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Pentecost Vigil A~ (Joel option) "Playing with Fire" ~ Susan McGurgan

One hot summer in Oklahoma City,

my Dad began to find

little piles of matches,


scorch marks

on the driveway

where we parked the station wagon.

It didn’t take long to discover

that the little boy across the street

liked to sneak beneath the car,

lie down on the concrete

directly below the fuel tank--

and build a fire.

Like an avenging angel,

Dad swept up the evidence,

placed it in a paper bag,

and marched the miniature arsonist-in-training

across the street to his parents

for a Come-to-Jesus-talk.

“He’s playing with fire” Dad said at dinner.

His voice,

usually so strong,

shook in terror over what might have happened.

“He’s playing with fire,

and he has no sense of its power.”


when it comes to the Holy Spirit,

we're a lot like little Tommy Jones,

lying beneath the gas tank of a ‘65 Plymouth Fury

recklessly striking matches.

We play around with fire—

supremely unaware of its power.

Since that day of Pentecost,

we have tried to domesticate

something dynamic and fierce

and to tame

something that's highly flammable.

It’s a wonder we aren't all walking around

with singed eyebrows and blistered fingers.

I’ve heard people speak of the Spirit

as “a God Wink”,

or a gentle nudge,

that quiet guiding whisper in the stillness…

and perhaps they are right.

I’ve heard people say,

You know, anytime there is a coincidence,

well, that is the Spirit at work!”

and perhaps they are also right.

But sometimes I wonder.

I wonder if we remember

that on that first Pentecost,

the Spirit erupted as


dancing on the heads of the disciples.

Imagine that at your next Parish Council meeting.

I wonder if we remember

that on that first Pentecost,

frightened men and confused women

were suddenly emboldened.

They became brave.



Filled with passion and heat.

Remember that the next time you remain


on matters of mercy and justice.

I wonder if we remember

that these fire-wearing disciples

celebrated and praised God in a riotous babel of tongues

and then departed to spread the Good News

through person-to-person spontaneous combustion—

Romans or no Romans.

Risk or no risk.

Success or failure…

They were all in,

even when their hair caught fire.

Consider that when you take a step


and try to fade into the background

like a chameleon.

After Pentecost,

the disciples were playing for keeps,

and they were playing with fire.

Despite knowing about Pentecost,

we often invoke the Holy Spirit

as casually

as if we are swapping recipes

or picking up some nuts and bolts

at the hardware store.

We glide over this passage of Joel

as smoothly as butter on hot bread.

I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh. Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions; even upon the servants and the handmaids,

in those days, I will pour out my spirit. And I will work wonders in the heavens and on the earth...

Imagine this today.

Imagine our community if our sons and daughters


What if

spirit-filled young soprano voices

were amplified and honored?

What if

those same feminine voices

were allowed to challenge us--

Convict us--

Teach us--

Lead us?

What if boys too small to shave

examined our hearts and our actions

and convinced us by their passion

to step out

and serve the lost and broken among us?

What if

people we considered

lowly and no-account

were brought into the center

expanding our vision,

inspiring our worship,

and leading us into prayer and sacrifice?

What if elderly men and aged women

dreamed us

into a new world of change and transformation?

This passage is demanding,



It turns our structures and our perspectives

upside down

and more than a little sideways.

We love it for its poetic language,

but tend to ignore

its direct and pointed challenge

to our business-as-usual,

way of doing business in Church.

I wonder if the Spirit is less “God Wink”

and more “molten inner core of a volcano?”

I wonder if it is less “coincidence”

and more “mighty crucible”

transforming energy and tempering steel?

I wonder if the Holy Spirit is less “lofty language”

and more “match to fuel tank?”

The Holy Spirit is the Creator Spirit,

present before the creation of the universe.

“Spirit” translates the Hebrew word,


which means breath, air, wind.

This air--this breath--can be a gentle breeze,

refreshing and inspiring us,

or it can be a Category 5 hurricane,

forcing us to make emergency evacuation plans.

This wind can scatter seedlings across the plain,

or it can permanently twist the trees

and hurl that expensive security fence

into the next county.

I wonder if,

in our zeal to make our faith relatable

and welcoming--

easy to embrace and easy to live

we have forgotten

or perhaps never learned,

that the indwelling of the Spirit

can sometimes feel as if

we have stepped inside a nuclear reactor

or somehow

managed to touch the third rail and live.

I wonder if we have lost sight of the fact

that the disciples had Fire. On their heads.

That’s not a “God Wink,”

that’s a God Inferno.

The Spirit can comfort

and the Spirit can confront.

The Spirit can confound,

and sometimes,

that Spirit can combust.

At Pentecost,

the disciples received the breath of the Holy Spirit,

the Consoler,

the Advocate,

the Comforter,

the Mighty Wind.

Flames danced on their heads

and their hearts ignited in faith and mission.

Pentecost is not simply a history lesson

or a feast

commemorating one wild day

in the life of the Church

long ago and far away.

Pentecost is an event unfolding in our midst.

We are baptized into the Holy Spirit.

We are sealed with the Spirit at Confirmation.

We celebrate each Eucharist through the action

of the Spirit

and pray with the power of the Spirit,

who helps us speak

even when our own words fail.

Pentecost reminds us that we too,

are disciples with Fire. On our heads.

Disciples who should be playing for keeps

each and every day.

Come, Holy Spirit,

fill the hearts of your faithful

and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created

and you shall renew the face of the earth.

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