Fire.

Acts 2:1-21

The Coming of the Holy Spirit

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11 Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.”12 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others sneered and said, “They are filled with new wine.”

Peter Addresses the Crowd

14 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. 15 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

17 ‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
18 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
19 And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
20 The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
21 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

I wrote this sermon early last week, after the events of the past few days. I have so many other thoughts. When I read verses 17-20, I cannot help to think that these are prophetic words for us today. We are living in apocalyptic times. Things are ending and new things are emerging. We are seeing literal images of things burning, of blood flowing, and of new dreams and visions out of the struggle that we are facing as a community and as a nation.

The tragic and senseless death of George Floyd has been yet another trigger point in our nation’s ugly history of racism. We are having to confront 400+ years of slavery and economic growth built on the backs of our fellow humans.

We are learning to listen and speak in new languages metaphorically. We are changing and the change has to start with us.

We may be scared, we may be angry, we may be fearing for our very lives and livelihoods, but God has given us God’s Spirit to bring us comfort and courage to face these times.

And, we have been in a process of being prepared for such a time as this.

These past few weeks, we’ve been talking about Jesus’ words in John chapters 14-17, the farewell discourse.  Jesus has been preparing his disciples for what was about to come.  Now, Jesus did not know all that was about to happen.  He did not have any certainty.  He didn’t know the outcome of the next day or the next season.   Sound familiar?  

Jesus is simply encouraging the disciples, letting them know that even when things get bad, seemingly out of control, that they won’t be alone.  They have an identity, they are not going to be orphaned.  Which, is an interesting word, in effect, Jesus is saying that they not only have an identity, but that they are still in relationship with a God who is all around them and even in them.  

If we have ever lost someone, we know that even after they are gone, that it often feels like they are still with us.  Maybe even more so.  Same, but even more with Jesus.  We’ve never met Jesus, yet it seems that Jesus is even more present within my body, within my friendships, and within the space between us.  Teilhard calls this the cosmic Christ, that Christ not only lived and walked the earth, but is with us, everywhere with everyone and everything, right now.  

There is a Presence, a sense of God’s love all around us and I pray for awareness of God’s Presence.  I believe that the greatest gift and struggle that we have as Jesus followers, as humans, is the work of becoming of self, others, and God aware…of being connected to ourselves, others, with the divine flow of God pushing us deeper.  The disciples, like us, were in a liminal space, a threshhold out of their control and they were being pushed deeper into Presence.  

During this pandemic, we have been listening and receiving God’s love through others, and deep within ourselves, long before the pandemic hit.  As we have gone through this season, many of us have commented on how our faith has come more alive even as we have struggled, we’ve taken some risks relationally, we’ve connected with ourselves and others as we’ve had our lives disrupted.  Much like the disciples, we’ve even been afraid to leave our houses for health reasons!  And, it’s interesting isn’t it, we have not been able to meet over food (and this church loves food), Sunday mornings in our sanctuary, use our church building, do our weekly events as planned, whatever we have “normally” done…yet, we still feel connected and present in many ways.  

And, we recognize that the master gardener, God’s action, is cultivating a deeper growth within us and around us.  

I strongly believe that, we, and all of humanity is being shaped and formed by God’s movement, that God is with all of us in the most intimate way.  God is closer than the air we breathe.  Yet, we don’t often recognize God, or sometimes we even deny that God could even exist.  The idea of a loving God can scare us.  Love transforms, it changes us.  

Relationships happen, love is the fuel for those relationships to flourish.  The juice if you will that burns within us and draws us out towards accepting others and ourselves in community.  

This concept of being “in” relationship with God and with others starts with an understanding that God’s very nature is communal relationship.  You can go through all sorts of head knowledge of God, but if we go deep within ourselves, whether we are extroverts or introverts, we are wired for relationship.   Science affirms this concept, at the very root of how we are formed, with atoms, protons, neutrons, quarks, etc., there is an understanding that energy is created for atoms to form through attraction, through relationship.  

Our understanding of God as three in one, as Trinity, gives witness to relationships.  God as parent, son, holy spirit are so close that they are one.  The outcome of their energy together is creating, saving, and sustaining relationship based on love.  It is not static, it is dynamic.  

That dynamic energy of three in one God, demonstrated by the outpouring of God’s energy, God’s Spirit on the disciples, gave them courage to face the unknown of going outside of their comfort and into a world that they literally did not understand.  They walked into a Jerusalem filled with folks from all over that had different customs, different ethnicities, and different languages.  

Yet, they went.  They knew that they were connected to God, one another, and wanted to share that connection with the world.  And, in so doing, they gave birth to a new movement, a new understanding, a new “realization” if you will, that we are all one humanity, God’s children.  That our diversity is beautiful, keeps us curious, AND, we can be united and connected in that diversity.  Fire was used to describe the Holy Spirit…and that flame, once kindled, proliferated wildly.  

Could this season of pandemic be another time of revelation, or realization, that releases the power of God’s love in new and creative ways?  

As we allow God’s love to pour into us and through us to others, we begin to understand that we are connected to an expansive and wild God.  We begin to see faith as not about certainty or having things figured out, but understanding that living in mystery and curiosity, living in a willingness to let go of our control, our vision, and letting God expand our horizons.  We are locally rooted in community, and globally connected in Chist…as we let that reality seep in, we begin to experience a deepening of ourselves, a joy in things unseen but lived out.

God’s Spirit, our advocate, is moving us out of our comfort zones…we are being moved out of ourselves and finding creative ways that God’s Spirit has been at work in and around us during this season, and we are adapting, embracing this new reality, not certain of where it will lead, but trusting that God’s Spirit will energize us, that God’s Son will be our friend, and that God’s relational flow will continue to give birth to new possibilities.  

As we continue to gather online, in parking lots, in parks, or wherever…as we serve our neighbors, read, journal, and contemplate on God’s movement in our lives, may we see God is in us, and we find our being in God.  This being will move us in ways we don’t always expect.  Look at the early disciples that are described in Acts.  They experience the Spirit, it’s like a flame that’s burning, uncontrollable, yet warms them and moves them to change the world.  May it be so for us.

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