May 11, 2008 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
A few weeks ago, my partner Daniel and I were coming back from breakfast, when we saw thick clouds of smoke in the area of our house. As we drove closer and closer we were both fearful of seeing our house going up in flames. We came to the house and found everything was okay. We decided to part the car and walk up to where the fire was taking place. It turns out a greenhouse was on fire and basically was destroyed by the fire. We felt relief that our house was okay, but a bit sad that the person who lived on this property would have to deal with the loss.
Fire can be something that brings fear to us. I remember learning about fire drills when I was a kid, and about the whole “stop, drop and roll” if God forbid you catch fire. In our modern culture, fire is something that has been seen as source of fear, something that consumes and destroys. Of course, fire also tends to help us, since it heats our homes and cooks our food. Fire can be beneficial, but I think at times we forget that, we are driven by the fear of getting burned.
Today is the day of Pentecost, what has been called at time, the birthday of the church. This is the day when the disciples of Jesus were holed up in a room waiting for what was coming next after Jesus ascended into heaven. And we read that a mighty wind comes into the room and what appears to be tongues of fire sit on the heads of those gathered. Those gathered start speaking in the tongues of neighboring languages. There are a large number of Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the known world. The started seeing Jesus' disciples out and about speaking their native tongues and some were amazed. Others sneered that these guys were drunk.
If you were one of those visitors and you saw this spectacle, what would you think? Would you see it with wonder and awe or with skeptism?
The role of the Holy Spirit here is interesting. The Spirit is portrayed as wind, something Tammy just talked about, and fire. Fire is something that scares us and it should since it is deadly. But I think we are also afraid of the fire of the Spirit as well. We are afraid of the fire of the Spirit because it can not be contained and runs hither and yon and forces us out of our pews and into the world.
In today's passage, Peter begins to explain to the gathered crowd what has just happened. He spoke from the prophet Joel and he says that in the last days, God will pour the Spirit on all flesh and our sons and daughters will be prophets. Do you know what this means? It means that you and I are empowered by the Spirit to be prophets, to preach God's love to all. Note that it doesn't say I will pour out my spirit on all pastors, but all flesh. You and I are called to preach the Good News by the power of God's Holy fire. It doesn't matter how old or young we are. It doesn't matter how rich or poor we are. It doesn't matter how smart we are. God calls us to be prophets, to spread the fire of God.
But it gets better or worse, according your point of view. God will pour the spirit even on slaves. Now, thankfully, we don't have slaves in our society anymore, but we do have people who we tend to look down upon or who we tend not think have much value. This means that God will work in the lives of the poor, or the illegal immigrant, or the person in a wheelchair, or the person who is gay or lesbian. God's Spirit is not contained by the walls of the church. Like a spreading fire, God's Spirit will go where it goes.
The question though, is are we willing to let this Holy Fire into our lives like the disciples did? I think at times we would rather not have this Spirit in our lives, thank you very much. It's too chaotic, too scary. We don't want to share the good news with those around us, and sometimes churches don't want “those people” coming to our church. What could they possibly know about God that we don't already know.
But I think God is calling the church to be the church in the way the church was the church on that Day of Pentecost: a people gathered together and empowered by the Spirit to go into the world and preaching God's good word to everyone. Sometimes churches have been more inward focused, interested in bring people to the church instead of bring the the church into the world- this is what this passage is telling us.
This day of Pentecost is a great day, but it's also a scary day. We are reminded that we are called to follow God's way and to be led by the wild Spirit and that scares us-all of us, myself included, because it pushes us out of our comfort zones and into the big and scary world.
But the Spirit is also there to be our companion. We are not left alone when we join God in mission. The Holy Fire keeps us warm and sustains us when times grow hard.
I want to end with a song that has been buzzing around in my head this past week. It was a song I learned a long time ago in church and in the Christian school I went to growing up. The song is one that some of you may know: It's called, “Pass It On.” It goes like this:
It only takes a spark to get a fire going,And soon all those around can warm up
in its glowing;That's how it is with God's Love,Once you've experienced it,Your
spread the love to everyoneYou want to pass it on.
The last verse continues:
I wish for you my friendThis happiness that I've found;You can depend on GodIt
matters not where you're bound,I'll shout it from the mountain top - PRAISE
GOD!I want the world to knowThe Lord of love has come to meI want to pass it on.
It only takes a spark. It only took a Holy Wind and a Holy Fire to turn a bunch of scared and bumbling disciples into brave disciples that could not stop talking about the love of God through Jesus. That same spark, that same Holy Fire is available to all of us today. It is calling us to go and tell the message. The Lord of Love has come to us, to all of us and we are to go and shout it from the mountaintops and rooftops. Thanks be to God. Amen.