They weren’t drunk, but apparently they looked like it.
On the day of Pentecost the disciples were all in one place. Then, something amazing happened: The Holy Spirit arrived! But not in the heart-strangely-warmed way we’re used to in the Methodist tradition. No, in this case there’s wind rushing and tongues of fire dividing, snaking out to touch all eleven of them. It’s crazier than the wildest party you’ve ever been to!
But this is not when the disciples come off as drunk.
That comes with what they do once they’re filled with this rambunctious Holy Spirit. People are in town from all over the known world for the festival of Pentecost. Acts 2 rattles off fourteen different places represented within earshot of the disciples that morning. When those men from the region of Galilee begin to speak, everyone – everyone – understands them. They are speaking in their own language but somehow, at the same time, in all of those different languages.
“All were amazed and perplexed,” Acts 2:12 tells us. They’re trying to figure out the meaning. But some people have another reaction: “They are filled with new wine.”
In other words: “Those guys are just drunk.”
I can imagine this crowd. I can see a large portion of them in awe. I can also see this small but popular group in the back, leaning against a wall and looking cooly apathetic. One leans over to another with a cynical half-smile and rolling eyes. He says in a meant-to-be-overheard whisper: “Well, someone’s been hitting the wine a little early, huh boys?”
To call them “drunk” wasn’t so much of a moral condemnation, I don’t think. People drank wine in the first century. Jesus turned water into wine – that was his first miracle in John. No, they weren’t calling them immoral – these back-row mutterers were calling the disciples sloppy and loose-tongued and crazy-acting.
To some, the first act of the Holy Spirit looked awesome. But to others, it just looked like a drunken antic.
Peter hears this comment from the back row. He begins what will be an epic declaration of the good news (3,000 people will come to Christ at the end of it!) by clarifying the situation. “These men aren’t drunk, like you think,” he says. “After all, it’s only 9am!”
This response seems ridiculous to me, like a politician answering an off-the-wall question that should have just been ignored. Why even dignify it with a response?
Peter responds to it because there’s a truth to their accusation that needs to be clarified: our spirit-filled faith often looks a little crazy to others.
And if you think I’m wrong – that the work of the Spirit always looks stone-cold sober and completely sane – then I submit to you three examples.
First, someone you probably don’t know: the “madwoman from Ruyigi.” Her real name is Maggy Barankitse. She lives in Burundi, a country in central Africa. In the early 1990s civil war erupted and a massacre took place in her home town. According to L. Gregory Jones, Maggy was “tied to a chair and forced to watch while the militia killed seventy-two people in her community – including priests and nuns and Maggy’s best friend, Juliette.” * Somehow, Maggy survived – and her response was not to flee the country, but to stay and save. She took in children, then took in more children; “It is said that Maggy never turned a child away.” She worked to provide those children with a life of not just survival, but hope. All of this is pretty crazy, but what finally earned her the nickname of a madwoman was when she worked to build a road to her ministry in the middle of a battle zone – sometimes hiding in the trunks of cars in order to get it done.
That’s crazy. The back-row observers might lean to one another and say, “Is she drunk or something? Who would do such a thing?”
She’s not drunk. It’s the Holy Spirit.
Second, someone I know. Her name is Amanda. She’s not famous and has never been in the news. She’s just a good young adult with a deep faith in Christ. The last I was in touch with her, she was waitressing and working at a big box store in order to pay all her bills. One day we were talking on the phone and she told me she knew someone who needed a car. So, she gave them her car.
“What?” I had to do a double-take. “You gave them your car?” This was almost unfathomable to me. I love to drive. I love the independence I get from driving. And cars are expensive – not easily replaced.
“Well,” she said. “They really needed it. I’ll get another one, sometime.”
That’s crazy. The back-row observers are rolling their eyes at how irresponsible that is. “Is she drunk or something?” they ask. “Who would do such a thing?”
She’s not drunk. It’s the Holy Spirit.
Finally, someone you’ve probably heard of before: Dorothy Day. Day was a journalist, a social activist, and a Catholic. She helped found the Catholic Worker Movement whose aim is to “live in accordance with the justice and charity of Jesus Christ.” She utilized nonviolent protest to try to make changes for the homeless and poor that she worked for. Day was arrested four times in acts of civil disobedience – the last time, at the age of 75. If you think that’s crazy, then I have a feeling Day would have liked that reaction. Jones recalls that she liked to say that “she wanted to live her life in a way that wouldn’t make sense if God doesn’t exist.” *
That’s crazy. The back-row observers are crossing their arms and saying she should go plant a garden or take up knitting, like a normal 75-year-old. “Is she drunk or something? Who would do such a thing?”
She’s not drunk. It’s the Holy Spirit.
Today we are celebrating the birthday of the church, because the church is empowered and glued together by the Holy Spirit. When that Spirit arrived at Pentecost, it changed the disciples into men who acted in a way that looked crazy to outsiders.
We had five people join our congregation today. I probably should have warned them ahead of time about this crazy part… Because we the church today are recipients of that same Holy Spirit that earned the disciples odd looks from the back row gang. When it first arrives it might start with a strange but not-too-crazy-looking warming of our hearts. But if we let it really take up residence in our lives it won’t be long before it’s nudging us to do something that others think looks like the work of a drunkard.
Like build a $1.6 million Family Life Center. Or offer a free meal every Thursday to the whole community with no strings attached. Or welcome people into the life of this church that wouldn’t be welcomed anywhere else. When we do things like that, some folks may think we’re crazy. But the truth is, if we’re not living our faith in a way that wouldn’t make sense if God didn’t exist, then we aren’t really living our faith.
I’m proud to be a part of a church that is crazy with the Holy Spirit. I hope that we grow even crazier together. And, come to think of it… with these five new folks, I think we just got a little more off-base. Because Ken spent a week last summer backpacking with our youth.
So let’s all learn from their example. Let’s receive this Holy Spirit and act a little crazy. Let’s give with a radical generosity, make friends with complete disregard for social barriers; spend our free time in service to others; have a thoughtful conversation with someone who’s registered for the opposite political party. Let’s live our lives in a way that would make no sense at all if God didn’t exist!
If we do, some people will roll their eyes and wonder if we’re just drunk.
But we’re not drunk, are we? I hope not; it’s only 11am!
No – it’s the Holy Spirit.
* See Jones’ great, short book, Christian Social Innovation, p. 34.