I have often wondered why God amps up the special effects of Pentecost with fire—it’s so much drama adding a technicolor light show of red, orange, and yellow flames on each of the disciples! Maybe the disciples needed a big wake up call to jump into action. They were, after all, doing nothing. Jesus spends 40 days with the disciples after the resurreciton, then he ascended up to heaven and promised to send them the Advocate, the Holy Spirit. The disciples went to Jerusalem, spent time in prayer, and appointed a new disciple Matthias, to take the place of Judas, but that’s all we know.
Now nine days have passed, and the disciples have done nothing worth writing down. This story is from the book of ACTS, after all, as in actions, as in activities—so I’m assuming that if they were actually doing something, anything—like telling people Jesus rose from the dead, we would know about it.
You would think that the disciples would do something, especially since it is Pentecost, the harvest festival 50 days after Passover. People traveled from all over to bring their grain offering to the Temple. The disciples have the entire world of Jews at their doorstep and it’s the perfect opportunity to talk with others about Jesus’ rising to new life. What have they got to show for their 9 days? Nothin.’ They got nothin’.
What’s holding them back?
• For some it was layers of loss and grief—it was traumatic enough to lose Jesus once to a violent death—then they got him back, now they couldn’t bear to lose Jesus a second time
• For others it was fear—those who desired Jesus’ death were still out there—violence was so unpredictable, and life felt very unsafe with Jesus’ departure
• For some it was insecurity—they didn’t believe that the little bit they could do would make a difference, or even how to get started. Sure, it was easy with Jesus there, but what now?
• And all of them were sure that Jesus was taking his dear sweet time sending that Advocate and all of their doubts about Jesus being real were resurfacing
Maybe it was different for each of them—but whatever the reason, they were paralyzed and isolated so much so, that there were no ACTS of the Apostles as the book is called, on this Festival Day in Jerusalem. Their insecurities became bigger to them than the power of Jesus rising from the dead.
And isn’t that the fundamental issue we all have with living out our faith? Our insecurities, our fears, our burdens, our problems loom larger to us than God’s power over death and the devil.
It sounds a little exaggerated when we say it that plainly—that my fears, my health problems, my anxiety, my problems, my issues at work or with family—whatever it is, is somehow bigger than God’s power to raise the dead, they are greater than God’s power to raise us to new life! It reminds me of the phrase, “stop telling God how big your problems are and start telling your problems how big your God is.” God does need to amp up the pyrotechnics on Pentecost to shake us and the disciples out of our fear and insecurities.
God turns on the fireworks—because fire cleanses, purifies, and burns away impurities.
• The book of Malachi refers to God as the Refiner of silver, who through fire purifies his people, burns away our insecurities and shapes and molds us into who God calls us to be.
• The fiery bush in Exodus was a Refiners fire that burned away Moses’ hesitation about being a leader.
• The pillar of fire by night was a Refiner’s fire, and it led the Israelites out of Egypt and burned away the fear of the unknown ahead.
• And today, the fire of Pentecost purifies the disciples from their paralysis and getting them on their feet and out the door.
Do you know how a Silversmith knows that the metal they’re working with has been burned enough to be cleansed of its impurities? He can see his image in it. The silver or metal becomes a clear, beautiful, shining surface that reflects her maker’s face. When the insecurities and fears are melted away in you, what kind of image of God emerges? Take a moment to imagine yourself free of all your worries, insecurities, and fears—all of them burned away—you’re just your pure self—made in the image of God –what do you see? Close your eyes and picture it.
• How are set you free?
• Who can you become?
• Of what do you let go?
• Is God molding you for a conversation you have been afraid to have
• Or giving you a deeper level of self-acceptance?
• Is there a new way of serving
• Are you willing to enter a new relationship
• Can you pursue different job or some new friends?
Freed from whatever holds us back, the purifying power of Pentecost then gets us moving like those first disciples—when we are freed from insecurities and fears we move from inside ourselves to outside and others, we move from an in-group to new relationships, we move from fear to courage, we move from silence to truth-telling, we move from paralysis to action. The fire of Pentecost gets us moving from closed minds to open hearts, from stale plans to new visions, from the-way-we-always-do-it to dreaming new dreams, from a select few to everyone being anointed by the Spirit and fire of God—the old as well as the young, the women as well as the men, the captive as well as the free.
You see, a doctrine only needs a piece of paper, but the living presence of the resurrected Spirit of Christ needs bodies in the world—Christ needs YOUR body and your freed heart in the world. Christ needs your body—the Holy Spirit needs your fired up body released from anxiety and fear and worry showing up with love and inclusion for people who have been told they do not belong--in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your circle of friends and in our community. Christ needs your body so through the fire of the Spirit you can tell the truth about God’s grace for everyone, love when it’s unpopular, forgive when it’s difficult, hope when despair is easier, see visions of what’s possible, and you can cross cultural boundaries to form new community.
There is no problem or issue that is bigger than God’s power to make new. There is no insecurity or limitation in you, which can prevent God’s Spirit from working through you. That’s the power of fire. That’s the power of Holy Spirit. Author and psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross once said, "People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within."
The fire of Pentecost is our light from within—a flame that is the free gift of Christ, continually given as our source, and strength and stay. The Spirit has given you your body, to show up on fire to light up the world with love. That’s what the fire is all about. Amen.