- Acts 2:1-21
Filled with the Spirit to tell God’s deeds
- Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth. (Ps. 104:30)
- 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13
Varieties of gifts from the same Spirit
- John 20:19-23
The Spirit poured out
Fear, Fire and Coming Out, Pastor Kinsey
If you’re a life-long resident of Chicago, you may never have had the opportunity to sit around a camp-fire! But fire is as old as humans. For tens of thousands of years, humans gathered around fire for light, warmth, protection, community, and better food.
When I was a pastor in rural Michigan, I found that camp-fires are a way of life, still. Half our parishioners were loggers, and there was always plenty of wood for a weekend gathering around the fire.
Our youth retreats would inevitably include a camp-fire, as well as a fire for Sauna – a cultural tradition of the Finnish people there. And the youth were experienced in fire building.
But they were also youth! And youth are natural risk-takers, who push the boundaries, that we as the adults in the room, were called upon to enforce. Making s’mores, for example, those delicious treats made by roasting marshmallows over the fire, could easily turn into burning sticks that were used to scare their friends with - by poking them at each other! Evening devotions, which included lighting candles from the fire, could become an opportunity for dripping wax over fingers and floor. Stoking the sauna fire could make for dangerous sparks and even logs rolling out of the fire box, threatening to ignite the whole building!
Last June, closer to home, Chicago police officer Jennifer Jacobucci was driving on the Kennedy when she noticed smoke pouring from a home in Logan Square. She hopped off the expressway, ran into the burning building and helped four people, and one dog, get out. She, and later one of the firefighters, were both briefly treated at the hospital for smoke inhalation. But, thanks to Officer Jacobucci’s fast action, no one else was injured, even though it was a fast spreading fire, which left it, and the neighboring structure, uninhabitable.
Fire can be destructive or life-giving; tragic or cleansing.
On the Day of Pentecost – a celebration for the first wheat harvest, and later the giving of the Law, to Moses and the chosen people – the Holy Spirit arrived in Jerusalem in a confusing and powerful burst of wind and fire. Fire has a long history in the bible, too. Moses had heard God speak from a burning bush that was not consumed. The Israelites were led by a pillar of fire out of slavery in Egypt all the way to the Promised Land. John the Baptist predicts that fire will consume the chaff, or, un-believers.
But on this Day of Pentecost, when the disciples were holed up and hiding, in the upper room in Jerusalem, what they see is divided tongues of fire that rested on each of the disciples, and as many as 120 other followers.
The Holy Spirit is our advocate, our companion, our guide. And this outbreak of the Spirit empowers the disciples to overcome their fear, the fear that has kept them behind locked doors since the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus – afraid for their lives!
Now they receive a gift – not a weapon to defend themselves, but the gift of the Holy Spirit to speak in other tongues – and they come out to share the good news! They speak in every language of the people in Jerusalem, which turns out to be from practically every nation of the known world. This is not glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, which is not a language of a country or people, but an ecstatic utterance that needs a special interpreter. No, they speak in the language of the Jews who live in Jerusalem from so many different lands!
And who, then, are these people who hear the good news? Sometimes they have been misinterpreted as pilgrims, come to Jerusalem for the festival. But a closer reading finds they are residents of Jerusalem, living there, immigrants from other countries. The diaspora of Jews was a fact of life already, even before 1st century Israel. And these are those of Jewish descent that have moved to Israel for the first time, maybe for work, maybe for faith and heritage – we don’t know, for sure. But what we do know is that on Pentecost, they are united in their diversity, by the gifts given to the disciples from the Holy Spirit.
It is the “divided” tongues of fire that bring unity! And this is the message we celebrate today, on the Day of Pentecost, the first Sunday in Pride Month. It’s a message clarified and articulated by LGBTQ theologians and people of faith. That the sign of divided tongues, causing the disciples to speak in the language of every foreign resident in Jerusalem, gives them unity! In their broad diversity – the vast differentness of cultures and peoples, gender division of male and female, if not gender fluidity, and sexual orientation – ALL, are made one. The divided-individual tongues of fire, bring a wide rich-rainbow assortment of people together, enabling the diverse crowds to experience the one united message of God.
And on this Day of Pentecost, when the disciples had been holed up in the Upper Room, afraid for their lives, it was the explosive entrance of the Spirit that pushed them past their fear and propelled them out into the streets. And we’ll celebrate this, outside, after worship today, sharing our message with the neighborhood and world, in a Blessing, with a bit of Glitter + Fire.
At this moment in history, when our polarization and fear of difference is newly erupting in waves of nationalism and xenophobia, we have a gift from the Holy Spirit that propels us out past our fears – our faith is the gift, our trust, in the One who brings us together and sets our hearts on fire, to tell the truth and the good news. Our diversity is what makes us stronger!
The long history of God working in our world is slowly but surely transforming the divisive and destructive forces in our world, through the Holy Spirit’s purifying fire, into a sign of inclusion and unity. Even the wind and fire that initially came to Jerusalem in such a sudden, perplexing and fearful way on Pentecost, were transformed into tongues of fire, that don’t consume - like the burning bush - and gather the various and diverse people, to hear God’s word and share in God’s community, creating the church.
Bringing people who are created wonderfully and differently, together, is what the power of the Spirit does! Unity is not created by fearfully casting out this diversity, but by calling and enlightening of the many to stand together as God’s own chosen people. We are created for diversity. And diversity makes us stronger in the Spirit, together!
Come Holy Fire – transform us into your people, and fill us with your love!