Readings for this Sunday: Acts 2:1-21; Psalm 104, 24-34, 35b; Romans 8:14-17; John 14:8-17
We often use the image of fire to talk about the Holy Spirit. When I was on internship, confirmation was on Pentecost which happened to fall on Memorial Day weekend that year. I couldn't help myself. I compared the Holy Spirit to a BBQ grill. My supervising pastor and I delivered the sermon as a dialogue, from lawn chairs around a grill in the chancel. (My confirmation students were a bit nervous about what part the grill was going to play in their confirmation!)
So, with a bit of revamping, and some serious editing for length (my supervising pastor was right - I did preach too long!), I present for your Pentecost meditation:
How is the Holy Spirit like a grill?
If you think about what happens when you light a grill, you’ll get an image of how the Spirit works in the church.
First there is a great burst of flames.
On Pentecost, the Spirit descended upon those waiting in the Upper Room. There was a rush of wind and suddenly tongues of fire rested upon each person. They were so filled with the Spirit, and there was such a commotion, that those listening thought they might be drunk! Peter, who confessed Jesus was the Messiah and then denied him in the high priests courtyard - that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit preached the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and 3000 people were baptized that day.
All through the book of Acts, we read about wonders and miracles and huge numbers of people who believed and were baptized. We see the faith spread throughout the Roman Empire by leaps and bounds. This tremendous period of growth and activity is like that first moment when a grill is lit and the flames burst out.
Have you ever noticed how the charcoal on the top catches fire first and then the pieces underneath start to burn? Soon every briquette and wood chip in the grill is burning brightly. That’s like the Holy Spirit too. God didn’t just send the Spirit to some people, to a chosen few. God sends the Spirit to all people.
Now listen again to how Peter starts his sermon: God declares, I will pour out my Spirit to all flesh: sons and daughters, young and old, even slaves. The message is clear: the Good News and the Holy Spirit is for all people, regardless of gender, social class, ethnicity and all the other human-made divisions that we use to decide who’s in and who’s out.
The Holy Spirit is a fire that touches everything, that cannot be contained, that no fire extinguisher in the world can quench. (my apologies to the shepherdesswrites - your image was just too good to pass up!)
After the flames die down, then the coals continue to burn, a soft orange glow. There is a lot of energy with all those coals together, and the heat continues for a long time. It’s time to get cooking!
The Holy Spirit works in the community gathered, especially as we gather to worship. The first Christians from the day of Pentecost continued to gather. Later in Acts chapter 2 it is recorded that “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread (Holy Communion) and to prayer. Others were drawn to being part of their group because of the warmth of that group of Christians.
I’ve noticed that sometimes a coal rolls away from the big group of coals, and is on its own. It’s harder for that coal to keep on glowing without the heat of the other coals around it. It reminds me of a verse from the book of Hebrews – let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. We burn brighter when we share the Spirit's flame!
Oh, I thought of another way the Spirit is like a grill. How about the flare-ups? You know, when you are cooking and the coals burst into flames again because some oil or fat dropped on them. That’s like the Spirit too. In the history of the church, there have been “flare-ups” – the Spirit has blown through the church again and again, bringing “flare ups” of reformation and revival. As Lutherans, we celebrate one of those “flare-ups” on Reformation Sunday. Even within individual congregations, we experience times of glowing softly and times of passionate burning. And in each of our own lives, the Spirit sometimes burns brightly and sometimes softly glows.
We could compare dousing a grill with lighter fluid to our baptisms when we are filled with the Holy Spirit. In the story of Jesus’ baptism the Holy Spirit descends on him like a dove. We talk about how in baptism, the Holy Spirit bring us to the waters, washes us and then fills us with wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge, reverence for God, joy in the presence of God – the very presence Jesus tells his disciples the Holy Spirit brings.
And that filling continues. Martin Luther often wrote and spoke about baptism both as an event and an ongoing process of letting Jesus deal with all the things that get in the way of new life with him. Luther wrote about repentance, seeing where we are no longer following Jesus, and letting Jesus turn us around. It’s like the old is again put to death with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit brings the new things of Jesus into our lives. In the book of Galatians, there is a lovely list of the fruit of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.
We can all do with more of that fruit.
Everything that the fire touches is changed and everyone who the Spirit touches is changed too. Peter echoes the prophet Joel and says that we will prophesy. There will be dreams and visions. The Spirit works within us to give us dreams and visions of the reign of God. Paul says that we become children of God, heirs with Jesus. Jesus says that with the Spirit living in us, setting our hearts on fire, we will do even greater things than he did, that we will be able to love one another has he loves us.
What does it mean to live sustained and sealed by the Holy Spirit, as was proclaimed over you in baptism?
How do you live out the Spirit’s call in your life – at work, at home, in your community? How is the Holy Spirit burning in your life today?
Maybe it's time God flipped you over and let the Holy Spirit burn in a new way in your life!