A sermon by, Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ar., 2013
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.
5Now 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.”
14But 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. 18Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. 19And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. 20The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. 21Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
Today Christians celebrate Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit empowered the first followers of Jesus to speak in different languages about God’s liberating power. As Peter explained to mystified onlookers in Jerusalem who witnessed it, what the people beheld was the power of God working among ordinary people to do the extraordinary. The followers of Jesus had been waiting and praying together in Jerusalem as Jesus instructed before his ascension. He had promised they would receive power to be his “witnesses.” That promise was fulfilled at Pentecost.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to do “great things” that demonstrate God’s liberating love and power. We live in a world in desperate need of people who believe God can and will empower them to do “great things.”
- In every neighborhood, families are struggling to educate children in the face of budget cutbacks, attacks on public education, and a culture that glorifies entertainment over knowledge.
- In every neighborhood, people are struggling to make ends meet. Some people are struggling to find work. Some are struggling at work to hold onto hard-earned benefits for health care and retirement. Meanwhile, large corporations are making huge profits but are not using them to hire and compensate workers.
Pentecost reminds followers of Jesus that we aren’t in the world to merely hold religious services. We’re in the world to communicate the message that God’s powerful love redeems people from sinful situations and systems.
- God’s love empowers us to build bridges of reconciliation between people who have been estranged by oppression, mistrust, and other factors.
- God’s love empowers us to protect those who are vulnerable from mistreatment.
- God’s love empowers us to confront the powerful about how the powerless are treated and demand that privileged people use their advantages to relieve suffering, not increase it.
In short, Pentecost reminds us that we aren’t in the world to be spectators. We aren’t here to wring our hands and act as if we are helpless to make a difference. No! We have a holy imperative and the assurance of God’s Spirit as authority for being ordinary people who boldly take on the extraordinary issues of sin and suffering in our time and places. This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This is what it means to be part of a congregation. This is what it means to live in the power of the Holy Spirit.
When we believe in God’s power to liberate children from ignorance, social isolation, and poverty through education, we can expect God to do extraordinary things with us. God will work through us and make an extraordinary difference in the lives of children, teachers, and families.
When we believe in God’s power to protect and affirm the elderly and sick among us, we can expect God to do extraordinary things with us. God will work through and with us to make an extraordinary difference in the lives of seniors, the disabled, and those who need healthcare.
When we believe in God’s power to confront entrenched systems of greed, we can expect God to do extraordinary things with us. God will work through and with us to challenge the powerful.
We have seen what people following the Holy Spirit can do. Segregation and apartheid were confronted and overcome because ordinary people believed in the power of God’s love and put themselves on the line. Ordinary people went to jail for justice. Ordinary people refused to patronize segregated business establishments. Ordinary people demanded an end to the U.S. war effort in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Ordinary people marched with Martin King for fair housing in Chicago and fair voting rights in Alabama.
We still have work to do. The Holy Spirit is still leading. God’s love hasn’t lost its focus or effectiveness. So as followers of Jesus, let’s live to do extraordinary things for the glory of God. As followers of Jesus, let’s expect the Holy Spirit to lead us to be agents of God’s extraordinary love, peace, joy, truth, hope, and mercy.
- As followers of Jesus, let’s follow the Holy Spirit and use our time and strength to demonstrate what God’s powerful love can do.
- As followers of Jesus, let’s remind skeptical people that God can do in our time what God has done in other times. God can make a way now as God has made a way before.
- God can work through us to deliver people and families oppressed by sickness, poverty, incarceration, addiction, and discrimination.
- God can work through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to help others overcome grief.
- God can work through us, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to open the eyes of people blinded by false value systems of materialism, militarism, imperialism, and bigotry.
The Holy Spirit is wherever we are so that God’s power can work through us to accomplish the extraordinary liberation that Jesus demonstrated during his ministry. Expect God to put us to work doing extraordinary things. Expect others to be perplexed and mystified about what we are doing.
And when people ask us what it means, tell them, as Peter did at Pentecost, that this is God’s Spirit at work. This is the love that Jesus demonstrated at work. This is how grace and truth looks, acts, sounds, and lives in the power of the Holy Spirit in the 21st Century. Tell them that God has the audacity to empower us, ordinary us, with the extraordinary power of the Holy Spirit, so we can make the kind of difference God wants to be made in the world.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, and a circuit court judge in Arkansas.