Pentecost

Pentecost

Acts 2:1-13

This is the day of Pentecost, originally celebrated by the Jews as Shavuot, 50 days after Passover – a day to celebrate the first fruits of the wheat harvest, later also associated with God’s giving of the Law to Moses on Mt Sinai. Our Christian tradition later embraced it as our opportunity to celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit which happened ‘Pente’ 50 days after Easter. It’s also been called the birthday of the church and is celebrated as such by many communities. It marks God’s HS being poured out into this motley crew of enthusiastic first century Christ followers – ‘en-theos-astic’ meaning God inside!

We are going to focus today on this sacred metaphor of ‘fire’ that scripture describes God as using as one of the main hallmarks of God’s presence. I was told this week of the little girl from Mt Seymour United Church in NV who asked her leader if the fire tongues of Pentecost were the same as the fire that Moses encountered at burning bush. Isn’t that just wonderful?

So much of what we know of God is metaphor, it must be. It’s as we attempt to talk about something which is quite impossible for us ever fully to grasp, so we are forced to do so in terms of something that we can understand. What could we ever think, or do, or say that would be able ever adequately to describe everything about God and God’s workings? Nothing… but still we can’t just stay silent. And so, limited as they are, metaphors gave to do!

Even Jesus used them. Think, e.g., about how he described God, the ‘Creator of heaven and earth’, simply as our ‘Father’, wanting us to associate the character of God primarily with the very best benevolence of a good, kind, loving, compassionate Parent – something we can grasp/ understand. Or how he describes us as vines and God as the ‘Vinedresser’ who is constantly working on us, within us, pruning, nurturing, ensuring that we are as spiritually healthy and fruitful as possible. Or God as our beloved ‘Good Shepherd’[i] with us as sheep utterly dependent on God as our protector, our provider, our guide.

At Pentecost the metaphor scripture chooses to use to describe the effects of God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives was ‘FIRE’. I’d like to suggest 3 things, and then we’ll think about how that is JUST SO RELEVANT for us today! Fire illuminates, fire energizes, fire consumes.

We don’t realize how dark those times were without the electricity that we take so for granted today. Once the sun went down, other than whatever light happened to be reflecting from the moon, it was the light from all sorts of flames, torches, candles and smoky oil lamps. Fire was essential for generating whatever light the needed ina see their way in the dark.

And then energy. Fire generates the heat energy necessary for life: energy for cooking, washing, cleaning, keeping warm through the icy winters. We know that what we experience as heat is all actually the rapid vibration of matter at a molecular level. Without those fired-up vibrations matter would in fact be inert, lifeless, and ultimately, dead. It’s the heat of fire that energizes to life!

And fire also consumes. We who have lived through the devastation of last year’s summer wildfire season know all about the consuming power of fire. As does the writer of John 15 where we are told what the vinedresser does with those branches that needed to be pruned to make the vine as productive as possible – they are thrown onto a bonfire and burnt…

And so where does all this leave us today – on this Pentecost Sunday? As individuals, and as a community of faith here at Trinity, there is so much that we don’t know as we look ahead into all of what is unfolding ahead of us. It’s like we know where we have been, and may even be just beginning to have some vague sense of where we are, but it’s as we look ahead – let’s face it – that it is still pretty obscured by all the darkness of so many variables – so much of what remains quite unknown. We need God to give us light! As we look ahead, at the road which is still constantly being illuminated by the fires of God’s Holy Spirit – what do you see – you know, as your eyes begin to be opened? What paths of radically inclusive justice, compassion, mercy do you sense are being revealed for us to know and to follow?

And then, it’s the fire we need to energize us enough to be able to walk the way of those paths.

A mantra that seems to be becoming increasingly popular these days in our post COVID-pandemic world, is that we are tired, longing for more energy. It seems that God promises by the Spirit to give us the energy we need to do whatever it is that God would have us be doing!

If we don’t have the energy to do certain things, well, maybe they are not the things we should be doing! Be alert to what are we being currently energized.

God’s Spirit, like fire, is given to light us up, and to empowers us, and to end things that need to be ended! On what are we still wasting so much of our time and effort doing, thinking, focussing on stuff that is way past its ‘best by’ date and really should be allowed just to go?

But the reality is, if you’re like me, we don’t really know the difference. It’s not always obvious. I know that I tend to hold onto all sorts of stuff that I should probably just let go:
books, habits, expectations – expectations about myself, others. Well, there’s nothing wrong with that, unless I am wasting valuable resources doing so LONG after when I really should let those things go – because I or they or whatever context in which they were once valued has moved on and they’ve become a debilitating liability!

And so, as we pray on this Pentecost Sunday for God’s Holy Spirit to come as fire among us, praying not only for illumination and energy, but also for its most blessed destructive power to move into and through our lives, ending what God would have end, that we may be pruned/brought back to be the very best that we can be. Our God is not done with us.

May we come to know that and by God’s Spirit may we come to be so enlightened and emboldened to let go of what is over and embrace whatever justice, compassion, mercy work of healing that is to come…


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[i] I think of Jn.15:15 and the image of the vinedresser who lops off every branch that is not fruit-bearing and burns it, so that what is left may be even more fruitful!