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. It has been done before. The followers of Jesus in the church at Corinth were fond of their cocktails, and they often 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. And that is when church became boring.
But on the day of Pentecost, when the disciples came tumbling out of that 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 the disciples were drunk. And we all know that drunkenness is not time sensitive. Just because it is only 9 AM doesn’t mean that somebody can’t be drunk.
Well, everything that happened that day was all so very new and all so very different, that everybody was surprised and astounded. The day of Pentecost was the birthday of the Church of Jesus Christ. The disciples had never spoken in tongues, and they were probably just as surprised and amazed as everyone else.
But some of the people, in the midst of all of this newness, noticed that God was being praised in the languages of many of the visitors to the city of Jerusalem.
The season, in the Jewish year, is Pentecost. Pentecost is still a major festival in Jewish life. Pentecost celebrates the wheat harvest, and it commemorates the covenant that God made with Noah, and the giving of the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. And so Pentecost is a big deal, and it’s a huge 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 committed insurrection in the Garden of Eden. The entire cosmos shuddered and shook on that day, and it had been shuddering and shaking ever since. And we don’t need to be reminded of this. An unprovoked war continues to ravage the Ukraine, children are being killed in their classrooms, there is hunger and deprivation in our backyards, and in every corner of the world. Homeless people wander our streets, addiction continues to destroy the lives of millions of people, and even among those who pride themselves on being decent people, the virtues of civility and respect have all but disappeared.
And so in times like these, the followers of Jesus need to be gathered together in one place. Too often, in the frantic pace at which this world revolves, the followers of Jesus become scattered from place to place, both physically and spiritually. We need to find a desire to be gathered. There ought to be a desire within us to be present with one another.
In the early church this was a necessity. It wasn’t safe to be a follower of Jesus in the first century, and sisters and brothers had not only to encourage one another in the faith, but also to look out for one another. Sometimes that meant hiding a brother or sister from the authorities.
When the followers of Jesus are together, there is power 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 the 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, making them alive again.
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 was more than fire, because it did not consume. And out of that burning bush 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 with 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, but in a new, and in an astounding way.
And out of that, the whole course of human history was changed forever. The church of Jesus Christ was planted in the soil of this earth. And from it comes the message that sins can be forgiven and that eternal life is both hope and reality. This is indeed the proclamation of a church that was born wild. Really wild. Unimaginably wild. This is heaven connecting with earth in an absolutely radical 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 prudent in a world that has forgotten faith. And we end up proclaiming a faith that is powerless and ineffective to accomplish even the smallest things that God calls us to do. 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.
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, it’s 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,
1n 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, men, women, 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!