The idea for this sermon did not hit me until the night before I was to present it. It could have used some editing, perhaps some expansion of some points to make it more clear. Perhaps it needed some time to percolate, to find some heart. But, since it was so short, we got to have a conversation, which I had not planned.
This Sunday was a perfect example of why we generally have a conversation. We believe – yes, truly believe – that there is greater wisdom in the body than in some farcical head. I am not the head. I know a lot, thought not everything, about the Bible and a lot, though not everything, about theology. I can establish a framework for our conversations that is grounded in our faith. But that’s not everything and certainly falls far short of what this world needs now.
Fortunately, there are people in our church who are far better at having difficult conversations than I am. Where I am angry, you are generous. Where I am mocking, you are kind. Where I am befuddled, you are clear. You have trod many paths that I have not. Thank you. Here are some things I learned – or was reminded of – from our conversation.
Change agents often talk of working on the vast middle. There are extremes on either end, those who aggressively support your view and those who aggressively oppose it, but most people are in the middle and might be swayed to either side. They can also be pushed to one side. I’m not great as speaking to the middle. I’ll comfort myself and say that Apocalyptic Jesus didn’t have much taste for the lukewarm, either. Still, I will try to do better.
When we speak to “the other side,” we have to remember that they do have something at stake if they move to our point of view. Even if we think they shouldn’t. People have a lot invested in white privilege and white supremacy, in patriarchy and class divisions. It has been said that, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” I believe this. I’ve seen it in action. But if we start our conversations from that point, it only feels like a threat. It’s an immediate shutdown. I will try to do better.
Finally, these things take time. I’m impatient and it makes me cross. I see a fearful response to the world from people who are supposed to be faithful. I don’t always know how to be loving, which makes me no better. I will try to do better.
All that said, this is the sermon I gave on Sunday. I don’t think I’m wrong, but I might have said it differently. And I really mean what I say in the last paragraph. I would love to have those conversation, even if this is not the best invitation. Without further ado:
“You must be drunk,” they said. You must be drunk to stick around after your leader was executed by the powers that be, by Rome and their collaborators, the religious elite of Jerusalem. Perhaps they were so drunk on a forty day bender that they saw Jesus over and over again, talked to him, ate with him. Perhaps it was just grief, but grief and wine share a deep bond. When he talked with them, he told them to stay in Jerusalem, to wait until they were “clothed with power from on high.” He told them this was the time of the Chosen One of God, the time to proclaim that those in power would repent and everyone would be released from the bondage of sin. In fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah, all nations would stream to Zion because Zion is a place of justice and peace. The disciples would bear witness to these things.
But they wouldn’t just bear witness. To be clothed with power from on high suggests so much more than that. Their testimony is authoritative; it comes with the authority of people who have experienced justice and peace. The other synoptic Gospels have the disciples go back to Galilee, but in Luke and Acts they are called people of Galilee. They have already experienced the liberation from sin of which Jesus speaks. Regardless of the will of the empire, they fed people, they healed people, and they cast out demons of fear and despair. Their testimony is authoritative because they have been given the authority by the incarnation of God to be the incarnation of God in the world. When the power of the Spirit comes, they are moved to act as God would act.
When the Spirit comes, it is accompanied by the kind of high drama we have come to expect from the author of Luke and Acts. It’s the sort of drama we are accustomed to hearing from a drunk person recounting an event: “No, I swear. Das wha’happened. The wind just starts blowin’, like ffffsshshhhh, and then errbody’s head’s on fire, like little flames sittin’ on errbody’s head – boop! But y’know what? Y’know what? There was people from errywhere, man. And nobody was fightin’. ‘Cuz we understood each other, y’know? No, seriously. I could speak Ph-phhh-phrygian. Never even took any classes. Just – bam! – friggin’ Phrygian. Just as good as English.” And scene.
So maybe we can forgive the onlookers for thinking something was amiss, that these Christians were not in full control of their faculties. We must be drunk to believe the things we believe, to have hope, to strive for peace and justice. If we’re going to co-create the world of God’s dreams, we’re going to need some courage – liquid or otherwise.
You must be drunk to allow flames to touch you. The fire, Scripture tells us, burns away the chaff. It melts us down to rid us of impurities. It lights up the hidden corners of our souls. Only a drunk would endure that.
You must be drunk to sway with the wind, to be knocked over by the gust of the Spirit. Have you ever watched the Weather Channel during a hurricane? Though they try to prevail against it, an unseen force moves the reporters around. We only know the wind by what it moves. What we do tells us – and tells the world – what spirit animates us. Is it a spirit of love? Is it a spirit of compassion? Or is it a spirit of fear and violence, like the disciples cast out in Galilee?
You must certainly be drunk to understand one another. You must be drunk to think that we can be understood or that understanding is worth the effort. All these people, all these languages. These are not the Jews of the diaspora, but permanent residents from all over the known world. This is an immigrant community. They are all drawn to the sound of the movement of the Spirit and, as they are drawn to it, they understand one another. Though the speakers are Galileans, they are heard in the native language of each immigrant.
Maybe their communication is simple. Maybe their message, regardless of language, is universal: I see you. I love you. You deserve better. How difficult is to understand the weariness in the eyes of another human being? To see desperation? How hard is it to see tears of grief and joy? Do we have to be drunk to do that? Perhaps a little taste of the Spirit will do the trick.
But this isn’t just some show to bring the people in; there is purpose to it. This is but the prelude to the true miracle. We see in verses 43-47 the endgame is caring for one another. You must be drunk to do that, to believe that the economy of God is not a zero-sum game where your gain is my loss and vice-versa. You must be drunk to sell what you have and share it with others, with foreigners! You must be drunk to share a meal in gladness and generosity. You must be drunk to glorify God and God’s ways, to care for the well-being of all the people, not just the ones that look like you. You must be drunk to believe God’s promise of abundant life is true, to have hope for a future where that promise is fulfilled, to live into that promise here and now.
But here’s another possibility: maybe you’re the one who is drunk. I have been so drunk that I could not see. If I looked into your eyes, I might not recognize you. I might not know that you, like me, are a human being. Maybe you’re drunk on a spirit of fear. Maybe you’ve had too much from the keg of nationalism, from the tap of white supremacy. Maybe you’ve had too many white Russians. If there is a lake of beer in your heaven, it is a bitter brew. You can’t see straight. You don’t know what you’re looking at. I’m sorry, white Christian America, but this is an intervention.
When you say that Islam “is inspired by Satan himself,” it makes me feel uncomfortable. When you say that Jesus would not welcome the tired and the poor, it makes me feel as if I’m living in a dream, like I have not read the Bible at all. Are you gaslighting us? Did Jesus not say, in Matthew 11.28, ““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest?” Is that not in your Bible? Did Jesus not say in Luke 4.18 that he was “anointed… to bring good news to the poor?” What kind of good news is, “Get out!” Did Jesus not bless the poor and the hungry and those who weep? When you provide unconditional support to a president so morally bankrupt, so self-serving, so cruel – I have to wonder what spirit moves you. If you’re going to name yourself with the name of God, with the name of Christ – a name we claim as well – then something has to change. If you can’t let go of your addiction to power, your craven need for a seat at the table, then we may have to go our separate ways, for ours is the way of God.
But we’re here for you. We will support you in any way we can. We will read Scripture with you. We will pray with you. We will sit at a table with you and with the poor, with the people who don’t sound like you, with the people who crossed some imaginary line that erases their humanity, so you can look into one another’s eyes and share stories and a meal. Perhaps we’ll have a drink.