Last week, I talked to you a little bit about Matthias.
After Jesus was betrayed, arrested, and crucified, after he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, the apostles were down one person. Judas, who had set the events of Holy Week into motion through his betrayal, wasn’t with them any more. And the remaining apostles decided to fill his seat with someone new.
So the community of believers nominated two people. And the apostles prayed and cast lots. And the dice landed a certain way. God said, “Matthias”. And suddenly this man was a leader of the early church. Whether he was ready or not.
And, while we don’t hear anything else about Matthias in the Bible, you may have noticed that there are stories and legends about him. Some say he went to minister in Cappadocia, some in what is now the Republic of Georgia, some in Ethiopia. Some say he died in Sebastopolis, some in Jerusalem. Some say he was stoned, some he was beheaded, some he died peacefully at home.
We don’t know the truth about Matthias. But we do know that people talked. There are stories.
And if that happened to Matthias…
Something similar is happening in today’s reading. Today is Pentecost. And every Pentecost, we hear this story.
The community of believers is all together when there is a rush of wind and tongues of fire appear. And the Holy Spirit enters the believers and they begin speaking in other languages. A crowd forms around them, and everyone in that crowd hears what the believers are saying — stories about God’s deeds of power — in their own language. Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Mesopotamians, Judeans, Cappadocians, Pontusians, Asians, Phrygians, Pamphylians, Egyptians, Libyans, Romans… everyone hears the believers speak in their own tongue.
And some people in the crowd are amazed. “How is it,” they ask, “that we are hearing them speak and understanding them, each in our language? What does this mean?”
And a few of them say, “Eh, those people are drunk.”
And that’s weird. Think about that for a moment. Someone in that crowd hears the believers speaking and thinks, “Wait, those believers are Galileans, I am Phrygian, we don’t speak the same language, but I am understanding every word they say… they must be drunk.”
But I imagine that started spreading through the crowd. And while some of the people were amazed, others were saying, “Look at those people, they’re drunk. It’s nine in the morning and they’re filled with wine. What is wrong with them?” And a few of the people who heard that believed it. And they turned to others and said the same thing. And suddenly people were talking. There were stories.
And, I imagine, a few of the believers heard those stories. And they thought to themselves, “These people think we’re drunk! Maybe I should just be quiet. Maybe this strange spirit will leave me alone and I can be quiet and they won’t think I’m drunk and I don’t want them to think that.”
But then Peter stands up. Peter, who never quite got Jesus’ parables. Peter, who denied that he even knew Jesus during the crucifixion. Peter, who has sometimes been ill-prepared for his call and for life in general. That Peter. Peter stands up and says, “We are not drunk. It’s nine in the morning.”
And then he says this:
“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 suddenly we know why people were saying that the believers were drunk. Power does not like prophecy. Power does not like visions. Power does not like dreams. Because prophecy is almost never on the side of the powerful.
You can ask Dr. King, who was one of the most reviled men in America when he was shot on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. You can ask the kids from Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been called crisis actors and pawns. You can ask the folks who have protested police shootings of Black people, who are called thugs and dragged through the mud. You can ask countless, countless others.
And you can ask Jesus, who was betrayed and arrested and crucified.
Power hears prophets and says, “they must be drunk… they are naive… they don’t know how the world works… they are demanding the impossible… they are dangerous… … …crucify them.”
Power does not like prophecy; because prophecy is almost never on the side of the powerful.
And that can be scary. Because when the spirit shows up, it shows up. As a rush of wind or tongues of fire, or a tug at our hearts. Whether we’re ready or not. And it we listen to it, people will talk. There will be stories.
If we put up a rainbow flag, people will talk.
If we put out a Black Lives Matter sign, people will talk.
If we march for our lives, people will talk.
If we point out that residents in Flint, Michigan, are still being asked to drink bottled water…
If we tell people that the work requirements being added to Medicaid are set up to affect Black residents and exempt white residents…
If we wonder aloud why so many Palestinians were injured or killed while the United States opened a new embassy in Jerusalem…
If we say that it’s wrong to say, about anyone, “they’re not human; they’re animals”…
If we talk about yet another school shooting, one that brings the bodycount for students higher than the one for members of the military this year…
If we are wild and dangerous and full of grace, people will talk. There will be stories.
And, as an aside, I do know the examples I just gave. I’m sure a few of you will be talking about me later.
And that can be scary. After all, we are people. We all want other people to like us. We don’t want to hear someone say — about us — “they must be drunk… they are naive… they don’t know how the world works… they are demanding the impossible… they are dangerous… … …crucify them.”
In today’s reading from Romans, Paul is writing to a church that he has never visited. He know that the church in Rome is struggling and suffering. And, oh, you should hear the things they were saying about the Christians in Rome. Oh, you should see the things they were doing to the Christians in Rome. And Paul reminds them that the suffering they are going through now is for a purpose.
You see, the whole of creation is groaning. It is in labor. And what is being made, what is being born, is amazing. It is nothing less than the kingdom of God. And while we can’t quite see it yet, all things are coming together for the good. And this suffering will be diminished to nothing by the glory of what is to come.
And if you want the challenge of being the church… if you want the challenge of following Christ… if you want the challenge of being filled with the Spirit… there it is.
If we are the church — if we are daring in our welcome; if we are wild, dangerous, and full of grace — then people will talk and there will be stories. And some people will say, “Who are these people? What does this mean?” And some people will say, “Eh, those people are drunk.”
And a few of us might say, “These people think we’re drunk! Maybe we should just be quiet. Maybe this spirit will leave us alone and we can be quiet and they won’t think we’re drunk and I don’t want them to think that.”
And maybe even I will say that. I’ll admit it. I want people to like me.
But that spirit is here whether we’re ready or not. When we don’t know how to speak, that spirit is speaking on our behalf. When we don’t know how to pray, that spirit is interceding with sighs too deep for words. When we don’t know what to say, that spirit speaks to us so that we may speak.
When we don’t know how to be, that spirit lifts us up and carries us.
That spirit — that very spirit that comes as a rush of wind and tongues of fire, that very spirit that brings prophecies and visions and dreams — stands with us.
And, yes, being a spirit-filled people is scary. It might even be a little dangerous. People will talk. There will be stories.
But that spirit — that spirit that makes some people ask, “Who are these people? What does this mean?”; that spirit that makes some people say, “Eh, those people are drunk.” — is the Holy Spirit that is giving birth to a new world of justice and mercy and love that we can barely imagine.
And that is the spirit that will see us through to the other side. And that is good news.