A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on June 12, 2011.
2When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. 4All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. 6And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. 7Amazed and astonished, they asked, ‘Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’ 12All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’
14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ¨17 “In the last days it will be, God declares, ¨that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, ¨ and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, ¨and your young men shall see visions, ¨ and your old men shall dream dreams. ¨18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women, ¨ in those days I will pour out my Spirit; ¨ and they shall prophesy. ¨19 And I will show portents in the heaven above ¨ and signs on the earth below, ¨ blood, and fire, and smoky mist. ¨20 The sun shall be turned to darkness ¨ and the moon to blood, ¨ before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. ¨21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” [Emphasis added]
I enjoy movies. So when I was preparing this sermon I began wondering whether any movies have been produced that address the work of the Holy Spirit. We’ve had movies about other biblical experiences ranging from the Exodus and giving of the Ten Commandments to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Anyone remember seeing a movie about the Holy Spirit?
I did an Internet search to find movies about Pentecost. It didn’t turn up anything, so I guess we didn’t miss blockbuster flicks about St. Peter’s first sermon. Perhaps making a movie about the coming of the Holy Spirit hasn’t been considered commercially profitable. But there are all kinds of movies that aren’t profitable. I think the reason we haven’t seen a movie about the Holy Spirit and Pentecost has nothing to do with finding a market for it, or finding a producer willing to invest in it, or a director who can oversee it, or actors who will accept leading roles. The reason we haven’t seen movies and other dramatic interpretations about the Holy Spirit and Pentecost may be explained by this exchange of comments Luke recorded at Acts 2:12-13: All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, ‘What does this mean?’ 13But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’ It’s hard to make a movie or another kind of dramatic performance about something people don’t understand.
And the problem hasn’t changed since the time of Peter’s first sermon. Most people don’t understand the Holy Spirit. They are amazed and perplexed (“What does this mean?”). Or, they misunderstand the Holy Spirit (“They’re drunk.”)
We learn from the Pentecost account in Acts something that Jesus explained to Nicodemus in the third chapter of John’s Gospel. The Holy Spirit operates in our lives and in the world on God’s terms, not ours. As Peter explained in Acts, the people who spoke in languages they had never learned weren’t drunk. They weren’t delirious. They weren’t delusional, deceived, or devious.
No. They were ordinary people, not religious experts or mystics, who somehow had become part of something God was doing. Somehow, God’s wind had caught them. Somehow, God’s wind had filled them with a sense of God’s presence. They weren’t drunk. They were driven by the wind of God. But they weren’t fighting the wind. They were moving with it.
• God’s wind was moving and they were in tune with it.
• God’s wind was moving, and they had a higher and deeper sense of God’s presence.
• God’s wind was moving, and they were filled with awe for all God has done to release humanity from our addiction to independence and restore us in relationship with God.
• God’s wind was moving, and they were acting for God with a boldness none of them had ever known.
• God’s wind—the Holy Spirit—was moving!
The Holy Spirit is God’s wind, God’s free, unpredictable, unstoppable, and unrelenting force in the world. The Holy Spirit shows that God can’t be programmed. God can’t be orchestrated. God can’t be juggled. God can’t be predicted. God can’t be limited. God cannot and will not be confined by anything other than God.
The Holy Spirit inspires ordinary people and transforms them in extraordinary ways. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms people to become agents of God’s love in a hateful and hurtful world. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms ordinary people to live as conquerors despite all outward signs of defeat. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms people who are looking death in the eye to praise God for life that is bigger than death. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms ordinary people to stand before the powers of this world and speak truth that comes from beyond this world. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms people who have been scarred from oppression into people of reconciliation and love. The Holy Spirit inspires and transforms people to love, serve, heal, suffer, die, and hope, based on the glory of God!
When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison on Robben Island with a smile on his face and a light of hopeful reconciliation in his eyes, we saw God’s wind blowing. When Mother Theresa made caring for poor and sick people in Calcutta the work of her life and challenged the world about how we refuse to help people who are poor and sick, we saw God’s wind blowing. When Martin Luther King, Jr. turned his back on personal prestige and safety to challenge racism, materialism, and militarism in the United States and across the world, we saw God’s wind blowing. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu denounced the leaders of world governments—including religious, business, and political leaders in the United States—for supporting apartheid in South Africa, we saw God’s wind blowing.
And although you might not find a movie about Peter’s first sermon and Pentecost, the world is full of stories about a force that somehow inspires and transforms ordinary people. And you see stories about it even in movies. In Star Wars it’s called “the Force.” In The Legend of Bagger Vance a mysterious black man walks out of the darkness to transform a World War I veteran. In The Wizard of Oz/The Wiz a tornado blows Dorothy and Toto from Kansas to become nurture courage, compassion, wisdom, and truth. In Chocolat a woman and her small daughter walk into a fictional French town to transform and inspire ordinary people—and to confront and confound a religious traditionalist and young priest. In The Matrix the main character is inspired and transformed to see through the deception of his time and place and take on the agents of power, control, oppression, and deceit. In the Harry Potter movies an orphaned boy is inspired and transformed by a power to face danger, build relationships, and challenge evil.
In these movies, as in Acts, the main characters weren’t drunk. They were inspired and transformed to become one with a power that blew into their lives and changed them forever. The message is that God’s wind is blowing. God’s wind is moving. God’s wind is inspiring and transforming people like you and me so we can become agents of God’s purpose, God’s presence, and God’s power.
Who knows how God’s wind will move us? Who knows where God’s wind will direct us? Who knows what God’s wind will do for God with us? God knows. The Holy Spirit—God’s wind if you will—knows. That’s about all Peter and the other early followers of Jesus understood, and that’s about all we understand today. The mystery of the Holy Spirit, like the wind, is more than we can explain even with our highest thoughts and our best words.
But we aren’t called to explain the Holy Spirit. We’re called to move with the Holy Spirit by our living. So let’s move with the Spirit of God’s love. Let’s move with the Spirit of God’s truth. Let’s move with the Spirit of God’s joy. Let’s move with the Spirit of God’s grace. Let’s move in the Spirit of God’s power. And as we do so we’ll find ourselves behaving in strange and wonderful ways to the glory of God. Because God’ wind wants to move us in the same ways that God’s wind moved Peter and the other first followers of Jesus. God wants to move us to change the world. God wants to move us to challenge the world. God wants to move us to join God in redeeming the world from hate, fear, greed, oppression, and suffering.
God’s wind is moving. Let’s move with it as Jesus moved. Let’s move with it for God’s glory. Let’s move with it in God’s love. Let’s move with it and be inspired and transformed. Let’s move with God’s wind and be inspired to transform people and the world for God.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.