"The Wind That Blew the Walls Down"Dr. Stephen Clyborne Acts 2:1-21 Year A: Day to Pentecost
Several years ago, a team of six people from our church traveled to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to help rebuild houses and lives torn apart by the tornadoes that left behind a trail of destruction there. Even though it had been a year since the tornadoes wreaked havoc there, and a lot of clean-up and rebuilding had already taken place there, still the magnitude of the destruction left behind was haunting.
I had seen pictures and footage on the news; but until I saw the destruction for myself, got to know some of the survivors, and got to listen to some of their stories, I did not fully understand the force and power of a mighty wind. The wind is a force to be reckoned with.
Sometimes the wind can refresh us like a cool, gentle breeze on a warm, sunny day. And sometimes the wind can swirl through a town with enough force to blow the walls down. So it is both comforting and unsettling to realize that the Hebrew and Greek words for “Spirit” are also translated “wind.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus explained to Nicodemus that the Spirit of God is like the wind that sweeps and sways wherever it will. The wind has a mind of its own. You never know what might happen when the wind of God’s Spirit starts to blow.
This is Pentecost Sunday, when we remember and re-tell the story of how the wind of God’s Spirit blew down the walls that people had worked so hard to build – – walls of prejudice and hatred, walls of class and status, walls of race and gender.
The word “Pentecost” means “the fiftieth.” This Jewish feast was referred to as “Pentecost” because it fell on the fiftieth day (a week of weeks) after the Passover, and, therefore, was also known as the Feast of Weeks. Pentecost commemorated the giving of the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai and celebrated the completed and ingathered harvest.
For centuries, the Jews had celebrated Pentecost without any major incident. But this Pentecost would be different, just as the previous Passover had been different. The Passover celebration which had taken place seven weeks earlier had been no ordinary Passover.
The Gospels tell us that Jesus gathered in an upper room to share the Passover meal with His disciples, but then used that occasion to transform the old covenant meal into a new covenant meal. And following that last supper, Jesus went out into the night, and was crucified the next day.
On the third day, God raised Him from the dead. And then the risen Jesus appeared to His disciples several times over a period of forty days, after which He departed from them and ascended into heaven. Just before His ascension, Jesus promised the disciples that they would receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them.
But that was a week ago, and so far, they didn’t feel any more power than they had ever felt. So they had regrouped and gathered perhaps in the same upper room in which they had gathered for that Passover meal fifty days earlier. By this time, there were about 120 people gathered, all wondering what they were going to do without Jesus, and waiting for the Spirit to come.
Outside, there was a large, international crowd in Jerusalem for the celebration of Pentecost. So what was about to take place was to be witnessed by Jews from all over the Roman Empire. This was to be no interior, private experience. Everything would take place by wind and fire, loud talk, buzzing confusion, and public debate.
The events might have begun in a secluded room where the disciples were hunkered down planning their next moves. But these events would end up turning the whole world upside down. The disciples had no idea what was about to happen, but they were about to find out.
It all started when they heard the sound of a mighty wind, a holy tornado, as it were, heading their way. And then what was heard was seen – tongues like fire. Before any of them could defend themselves, that mighty wind had blown through the entire place, striking sparks that burst into flames above their heads, and they were all filled with the Spirit Jesus had promised them.
Then the scene shifts to the city streets, where people from every nation and race were gathered. And without explanation, the disciples began to speak in languages they did not even know they knew. People from all over the world who were there in Jerusalem for the festival of Pentecost were surprised to hear someone speaking their own language so far from home. The wind of God’s Spirit had blown down the walls of language and culture and race.
On that day, the wind of the Spirit kept on blowing. In the midst of all the confusion and chaos, Peter stood up and started preaching, and his text was from the prophecy of 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. (Joel 2:28-32)
When the wind of God’s Spirit blows, the walls start coming down – – not just walls of language and culture and race, but walls between men and women, young and old, slaves and free. Peter wasn’t making this up either. He was reading it straight out of their own Scripture. It is amazing what you will find if you will just open your Bible and read it. Yet, we all read the Bible so selectively, and we only see what we want to see.
The wind of the Spirit blows down the wall of gender that separates men and women. Sometimes when people find out that our church ordains women, they will ask why we do not believe the Bible. And I always say, “We ordain women because we do believe the Bible, not because we don’t.” We ordain women because we believe what the ancient prophet Joel wrote, and what the apostle Peter preached: “Your sons and your daughters, your men servants and your women servants will prophesy.” The wind blows where it will; and when it blows, it blows down the walls between men and women.
But the wind doesn’t stop blowing until it blows down the wall between the young and the old. “Your young men will see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” The Spirit not only gives men and women breath to preach, but the Spirit gives young and old eyes to see. The Spirit of God enables the young to see what the old cannot, and the old to envision what the young cannot. The wind of the Spirit blows down the walls not just between languages, cultures, races, and genders, but also between generations.
But the wind kept on blowing until it also blew down the wall separating slaves and free people. Slaves who were once forbidden to speak were empowered by the Spirit to prophesy and preach – – again, both men and women. The wind of the Spirit blew down the walls of class and status that separated the powerful from the oppressed.
There is just no telling when and where the wind of God’s Spirit will blow next. We cannot predict the wind or control it. We cannot capture it in a box or distribute it at our will. All we can do is set out our wind chimes and let the wind of God’s Spirit blow through us, and have God’s own way with us.
The ironic part of this story of Pentecost is that it all happened practically next door to the Jerusalem temple, which was nothing more than a series of walls that divided Jews from Gentiles, men from women, and slaves from free. For too long, the people of God believed that the only way for them to remain pure was to build walls to keep them in and keep others out.
But later, Paul would write that Christ has torn down the walls that divide us and has made us one, so that, in Christ, there is no Jew or Greek, there is no slave or free, there is no male or female. All those distinctions that we have worked so hard to establish and maintain have been blown down by the wind of the God’s Spirit in Jesus Christ. The wind keeps blowing until, at last, God pours out the Spirit upon all flesh, all people, everywhere. That must be a mighty strong wind!
When we were in Alabama, I caught just a glimpse of what it would be like to live in a kingdom without walls. On our first day, we got to meet an elderly African American gentleman named Roosevelt Washington, who, along with his wife and six others, somehow survived the tornado while their house was completely blown away.
We got to know him and hear his story. When he came back the second day, we had nailed his house numbers to the post on his front porch. And when he arrived and saw those numbers, and realized what they represented, his eyes filled with tears as he turned to his wife and said, “Look, honey, we have an address again.”
All week, we worked with Shirley Foster, an elderly African American woman whose house was also totally destroyed. She and her son, James, and her grandsons, were helping to build Roosevelt’s house while workers were breaking ground for her new house nearby. All week long, we got to hear Shirley telling in her own language about the mighty works of God, praising the Lord for sending people to help her rebuild her life. And we got to hear her son and grandsons dreaming about the future when their house would be rebuilt.
Everywhere I turned that week, it seemed that there were sons and daughters and people with no power or status prophesying, young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams. By the power of God’s Spirit, we were building more than houses. We were building a kingdom in which there were no walls, only bridges.
On our last day there, they realized how unskilled I was, so they gave me a pair of knee pads and a scraper and asked me to scrape the concrete floor so it would be nice and smooth for the more skilled laborers, like Sylvia (my wife), to come behind me and lay the ceramic tile. It was some of the holiest work I have ever done. It was holy not just because of what I was doing, but because of what I was seeing.
As I looked around the rebuilt house that day, and saw what we had accomplished that week, and saw the most unlikely group of people God had brought together under one roof, I saw a vision and dreamed a dream of a kingdom without walls, where God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh, where men and women, old and young, rich and poor, white and black are brought together by the mighty acts of God, the love of Christ, and the power of the Spirit.
It was a good thing that I was already on my knees because in that moment, through the open windows of that rebuilt house, I felt a cool, refreshing breeze blow across my face; and I knew Who that wind was. Whenever and wherever the wind of God’s Spirit blows down walls that divide us from each other, and ultimately from God, it is Pentecost all over again. Amen.
About the writer: Dr. Stephen Clyborne is senior pastor of Earle Street Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina. A graduate of Furman University, Stephen earned his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees at Erskine Theological Seminary, where he has also served as adjunct professor. He is married to the former Sylvia Davis. He and Sylvia have a blended family of two daughters and a son-in-law, two sons and two daughters-in-law, and seven grandchildren.
Scripture and Music:
1 Corinthians 12:3-13
John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
O Spirit of the Living God
Filled with the Spirit s Power
On Pentecost They Gathered
Come, O Spirit, Dwell Among Us
Come, O Spirit, with Your Sound
I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord
Forward Through the Ages
Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
Sweet, Sweet Spirit
God, Whose Purpose Is to Kindle
Bless the Lord (Ippolitoff-Ivanoff)
Blessed Be God (Handel)
Blessing and Glory (Rachmaninoff)
Many Gifts, One Spirit (Allan Pote)
Here Is Water, Lord (Martin)
Surely the Presence of the Lord
Many and Great, O God
Lead On, Eternal Sovereign