(Note, the sermon starts at 23:05, not 29:05 as the beginning of the video says)
Scripture: Acts 2: 1 – 4
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
May 15, 2016
Fire! It engages all of our senses. We see its color, hear its crackle, feels it heat, smell its smoke, and even our taste buds which are connected to our olfactory senses, go on alert in the presence of fire. Fire comes in many shapes and sizes from contained, quiet candle flames to uncontainable, thundering firestorms, from brilliant yellow lightning flashes in the skies to seething red lava seeping from the ground. Fire can create comfort and alarm, sheer delight and stark terror. Fire serves as a symbol for a wide range of human experiences: illuminating insight (as when the light goes on), sparkling enthusiasm, unquenchable love. It is awesome, unpredictable, and life-changing! (Playing with Fire, David J. Schlafer, p. 17 -18). No wonder the Bible describes God as a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29).
God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. God led the way for the Israelites as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The star, a ball of fire, led the wise men to the baby Jesus. John said, “I baptize you with water. But one will come after me who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” And today we read that while the disciples were gathered in one place, suddenly, there was a rush of warm wind and flashes of fire. Sparks flying in all directions. Spiritual energy explodes on them. The Greek word is “dunamis”. It means dynamite, a driving force, a powerful reaction, an unbelievable explosion. Dunamis. It has been gathering force since the Resurrection. Today it comes to critical mass. Tongues of fire — that’s as close of a description that Luke can find. Perhaps some of you have seen those paintings where the disciples are gathered in the upper room and tiny flames appear on their head. They look like cowlicks that just won’t stay down. They are not tiny flames; they are tongues of fire!
What did they do with these tongues of fire? They used those tongues to speak in different languages. Leaping across linguistic barriers, tongues of fire begin to spread. And wonder of wonders, they understood each other.
Now, at Pentecost, whatever the language spoken, people could understand and hear in one’s own language, one’s own accent, regional dialect the wonderful gifts of God. Yes, when fire takes ahold of our souls – when we are “on fire” –it does not matter our language, we know what it means to praise the goodness of God. I have worshipped in Zimbabwe, Kenya, India, Egypt, Israel, Italy, France, South America, Central America — I may not have known the languages of those places, but I knew when those cultures were praising God. And my heart caught on fire. “God is a good God. God is a mighty, mighty good God. Great is The Lord and greatly to be praised! Hallelujah!”
Those disciples were huddled in the Upper Room, scared and timid — their Jesus was gone. What would they do? Where would they go? And suddenly, the fire, the wind, the power, dunamis sent them tumbling out into the streets to sing, shout, and proclaim the goodness of God!
Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way, “Under the power of the Holy Spirit, shy people have been known to step up onto the platforms and say audacious things. Cautious people have become daredevils, frugal people have become philanthropists, and people who used to be as sour as dill pickles have become rich with friends. There is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do.” When we offer forgiveness we had not meant to offer; we find ourselves taking risks we had thought we did not have the courage to take, when we reach out to someone we had intended to walk away from, we can be pretty sure that the Holy Spirit is running wild in our souls. When God sends forth Spirit, barriers are broken, communities are formed, races are reconciled, people are blessed and church happens.
How grateful I am for the fires of Pentecost. I would like to share a story with you about fire – specifically, the fire of the Olympic torch. Since we are 81 days away from the Olympics, I thought it would be a fitting story to share. The spark of the story, however, began with the 1992 Olympics.
Derek, a 26 year old Britton, was favored to win the four hundred meter race in 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Halfway into the semifinal heat, a tremendously sharp pain seared through his right leg. He crumpled to the track with a torn hamstring.
As the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. “It was animal instinct,” he would later say. He set out hopping, pushing away the coaches in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he reached the stretch, a big man pushed his way through the crowd. He was wearing a T-shirt that read, “Have you hugged your child today?” and a hat that challenged, “Just do it.” The man was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father.
“You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son.
“Yes, I do,” Derek declared.
“Well then,” said Jim, “we’re going to finish this together.”
And they did. Jim wrapped Derek’s arm around his shoulder and helped him hobble to the finish line. Fighting off security men, the son’s head buried in his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane to the end.
The crowd clapped, then stood, then cheered, and then wept as the father and son finished the race together.
What made the father do it? What made the father leave the stands to meet his son on the track? Was it the strength of his child? No, it was the pain of his child. His son was hurt and fighting to complete the race. So, the father came to help him finish.
God saw the pain and anguish of the disciples in that Upper Room and so God sent the Holy Spirit, the rush of wind and tongues of fire to help the disciples to finish the race, stay the course, and keep the faith.
Interestingly, in the 2012 London Olympics, Jim Redmond, the father was selected to carry the Olympic torch because the world had been so inspired by what he had done for his son in 1992. The joke at the time was now 20 years later, the son may have to help the father cross the finish line because the father was getting up there in years. The torch was lit in Olympia, Greece — the home of the ancient Olympic Games. (Light the torch.) About 8000 people, with a wide arrange of languages, of tongues carried the torch. Jim Redmond was one of those persons. And it traveled a total of 8000 miles.
The first torch race began with the Greeks. They would run a marathon while holding a torch. It was not the fastest person who won the race. It was not the strongest person who won the race. The one who won was the person who ran the race and finished it with their torch lit. It’s the not the fastest; it’s not the strongest; it’s the one who wins whose fire is still lit. On this day of Pentecost, may we be ablaze with fire. May we stir the embers. May we fan the flames. May we proclaim in any language, “God is a good God. God is a mighty, mighty good God. Great is our God and greatly to be praised! Hallelujah!” Amen! (Lead into “Chariots of Fire”)