“Certainly, sir.” 

They are just beyond the Temple enclosure and the remaining vendors.  Go down the steps then turn left and you will see the enclosures further on.  These were ordinary people going about their worship and business duties that morning, when the railroad train of tornado noise burst through the heavens…. down into the streets of Jerusalem, igniting the souls of Christ’s followers.  Those believers who waited on the Lord, were so spiritually filled, that the Good News poured out of them into the streets. 

And again, not everyone gets it! 

The effect on the believers was so dramatic, that some accused them of being drunk.

These believers spoke in languages they had never studied, and they were understood!

Yes, each believer spoke correctly in someone else’s language.

That’s how Earth-shaking this Event was! 

God wanted His message to go forth as it never had before!  Many languages were no handicap to this conversation!  The Gospel Message was out on the wings of the Spirit, free and unimpeded.

Fortunately, we cannot control God’s Spirit. This Arm of the Lord is active throughout our world and beyond, where we can ever go.  The Spirit of Jesus is still present, doing His own business.  If we look, we can see that happening!

Let’s put our regular shoes back on, now.

Many of us modern people have a hard time being open, or even thinking that God speaks to us.  I would not suggest that God will send you a fax or an e-mail. But He will show up and communicate in situations.  Sometimes as you lie in bed, creative ideas will show up, or solutions to things you have prayed about will come to mind.  Every now and then, as you look back at very hard situation which you endured, you can see God has moved for your benefit. Jim reminded me that he communicates in dreams.

Remember the book Uncle Tom’s Cabin? The author Harriet Beecher Stowe’s inspiration to write is described:

February of 1851, she was sitting in the 23rd pew of the First Parrish Church in Maine when she was struck by the violent, and ‘almost tangible’ scene of an enslaved person being abused.  It was so visceral, so powerful that she had to stifle her sobs.  At the end of the service, Stowe rushed home.  In her haste she grabbed a paper bag and began writing.  Her son, Charles, later wrote …of his mother that it was ‘as if what she wrote was blown through her mind, as with the rushing of a mighty wind.’ Harriet, herself said…that the book was ‘less composed by her, than imposed on her,’ and that SHE didn’t write it, ‘God wrote it.’ …

Her book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, A best selling novel, was credited with shedding light on the oppression of slavery and helping pave the way for the ending of slavery in America.[1]

Dreams and other messages from the Great Beyond may be just for you alone.

God is saying I love you.  Your life is My concern.  Many of us in this room can relate how the Spirit showed up in some form for protection, for guidance, for affirmation.  These is the still, small voice which Elijah heard—God attending to your life.  Don’t expect a megaphone, or banner headlines; it will be tailored to you, on your very own spiritual journey.  Open your heart and listen.  This is not an intellectual thing, it is spiritual!

This is a sound check, how do you read me?

As In our time, now, the Spirit of God wants to speak to us, wants to empower us. Especially in this church.

We are God’s church; this is not our church. We are not become His People to please ourselves, to nestle down in a comfortable spiritual nest!  The Pentecost message is: God’s voice is now our voice! We have a mandate to be faithful, to be authentic, to be Love, (first of all) … and to acknowledge Whose we are, and give this priority as we move ahead. 

Jesus Christ offers the only Life-giving Water….Let us drink deeply of it!

Jesus Christ offers the only life-giving Message….let us hear it and respond! 

Are you listening? OVER AND OUT!  AMEN




[1] Hillary Ribbons, The Divine Spark, MYSTERIOUS WAYS, P.24, June/July 2019