Sunday June 4, 2023 – Pentecost: Keepers of the Flame

Scripture: Acts 2:1-21 and Numbers 11:24-29

The imagery of fire at Pentecost has always fascinated me. 

Fire can be so devastating.  With a stray ember and a quick breeze crops and pasture land can go up like that.  It pulls the oxygen out of the air, literally feeding off what gives us life.   

Fire can be scary.  One time,  I was driving down a highway in central Nebraska and there was a controlled burn in a ditch on the side of the road.  Just right there.  I slowed down and was like, well if it wasn’t safe they would block it off, right? But even as I drove past, a good hundred or three feet away from the trucks, I could feel the heat though my car. 

The imagery of fire at Pentecost has always fascinated me because, while fire can be destructive and scary, fire is a powerful way to convey the consuming, rebirthing power of God. 

Fire gives heat and light, keeping the cold and darkness at bay. 

Fire renews the soil.  I went to New Mexico a couple of years ago with a mentor and we flew into Denver and then drove south.  As we drove, we saw lush, green, verdant mountainsides, and also swaths of charred, barren trees.  I felt struck by the power that had gone down through those mountains and, even while driving, we could see signs of life.  New green trees and grass springing up in the midst of the black and brown mountainside.   

Today is Pentecost when we celebrate, honor, and recognize the birth of the Church.  A church born through the life of Christ, the baptismal waters he instituted into this world, and the indwelling fire of the Holy Spirit.  On Pentecost, tongues of flame descended upon the disciples.  That flame connected with the divine spark already within them and ignited a movement that we know as the Church.  God’s power, the Holy Spirit, spread to all who were around them and that power is with us today.  That flame and wind, that Holy Spirit is the advocate, guide, comforter, and teacher that Christ told the disciples would come to be with them and, because of pentecost, what Moses wished for in the book of numbers could actually come to pass.   

 In our passage today from Numbers, God’s spirit descends upon a group of Israelite leaders.  That spirit also comes to two regular folk, Eldad and Medad.  The begin prophesying and Joshua, another leader, runs to Moses and says, Moses, Moses, make them stop!  Like, they weren’t approved, they shouldn’t be doing this.  And Moses, instead of saying, of course I will stop them, God’s spirit and power comes to only a pre-chosen few, Moses replies, ““Are you jealous for my sake? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets with the Lord placing his spirit on them!”  Or, put in another way, if only everyone could be keepers of God’s spirit, if only everyone could be keepers of the flame.  And we can. 

 God does not horde God’s spirit.  God’s guidance, comfort, and love are not for a few people but for all people.  In the passage from Acts, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and the crowd below.  The disciples spoke and the entire crowd heard them in their own unique languages.  God pours out.  God shares love.  God divests power. God gifts us God’s spirit and wants us to do something with that gift.  Would that all the lord’s people were prophets, doesn’t have to mean big grand things.  You don’t have to be Isaiah or Jeremiah.  You don’t have to stand on street corners and shout.  It simply means doing your part.  Would that all God’s people lived love in the face of hate, spoke peace in the face of violence, lived mercy, compassion, and justice in the face of bitterness, grudges, and injustice.  Would that all God’s people do something with this gift of the Holy Spirit that God has given us.  Would that all God’s people do something with the guidance, comfort, love, strength, courage, and conviction God has given us.  Would that all God’s people be keepers of the flame, tending it, feeding it, letting it grow until it’s heat and glow radiate from everything we do.   

 You don’t have to save the world, just do your part, whatever that looks like.  At summer camp or at work, on the golf course or in your office, we can be keepers of the flame.  You can do something with God’s gift to us.  The Holy Spirit descended upon Jerusalem 2000 years ago, gave birth to the church, and is with us still.  May we all do our part and be keepers of that Holy Spirit flame.   

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