Plugged In: The Power of Pentecost
By Canon Christian Gillette
Canon for Evangelism and Discipleship, EDSD
Service on May 23, 2021
What Is Power?
Power is an interesting thing. Power is something that in some ways, we possess, and in other ways we lack. It’s something we need in order to live, and something that at times we need to give away. A major step in child development is the discover of one’s personal power – the ability to express one’s agency as an individual. We all have the deep psychological need to experience our own power – the power to choose, to decide, to act.
We often think of power in terms of energy. As biological creatures, we need energy and power in order to survive! Our food gives us the energy, the power we need to get up get out of bed and get things done. And as biological creatures that rely more and more on digital technologies, not only do we need to make sure that we have the power for our bodies to work, but we need to make sure our myriad gadgets have enough power to get us through the day as well! There are few things in life as traumatic as the death of our smart phone battery when we’re nowhere near a charger. There is no doubt that in many ways, power is essential to life and to living.
While power, like money, is neutral on its own – neither inherently good, nor inherently bad – we are well aware that power can be incredibly destructive. The splitting of atoms creates energy that can be used to power industries, but it can also destroy millions of lives in the blink of an eye when that power is applied to a nuclear bomb.
In terms of human relationships, we all know that power often tends to be out of balance. More often than it should be, power manifests as the ability to control others by means of force, fear or violence. For one person to be in power, it means taking away the power of someone else. We see this time and time again in history, embodied throughout the world in different forces, by different rulers, and different regimes…
To Jews in the first century, this kind of oppressive power was embodied by the Roman Empire. The apostles had seen and knew that kind of power all too well, as they lived their lives as an occupied people, ruled by a foreign nation who used fear and intimidation to deprive them of power that was rightfully theirs.
Yes, the apostles knew what power was, and they knew that power was something they would need if they were going to be able to participate in the mission that Jesus had just given to them. Fortunately, this was exactly what Jesus had promised that they would receive, and this is what the apostles were waiting for as they sat in the Jerusalem House on the day of Pentecost.
They were waiting for an infusion of Power….
And then it began.
“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… And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each…”
The miraculous events of Pentecost unleashed the power of the holy spirit on the apostles, just as Jesus promised. But what did this power look like? Did it look like a sword and a shield? Did it match the violent, coercive power of the Roman Empire? No! It looked like something else altogether, a different kind of power with which the apostles were also very familiar. It looked more like what they had seen in Jesus.
In Jesus, they had seen the power of forgiveness, the power of humility, the power of love. They had witnessed firsthand the healing, connecting, transforming, lifechanging, death-defeating, resurrecting power of the Kingdom of God. They had learned in Jesus, that true power lies not in the hands of those who crucify, but rather, in the quiet words of those who forgive. Jesus spoke life to everyone he encountered, his words brought hope, his words brought healing, his words brought truth and life. This is what the power of the Holy Spirit looked like!
But while prior to Pentecost, they had only witnessed that power externally, in Jesus, now this power was inside of them as well! It gave them the power to speak, to proclaim, to witness to Gods goodness with new energy, in new languages, somehow… Through the power of the Holy Spirit that was within each of them, they were able to reach out and connect with others who were different than they were, and in a crazy and miraculous way, share with them the good news of God in Jesus Christ! This was a power that unified, healed, and brought life.
Verse 41 of Acts 2 says “those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The apostles were filled with power when the Holy Spirit came upon them: power to change the world not through violence or force, but through speaking, listening, and breathing love, and through their faithful witness to that power, thousands of people who heard the good news that day discovered a new story, a new community, and a new life.
Not only did this powerful event mean good news to the three thousand people who joined the family of God, and to the apostles and the newborn church as they started to discover their newfound source of power for mission, but the story of Pentecost has good news for us as well. Pentecost reminds us that the power given to the apostles on that day, the power that came in a rush of wind and fire and launched a revolution of love, that same power is also within each one of us here today. The Holy Spirit of God is present in and around every one of us. And when we align ourselves with the spirit, when we daily plug ourselves into the source through prayer, worship, community and communion, there is untold power with which we can bring blessing to the world around us. And when we are charged by that power, and then go out to join God in mission, then relationships will be built, hearts will be open, hurts will be healed and lives will be changed.