Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pentecost - Red-Hot and Blowing

Preached on Pentecost Sunday, May 15, 2016

Scripture reading: Acts 2:1-13

The wind was howling, the lightening flashed, and the thunder boomed like cannons. A mother heard her little girl crying and calling for her. The mother put her arms around her daughter and told her that she didn’t need to be afraid of the storm because God was with her all the time. The little girl said, “I know that mommy, but I want someone with me who has a face.”
May 2016 Photos:
2 Foot Tall Ant Hill at Desert Aire, WA
We have a God whom no one would ever have seen, except that he came down and made himself a face for us, in Jesus. There is a comfort, a feeling of friendship, that comes from knowing that Jesus, as God come down to us in flesh and blood, has a face. He has been one of us, and still is one of us.
He comes to us on his own terms, but he also come to us on our own level. He has a face.
We can imagine quietly walking with Jesus among the brown hills and the waving grain of Galilee. We can imagine coming across him while we’re fishing by the lake. Even though, deep down, we realize that Jesus may not be so sweet and gentle as some of the songs tell us, we know that the very word gospel means good news, and that one of the Lord’s promises to us is the promise of peace John 14:27), and that he will be with us always. (Matthew 28:20)
Before Jesus left this planet in order to be closer to us than ever in heaven, Jesus promised to send his people the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is part of his presence with us, and one of the names he gave to the Spirit was a gentle, peaceful name. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another “counselor” to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16-17)
We think of counselors as quiet. They need to be quiet in order to listen to us and hear our deepest feelings.
The older translations translate this name for the Spirit as “Comforter”. That’s another peaceful, gentle name. It also means “the friend who comes alongside.”
But when the promised friend actually came to the people of Jesus, as they gathered, and prayed, and worshipped in the upper room, we find that the Spirit acted exactly like the storm that frightened the little girl.
It was worse than that, because his appearance and his sound was more like a fire-storm. The Holy Spirit is the Lord of the roaring wind and fire.
The Holy Spirit is the secret, invisible working of the presence of God, but the Spirit is also like glory, which is not so peaceful or gentle. Glory is more like power and light: too much light. The Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son. (John 16:14-15)
When the Son is glorified the effect can be blinding. We can read about that in the story of the transfiguration of Jesus. (Matthew 17:2)
The Spirit is mysterious, and we don’t see his face. But, sometimes the Spirit has given himself a face to help us understand its work.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell us that the Spirit fluttered down on the baptism of Jesus. He flew down with the face of a dove; or else those who saw him imagined that what they saw reminded them of a dove.
Surely this was a sign to tell us who Jesus was, and is. It tells us that Jesus was, and is, the king who came as a humble, suffering servant; and so the Spirit was there working humbly and gently as a quiet dove, for doves were the birds that poor people offered in sacrifice at the altar of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Spirit working in us can make us humble, and quiet, and gentle. The Holy Spirit can make us into a true offering of love, and sacrifice, and mercy. The Holy Spirit can make what we offer to God enough, and more than enough; no matter how unimportant and inadequate we feel. We, as humans, can receive from the Holy Spirit what Jesus received when he became one of us.
On the great Jewish feast of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed a different face so that we, and all the people of Jesus, can see what kind of gifts he was giving the church. In order to be the kind of Comforter we need most of all, the Spirit was going to work on us like a Biblical fire-storm.
Wind and fire, in the Old Testament, were signs of the presence of the awesome God. Wind and fire were the way that God chose to show his power and energy.
When the people of Israel escaped from slavery in Egypt, and were being led to the Promised Land, the Lord guided them and showed them that he was with them by a great column of cloud, like a giant whirlwind, that went with them everywhere. It makes me think of a tornado, but it was a tornado of fire during the night. Fire, and cloud, and storm came with the Lord to the top of Mount Sinai when Moses climbed the mountain to receive the ten commandments from God.
Beetle on My Porch One Night
In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the words for wind, and breath, and spirit are the same word. The Greek of the New Testament also has only one word for wind, and breath, and spirit.
In the Old Testament, at the creation, the Spirit of God is described as hovering over the unformed universe. It is as if the Spirit were a power like a great wind, waiting for the word to come and send him pushing the creation into shape, according to the will of God.
In the New Testament, in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus described the Spirit being like the power of the wind that works invisibly, and yet you can hear it, and see what it does. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
When the Spirit came in wind and fire, the disciples, who had often thought about the stories of the Old Testament, thought about these things: creation; Exodus; Moses and the prophets; the power and glory of God! The wind and fire of Pentecost stand for supernatural power.
The disciples had been ordered to stay put. They had been ordered not to try to carry out the mission of Jesus until they knew this experience. Christians can’t fully carry out their mission as Christians, and the Church can’t fully function as the Church, unless we know that there is a supernatural power from God that stands behind us and works through us.
We are not called to be spiritual thrill-seekers, looking for wind and fire. Our own pentecosts can be quiet, and warm, and gentle, and maybe (even) sweet. Our experience doesn’t need to be wild, and hot, and loud, and blinding. But the Holy Spirit, who came as wind and fire, still comes to you and radically changes you on the inside, in order to make the promises and the work of Jesus come true through you. Even the gentleness of the Holy Spirit can be full of power.
When the wind and fire hit them, the disciples knew that the Holy Spirit was making them into the fellowship and the followers of Jesus in a way that they could never be on their own. The same Spirit hovers over us; over us as a group, as a family. The same Spirit hovers over you individually, as a follower of Jesus.
This is the Spirit that first created the Church, and that hovered over the uncreated universe. What kind of Christian is the Lord hovering over you to bring into being? What kind of family and mission does the Spirit want to make of us together?
Jesus told his disciples to wait for the Spirit to empower them, but waiting, in the Bible, requires a high level of concentration, and prayer, and attention. Waiting means being eager and ready for anything. It’s like waiting to go onstage and play your part in a theater where God is both the audience and the director.
Thistle on Trail at Desert Aire
The wind of the Spirit pushed and whipped the creation into shape. Is life pushing you and whipping you into some shape? Do you think that this pushing and whipping comes from the Holy Spirit?
Or maybe the pushing and whipping are going the wrong way. Are you so busy being pushed and whipped by your life that you aren’t ready for the different shape that the Spirit wants to give you? Are you eager and ready to be made into something different?
We have been praying for the Spirit to make us into something different here. We have to offer ourselves to the power of the Spirit, and maybe we need to use quite a bit of our own energy in the process.
The Spirit brand of waiting can be hard work. The Lord will support us and work through us and give us an inner confirmation that we have his help and his power.
Then there is the fire of Pentecost. Fire shows us what the Holy Spirit intends to do with us.
My dad loved guns. He loved hunting, and shooting, and he just loved guns. He never put his reasons into words. I think he loved being part of what they were.
For the sake of the Spirit of fire, it might be good to remember, here, that another word for guns is “firearms”. One way my dad became part of what they were was by making his own bullets and you need fire for that.
My dad bought lead. We had thick sheets of lead in our garage and barn. My dad had a small furnace to melt the lead. And he had molds to shape the melted lead into different kinds of bullets.
I loved to watch him do this. My dad would take some dirty, dark grey pieces of lead and put them in a sort of pot on the top of that small furnace. The fire in the furnace would burn, and the lead would start dripping like a melting ice cube, only the dull, dark grey was dripping like the brightest silver. Dark impurities would float like a skin on top of the liquid silver lead and my dad would scrap those impurities off and toss them away. Then he would pour the pure, beautiful, silver lead into molds, and make it into shining balls and bullets.
Fire is the power that changes things. It changes ore into metal, and it changes impure metal into bright, new, useful metal. It works on old lead, by purifying it and making it shine.
The change is a process of separation. The Holy Spirit separates us from whatever keeps us from being useful, or beautiful, and even the most useful object can be beautiful if you appreciate it as you should.
The list would be too long to tell, of all the behaviors, and habits, and attitudes that work against our being what God has created us to be, and against our being what God has saved us for, in Jesus. The fire of the Spirit aims at burning away our fears, and prides, and stubbornness, and prejudices.
The first Christians to receive the fire of the Spirit found themselves serving people they would never have served, and going places they would never have gone, and doing what they would never have done, and accepting what they would never have accepted. They had to learn a completely different way to be God’s people than they were prepared for. It wasn’t easy to live in the fire, and to have the fire in you. Read the Book of Acts.
A Farmer's Playful Stunt, East of Mattawa WA
That’s what having the fire of the Holy Spirit will mean for us, if we are eager and ready for absolutely anything. It shouldn’t have surprised the first disciples, and it shouldn’t surprise us either. We ought to know that having a God who became a baby might ask anything of us. We ought to know that having a God who deals with a sinful world, and with our own sin, by dying on a cross; that such a God might ask anything of us. We ought to know that having a God who dies in order to create resurrection might ask us to die to ourselves, and to die to everything we hold dear, in order for us to rise, with him, to a new life that we could never have imagined.
You might as well say that the Holy Spirit gives us fire simply because Jesus is a consuming fire. We think that the Letter to the Hebrews, that says “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29) refers to a warning for those who don’t follow him. It’s actually written as a joyful promise to us.
The consuming fire is a promise for those whom God prepares for his kingdom. The fire is the beauty and faithfulness of God to see us through. It comes from Jesus, the cross and the empty grave. The coming of the Holy Spirit in wind and fire on the feast of Pentecost enabled Peter, and the other disciples, to make that connection and to understand it. The Holy Spirit enables us to know the good news of Jesus as a consuming and beautiful fire.
More than three hundred years ago, there was a young mathematician, and scientist, and inventor named Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) who met Jesus and became a Christian. He wrote his experience on a piece of parchment that he had sewn into his coat above his heart, as a reminder of what he found. Listen to his words.
“Fire! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ, God of Jesus Christ, my God and your God. “Thy God shall be my God.” The world forgotten, and everything except God. He can only be found in the ways taught in the Gospels. Let me not be cut off from him forever. “And this is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent. Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ.”
Pascal found something wild in Jesus. There is something about Jesus, and the Spirit he gives us, that is more like riding on the storm than standing on a rock. It’s like riding a horse that breaks into a gallop against your will. The Spirit is alive and has a mind of his own.
This power, this wind and fire, is a person who loves you. He also loves us together in this movement and mission called the church. This wind and fire wants to do something through us that we can’t (and probably would never choose to) do on our own. We aren’t brave enough for this. That doesn’t matter.

The surprise is that this Spirit of wind and fire wants to blow us into a storm and set us on fire; and we’ve been talking about him calmly for years. We have let others teach us to call him gentle and sweet. Listen to the word of God. Let God tell you what is waiting to happen to you. Be eager and ready for anything.


  1. What a powerful sermon. I have listened to many sermons on Pentecost and this really has the power of the Holy Spirit behind it.

  2. Great sermon, Dennis. Thanks!