Carl Wilton
Point Pleasant Presbyterian Church
June 8, 2014; Day of Pentecost, Year A
Numbers 11:24-30; Acts 2:1-21

“Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to [Moses],
and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders…”

Numbers 11:25a

Today — the Day of Pentecost — we do something very special. Not one thing, actually, but two. We’ll be confirming and commissioning four outstanding young people as they publicly profess their faith. Then, a little while later, we’ll ordain and install men and women to the offices of ruling elder, deacon and Endowment-and-Emergency-Fund trustee.

A question that may have come to mind, for both the confirmands and the ordinands, is this: “Am I qualified? Am I qualified to be a representative of God in the world?”

Qualifications are front-and-center in the search for any secular job. Those interested in being hired fill out an application or resume. They list their education, skills and experience. Then, the employer sifts through the stack of applications, making two piles: qualified and unqualified.

You Confirmation students are only in Junior High, but your parents have surely drummed into you how important it is to get good grades, to join a lot of school clubs and organizations and to engage in community service. When it comes time to apply for college, those classes you’ve passed, those activities you’ve pursued, will become your qualifications for admission.

In the world of government service, there’s something called a Civil Service rating. There’s a competitive exam that sorts job-seekers into one of 15 ratings. I’m told that, within each rating, there are as many as ten “steps.” These function like rungs on a ladder. The exam is meant to sort everyone into their proper place, to tell them which ladder-rung they should be occupying.

That’s how the U.S. Government does it: one of the largest employers in the world.

Yet, what happens when God is the employer? God’s a lot bigger than any government. Surely, God’s Christian service exam must sort people out into a whole lot more than 15 ratings!

You’d think so, right? Actually, just the opposite is true. Remember how Jesus calls his first disciples: “Peter, John, James — follow me.”

That’s it for the examination. The ones who qualify are the ones who answer the advertisement.

Can you imagine what would happen if a Fortune 500 company recruited staff in that way? Being a personnel officer would be simple. All you’d have to do is drop by a coffee house and ask, “Hey — you over there, sipping the latte. How’d you like to work for IBM?”

Can you imagine? Yet that is exactly how God does it!

You see this technique in action in today’s Old Testament lesson, from the book of Numbers. God says to Moses: “You don’t look good, my friend. I want you to take a few days off. Here’s how it’s going down. You know that gift of the spirit I gave you, way back at the burning bush? Stop hogging it all for yourself! I want you to take that gift of mine, cut it up in little pieces, and hand it out to the 70 elders of Israel. I promise you, you won’t be lacking in divine giftedness, and they’ll have a good deal more than they have right now. Moses, this spiritual-gifts stuff is like sourdough starter: just keep breaking little pieces off and mix them into a fresh batch of dough. Then, before you pop it in the oven, take a little dough from that batch and set it aside. You’ll never run out!”

So, the Bible tells us, Moses “took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders.” They became prophets, just like Moses: qualified to speak for God.

Then, there’s that other story we read today, of how the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples at Pentecost. They’ve been milling around after the risen Jesus has left them, not sure what to do next, when all of a sudden they find themselves talking in different languages, languages they’ve never studied before. They have what they need to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth!

That’s the way the Holy Spirit works, you know. The Spirit never asks, “Are you qualified?” No, the Holy Spirit says, “Hold still a moment: let me qualify you!”

Not long ago, David Brooks of the New York Times published a remarkable column called “The Summoned Life.” In it, he draws a distinction between what he calls The Well-Planned Life and the Summoned Life.

The Well-Planned Life is just what you think it is: it’s all about gathering up those diplomas, qualifications and experiences so you can move up the career ladder, rung by rung.

The Summoned Life, as Brooks describes it, is different. Rather than asking, as the ordinary person does, “What should I do with my life?”, the person living the Summoned Life asks, “What are my circumstances asking me to do with my life? What is needed, here in this place? How can I be useful?”

The Well-Planned Life results in a job. The Summoned Life results in a calling. And that makes all the difference.

Oftentimes, when I’m talking to couples preparing to get married, I ask them how they decided on the right time to get married. They usually explain how they wanted to wait till they finished school, or got a decent job, or made arrangements for a place to live. All the hallmarks of a Well-Planned Life, in other words.

But, do you know something? No couple I talk to has ever had every “i” dotted, every “t” crossed, when it comes to what it takes to build a life together. Each and every one of them has come to the realization, eventually, that if they wait till all the ducks are perfectly in a row, they’ll never get married! This is precisely the difference between a Well-Planned Marriage and a Summoned Marriage.

What’s true of marriage is even more true of the decision to have children. Couples ask themselves the question, “Can we afford it? Do we have enough money saved for all the clothing, the food, the pediatrician bills, the Scout uniforms, the dance lessons, the driving lessons, and ultimately the college tuition?” Every once in a while, some economist or another totes up the cost, over 21 years, of raising a child in a middle-class American household, and believe me, the total is large enough to make you gag! Any couple who decides to wait for the Well-Planned Parenting Experience will never get there!

That’s because parenting isn’t a job, it’s a calling. Nobody’s qualified to do it. In fact, it’s been said that God does something absolutely crazy, in singling out people for the most important job in the world — the job of raising children — who are, by definition, completely lacking in the proper training and experience!

I think making a profession of faith and becoming a Christian is a lot like that. The same is true of getting ordained as a deacon or elder. God has no Christian Service Exam — a sacred counterpart of the Civil Service Exam — for prospective disciples to take. There’s no intricate system of Christian Service Ratings that show you where you stand on the discipleship ladder. There’s only the simple invitation Jesus offered those first disciples of his: “Come with me, and I will show you how to fish for people.”

The bottom line is this: we don’t qualify — not a single one of us. It’s God who does the qualifying. Which means our decision to accept the invitation to serve is all about opening our hearts to the Holy Spirit and saying: “Here am I — send me!”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son — and of that qualifying Holy Spirit — Amen!