June 5, 2022 ~ PENTECOST ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
25 Years ago, in May of 1997, a powerful tornado swept through parts of Texas, flattening buildings and overturning cars. Shoppers at the Albertson’s supermarket in Cedar Park, Texas, were in a state of panic. Then a commanding voice came over the intercom, the voice of Larry Fore, the manager of Albertson’s. This is what he said:
“Don’t leave the store or you will die . . . Your only chance of survival is to do exactly what I tell you.” Fore then directed the shoppers to enter the nearest meat locker. They did just as he said, and all the shoppers survived the tornado without incident. Why did Larry Fore speak to the shoppers with such authority? Because 18 years before, Fore had survived a much more devastating tornado. He had been through the danger before, and he knew how to bring others to safety.
Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, from which Marci read this morning, states: When the day of Pentecost arrived, they all met in one room. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a violent, rushing wind from heaven; the noise filled the entire house in which they were sitting. Something appeared to them that seemed like tongues of fire; these separated and came to rest on the head of each one.
Power can be used in at least two ways: it can be unleashed, or it can be harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline, for instance, can be released explosively by dropping a lighted match into the can. Or it can be channeled through the engine of my Ford Ecosport in a controlled burn and used to transport me 350 miles. Explosions are spectacular, but controlled burns have lasting effect, staying power. The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, the Spirit exploded on the scene, with a presence that was like “tongues of fire.” Thousands were affected by one burst of God’s power. But the Spirit also works through the church–the institution God began to tap the Holy Spirit’s power for the long haul. Through worship, fellowship, and service, Christians are provided with staying power. (Source Unknown.)
Wind and Fire are necessary for life. Wind is moving air, and this freshened air is needed continually for most living things. In the valley of dry bones of which Ezekiel wrote, it was God’s Spirit that breathed life into what had been lifeless bodies. When a newborn emerges from the womb, it is that first gasp of air that signals the transition to life in the world. And when one’s life draws to an end, it is the last breath of air which signals the deliverance from what is mortal to that which is immortal. Many seeds require wind for their dispersal and subsequent growth. Similarly, the Holy Spirit is the presence of God, the source for all life. Yet wind can also be destructive and violent and life-threatening.
Likewise, fire, when controlled, can provide heat for warmth and cooking. It can make hard metal pliable, and it can light a room. Controlled fire can make an internal combustion engine work, and provide enough thrust to propel a rocket out of earth’s gravity and atmosphere. Fire can cleanse, and delight a child with a roasted marshmallow for a s’more! But fire can also consume a forest, a home, a business, a life.
There are different outcomes when wind and fire are combined. When I am trying to start a campfire with damp wood, and less than adequate kindling, I need to blow on the tiny flame from rolled aper in order to get the flame to catch and spread enough to get the fire going. But, if I have even a small fire burning and the wind starts blowing harder, it can easily get out of control and cause more harm than good.
In our Pentecost story from the scripture, the Holy Spirit arrives announced only by the violent, rushing wind and tongues of flame. No words. No explanation. Not even an owners manual. That wind and flame could have caused destruction. However, with God in control, the wind and flames transformed the tenuous disciples into leaders who would birth a church.
On this Pentecost Sunday, many, many years later, the Holy Spirit may not come as tongues of fire. But the Spirit wants the same kind of transformation–this time, not in the disciples, but rather with you and me. The risk comes in the possibility that if we let the Spirit in, you and I might become incredible sources of good, of justice, of truth and beauty, and of everything that God desires for creation to be. The danger is that you and I might have to take on some powerful forces of this world and make sure that the hungry are fed, the homeless are given shelter, the sick and dying are healed, racism is eliminated, respect is heightened, and that everyone is invited to be a part of the passionate explosion of the Spirit’s power.
You might also want to note that the Holy Spirit didn’t come as wind and fire to just one person. The Spirit came to all of them. Pentecost isn’t a feast for loners. It’s a feast for the whole Church, and for everyone that God invites to be a part of the church’s ministry as a leader or follower.
Friends, let’s invite the Spirit in, with all of the opportunities and risks inherent in the quest with Christ. There’s no telling what the Spirit will unleash in us, what gifts will be infused in us, what passions will become mission through us. May we be witnesses to the acts of the Holy Spirit on this and every day!
Flaming God of Pentecost,
Let us speak in tongues of comfort
to those weeping over the bodies of their loved ones
shot by troubled gunmen, killed in border clashes, dying of starvation.
Let us speak in tongues of courage
to those living in fear
of the next shooting, the next bomb, the illness that threatens.
Let us speak in tongues of condemnation
against laws and policies that promote violence,
prioritizing the preferences of some over the lives of others.
Let us speak in tongues of care
for the most vulnerable in our world–
human beings, animals, and ecosystems.
Let us speak in tongues of love
for you and for your people,
that Your language might be our language.
And when our tongues are still,
when we have no words to speak,
let our hearts burn with your fire,
let our ears hear your words in our own native tongue,
let our skin feel the wind of your Spirit–
a mighty wind, blowing where it will.