[Text: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Psalm 104:24-34, 35b, Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15]
Christians can be crazy.
Just about every time I see the word “Christian” in the headline of an article that pops up in my news feed, my immediate thought is, “Oh, no. What in the world have we done this time?” And then there’s the internal debate: “Do I even want to know?”
On any given day, folks like Franklin Graham and John Piper are still using their platforms to make offensive and wildly out-of-touch statements on Twitter, stirring up fear and arrogance rather than compassion and hope. The Bible is still being used to subjugate women, silence victims, and empower those who are already privileged. Countless pastors are more concerned with “winning the lost” than healing the broken. Politicians still think God is more offended by love than by war. (And we wonder why the Church is in decline?)
And now, a well-known conservative Christian reality star, famous for his beliefs about gay and lesbian people being a danger to kids, has apparently confessed to—you guessed it—molesting children.
As I scroll through the day’s news, I can’t help but wonder, “Why do Christians have to be so doggone crazy sometimes?”
Let’s look at today’s reading from the Book of Acts—the Pentecost story. The word “Pentecost” is derived from the Greek word for the number fifty, because we celebrate it fifty days after Easter Sunday. It was Shavuot, or the Feast of Weeks, a Jewish harvest festival which also commemorated the giving of the Law (the Ten Commandments) to Moses on Mt. Sinai. There were thousands of pilgrims in Jerusalem from all over the world, celebrating Shavuot.
All of a sudden, they heard the sound of a great, rushing wind. You might be interested to know that the words for wind— πνεῦμα (puh-NOO-ma) in Greek and רוּחַ (ROO-ach) in Hebrew—can both also be translated as “spirit”. Wind in the Bible is often associated with the life-giving breath of God, like when God’s רוּחַ moves over the formless void in Genesis, creating order from the raw materials of chaos, bringing something new into being. So, it’s highly possible that when St. Luke wrote this passage, he very intentionally invoked the image of wind to indicate to the reader that God was present in a profound way.
Then, something that looked like fire—“tongues of fire”—rested on the heads of the disciples, those first followers of Jesus. Fire is another indicator of God’s presence—in the Hebrew Bible, God revealed himself in the form of fire at least twice that I can think of—the burning bush that Moses saw, and the pillar of fire by night that guided the Jews through the wilderness after the Exodus.
The disciples then began to speak, filled with the Spirit of God. But here’s the really cool part: Remember how there were thousands of people from all over the world gathered in Jerusalem? They were from all sorts of different countries and areas, so obviously they all spoke different languages, right? And the disciples were all speaking the same language, presumably Aramaic. But every single person who was there, no matter what country they were from or what language they spoke, perfectly understood what was being said, because they heard it as if it was being said in their own language.
Now, the fact that this whole situation was a little nutty wasn’t lost on the people gathered there. “Wait a minute, aren’t all of these guys from Galilee?” they wondered. “How would a bunch of Jewish fishermen from Galilee know fluent Arabic, or Ethiopian, or Cappadocian, or all these other languages?”
We’re told that some others assumed they must just be hammered.
(St. Peter’s response to that starts with what might be one of the funniest verses in the whole Bible: he pretty much says, “No, we’re not drunk—nine in the morning is WAY too early for that!”)
Yep, you heard that right: the behavior of the disciples, who were overcome by the Holy Spirit, was so nutty that folks figured they must have had a few too many—or maybe a bunch too many. They were acting so out of their minds that substance abuse was the only logical conclusion.
Christians are crazy—that’s nothing new.
And what if we’re supposed to be crazy? What if we’re supposed to look so radically different from the world around us that they assume we must be drunk? What if we’re supposed to be so consumed by the creative, energizing breath of God that breathes new life into dry bones that what we do looks completely foreign to the way the world currently works?
And I can’t help but think that maybe I was wrong—maybe Christians today aren’t too crazy. Maybe we’re not crazy enough. There’s nothing radical or out-of-the-ordinary about making laws to keep the second-class citizens from being treated equally, or silencing victims of oppression. There’s nothing crazy about hoarding wealth and power and privilege. There’s nothing new or creative about obsessing over the letter of the law while people starve, worrying about what gay and lesbian people do in our bedrooms while so many people don’t have beds to sleep on, or trying to stir up fear in a world desperate for hope. None of that stuff we might call “crazy Christian behavior” is anything but business as usual! It’s also completely contrary to the life and teachings of Christ. It’s neither crazy nor Christian.
You know what would be crazy? You know what would be totally out-of-place in the world today, maybe so much so that people might think we were sipping the sauce a little too hard? Grab that red prayerbook out of the pew in front of you, turn to page 304, and start about two-thirds of the way down the page.
Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
What if we actually made those five baptismal promises our to-do list every single day?
That would be pretty radical, don’t you think?
What if we, like Christ and his apostles, invited everyone to join us at the table, no matter who they were, and really meant it? What if we really functioned as a community of love and fellowship, without all the cliques and gossip and nonsense? What if we all took the time to learn about what we believe and why, and then passed that knowledge on? What if we realized the power of our own prayer and utilized it, and then partnered with God to bring those prayers into existence?
What if we rallied together and resisted the evils in this world—injustice, greed, violence, war, and oppression, to name just a few? What if we truly repented—turned around and chose to go a different way—whenever we’re complicit in that evil?
What if we shared, not only with our words, but with our lives that the God we worship is a God of love, healing, hope, and peace, and not a God of judgement, spite, retribution, or favoritism?
What if we strove to truly see the face of God in every single person we encountered, and loved them accordingly?
What if we left our comfort zones and laid down our lives for the cause of justice for all, regardless of who they are, what they believe, where they live, or who they love? What if we insisted that every human being—and all of God’s creation—be treated with dignity?
Imagine how out of our minds we’d look, operating so contrary to the way the rest of the world works. Imagine how nutty people would think we are for attributing worth to those whom society wants to deem less-than, and calling out the powerful and the wealthy for their transgressions against the marginalized. Imagine how absolutely insane it would seem to the rest of the world if we decided people were more important than money, if we decided healing was more important than revenge, and if we decided living like Jesus was more important than beating people over the head with a book about His life.
The spirit of God is upon us, today and every day. Instead of leaving it at the door when we leave this sanctuary today, what if we let it transform us? What if we let it possess and overcome us? What would happen?
What would happen if we weren’t afraid to act a little crazy?