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Pentecost Sunday B ~ Susan McGurgan, D.Min.


We warn children

in no uncertain terms,

“Do not play with matches!”

“Stay away from the fire!”  

“Be careful, you’ll burn yourself!”

 

We have a litany of names for people who don’t play nice with fire—

Arsonist.

     Pyromanic.

          Firebug.  

                           

The dark chapters of human history

are often accompanied

by the sounds of roaring fire,   

and illuminated by flames.    

Cities have been leveled,

     Populations decimated

          Artifacts left charred and smoldering

               Libraries torched.

In the hands of evil,

fire

has been twisted into incendiary bombs,

and launched as Molotov cocktails.

Fire

has been poured out as burning pitch

and rained down as napalm.

 

Fire is so destructive,

that scripture often pictures

Hell

as a place of unquenchable fire,  

where even the lakes

are consumed in flames and sulfur.[i]

 

Fire is a chemical reaction.

It occurs when oxygen, heat, and fuel

combine to create something

utterly new and different.  

At a certain point in the reaction—

the “ignition point”—

flames are produced.

 

This chemical reaction

transforms oxygen and fuel

into energy—

both thermal energy--heat,

and radiant energy--light.

Take away any single element: 

oxygen,

     fuel,

          heat,

and fire will die.  

But continue to feed it

with oxygen and fuel,

and fire will burn brightly--

even spread.


Fire is a paradox.

It hurts and heals,

blesses and curses,

consumes and destroys,

comforts and warms.  

 

Fire can bring ruin,  

but it can also temper,

strengthen,

illuminate.

 

Fire can annihilate,

but it can also mesmerize,

     purify,

          cleanse.  

 

Harnessing the power of fire

transformed history.

It allowed humanity to stay dry,

to cook food,

to remain secure from predators,

to venture forth into harsh climates.

 

Gathered around the intimacy of a fire,

we formed community.

Around the fire,

we told and re-told stories 

and whispered our dreams and fears

into the darkness.

Within the safe circle of a fire,

we gazed in wonder at the stars,

and remembered a God

who remembers us.

 

Along the way,

we learned

that the destructive power of fire

can be domesticated,

channeled,

used--

but never completely controlled.

It remains chaotic,

Unpredictable,

Wild—

and more than a little dangerous.

 

Fire transforms raw clay

into a durable ceramic.

Its alchemy causes steel

to become strong,

yet remain malleable enough

to be fashioned and shaped.

 

Fire removes low-growing underbrush,

cleans the forest floor of debris,

releases nutrients into the soil.

But left unchecked,

Fire brings desolation and ruin.  

 

Fire not only has power,

it has the power to transform.

 

It is no coincidence that on Pentecost,

while the disciples sat in the upper room,

praying,

Tongues of Fire appeared,

dancing on their heads.


The conditions in the Upper Room

were ripe

for spontaneous combustion.

 

Ruah,

the breath of God—

the Holy Spirit blowing through the room

as a mighty wind

was the Oxygen.

 

The passion of the disciples—

their determination

to continue the mission of Christ,

their conviction

that they were called

to share the Good News

was the Heat.

 

And their faith—

their belief that Christ had died,

Christ had risen,

Christ would come again,

became Fuel.  

 

Oxygen.

Heat.

Fuel.

 

Spirit.

Passion.

Faith.


The holy trinity of fire.

The holy trinity of discipleship.

All three elements of the fire triangle

were present in the Upper Room that day.

No wonder they ignited!  


Sprit, Passion, and Faith  

combined to create energy—

in the form of both warmth and light

radiating out into the world.

 

On that Feast of Pentecost,

the birthday of the Church,

tongues of fire danced

on the heads of ordinary

men and women,  

transforming them

from frightened followers,

huddled together for protection,

into bold and confident missionaries.

 

That fire forged them

into sharp-edged steel—

tempered them

into durable vessels

capable of carrying the Good News

to all Nations.

 

The Spirit

poured out gifts upon the Apostles,

Mary, and the first disciples

empowering them

to go into the dark corners of the world

and preach the Gospel.

It emboldened them

to share the Good News that

Light

now entered the world to stay

and darkness held no power.


Pentecost is a feast of fire.

A feast of Spirit, Passion, and Faith.

It is not a history lesson

or a sentimental remembrance

celebrating an event long ago

and far away.


Pentecost is a call to action.

It is a feast designed to set us on fire.

It is an invitation to claim the gifts

of the Holy Spirit,

those same gifts that transformed

hesitant,

frightened,

confused men and women

into bold evangelists.


Pentecost holds out a challenge

to take up their legacy--

to continue to provide

oxygen and fuel,

faith and passion,

so the fire of the Church

will continue to burn and spread.


Above all,

it is a beckoning to go out—

to walk the mission fields of

Cincinnati, and Pierce City, and Manitou

with Fire...

on our heads

and in our hearts.

 

 


[i] Mark 9:43; Rev. 20:10

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