If you could give the church one superpower, what would it be? Would you fill the church with love, unity, justice, or peace? Would you empower the church with industry, energy, and evangelism? What superpower would you give to the church?
After Easter, the risen Christ appeared over forty days offering the disciples a kind of recertification course in the kin-dom of God. Before ascending into heaven, Jesus instructed the church to wait for the holy spirit to empower them. And so they devoted themselves to worship and prayer. Pentecos is a word referring to 50 days after Passover. Pentecost, The Festival of Weeks, celebrates the grain harvest and God’s covenant given to Moses on Mount Sinai. (Exodus 34) The disciples were sabbathing “all together in one place.”
- Sabbath breaks our everyday routines focusing on holy pursuits.
- Sabbath frames the moment we are in and the place where we are as sacred.
- Sabbath attends to or quiets distractions so that we can hear from God.
- Sabbath opens the scriptures, trusts the Spirit, and dwells in community.
- Sabbath abides in the prayers, prose, and poetry of our common faith.
- Sabbath offers our soul, body, and mind to God. It is not consumptive.
- Sabbath sends us out into the world to build God’s kin-dom!
We often think of sabbath and prayer as a kind of asking God to change something. In our passage, the disciples’ prayers do not change the world as much as their encounter with God changes them. They receive power. They find new language. God gives them something to say! God enables them. And empowered and enabled, God sends them out to change the world. This pattern is repeated over and over again. “After they prayed, the place where they were gathered was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking God’s word with confidence”.(Acts 4) “Wait for what God has promised… you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you!” Perhaps, prayer changes things by changing us!
So as they were sabbathing together when, “suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them” .
Pentecost reads like a superhero’s entrance. A fierce howling wind sound fills the stadium, flames shoot up from the stage, fog machines, heavy metal guitars blast “Thunderstruck” as 18,000 mystified fans jump around waving red and yellow towels. Pentecost is more Bridgestone Arena than Sunday morning at Belmont, more of a graphic novel than Book of Worship! Individual flames of fire seemed to light each one of them. Imagine, a voice from heaven announces the church’s headliners, “From Caperuim, the Rock upon which the church will roll: Peter the Rock!” Thunderstruck! “From Nazareth by way of Egypt, singing ‘Nothing is impossible for God,’ Mary the mother of our Lord!” Guitar riff! “One of the original Sons of Thunder, John, the Beloved Disciple.” Pentecost’s thunder and fire connect us to our Jewish roots. Remember how God first spoke to Moses from the burning bush and gave Moses the covenant on Mount Sinai with smoke and fire?
Beyond the pyrotechnics, what is Pentecost about? What superpower comes with the tongues of fire dancing over the disciples’ heads? They were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They began to speak in other languages. The Spirit enabled them to speak. Everyone heard them in their native languages: Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Persians, Africans, Romans, Greeks and Arabs—we hear them declaring the mighty works of God in our own languages!” Commentators tell us Luke is reciting a list of all known areas of the globe, pushing out to “the ends of the earth! The crowd was mystified, surprised and bewildered.
What superpower would you give the church? Would send tongues of fire to encircle each person in the church? Would fill everyone with the Holy Spirit? Would you lift up and empower every voice? Would diverse language and culture expressions be the superpower you lavish on the church? Jesus promised a personal manifestation of God’s presence: You will be baptized in the Holy Spirit. On Pentecost all are filled with the Holy Spirit. The Pentecost miracle of God’s Spirit given to all people seems like a factory second superpower found in the discount bin. It is not as flashy as tongues of fire, or turning water to wine, or stones to bread, or raising the dead. However, our pentecostal superpower fits nicely into the defining characteristic of Christianity: the Incarnation. Christians believe that God dwelled with humanity in a fully human person. God took on our human experience in the person of Jesus Christ, but more than that “Christ is with us” enabling and empowering us even 2000 years later!
Flames dance over everyone’s head… “All were filled with the Holy Spirit.” Luke asks, “What does this mean?” setting up Peter, the Rock, to answer by quoting the prophet Joel, “God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women,I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.’”
What happens when we discover our true identity as beloved Children of God, who can be filled with the Holy Spirit? What happens when we come to see the sacred worth of all people? It is easy to miss how radical, inclusive, liberating, and empowering our spiritual superpower is! All were filled with the Holy Spirit! Your sons and daughters will prophesy. All people means all people. Sons, daughters, young, old, poor, powerful, straight, queer, Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, Africans, Greeks, and Arabs. This miracle of showcasing the diversity of God’s creation mystified the people.
God saying, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… and they will prophesy”, is deeply liberating. How will the church decide to break old rules on food or human sexuality to include all people? God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on all people… and they will prophesy.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we see God working in other people, other genders, other statuses, other languages, other cultures. We can catch the prophetic spirit of Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech. We listen to the scientists prophesy about our overheating planet. We remember we are made in the image of God, we are born anew in the Spirit of God, we are baptized by the Spirit, and filled with the Holy Spirit. We begin to live into our true identity as children of God, claiming our sacred worth. This is a liberating message, but a humbling one because the holy fire dances around everyone else too . . . Acts tells us how God was already at work with the Ethopian eunuch, Cornelious, Saul of Tarsus, and Lydia before the Good News arrived!
Our superpower liberates us, and so we have translated the Christian scriptures into over 1500 languages and over 450 English versions. And that is just fine, because Christ is with us – the Spirit of God gives us visions, dreams, and prophetic words even today. Christianity is not a pious book club where we sit around quoting our favorite passages. Christianity is a deeply incarnational, equalizing, empowering, and enabling spiritual force. The Spirit shakes us up, prayer changes us and sends us out to change the world with the love of God lavished on us in the person of Jesus Christ, the manifestation of God’s love of the world. And Jesus sends us the very Spirit to renew, baptize, enable, and empower us to go forth and build the kin-dom of God. The Spirit is still speaking.
Let us claim our superpower! You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, (But don’t get too proud) For God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Sons, daughters, children will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. I will pour out my Spirit on all people and they will prophesy. Let’s all live into our sacred worth: . Amen.