When the spirit came down and lit a fire in the remnant of Jesus followers on Pentecost, those followers immediately went out to the streets and protested.
They went out to the streets and accused the power brokers of murdering an innocent man. They accused the civilians, who just stood and watched the killing of an innocent man, of the same guilt — for silence before injustice perpetuates it. They were no longer witnesses but accomplices.
“Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God … you crucified and killed!” Peter shouted at the top of his lungs. It was truth everyone needed to hear, and the Spirit made sure of it by providing instant interpretation. It was a hashtag written in multiple languages.
They were protesting. They were disruptive.
These pious Jews had traveled days and weeks to celebrate this holy festival in Jerusalem, for Pentecost was one of the three festivals that called believers to come to the Temple. To the pious, it was a holy event that cost their life savings. To those in power, it strengthened their status and fattened their wallet. And suddenly, there were Galileans in the streets, causing a commotion, blocking the traffic of donkeys at the busiest season of the city. Jerusalem’s city councils depended on the revenue from that week. And on the day when the city and the Temple had to present their best as a holy city, people were accusing them of killing a God-ordained person.
Peter wasn’t preaching. He was protesting.
When we refer to Peter’s message as preaching, we sanitize him and the message. Preaching in our minds is what happens in the sandbox of Sunday in the pulpit. The message is leashed safely to 20 minutes (or longer) and approved subjects. When people say, “a biblical sermon,” they often mean a safe and apolitical sermon — and “apolitical” usually means “conserving the current structure,” as no message can be “apolitical.”
Peter was protesting about what happened in those very streets not more than 50 days ago. Jesus turned himself in, with his hands up, and they nailed them. Many saw Jesus’ bruised body after a beating by law enforcement. Many heard him crying, “I thirst.” Many heard him struggling to breathe and then going limp and lifeless. No one came to his side. And those who thought this was all wrong didn’t have the courage to speak out against it. They lacked courage because they believed they lacked the power to do anything about it. Until the Holy Spirit descended …
That was the change in the minds of the disciples.
They stopped believing they were powerless.
The Spirit’s fire lit their tongues and they realized they were not powerless — they had God and they had mouths and they could speak truth.
“Repent!” cries Peter. This was a protest. This was an uprising.
Why else would the “priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees” (Acts 4:1) arrest them in the dark of the night, hidden from the public eye?
They ordered them to shut up to “keep it from spreading further among the people (Acts 4:17).”
But Peter answered them, “we cannot keep from speaking about that we have seen and heard (Acts 4:20).” They can arrest him, but he will not remain silent. He had to protest because he knows the truth. He will tell the full story of Jesus and not the media-created version of Jesus as the blasphemer and rebel that deserved crucifixion. He will continue to say the name of the one innocently murdered.
When we tell the Pentecost story and everything that followed, we talk about the prayer that was the preparation for the holy kindling. We talk about the miracle of everyone understanding what was said in their own languages, a story of how unity thrives in differences. But if there wasn’t a street protest following the prayer meeting, we would not have heard about the prayer meeting or the instantaneous interpretation. Would there even be a church?
Church started as a protest movement. Why else was Peter crucified? Why was he killed in the same way as the man’s name he invoked? Why was John exiled? Paul beheaded?
Pentecost is birth of the church. Pentecost was the day when God’s people went out to the streets and protested against the killing of an innocent man, of telling the full story, that Jesus was not a blasphemer or a rebel but a child of God.
George Floyd is a child of God.