The upstairs room must have been filled with a clumsy silence. The disciples, alone with their desertions and doubts, are sequestered inside a box of muffled options: should we submit an application back in Galilee on the fishing docks, voluntarily surrender at the Jerusalem detention center, or continue waiting in whispers for some paranormal promise to arrive?
Before they had a chance to decide, a freight train of wind and a furnace of fire blew down their walls and burned up their roof, shoving the twelve out onto the streets of ministry. For the disciples then, for the Church and for Christianity, what changed at Pentecost?
Acts 2:1-21 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.” 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. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: ‘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. Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show portents in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and smoky mist. The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day. Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
God’s love spread from a few followers to the entire world.
The Spirit left the institution.
God became as close as our next breath.
The disciples started acting like Jesus.
The priest, calling the congregation to repent, the prophet, announcing good news for the poor, the poet, speaking beauty out of misery, Jesus the Christ had flamed out in the sky, his voice silenced by his cloudy ascension. Understandably, his followers back on earth were left behind with little to say.
But what changed at Pentecost was a violent rush, an ember of his love that ignited in their hearts and a spark of his truth that flamed in their mouths. Jesus was no longer restrained by one place, one time, one body; he was now alive in every place, every time and everybody. The Spirit of God let loose on the kindling of humankind.
With divided tongues of fire, centurions started pledging allegiance to a new King, tax collectors started challenging the treasury, soldiers started disobeying orders, eunuchs started asking to be baptized, women started speaking up in worship and slaves started talking smack to their masters.
And in the two thousand years since, Pentecost is still the big bang of our faith, the explosion that began Christianity with a church fire, the gift of charismatic speech, the declaration that the divine voice will never be extinguished in your voice.
So fellow fire breathers, while there are plenty of God churches, and probably too many Jesus churches, there have never been enough Spirit churches. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, may we all claim our membership in the Pentecostal Church.