Readings are here.
When we left the followers of Jesus last week they were staring up in the sky wondering, what next? Now they have spent the week+ gathering for meals, praying together, studying the scriptures and recounting their experiences with Jesus - doing what all have done since that time - gathering, lighting the fire, telling the story and breaking the bread - the basics of church.
Today we hear the next step in their journey in faith - the Day of Pentecost - the birthday of the church. The candles are lit by the Spirit and they begin to spread the word to the world.
Last Monday eve at our service one of the kids brought a pine cone in our "box." Every week one of them takes the box home and puts something in it for me to use to tell them about Jesus and the church. The pine cone reminded me of the Yellowstone fires. In 1988, Yellowstone Park experienced terrible fires. A combination of fire suppression which left trees of mostly one age and closely spaced, dry windy weather conditions, and other factors gave a welcome place for the fires to explode. The smoke in our valley 180 miles to the east filled the air. The sun appeared above the smoky clouds about 10 in the morning and set around 4. Devastation seemed to be the end of the grand old lady of national parks. As terrible as wild fires are - and we know them in Oregon as well - we learned that some pine cones cannot reproduce unless subjected to fire. They need fire to open and allow their seeds to be released and life to continue.
I see this as the story of Pentecost. Pentecost falls on the Jewish celebration of the giving of the law to the people through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Held at the harvest festival of Shauvot, it falls 50 days after the Exodus. The law is seen throughout the Bible as life giving - as the psalmist says, "a lantern for our feet" to help us live into that fullness of life that God intends for each of us. The Day of Pentecost for Christians falls 50 days after the death and resurrection of Jesus. When Moses received the law - the mountain was wreathed in thunder and lightning, smoke and fire. His face shone with the glory of God when he returned from the mountain - his face was so bright he had to wear a veil for the people to look upon him. In our reading today all the followers received the fire of the Spirit. It is portrayed as tongues of fire on each head. Or perhaps as Sister Corita says - they had "tons of fire." Each follower was filled with this fire or zeal - they ran to tell others - each in his or her own language. Many thought they were drunk but many caught the Spirit and soon the Word (not words - but the incarnate Christ) spread like a wildfire throughout the area around the Mediterranean and out to the whole world. The fire of the Spirit broke open their hearts and the seeds of Christ fell out into the world.
Am also thinking about languages and understanding each other and wondering how this event crosses the boundaries we set for one another. Some people who speak other languages are welcome - others not so much. How can the Holy Spirit bridge this divide?
Perhaps the fire of the Spirit can warm and open our hearts to God and one another. We can then witness to how Christ makes a difference in our lives - helps us to be more fully the persons we were created to be, gives us strength to go out into a hurting world and be the heart, hands and feet of Jesus and help others to know this too.
The Spirit comes in the way we most need it. For some it is an instantaneous conversion, for others a slow gentle process of deepening faith, as Mechtild of Magdeburg tells us: How God comes to the soul: I descend on my love, As dew on a flower. Sometimes we feel far away from the warmth and the light and wonder how to find it again. Even this is part of the journey of faith. Like the early disciples - women and men waiting after the Ascension for what they did not know - we continue to pray and study and be in community and do the work we are called to do. We tend our individual spiritual lives and the spiritual life of this place, St. Catherine/Santa Catalina, or wherever we find a community striving to be the Body of Christ. And we nurture the next generation. Whether it is providing care for toddlers on Sunday morning or supporting our kids and youth on Monday eve. This summer, with Godly Play and with our soccer club - more children will feel the care and concern of our church.
From Edge of Enclosurecelestial fire
Now an angel of the Lord appeared to
Moses in a blazing fire –
a fire that devours fire;
a fire that burns in things dry and moist;
a fire that glows amid snow and ice;
a fire that is like a crouching lion;
a fire that reveals itself in many forms;
a fire that is, and never expires;
a fire that shines and roars;
a fire that blazes and sparkles;
a fire that flies in a storm wind;
a fire that burns without wood;
a fire that renews itself every day;
a fire that is not fanned by fire;
a fire that billows like palm branches;
a fire whose sparks are flashes of lightning;
a fire black as a raven;
a fire, curled, like the colours of the rainbows!
-Eleazar Ben Kaller c 6th to 10th century liturgical poet
translated by T Carmi The Element Book of Mystical Verse
Take me where you want me to go,
Let me meet who you want me to meet
Tell me what you want me to say,
and keep me out of your way.
-The Rev. Mychal Judge O.F.M.