Sunday’s Sermon

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 29 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 5 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 12 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 19 (Rev. Stan Temme)

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 26 (Rev. Stan Temme)

The Spirit of Change

            Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Our text is from the Old Testament Reading. Moses gathered seventy men of the elders of the people and placed them 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.  Here ends our text.

            There once was an elementary school teacher who taught a crowded classroom of fourth graders.  The teacher was at her wit’s end.  The room was too small for this many kids.  The student/teacher ratio was too high.  The children complained about the out-of-date textbooks that were falling apart.  They complained about the amount of homework she assigned.  They grumbled that the school across town had nicer desks, brighter rooms, and modern textbooks.  Of course in that school, they said, all the teachers assigned less homework than her.  The teacher heard no end of the complaining.  Because of the tight quarters and endless spats, she spent most of the day trying to keep order.  One day she finally lost it and stormed into the principal’s office.  “This isn’t what I signed up for!” she groaned.  “I need some help.”  The principal listened to her pleas and then provided her relief.  The following semester, he moved her class into a larger, renovated classroom.  He hired a teacher’s aid to help her.  And he purchased new textbooks.  He told the teacher, “If any of your students continue to complain and give you grief, send them to my office, and I’ll take care of them.”  The improvements went a long way in solving the teacher’s problems.  But the teacher thought, “If I could just change the students’ minds.  If they would all just trust me and believe that how I’m teaching is for their future good, then maybe their attitudes would improve toward me and toward their daily work.”

            There once was a manager in a manufacturing plant.  He was under a lot of stress.  There was pressure to fill the customers’ orders.  The employees were complaining about the deadlines.  They grumbled about the old equipment and hours of overtime.  They threatened to look for better work at other companies.  The manager sensed a mutiny on his hands.  So one day he barged into the owner’s office.  “I can’t take this anymore!” he cried.  “I need some help.”  The owner listened to his requests and then provided relief.  He upgraded the equipment.  He appointed an assistant manager and hired some more workers.  He released the most vocal complainers to find work elsewhere.  All the improvements helped solve the manager’s problems.  But the manager thought, “If I could just change the employees’ minds.  If they would just trust the owner, that what he’s doing is for the longevity of the company and their future retirement, then maybe their attitudes would improve toward him and me and their daily work.”

            In our Old Testament reading today, the Israelites had been at Mount Sinai for almost a year.  They had gotten comfortable living under the shadow of the mountain as the Tabernacle and all its furnishings were being built.  Now they were setting out towards the Promised Land as the LORD led them in the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.  But as they traveled, the people began to complain.  Their backs ached from carrying their belongings, and their feet were sore from walking.  They began to tire of the daily menu of manna and all its derivatives, manna pancakes and manna casserole and manna pie.  They craved the things of Egypt and grumbled, “Oh that we had meat to eat!  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free and all the fruits and vegetables.  We’re tired of this stinking manna.”  The LORD became angry when he heard their complaints.  The people had forgotten that the LORD had delivered them from slavery in Egypt.  He had defeated their enemies, fed them with bread from heaven, and was now leading them through the wilderness to the Promised Land of milk and honey.  Couldn’t they see that he loved them and had their best interest at heart, especially their future?

            The complaints mainly fell upon the LORD’s servant Moses, though.  As Moses walked through the camp, the people made a point of mumbling their malcontent from the door of their tent.  It was more than Moses could stand.  So he cried out to the LORD, “Why are you treating me like this that you lay the burden of all these people on me?  Did I conceive all these people and give birth to them that I should carry them in my bosom and nurse them all the way to the Promised Land?  Where am I to get meat for all these people?  I can’t carry all these people alone; the burden is too heavy for me.  If you’re going to treat me like this, don’t let me die a slow death, but kill me at once.”  Moses wanted to quit.  He had had enough, so he groaned to the LORD for help.

            And the LORD answered his plea.  He provided relief.  The LORD sent a wind from the sea which brought quail to surround their camp.  The people had plenty of meat to eat.  More than they wanted.  The LORD sent a plague that struck down the most vehement complainers.  Then the LORD got Moses some help.  He told Moses, “Gather seventy men of the elders of Israel and bring them to the Tabernacle.  Moses gathered the men.  The LORD came down in a cloud and took some of the Holy Spirit that was upon Moses and put it on the elders.  As a sign that the Holy Spirit was upon them, the men began to prophesy for a short while.  Two of the seventy men who hadn’t gathered at the Tabernacle also began to prophesy in the camp.  When Moses’ assistant Joshua heard of it, he told Moses, “Stop them.”  But Moses said, “Don’t be jealous for me.  Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

            You see, it was certainly a good thing that the LORD heard Moses’ prayer and provided meat for the people.  It was good that he silenced the troublemakers.  It was a good thing that the LORD provided Moses with additional help and manpower in his duties of leading the people.  But Moses realized it would be an even better thing if he could change the people’s hearts and minds.  If they would just believe in the LORD that he had their best interest at heart for their future here on earth and for eternal life in heaven, then their attitudes would improve toward him and improve in their daily work.  There’d be no more complaining.  Instead, the people would prophesy and speak the Words of the LORD.  They’d trust God, thank him for his provision, and help Moses and one another carry their daily burdens.  And the change in heart and mind and attitude and behavior would come when LORD put his Holy Spirit upon all his people.  This was Moses’ desire.

            Now each one of us has been a complainer.  We grumble about school and work, the government and church.  We stand at the door of our classroom or workplace, sometimes even in the narthex, and let go of our complaints like a child lets go of a balloon until they just hang there and fill the air.  The grass always looks greener somewhere else, so we grumble to the management and threaten mutiny.  But our complaints are really against God for these are his servants.  We fail to thank the LORD for the daily bread and the people he has provided to help and lead us.  Instead, we make their lives bitter with our malcontent.  We become a burden to our teacher or boss, our public servant or pastor, a burden too heavy for them to carry.

            Or there’ve been times when you’ve been caught in the middle yourself.  As a parent or manager or even leader at church, you’ve had to listen to all the gripes thrown in your direction.  “Jimmy’s mother fixes what he likes for dinner.”  “We don’t like this new software you picked.”  “Why can’t you fix that leak in the church roof, or balance the budget, or get those youth to behave better?”  You hear the complaints all day so you can’t sleep at night.  It wears on you day after day.  So you groan to the LORD.  “Why are you treating me like this?  It’s too big a burden.  I didn’t create these people; you did.  How am I to do this?”  You even mumble something about giving up and just quitting.  You may not even know what to pray for.  Like Moses, you simply groan to God for help.

            But God the Holy Spirit hears our groans and helps us in our weaknesses.  “We don’t know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  The LORD hears our prayers and answers them for Jesus’ sake.  Everyday we pray for our daily bread, and our LORD gives us exactly what we need.  Certainly food and drink and other bodily needs, but he also gives us help: a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  But even better than providing meat or textbooks or equipment, even better than providing an extra set of hands to do the work, God changes the hearts and minds, attitudes and words of his people.  God does this when he puts his Spirit upon them.

            When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Holy Spirit was put upon him.  At his baptism, Jesus became the great sin bearer of the world.  He carried all the sins of our complaining, grumbling, and murmuring against God and his servants to the cross.  He carried all our burdens of sin that were too much for us to carry.  God should have silenced us for being the troublemakers and vocal complainers.  But instead, Jesus remained silent as he suffered and died for us.  He never complained about the burden of the sins of the world put upon him.  He never grumbled against the hypocritical church leaders who sat in Moses’ seat.  He didn’t murmur against the unjust Roman governor or the soldiers who mocked him.  Jesus didn’t complain to his Father, but simply said, “Thy will be done.”  Then he gave up his spirit and was silent as the grave.

            But risen from the dead, Jesus Christ breathed upon his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  He put the Holy Spirit upon them.  Then he sent out his apostles and his servants after them to forgive sins, to remove the burdens from the backs of his people.  Jesus sent them out to baptize and put the Holy Spirit on his people.  The LORD put the Holy Spirit upon you at your baptism.  By giving you faith in Jesus Christ through his Word, the Holy Spirit changes your heart and mind.  You believe that through Jesus Christ, God has your best interest at heart for this life and the next.  The Holy Spirit improves your attitude towards God and his servants.  The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of change, improves your attitude towards your daily work.  You realize that your folks or teacher, your boss or manager, your pastor or church leader could use a little help.  You silence your complaining, complaining which doesn’t help at all, and instead thank the LORD for his provision.  You say words of encouragement to others and lend a hand of help.  Yes, the LORD gives us our daily bread.  He gives us his servants and help when we need it.  But best of all, he gives us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of change, to change our hearts and minds toward him.  Amen.

            The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.