Children shouldn’t play with matches, but boys will be boys, and I must confess I was fascinated by fire as a child. To strike a match and watch the flame dance and flare fascinated me. But I soon learned fire wasn’t meant for amusement.
Pentecost teaches us that there is a fire not to be feared, but to fill us and free us.
Those gathered in Jerusalem in the upper room on that day were fearful and limited by their own perspectives, until the wind blew through their midst and their fears gave way to the Spirit setting them afire with truth and love. Until then, those who had followed Jesus were uncertain what to do or be about. His words had given them hope that they would not be alone to follow in His way, but they were not sure where to turn. On that day as the wind blew He turned them inside out, opened their eyes and loosened their tongues to speak and live His love out.
Without the Spirit they were focused only on keeping his memory – preserving the past. When Christ ascended and the Spirit descended, his followers were set afire with passion for mission and ministry beyond their circle and out into the fullness of creation.
Until Pentecost their gaze was inward, but after Pentecost they were not tied up in themselves and their own agendas. Pentecost pulls us out of our comfort zones, away from our closed circles and forces us to hear in new ways the truth of His love. That love can’t be contained in one place or restricted to one language. Life in the Spirit is inclusive and extravagant. Unlike life in the flesh, life in the Spirit is not concerned with how others see us. When our lives are lived only “skin deep,” we fear the passionate fire of the Spirit.
So much of what is consuming the institutional church today is of the flesh and not the spirit. Like children playing with matches we tease with the fire, and in that there is great danger. Instead, we need to feel the burn: to be taken outside of ourselves, to be reawakened.
Those gathered on the day of Pentecost heard anew the Gospel in many languages, and like the dawn of creation the world became a new place. The Spirit breathed forth the Church.
The word “Spirit” is connected to the word for breath and now must plead as the hymn does “breathe on me breath of God … fill me with life anew.” Without the Spirit we breathe the stale air of self preservation and we are consumed by our own survival.
Annie Dillard, in her book Holy the Firm, tells the story of watching a moth fly into the flame of a candle and getting stuck in its melting wax. Expecting that the creature would be consumed by the flame the writer watches in wonder as the moth instead is preserved in the wax and becomes a burning wick: “She kept burning and as the wax rose in her she burned for two hours as I read by her light, and she glowed within like a hollowed saint, her head became fire.”
This is the burn we need to feel. That is the fire we don’t need to fear.
THE REV. BERNARD MASON IS THE PASTOR OF MANN AND MIZE MEMORIAL UNITED METHODIST CHURCHES AND CHAPLAIN AT HEARTLAND HOSPICE.