By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
Pentecost – June 12, 2011
Have you ever received a gift you were not sure you knew what to do with? I suspect we all have. Garish ties that you would not be caught dead in…rank perfumes or colognes that you would not wear for fear of dropping everyone in the room into a faint…horrible pictures from some rich, ugly old relative that are suitable only for the attic. There are some gifts we do not know how to handle.
Now, let me change the subject for a moment. Let’s talk about FIRE. Fire is fascinating. Some little children say they want to grow up to be firefighters. If you hear that there is a fire in the neighborhood, chances are you will go out to watch it. On a winter’s evening, we like building a fire, not just for the warmth, but for the chance to watch it do its work. On a summer’s evening in the woods, we enjoy gathering around a campfire, not for the warmth, but for the sheer pleasure of being near it. Fire fascinates us.
Now, combine those two thoughts: gifts and fire. I wonder what would happen if someone gave you a gift OF fire. To be sure, you WOULD be fascinated by it. But what in the world would it mean? Perhaps the early Christians wondered. After all, that was the Lord’s first gift to the church on that momentous and earth-shaking Pentecost…FIRE.
You remember. The faithful had gathered there in that room near the temple in Jerusalem. They had been there for the better part of ten days, spending their time in prayer, choosing another apostle to replace Judas who had recently committed suicide, talking among themselves of the ministry of their Lord Jesus who had been taken up from them into heaven just a week-and-a-half before. Just prior to his ascension, Jesus had told them to go into Jerusalem and not to leave the city until they had received the gift of which he had spoken to them earlier, the gift of the Holy Spirit. So they did. They were gathered there to wait, not quite sure what this gift was all about.
Yes, they had HEARD something about this Holy Spirit. During their meal with Jesus on the night before his crucifixion, the Lord had told them that it was necessary for him to leave them so that he might send them another COMFORTER, another one who would walk beside them, one who would ENCOURAGE them, one who would EXHORT them, for all of those ideas were wrapped up in the name the Lord used to describe the Spirit…the PARACLETE. They were not sure what Jesus was talking about, but they did not let on. A bit later, the Lord had told them that this comforter, the Holy Spirit, would be a GUIDE to them; the Spirit would guide them in all truth. Again, they were not certain what to make of it, but they kept quiet. And then, just before Jesus was taken up into heaven, he told them that they would receive POWER, a supernatural power, the Holy Spirit, that would drive them to the ends of the earth with the message of the Gospel. Again, they did not understand. Even today, we do not fully understand.
Suddenly, the group there heard a noise. It sounded like a windstorm…a hurricane…a tornado…the sound of some tremendous force. But nothing was moved: no buildings destroyed, no doors slammed shut, not even a leaf rustled. As they looked around to see what was happening, they noticed that above each head was what appeared to be a FLAME…FIRE that simply sat there…the FIRE that would be Christ’s first gift to his church…the FIRE that was the Holy Spirit.
A gift of fire. I wonder if the disciples had any more idea what to do with a gift like that than we do. I doubt it. But to their eternal credit, and to our undying benefit, they did not think of possessing the gift; they let that gift possess THEM.
What do I mean by that? The gift possessed them? Corrie Ten Boom explains it well.
I have a glove here in my hand.
The glove cannot do anything by itself,
but when my hand is in it, it can do many things.
True, it is not the glove, but my hand in the glove that acts.
We are gloves.
It is the Holy Spirit in us who is the hand, who does the job.
We have to make room for the hand so that every finger is filled.
But, understand it or not, the power…the fire…was THERE that day, and the fire has continued to empower the church through almost 2,000 years. It is here today. It is still the Lord’s birthday gift to the church. That’s why there is a birthday cake on the altar. A symbol of this great gift of the Holy Spirit to all of us here today.
The Lord’s first birthday gift to the church…the all-powerful Spirit of the living God. We can have it too. The Holy Spirit is a gift who brings comfort, encouragement, challenge, guidance, and, most of all, power. Will we treat the Spirit as a gift we would just as soon do without? Will we simply be fascinated by the Spirit as we watch others set on fire? Or will we pray, “Lord, give US that fire.”
The story is told of a man who dropped out of church. He figured he could be just as faithful worshiping God on his own. A few weeks went by, and the minister came to visit. It was a cold and blustery day. They sat in the living room by the fireplace and made small talk. Then the minister took the fire tongs, picked up a glowing ember and placed it to one side of the hearth. The two men watched without saying a word. In no time, it began to cool. A few minutes later, he picked up the dead ember with his fingers and pitched it back into fire. Immediately, it sparked back to life. Without a word, the minister put on his coat and started to leave. The man looked at him and said, “That was one of your best sermons. I’ll see you in church this Sunday.”
My friend, Mike Lowry, likes to say, “Christianity is always personal, but never individual.” And it’s true: While each of us has his/her own destiny to fulfill, God calls us to live together, work together and worship together in community to the glory of His name. As we do, the spark of faith within us is rekindled and spread to warm and enlighten others.
Just as God poured out his Spirit on the disciples on the day of Pentecost, God comes to us in wind and flames. Yet, from time to time, the fire grows cold. When it does, we need to break the cycle and get out of the rut we’re in; go back to the basics of Bible study, prayer and service; and stay connected and work together. I’d like to end with a prayer:
Breathe on me, breath of God;
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.
“Breathe on me, breath of God,
Till I am wholly Thine,
Till all this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.
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