In our first reading from the Book of Numbers an enthusiastic young man runs up to Moses and says, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp,” and Joshua tells Moses to stop them! What was the fuss all about anyway? It was because Eldad and Medad were not among the seventy upon whom the Lord’s Spirit came to rest. There should have been seventy-two present; they were on the invite list, but for whatever reason, those two didn’t make it in time. Clearly, Joshua’s attitude, and maybe some others too were like, “Hey, you snooze you lose!” Or like the soup nazi from Seinfeld, “No soup for you!” They wanted to say that because you weren’t there, you shouldn’t be prophesying! You don’t rate!
Maybe we should take just a moment to talk about the Old Testament understanding of what a prophet is, and then what they are expected to do. The word “prophet,” literally means a messenger or spokesperson on behalf of God, who delivers a divinely inspired message. We often mistake the role of the prophet as one who sees into the future, and to some degree they did, but there’s more. The prophet, on behalf of God, does have an eye to the future to say, “Man, God doesn’t like how this is going! If things continue this way, we’re going to be in a huge mess!” But they weren’t only looking at the future, mostly, they looked and pointed others to the past. To remember.
The old testament prophets always remind people of where they have come from, God’s laws they had agreed to obey, the life of holiness they were called to live, and how far they had fallen–how greatly they had missed the mark. The prophets pointed back to the Covenant; back to Moses and the law. But they also pointed to the future again, but this time with hope and optimism, and a reminder of God’s forgiveness and faithfulness. They said, if you repent, if you change your ways, if you return to God, it’s not too late, the God of mercy will forgive you and receive you back into his arms. Isaiah told the people on behalf of God, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.” Isaiah 1:18
What an important message and an important role the prophets had. Always to remind God’s children that there was right and there was wrong, and it’s never too late to come home to the father’s love and the father’s house. We can’t keep going this way. We can’t keep living this way. We need to get back on track as a holy people and a holy nation. We need to repent again, be reconciled again, to pray again, and to hope again. Moses wisely told Joshua, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish all the people of the LORD were prophets! I would love it if the LORD’s spirit would descend upon them all!”
And my brothers and sisters, Moses’ prayer was answered. The Spirit of God descended not just upon two or seventy two, but on the apostles at Pentecost and on every believer since–on you and on me. We have been made prophets by the Spirit and are called to be his voice with the same message today that the prophets had so long ago–remember the Covenant and the commandments, the direction we’re going isn’t good, we cannot stand strong with so much division, we must return to Christian living, repentance, reconciliation, lives of holiness, and sacrifice, and prayer. We must again be people of hope, bringing light and life to places of darkness and death.
Moses’ prayer was answered. The Spirit of God has descended. But where are God’s prophets? Who will be this generation’s Eldad and Medad, Isaiah, Elijah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, or St. James from the second reading? And Jesus reminds his disciples, “Whoever is not against us is for us.” Right is right and true is true regardless of where it comes from. Our church is always working alongside other men and women of goodwill, religious leaders and faith traditions, who though different than our own, are casting out demons right along with us. Be a prophet. Speak boldly. Gather alongside others who are also making the world a better place. And bring people hope, life and good news.