Living Under the Influence – A Sermon on Acts 2:1-21 for the Feast of Pentecost

Holy Spirit, Pentecost, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:1-21, Sermon
Pentecost, Descent of the Holy Spirit, Acts 2:1-21, El Greco, Sermon, Holy Spirit
Pentecost by El Greco (source: Wikimedia Commons)

“But others sneered and said, ‘They are filled with new wine.’” They sure looked drunk. They sounded drunk. They acted drunk. But Peter denied it. “We’re not drunk,” he said, “it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.” So which is it? Were they sober as Peter said or were they filled with new wine? (Acts 2:1-21)

Yes. Yes is really the only answer to that question. They were not drunk but they were intoxicated. They were sober and filled with a new wine. That is the gift and paradox of this day, the Feast of Pentecost.

So I want to ask you a question but don’t answer it just yet. The question you first hear probably isn’t the one I am asking. What are you drunk on this morning? What intoxicates your life?

Once upon a time I was drunk on success. I was on the fast track and intoxicated with becoming the youngest partner in my law firm, the guy with the most billable hours, the one big clients requested by name.

Once upon a time I was drunk on busyness and exhaustion, intoxicated with self-importance and the need to prove myself.

Once upon a time I was drunk on fear, intoxicated by self-doubt and self-criticism.

Once upon a time I was drunk on toys, intoxicated by a bigger boat, twin engines, and the open gulf waters.

Once upon a time I was drunk on perfectionism, intoxicated with being right, doing right, and having my life put together in a neatly organized and beautifully wrapped package.

Once upon a time I was drunk on the need for approval, intoxicated by what others thought and said about me.

Once upon a time I was drunk on knowledge, intoxicated with figuring it all out and getting the right answer.

Once upon a time I was drunk on …. Well, by now you’ve probably figured out where this is headed. You get my point. So let me ask you again, what are you drunk on this morning? What intoxicates your life? What is your drink of choice?

I wish I could tell you I have quit drinking. On my better days I have or at least I have cut way back. Some days, however, I slip. I take out a glass, fill it full, and drink deep. The thing is I’m just as thirsty when I finish the glass as before I drank it. So pour me another one. Line them up. You know what I am talking about, right? Maybe you’ve done the same thing.

This is the intoxication that poisons and distorts our lives. It causes us to stumble and fall. It blurs our vision to the holiness and beauty of who we really are and who we are to become. It’s the self betrayal by which we do the very opposite of everything we say we want.

I don’t think any of us really want to live that way. That is not God’s intention or desire for our lives. That’s not the life Christ lived or the one he offers us. We need sobriety. We need to get sober.

Pentecost is the sobriety that frees us from this intoxication. It is the power of God to change and transform lives. This sobriety doesn’t mean we stop drinking, however. It means we drink a new wine. At Pentecost a new spirit, the Holy Spirit of God, fills and intoxicates us. We are intoxicated by God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s generosity, God’s beauty, God’s deeds of power in our lives. Pentecost is a day of sober drunkenness. How’s that for a paradox? Sober drunkenness.

Let me offer a few examples of what I am talking about. Recently, I was at the doctor’s office. Another patient was making a payment and scheduling her next appointment. She finished and started walking away when she came back to the desk and said to the two young women there, “I am so sorry for the way I have treated you. I know I have been hard on you and difficult to deal with.” That was a moment of Pentecost. It may not have the drama of a rushing wind, tongues of fire, or foreign languages, but it was filled with the power of God to change lives. In that moment she was sober to and from her past and intoxicated with compassion and concern for others. Sober drunkenness.

Think about a day you fell in love. It may not have gone anywhere or it may have developed and lasted for years. Regardless, it was a day of sober drunkenness. You were completely sober. You mind was clear and convinced. Your eyes were focused. Your intentions were strong. At the same time you were completely swept off your feet, crazy drunk in love. You knew this was it. You tasted it. You wanted more of it. And you couldn’t even name what that “it” was. That was a moment of Pentecost, the power of God filling and changing you. You might say, “Well that was just emotions, feelings, and hormones.” Maybe so but that’s not all it was. You felt, if only for a moment, what it was like to lose yourself to and find yourself in the life of another. You were filled with a spirit that was not your own, one that you did not create and could not control. You were enflamed with the love of God.

Have you ever received a gift that caught you so completely by surprise that you were left speechless? I mean the kind of gift that is completely undeserved, unexpected, and unimaginable. It wasn’t just an object or an action that you received. It was a grace that took you to a place of sober drunkenness. You were dizzy with love, joy, and gratitude and at the same time completely grounded and clearheaded about the significance and meaning of the gift. That was another Pentecost and the wind of God’s generosity had blown through and somehow changed both you and the giver.

This kind of stuff is happening all the time. It’s always Pentecost. It’s all around us. It fills us. Pentecost is not just an event in the history of the Church. It is that, an event, but it is also a grace that precedes, fills, and follows the event. The grace of Pentecost transcends time, space, and the circumstances of our lives. The Spirit of God is continually being poured into our lives, bringing us to sobriety and inebriating with the new wine of Christ’s life. Pentecost is a gift and a grace to be lived. Living under the influence; that’s what Pentecost is about.

So tell me about your own life. What are the moments of sober drunkenness? Where is Pentecost happening for you?

The sober drunkenness of Pentecost fills our lives to the brim with love. It opens our eyes to the mystery of God and the wonder and beauty of life. It softens our heart and calls us to find ourselves in the lives of others. It allows us to stand in that most holy place of our truest and most authentic self.

That’s why we celebrate this Feast of Pentecost. That’s why we began today’s liturgy praying a litany to the Holy Spirit. That’s why we follow Jesus. That’s why we remember the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Philip, and all the saints, and ask for their prayers. That’s why we celebrate people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Archbishop Oscar Romero. That’s why we find certain people so attractive and we want to be like them and have what they have. That’s why we showed up here today.

We come here today to be reminded of and give thanks for the pentecostal reality of our lives, to get sober and drink new wine, and to be sent out to live under the influence.


  1. Sober drunkenness. That’s a new thought. In my Baptist tradition, we get drunk on the realization of “being saved,” but then we “swear off the hard stuff” until the next revival meeting or other special time of awareness of the inebriating Spirit. Is that binge drinking? The idea of sober drunkenness, mini-Pentecosts, if you will, calls to mind Wordsworth’s praise of “that best part of a good man’s life, his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”


  2. Fr Mike, thank you for these words. I never would have though the words sober drunkenness could be coined together. The paradox has created so many images in my mind.


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