June 4, 2017 (Pentecost)
What is it that makes you passionate? Is it the love that you have for your children and family? Is it a hobby that keeps you engaged with others? Perhaps it is an issue that is very close to your heart. Quite often, the Holy Spirit will help guide our passions. Sometimes it may even take many years to see the results of our passion. Joan Chittister writes, “We must see the injustice, the difficulties before us, the unfavorable conditions in which we live and then work for years, if necessary, to make the future safe for others. That sense of purpose alone makes life rich and worthwhile, successful and significant, however limited the gains, however long the journey.”
As we celebrate the day of Pentecost, we remember the coming of the Holy Spirit stirring up the crowd in Jerusalem. They hear a sound from heaven like a violent rush of wind. If this does not want to send the crowds gathered for cover, I am not sure what will. I imagine it sounding like the roar of a jet engine and just as fierce. Everyone begins speaking in different languages, and for some reason they can all understand one another. A few onlookers assume that there must be some pretty good wine that is being shared amongst them and surely, they are drunk.
As Peter addresses the crowd, he reminds them that it is only 9 a.m., and that is way too early to be getting drunk. That verse has to make you chuckle a little. In the midst of this first Pentecost celebration is an excitement that cannot be contained. An excitement that is filled with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit which comes and rests on each of those gathered fulfilling the promise that Jesus made to all of God’s people.
Let’s not forget the fire. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them” (vs. 3). The image of the Holy Spirit as fire is one that is ripe with meaning. Fire has a certain power to it. Fire could almost be deemed as important as water for survival. For tens of thousands of years, humans gathered around fire to keep warm, to cook food, to provide light. The fire provided an opportunity for community, protection, and better safer food.
Fire plays an important role in our stories from the Bible.
- It was God that appeared to the people on Sinai as flames of fire.
- Moses experienced God in the fire of the burning bush. When the Israelites presented their offerings to God it was through the fire.
- As God led the people out of the wilderness, it was with a pillar of fire.
- The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being delivered through the flames of the furnace with a fourth person being present, points to God.
- The Seraphim that we speak of and sing of in hymns are fire-spirits, an extension of the divine.
- Fire was seen as divine even by the Romans of the first century. One of their coins depicted Caesar with flames above his head as a sign of royalty.
Fire is not always a good thing in scripture. It can be seen as a sign of divine judgement. The angel in Eden hides the tree of life from humanity with a sword of fire. John the Baptist prophesizes that fire will consume the chaff. Fire accompanies humanity on its journey in the world, yet it also has the power to destroy.
We have seen what fire can do. We have witnessed it or unfortunately may have experienced it ourselves as fire can quickly consume a house. However, out of the fire, can come the reminder of life.
We all may have stories to share of the power of fire. Fire can also refine. It can help shape and mold beautiful pieces of art out of glass like Chihuly. Fire in a kiln helps preserve pottery. Forestry workers do controlled burns to bring about new life and vegetation.
It is in the tongues of fire that we encounter the Holy Spirit and are refined ourselves. We don’t run away from it, because we trust the Holy Spirit. It is in the fire that we can be empowered to reach out proclaiming the Good News. We may not always understand the Holy Spirit, if we ever do. We just have to trust in it.
The Holy Spirit is alive and around us all the time. It is constantly burning with a mysterious power to reach out in love and change lives. Rob Bell says, “The bush was always burning. It just took some one moving slow enough to notice it.” Have you had your own burning bush encounter, like Moses?
Where is the fire burning within your life? Where is it that the Holy Spirit is calling you to reach out and share Jesus Christ and the love that he has so freely shared with you? Where is it that you feel compelled to proclaim God’s amazing grace?
Once again, the Holy Spirit was at work in our midst this past week. As humanity, we are called to care for the creation that God has given to us. While the decision was made at the national level to remove the United States from the Paris Agreement, the Spirit was at work. Individual states and cities were stepping up to say that regardless of this announcement, they believed it was their responsibility to care for the earth and ensure that future generations will be able to revel in its mystery and beauty.
As in Moses case, the Holy Spirit does not always make things comfortable and convenient. It does not remove us from challenges and hardships. In the Holy Spirit, we are equipped to persevere and even flourish. Martin Luther came to understand that as human beings, we are incapable of living up to what Jesus wants us to be, the Holy Spirit makes this possible. It is in the Holy Spirit that God comes to be with us.