I have a feeling that if some strangers happened to show up unannounced in one of our worship services one bright Sunday morning, that the one conclusion that they would probably never come to is that we are all drunk. We might look a little sleepy, but we certainly wouldn’t look like we were drunk. I suspect that we’d unfortunately look pretty sober.
Now lest we forget, drunkenness in a worship service is not totally unheard of. Its been done before. The Christians in the church at Corinth were fond of their cocktails, and they frequently got drunk at worship services. This, of course, was frowned upon by the Apostle Paul, who encouraged them to do their drinking at home, not at church.
But on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples came tumbling out of the upper room, speaking in other languages and proclaiming the mighty works of God in those other languages, just about everyone who witnessed this spectacle thought that they were drunk. Now how can that be? It being only nine o’clock in the morning is no defense of sobriety at all, even if the Apostle Peter uses it in his sermon. It turns out that everything that happened that day was all so very new, and all so very different that the charge of drunkenness seems to fit fairly well. The day of Pentecost was the birthday of the Christian church. The disciples had never spoken in tongues, and nobody had ever heard such a thing. Everyone who witnessed this was absolutely stunned and bewildered and astonished. It was an amazing thing.
But some of the people, in the midst of all of this newness, noticed that God was being praised. And lo and behold, God was being praised and exalted in the languages of many of the visitors in the city of Jerusalem.
The season, in the Jewish year, was Pentecost. Pentecost was a major festival in Jewish life. It celebrated the wheat harvest, it commemorated the covenant that God made with Noah, and it celebrated the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. And so Pentecost was a big celebration, a big festival, and lots of faithful Jews from all over the place traveled to Jerusalem to celebrate it. And that’s where all those hard to pronounce place names come from.
But as big a celebration as Pentecost was, something even bigger happened on this one. This Pentecost was when the timid, frightened disciples of Jesus got their legs, and their heart, and their purpose, and they became totally committed proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And that was a miracle.
When Jesus was crucified, all of his disciples got into the wind. They ran away. They went into hiding. And even when the news got out that Jesus was alive, the disciples were still a bit scattered. Thomas was nowhere to be found, Judas was dead by his own hand, and a few of them had gone back home to Galilee to try their hand at fishing again.
But now, the disciples have regathered in Jerusalem once again, and that’s a good thing. They’re together. It is so important for believers to be together. The world in which we live is steadily moving toward destruction. This of course, is not a new thing, and it is nothing that should cause us any surprise. The world has been on a course of destruction since the day that Adam and Eve tasted the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. The entire cosmos shuddered and shook on that day, and it has been shuddering and shaking ever since. And we don’t need to be reminded of this. Very early next Sunday morning our very own mission team is headed to Puerto Rico to help undo some of the damage left in the wake of hurricane Maria. Additionally, there is hunger and deprivation in our backyards and all around the world. Homeless people wander our streets, and lunatic world leaders threaten to eliminate other nations. The virtues of civility and respect have all but disappeared from our daily lives.
And so in times like these, the Christian church needs to be gathered together in one place. Too often, the frantic pace at which this world revolves, scatters us from place to place, physically and spiritually. We need to find a way to be gathered. There ought to be an overwhelming desire within each of us to be present whenever our fellowship gathers. It ought to be a priority. For the disciples, and the earliest believers, being together was an absolute necessity. It was necessary not only for their spiritual well-being, but also for their protection and physical well-being. In the early church, it wasn’t safe to be a Christian. Folks had to look out for one another. I’m not entirely sure that it is safe to be a Christian today.
Another reason that we need to be together, is that when we are together, there is power in our midst that goes well beyond the power and strength that we have as individuals. This is what Pentecost is all about. I don’t think the disciples had a clue that the Holy Spirit would come to them in such a surprising, and bewildering, and awesomely powerful way. They were there together, and something like a rush of a violent wind filled the place where they were. And already, we can see the utter failure of human language to describe this thing. Luke is fumbling all over the place, trying to find words that will work, but what is happening is way beyond the ability or scope of human language to describe it. And that’s because this is an awesome event of divine involvement within the human sphere. And whenever God truly intervenes, and steps into the human realm, words become completely inadequate. Whatever it was, it was something very powerful, and it was as if God was breathing in and through them, recreating them and making them alive again with resurrection power.
And then, there was the fire. Only it wasn’t fire. It was something more than fire. We might have seen this fire before. It might have been something like what Moses saw in the burning bush. That too, was something like fire, but it did not consume. And out of that fire, God spoke, and God commanded, and as a result, the whole course of biblical history was changed, and it was changed with God’s power and God’s might. And out of this Pentecostal fire, or through the agency of this fire, God also spoke, and God also commanded, and out of the mouths of the believers came languages that they had not learned, and the Majesty of God was proclaimed, and the hearers understood that God was speaking yet again.
And out of that the whole course of human history was once again changed forever. The Christian church was born. Out of that divine, awesome, inexplicable experience the loving message of forgiveness of sins and eternal life through Jesus Christ was powerfully proclaimed, and went out into the world. The Christian church was born wild. Really wild. Unimaginably wild. This is heaven connecting with earth in an absolutely radical, and heretofore unimaginable way.
We were born wild. Have we now grown tame? Perhaps. We’ve got institutions to preserve, and that task is growing more difficult every day. We do a lot of hand-wringing and worrying over that. We try hard to make faith seem more reasonable and rational in a world that has forgotten faith, when in fact true faith is as unreasonable and as irrational as it can possibly be. We squabble amongst ourselves, We remember the glory days and pine for them, forgetting all the while that God is calling us to move forward into his glory rather than to reclaim a past that wasn’t nearly as glorious as we think it was. All of these things have the power to neuter us and to tame us, but mostly they just make us ineffective in the proclamation of the good news: the same good news that the disciples proclaimed as they stumbled out of the upper room.
The truth is that God is still with us. The Holy Spirit is still with us. We are not required to be tame. We can be wild. Do we want to be wild? I believe that God expects us to be wild, even though we have tried very hard to be tame.
When we come together for worship, I believe that we ought to expect to be surprised by God. There ought to be some things happening among us that just stun and astound us and defy description in terms of human language. We ought to be open to being overwhelmed by God’s Holy Spirit every time we come together. Does that mean that we’ll go around speaking in tongues, like our Pentecostal friends? It just might. But we ought not to limit it to just that. Speaking in tongues is a minor thing, really. There’s so much more when it comes to the power of God’s Spirit. There’s power out there available to us that goes way beyond our ability to imagine. We can be the church victorious in a broken and dying world.
And that’s where I want to wrap things up this morning. As to the charge of drunkenness, Peter got the courage from the Holy Spirit to stand up, and to say, no folks, its not drunkenness that brings us here, its not the spirit in the bottle that sends us out here speaking like this, its the Spirit in our hearts. What you are witnessing is the fulfillment of prophecy. Long ago, the prophet Joel spoke these words:
“In the last day it will be,
that I will pour out my spirit
upon all flesh,
and your sons and your
daughters shall prophesy
and your young men shall
and your old men shall
Even upon my slaves, both
men and women,
in those days I will pour
out my spirit and they
That just about covers it. God pours out his spirit on all believers. All believers hear the voice of God, and all believers speak for God. All believers experience the awesome Power of God; sons, daughters, young men, old men, slaves, both male and female, All flesh. All power, all glory, all wonder. Have we grown tame? We were born to be wild. Let’s get that bottled up Spirit uncorked!