It recently came to my attention that there are more than 800 churches in the city of Cleveland, and if you were to consider the whole of Cuyahoga County that number increases to more than 1,200. Last week while driving along Kinsman Ave. from 55th St. to 154th St. I counted 45 churches along that one avenue. Not only is there a church on almost every corner, but also on some blocks there are four churches sitting right next door to one another or facing one another across the street.
The same fact would be true in other parts of the city. If you were to drive along Cedar from Stokes Blvd. down to 71st St. you would pass 10 churches. If you traveled 105th St. from Superior to St. Clair you would pass another 12 churches. If you drove along Lee Road between Bartlett and the 480 overpass you would pass another 12 churches. If there is one thing that Cleveland has a lot of it is churches.
Let’s assume Cleveland is not unique in this area; let’s assume in cities and towns all across America there are a great many churches of all denominations and all styles of worship and all types of architecture. The question I want to raise with you today is, How we can have so many churches, and so much sin and suffering at the same time? How can we have so many churches and still have so much crime, so much drug abuse, so much alcoholism and so much violence? You would think that with 800 churches throughout the city the conditions in Cleveland might be a lot better than they are, but that does not seem to be the case.
The church is supposed to be the city that sits on a hill whose light cannot be hidden. The church is supposed to be the salt in the earth that brings seasoning and preservation to the whole community. The church is supposed to be the wellspring of hope and help and healing in a sinful world, but that does not seem to be the case.
On the surface of things it would seem that we have enough churches and enough Christians to get the job done. There are only 6 police precincts in the entire city of Cleveland, but there are over 800 churches. There are only 21 political ward clubs in this city, but there are over 800 churches. There are now fewer than 100 schools in Cleveland, but there are over 800 churches. If you were to add up all of the members who attend all of the churches in Cleveland it would seem that we have more than enough people to get our message out, and make our presence felt and transform this entire city. But despite having over 800 churches, our influence is limited, our effect on civic life is minimal and our ability to prevent social problems is negligible.
I have only one thing to say about this situation; the church needs some power. We do not need new music or new pews or new instruments nearly as much as we need new power. We do not need new buildings as much as we need some spiritual life in the buildings we already have. We have choirs and preachers, but they have no power beyond the walls where they operate. We have auxiliaries and activities, but we cannot or we will not alter the circumstances in the lives of people who are sitting just outside the doors of most of our churches.
We have wonderful worship services on Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, but at all other times during the week most of our churches are locked up and shut down, and the community is run by the drug dealer, the street corner pimp and the teen-age, high school dropout with a sweat shirt hood on his head and his pants sagging so low that his underwear and sometimes his backside are clearly visible. What difference does it make that we have over 800 churches in Cleveland if the church community as a whole has no power?
This is not the first time that the church has been without the power that was needed to transform the city in which it lived. The same thing was true in the city of Jerusalem as described in the opening lines of the Book of Acts. Jesus had finished his earthly ministry and had ascended back into heaven. The whole world was waiting to hear the Gospel message that Jesus had come to deliver, but not a sound could be heard. The disciples who had been called and trained by Jesus to carry his message to the ends of the earth were all locked up inside the upper room. They were hiding from the very people they were supposed to be challenging with the message. They were whispering to each other behind locked doors rather than shouting to Jerusalem about the message of salvation.
Right outside their doors were the blind, the crippled and the sick. Jesus had touched such people and restored health to them, but these men could do no such thing because they had no power. Right outside their door were Roman soldiers who were imposing their will on other nations through force of arms. Jesus had already told Peter that of you live by the sword you will perish by the sword. But these disciples could not act on that principle, because they had no power. Right outside their door were people who were going through the motions of religion; saying prayers that held no meaning to them and sacrificing dead animals, which had no long-term affect on them. But these men could not offer the world anything better because they had no power.
However, on the Day of Pentecost, a day that marked 50 days after the Jewish festival of Passover, something happened that touched and transformed the men in that room and they in turn stepped outside of the doors and touched and transformed the rest of the world. The Bible says the room was filled with a sound like the roaring of a mighty wind. What appeared to be cloven tongues of flame rested upon the head of every man in that room. Each one of them was filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to speak in unknown tongues.
As they spoke, those men began moving out into the city and a mysterious thing happened; people from various nations throughout the Mediterranean world understood what those men were saying in their own native language. The human speech that God had confused at the Tower of Babel back in the book of Genesis had been reversed. The Gospel was being preached. By the end of the day 3,000 new converts had been added to the church. Those who heard the message that day took it with them back to their homes all over the world.
All of this happened, because men who had no influence and no power on one day had suddenly been filled with the Holy Spirit. Now they could preach with power. Now they could pray with power. Now they could sing and witness with power, because on Pentecost they had been filled with the Holy Ghost. And on this Pentecost Sunday, I am inviting every one of us to pray to God that something similar happen to us. I am praying that God give me the power of Pentecost. I am praying that God give our music, and our prayers, and our preaching and our worship the power of Pentecost. I am praying that God wake us up and bring us alive so that our 800 churches will have the power that is needed to tackle the problems that surround us all across this city.
Those men were so excited about their faith that some of the people in the city said, “These men must be filled with wine.” It looked as if they must have been drunk. Peter responded to that church by saying, “These men are not drunk; it is just the ninth hour of the hour and it is much too early to be drunk.” They have simply been filled with the Holy Spirit. Now I know that many members of most churches would want to appear to be drunk in the spirit. We want to appear to be “cool”, “calm” and “collected.” But we need to receive the spirit of God that can set a fire inside of our souls that will melt our “cool” away and set us ablaze for the cause of Jesus Christ.
I want to have happen to me what obviously happened to Peter. The last time anybody had heard anything from Peter prior to Pentecost, he was telling people on three separate occasions that he did not know Jesus. However, once the power of the Holy Spirit came upon Peter he was walking boldly throughout Jerusalem telling anyone who would stop and listen, that Jesus Christ was Lord. I want that boldness, and I hope that you want it as well. I hope that all of us want to have the power and the boldness and the desire to share our faith and live openly for God.
Recently there was a rally for teachers and for public education on Public Square in downtown Cleveland. I was asked to speak at that rally and I gladly agreed to do so, because I believe that Christians cannot do all of their talking about justice and fairness inside the church building. Many of you from Antioch were at that rally, and I was glad to see you there. The state of Ohio continues to maintain inequality in public education by funding public schools through property taxes. It is safe to say that the quality of the education that a child receives is largely influenced by the wealth or the poverty of the community in which they live.
Towns with expensive homes generate enough money to afford the very best schools, while cities with less expensive homes end up with less funding for schools. Four times the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that funding schools through property taxes is unconstitutional because it does not afford every child access to an equal education. Fifty years after the historic Brown v. Board of Education ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, we in Ohio still maintain two separate school districts; one for the wealthy and one for the poor.
I wanted to be at that rally so that I could blend my voice with others on that important issue. I want the voice of the church to be heard when issues of justice are being discussed. I want the people of God to stand up and be counted when children are being harmed by an inadequate education. I want the church to have more than 800 buildings; I want the church to have the power to impact the pressing issues of the day. Pray today that the power of the Holy Spirit fall on this church and on every one of us and fill us with the power to make a difference in the world where we live.
By the same token, I want the Holy Spirit to be alive in us enough to help us discern when we should not join some crowds and when we should not support some issues. There are times in life when we need the Holy Spirit to show us what we should be doing. There is a pastor in this city who is openly lesbian and who is fully in support of same-sex marriage. When that rally is held I will not be there, because I do not sense the spirit moving in that direction. I sense that people who want to justify their own behavior will ignore both scripture and societal norms to shape the world to their own liking. I do not know how all of this will end; states may end up performing same-sex marriage even if churches do not. What we need is wisdom greater than our own wisdom, and an insight that sees more deeply than our eyes can see. We need the Holy Spirit both to make us bold when we are too timid and to make us resolute when the world would have us conform to their values. We need that kind of power.
I want our church and churches everywhere to reflect the diversity that was seen on the Day of Pentecost. The miracle of Pentecost included the fact that people from all over the world were present in Jerusalem on that day, and each of them heard the sermon by Peter in their own language. The appeal of the Gospel was made to the whole world at one moment in time, and those who responded to that message came from Asia, North Africa, Europe and Arabia. Pentecost saw people from all races and regions of the world coming together under the power of the Holy Spirit.
How different things are in so many of our churches today. Most of us worship in “one race” congregations, with little diversity of any kind. The universal nature of the church of Jesus Christ cannot be seen by observing most churches in action. As Liston Pope observed back in 1960, 11 a.m. Sunday morning remains the most segregated hour in America. That sad and obvious fact does not have to remain the same; as on the day of Pentecost our churches can reflect the diversity of the human family. We just need to open ourselves to the power of the Holy Spirit that can bring this to pass. It happened once, and it can happen again.
I want our church to grow like the church grew on the Day of Pentecost. At the end of that day, 3000 souls were added to the church, and more souls were added every day. The need for salvation is no less urgent, but the response the world gives to our preaching and our evangelistic efforts is far different than it was on the Day of Pentecost.
We have been going through a process called Forty Days of Purpose in the hope that it will help our church to grow both spiritually and numerically. That is an excellent process, and we should see this effort all the way to its end. However, following the instructions of The Purpose Driven Church or the insights of The Purpose Driven Life or the devotional guides of Forty Days of Purpose will not be sufficient if we are to truly experience both spiritual and numerical growth. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to stir us up in this church.
We really are asleep in the spirit most of the time. We go through worship without any energy. We rarely sing the congregational songs with enthusiasm. We do not attend Bible study and Prayer meeting. Little wonder that when people do visit us in their search for a church home they end up somewhere else. We need some power! We need the Holy Spirit.
Understand that the power of Pentecost is not the exclusive property of those Christians who call themselves Pentecostals. The power of the Holy Spirit is available to all believers. To say that only Pentecostals can share in Pentecost is like saying that only Baptists can share in baptism. All Christians need to be baptized with water, and all Christians need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. We need the spirit not so we can speak in other tongues (glossolalia). We need the Holy Spirit so we can preach and witness with power and win new souls to Jesus Christ through our energy and excitement.
I can remember just a few years ago when the Cleveland Indians were one of the best teams in baseball. We had a lineup of hitters that was second to none: Kenny Lofton, Robbie Alomar, Albert Belle, Jim Thome, Eddie Murray, Manny Ramirez and more. They won their division for five straight years and went to the World Series twice. The excitement inside of Jacob’s Field was so contagious that it spilled out into the surrounding area. People who were drawn to the ballgame stayed around for the restaurants, the hotels, the shops and the stores. The energy in one place brought life to the whole city.
The same sense of excitement inside the church can have a spill-over effect into the areas outside our doors. If we can get some energy in this church, I believe we can bring life to this whole community. If we can stop being sophisticated long enough to be sanctified, we can make a real difference. If we can stop being “haughty” about who we think we are long enough to be truly happy about who Jesus is, we could put the devil on the run once and for all. But the devil has no need to run from us, because he knows that most of the people in the church will not raise their voice or carry their religion one step outside the door. I tell you we need some power.
Let me be clear today; I do not want anybody to get excited about God just for the sake of making noise. I want you to think about what God has done in your life, and if it looks as if God has been good then I invite you to respond to that goodness. If God has blessed you, let the world know it by saying, “Praise the Lord.” If God has made a way out of no way in your life, then let the world know it by saying “Thank you, Jesus.” If you were sick, but the Lord has healed you; if you were down but the Lord has restored your joy; if you were frightened and afraid but the Lord has remained right by your side, then I think you ought to let the world know what God has done in your life. Psalms 107 says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” On this Pentecost Sunday we need to ask God to fill us with the Holy Spirit so we can have the power that is needed to impact our world.
Imagine more than 800 churches filled with the power of Pentecost; let’s pray for that to happen. Imagine more than 800 churches determined to reach this city for Jesus Christ; let’s pray for that to happen. Imagine 800 churches with so much energy and excitement going on inside that it spills out into the communities around them; let’s pray for that to happen, as well. Imagine 800 churches with pulpits blazing with truth. Imagine 800 choirs with voices thick with praise. Imagine 800 groups of deacons praying until the Spirit of the Lord comes down. Imagine 800 youth groups saying no to drugs and sex and negative peer pressure, and doing so because of the power of God that is at work within them. The same 800 churches that seem so powerless today can turn this city upside down if we just receive the power God first poured out on the church on the day of Pentecost.
Marvin A. McMickle is Senior Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.