Fire and Flash (The Day of Pentecost)

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One of the most important things we do in the week before Yard Sale is to make certain that all kinds of things that we DON’T want to sell get clearly marked with a “DO NOT SELL – PROPERTY OF POP” tag!  Even then, it’s often necessary to make sure we sequester such items in places people can’t find them and pretend not to see the tag.

I realized this past week that one of the items I’m going to be personally ensuring the safety of is our new fire pit.  We got that fire pit just in time to use it to begin the Easter Season at our Easter Vigil.  And it worked great!  Terry and I set it up in the middle of the patio, and we sat around the new fire of Easter as we read the Easter Vigil stories.

As many of you know, I like things that involve fire!  That’s why I was happy and excited to get the fire pit.  It’s why I’m always up for running the grill.  And it’s why one of my continuing ed “learnings” from this past February was discovering (from another pyromaniac Pastor) that there’s an electronic fire starter you plug into a USB-C port so you never have to worry about running out of butane!

Fire and flash!  They’re fun.  They’re exciting!  And they’re often memorable.  In fact, that’s probably why the Pentecost story is remembered.  It was a day of fire – or at least, what appeared over the disciples’ heads looked like tongues of fire.  And the fire was fed by the rushing of the wind.  So powerful was the experience that the disciples were moved to leave the house they were hiding in and to start to speak of God’s mighty deeds of power.  Yet somehow, everybody heard them speaking in the native language of each person.  And so this fire created a flash mob, because everybody was drawn to hear their native language in place they didn’t expect to hear it. 

Fire and flash!  It was great!  It was fun!  But sometimes, the fire and flash can distract us from the deeper and more important points of this story.  It’s easy, for example, to focus on the unusual appearance of the tongues of fire.  It’s hard not to get caught up in the surprise and confusion of the flash mob.  And it’s often tempting to think that the appearance and power of the Spirit of God can only be experienced and present when there’s fire and flash.

But that’s not the case.  Indeed, while there’s lots of fire and flash in the Pentecost story, the power and presence of God’s Spirit didn’t depend on that stuff.  Actually, if you strip away the fire and the flash, you’ll notice that the Spirit of God is doing what the Spirit always does, which includes:

  • Working in and through people who didn’t expect to be part of the fire and the flash – the disciples had heard that they were to wait in the city until they were “clothed with power from on high”, but this is surely not what they were expecting!  They didn’t expect fire.  And they didn’t expect to suddenly become a first century version of Google translate!  Yet the Spirit empowered them in ways that they hadn’t envisioned and didn’t expect, which is what God’s Spirit had always done…
  • Choosing people who aren’t the people that others expect – everybody hears these disciples speaking in their own languages, yet some immediately recognize them as all being “Galileans” – which also means that they were people who probably weren’t expected to be educated and traveled enough to know all these languages!  And they were right! And so the flash mob expected somebody else to be doing this.  Yet the Sprit empowered people God chose, even though unexpected, just as God’s Spirit had always done…
  • Empowering people in order to help other people – one of the problems that people have always had in trying to discern the “gifts of the Spirit” is that people wonder what God is doing to make them special!  Yet, what happens on Pentecost doesn’t benefit the disciples at all (indeed, people mock them because they think they’re drunk.)  Instead, the power of the Spirit working in and through the disciples enables OTHERS to hear the mighty works of God.  The Spirit of God was doing what the Spirit had always done – working through people to benefit the whole community, not the individual  or individuals with the particular gifts…

And so even though the Day of Pentecost is a story full of fire and flash, it’s also our annual reminder not to get distracted by the fire and the flash. And that’s because, for us too, God’s Spirit is at work in our lives whether it seems like there’s fire and flash or not.  Instead, noticing the work of the Spirit in our lives is more likely to happen not when we’re looking for fire and flash, but when we’re:

  • Expecting God’s Spirit to work in and through us, at times we don’t expect and in ways we may not have envisioned… (and that often means expecting God to make me part of the solution I’m praying for! In the catechism, Luther reminds us that praying things like “give us this day our daily bread” means opening ourselves to being the instruments of God giving daily bread to others…; and maybe even to help with Yard Sale in a way I hadn’t  before!)
  • Open to God’s Spirit working in and through people we don’t expect to be agents of God’s activity in our lives… (even when those people or experiences are not what you consider “religious” or “spiritual”…; sometimes, I’m looking for God to give me an answer, and it seems like the answer I get comes from “Galileans” – that is, random conversations I’m having with people who don’t even know me, or things I notice or read that were clearly not intended to speak just to me – but God used them to speak to me anyway…)
  • Busy with helping others experience the love and mighty works of God, instead of wondering what’s in it for us… (At Yard Sale, it’s great when we meet people who really need help and are deeply appreciative of what we’re doing to help them!  But there are always others who are really just NOT nice and easy to deal with!  And sometimes, the Spirit’s work happens when we’re working to share love and compassion with people who are not easy to be nice to at Yard Sale, or in other places…!)

Fire and flash can indeed by fun and exciting.  But the story of Pentecost reminds us that the work of the Spirit is really not about fire and flash, even if those things sometimes happen.

Instead, the Holy Spirit is constantly at work in and around us, calling us to move and serve in ways we hadn’t envisioned.  The Holy Sprit is constantly at work, even in places and people where we don’t expect to find God.  And the Holy Spirit is always calling us to be people who proclaim God’s mighty acts of love and power by the words and deeds and attitudes that we convey to others in the world around us.