“Where’s The Fire?” May 20, 2018
“Where’s The Fire?”
Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Acts 2:1-22/ Romans 8:22-27
John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
Today is Pentecost Sunday. It is the Sunday that we celebrate that moment in history when Jesus made good on his promise that he would send to his disciples a helper- an advocate, a companion, a comforter – through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Did he dream this up; did he create this power out of thin air just for the occasion? No, he did not. The scriptures are full of references to God’s spirit from the Psalms and the prophets all the way through the gospels and writings of Paul. So I have to ask, what if someone from off the street walked up to you and said, “So tell me, what’s the skivvy on this Pentecost thing? There has to be more to it than a bunch of guys with their hair on fire talking a bunch of gibberish.” What would you say?
Well, you might start by saying that the Jewish day of Pentecost celebrates the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai; that is, when Moses was given the laws by God that were to rule the nation of Israel. That’s the technical definition. Then you could explain that our fascination with Pentecost comes from the event we read from today in the book of Acts – an event that has been called many things: the awakening of the Spirit, the coming of the Spirit, and the birth of the church. You might say all these things and chances are you will be met with an awkward grin and something like, “O, I see,” when in fact, they don’t see at all.
And so, we go on to explain what it all means: that the tongues of fire are a reference to John the Baptist who told the crowds (Matt 3:11) “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” So, OK, that makes sense. But why did the disciples start talking in different languages to the point where some folks thought they were drunk? To this you can reply that it signifies that the Good News of the Kingdom should be and will be told throughout all the earth. That’s why this event is often called “The birth of the church.”
And there you have, but that’s about as far as you’re going to get. That’s as far as you’re going to get if you wrap up the Pentecost experience and then tie it with a big red bow. Maybe this person on the street or at the diner or on the airplane is satisfied with this perfectly concise explanation and you can part ways the best of friends. But chances are, the question they are dying to ask is the one they’re afraid to ask, and that is: “Is the power of the Spirit still a thing? Where’s the fire now? Where’s the fire?” /// Now you might be thinking, “If I’m lucky, they won’t ask me… that.” But really now… if the church is to be anything more than just a social club or a collection of cool old buildings, we need to have a look at the driving force that brought us here in the first place.
When Jesus told his disciples that he would not leave them empty handed, he promised them a helper. (Jn 14:26) But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. It seems most every translation has a different take on what to call this “helper.” There is advocate, companion, even comforter. The Greek word used here is “Paraclete” which literally translated means “to come alongside another.” So OK, that makes sense. An advocate would come alongside us to defend us; a companion would come alongside us to give us support; a helper would come alongside us to…well, you get the idea. But there is one name for the Holy Spirit that I feel our translators missed: the Provoker. Let’s try it – But the Provoker, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. It doesn’t really have a nice ring to it, does it? No, but before you start throwing things at me, let me explain.
For the last few weeks I have felt myself being provoked. I have questioned and puzzled and pondered why so many people of faith have made the choice to leave the faith of their fathers and mothers. At the same time, I remain mystified and confounded how so many people of faith have taken up with name callers and bigots; men and women whose gods are wealth and power and dominance. I wish I could just blow it off and convince myself everything is going to be alright… but I can’t. There is a pesky spirit that, as promised, continues to remind me of everything that Jesus said… to me, to you, to every language in every nation throughout the earth.
Whenever I got in trouble for running through the house as a kid, one of things I remember hearing would be, “Where’s the fire?” It was much later in life when I started to wonder what an interesting thing that is to say. I mean, if my house is on fire, I am going to run to get out of it. But if the neighbor’s barn is going up in flames, I wouldn’t miss that for the world. The fire of the Holy Spirit is alive in our crazy world today. It is our defender, our helper, our comforter, and yes, even our provoker. So where’s the fire? It is the fire of the spirit that lives in the teachings and the example of Jesus Christ. It is the fire of the spirit that leads us to the life God meant for us to have. It is the fire of the spirit that burns best when we come to know and love Christ the same way that he knows and loves us.
I’m running to that, I’m running to that.
Amen & Shalom