Sunday, April 30, 2017

Filled with the Spirit to form the dwelling place of God (Exodus 31:1-11, Ephesians 4:7-13)

This sermon was preached at the end f the school holidays so when it says Bingo in the conclusion that is because the congregation had a sermon bingo card (see end of post).

I am not very good at making things with my hands. I will often have these great ideas in my mind but by the time they’ve travelled that short distance from my head down my arms and to my hands, they seem to have got lost in translation. What’s up here does not come out of these. Even those warehouse flatpack furniture kit sets that anyone can simply follow the instructions and put together in no time at all, seem to be beyond me, they are made not for my convenience but for hours of stress and frustration. They have a negative impact on my sanctification and my vocabulary seems to devolve to a few angry choice works.  And I admire people who can make things with their hands, craftspeople of great vision and ability, artists and artisans, engineers, builders.

The Bible passage we are looking at today in Exodus mentions two such artisans Bezalel and his assistant Oholiab who oversaw turning the basic design that God gave to Moses of the tabernacle, the tent where God would dwell with his people, into reality. This was no flat pack furniture kit set, they were going to have to make it from scratch. It was going to have to be Utilitarian enough to be assembled and  put up and then taken down, broken up and transported and beautiful and ornate  enough to serve as a focal point for worship, and be associated with God’s presence. Not an easy task.

AS we move into Pentecost this year we are looking at what the Old Testament tells us about the Holy Spirit. Looking at the Holy Spirit at work from hovering over the waters in the creation narrative of Genesis to the fulfillment of the promise in Joel chapter 2 that God would pour out his Holy Spirit on all believers, and what it means for us today. While we don’t know much about Bezalel personally, he is the first person mentioned in the scriptures as being filled with God’s Spirit and receiving spirit gifts because of that. He is filled with God’s spirit, given wisdom and knowledge and all kinds of skills to form the dwelling place of God with his people.

AS I said we don’t know that much about Bezalel. It would be interesting to know about his spiritual life, his prayer life or how he developed the enormous range of Gifting’s and skills and abilities he had? What difference being filled by the Spirit of God made on his life? Did he still have to go through that 10,000 hour rule to develop his skills, the 10,00 hours of practise and hard work that allow Gifted people to reach their potential? Did it come easily or was it a matter of great sweat and exertion?  But we don’t know! He is only mentioned four times in the scriptures. In the reading, we had in Exodus 31 and its parallel in Exodus 35 and in the family tree list of Judah at the beginning of the book of chronicles and then in second chronicles where Solomon consults God at the place where the bronze altar made by Bezalel was kept. His assistant Oholiab is only mentioned in Exodus 31 and 35. It may seem strange to even look at them in a sermon on the Holy Spirit. Well two things…

The first is that it gives us insight into God’s filling of people by the Holy Spirit.  As I mentioned before he is the first person described as being filled by the Holy Spirit in scripture. Filled with the Spirit is the way in which the New Testament talks of our relationship with god’s Spirit This is also the first time there is a connection with the presence of God’s creative spirit with giving a person gifts and abilities to achieve God’s purpose.

Now before this we do have a sense in people’s lives Of God being with them to achieve God’s purposes and them being given gifts and abilities. Joseph has dreams and later is given the ability to interpret dreams, although we see him going to God and asking for God’s wisdom and revelation in those situations. He is a gifted administrator able to look after his master’s household and later the whole of pharaoh’s land and food production and distribution. Administration is mentioned Romans 12 in a list of Gifts the Holy Spirit, administration is not just paper shuffling it is the ability to make an idea and vision become a reality.  Moses encounters God at the burning bush and God says he will be with him as he goes to Egypt, he gives him some miracles that he is to perform to convince pharaoh to ‘let my people go.’

In the Old Testament there is a pattern of God’s Spirit being given to specific people to achieve specific rolls and tasks. God is at work in history and in his people by the Holy Spirit. In the case of Bezalel it is to build the Tabernacle, later in the book of Judges, that we are looking at next week, it is to judge Israel and to deliver them from their enemies. When Saul is anointed King he is filled with God’s spirit and he prophecies, likewise David was aware of God’s Holy Spirit with him, we used Psalm 51 this morning as a call to worship where after David is confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed, he asks God not to take his Holy Spirit’s presence away from him, like happened with Saul.  We see in the prophets like Nathan and the later written prophets like Isaiah and Amos and Jeremiah a sense of God’s Spirit present with them revealing the truth about Israel’s spiritual condition and God’s response. Because of the Spirit’s presence and revelation, we see how that points us to Jesus Christ and his coming, his life, death and resurrection as the ultimate way God would reveal himself to his people.

As we come into the New Testament, we see that at his baptism Jesus is filled with the Holy Spirit, John the Baptist sees the Spirit of God descending on him like a dove. It is because of the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus relationship with the Spirit that Jesus can teach and proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom of God through signs and wonders.  It is easy to forget that Jesus while being God is also human, not super human, and as such is totally like us and it is only by the presence of the Holy Spirit that he was able to do the things he did.

Because of Jesus life death and resurrection, God’s Spirit is now present within and want to fill each one of us with the presence and power of God. Not just the one or two, the selected few but all the believers… you…you and yes even me. Because we are called as a people to achieve the purpose of witnessing to Jesus Christ and making disciples in every nation.  We are commissioned and we are enabled by God’s spirit to do that.

The second thing, remember there were two. Is that Bezalel is filled by the Holy Spirit to make the place in which God would dwell with his people. The tabernacle was where God would be seen to dwell with his people, it was the blueprint for the later temple in Jerusalem, with the holy of holies and the various courts and places for sacrifice and worship. It showed that the God of Israel dwelt in the very midst of his people. It was the centre of their camp, when the pillar of fire or cloud moved they moved when it stopped they stopped. Building this dwelling place was both the work of human hands but also was the work of God’s Holy Spirit.  God gave Moses the plan, and he gave Bezalel his Holy Spirit to achieve the work. The wisdom and knowledge and skills with all kinds of materials that he would need to do the job. You can imagine that there we a lot of other things that needed doing as well, man management, project management, budgeting, they were intrusted with all the resources that the people of Israel had bought for the build.

For us today God still dwells with his people, not in buildings or tents anymore but in our midst by the Holy Spirit, we are the body of Christ in the world. Its not so much working with precious metal but precious people.  In 1 Peter chapter two the church is talked of of being a temple made up of living stones bought together to form the dwelling place of God. It is still the work of the Holy Spirit and of human beings to see that dwelling place built up. The church is a very human institution but it is also God’s at work. In our New Testament reading from Pauls letter to the Ephesians we see the risen Jesus giving gifts to the church, of apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers and pastors, so that the body of Christ may be built up to maturity and to the fulness of Christ. God gives gifts to each of his people so that together we can build up the dwelling place of God, the church. The people in Catalan in Spain have a tradition of making these wonderful human pyramids and I think they are a great illustration of the Church, the dwelling place of God, not as a hierarchy but being built as we all play the part god has enabled us to play.  We are God’s Spirited people and God is building us together as the dwelling place of God as the body of Christ in the world around us.

I want to bring this together and make some points about what it means for us.

The first is that we can have the Old Testament understanding of the Presence and purpose of the Holy Spirit. That being filled with the Holy Spirit is for the special person or the key figure to achieve God’s purpose. That it is not for us, we a re not special, we are not gifted we are just ordinary people. But the reality is with Christ’s life death and resurrection everything has changed. God choses to fill everyone with his Holy Spirit, we are called and enabled to witness to jesus death and resurrection.

The second thing that goes along with that is we can easily see doing the work of the Church as being for one or two gifted people rather than all of us being the church, Christ’s body together.  Instead of the pastor or minister being there to play their role in helping to enable and equip us all to do what God has called us to do. We think they are God’s person set aside to do all the work. From putting out the rubbish to pulling out the weeds, preaching the word, visiting everyone, you name it. We wonder why it does not succeed, why so many in the ministry and in church leadership burn out, or don’t live up to our expectations.

  The answer is that God calls all of us and has given all of us his Holy Spirit and we are given gifts and abilities to use to achieve God’s purposes together. Even in Exodus 31 we see that Moses isn’t the one called to build the tabernacle, we see Bezalel isn’t called to do the work alone, he is given wisdom and knowledge and all sorts of skills to get it done, and I would hazard chief amongst those skills is to know he is part of a team.  He is given someone to help him Oholiab, who also has a god given skill set, he can gather together a team of artists and artisans to work with. You are god’s spirited people together we are called to work with and by the Holy Spirit to witness to Christ and to grow as the body of Christ into maturity. We all have a Spirit made place to belong and a spirit enabled part to play.

We don’t know much about Bezalel, he is only mentioned as I said four times in the scriptures, usually just in passing. We know who his father was and his father’s father and what tribe he belonged to apart from that we don’t have any personal details. I think that’s a good thing, it would be easy to see him as a spiritual giant, as an artistic prodigy, but we can’t. perhaps its best that we don’t know about if things were easy for him or the hours of wrestling with just getting the design of that decoration on the bronze altar right, or the piles of porotypes strewn around the work shop, the long production meetings trying to work out what was the right thickness of bronze rail to hold that amount of cloth up   and did we get the mathematics right for the pressure of the wind and how it would affect that measurement. We simply know that Bezalel and Oholiab were called by God and filled by God’s Spirit and they achieved the things God called them to do. Because that is our story as well, ordinary people like you and Me… Bingo yup you’ve got it Bingo it’s you and me… with our own set of skills and our own set of short comings, called together in Christ, and filled with God’s holy Spirit to witness to Christ together and gifted to be built into the dwelling place of God, to grow into maturity and the fullness of Christ.

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