Wind and Fire and God*

A sermon in parts with music, based on Acts 2:1-21
given at Mount Vernon, OH on June 8, 2014
by Rev. Scott Elliott
SCOTT: The scripture readings today are from the Lectionary text, Acts chapter 2: verses 1 to 21. I will provide a little commentary and here and there we will all sing some songs. So think of this as a kinda Pentecost Hymn-sing. Charlotte is going to read the scripture passage a little bit a time and let us know what and when to sing. We are using Eugene Patterson’s The Message a paraphrase of the Bible for our readings. (Patterson, Eugene The Message, NavPress (2003) COPYRIGHT WORK).
CHARLOTTE: Here is what Acts 2:1-5 tells us: “When the Feast of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Without warning there was a sound like a strong wind, gale force—no one could tell where it came from. It filled the whole building. Then, like a wildfire, the Holy Spirit spread through their ranks, and they started speaking in a number of different languages as the Spirit prompted them.”
SCOTT : Wind and fire are often images for God in the Bible. As we just heard, they both appear in the Pentecost story, which is how they became symbols for this The Day of Pentecost.
Pentecost is a word that means “fifty.” It represents the fifty days from Easter to this day when we celebrate the appearance of the Holy Spirit among Jesus’ followers, and the beginnings, the birthday if you will, of the church.

On Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down to Jesus’ followers and filled them up, motivating them– and now US!– to continue the work Jesus began. It’s the work of bringing God’s unconditional love to everyone in need of it.

As Charlotte just read, God is reported in the Book of Acts as having been experienced in the Pentecost story like wind and fire.

One way to hear this is that the flame of love – God– in each of us is stoked by the Spirit breathing on us. God’s breath causes our God-spark– Christ– to burst into flames of Love, which we then we spread like wild fire.

CHARLOTTE: There’s a Christian camp song from the 1960s and 70s some of you may remember that captures this spreading the warmth of the fire of love image. It’s called “Pass It On” You can remain seated as we sing it. The song can be found in the red hymnal, at number 557.

Pass It On by Kurt Kaiser
Red # 557

SCOTT: The glowing spark of God, fanned by the flames of the Spirit . . . That’s why we come here each Sunday in hopes of getting that God glow going right?
The New Testament has flames in stories of “God appearances,” obviously in today’s text, but there’s a more subtle one. One of the Easter stories the one with Jesus on the beach by a fire that he uses to gather and teach and feed the disciples.

I really like that image of Jesus. If you have ever sat around a camp fire you know how meditative they can feel. Fire can often be a portal to Sacred, carrying us to a “thin place” a place where we are more aware of God’s presence.

Fire is a thing that can inspire awe and fascination. And that is, in part, why it is a really good metaphor for how we experience love. Love is Sacred and inspires awe and fascination. The writer of the song, Pass It On, got that.

Fire though a thing can, like love, provide comfort when we are cold or in the dark. Fire like love warms us.

And love like fire heats up our passion for individuals, and also causes us to help others. The flames of love motivate us to not only be enamored with a spouse or partner, but, to have compassion for others, those who are in need of care or protection or freedom from oppression or bondage.

We know the flames and wind are metaphors in today’s reading because the Bible indicates “a sound like the rush of a violent wind . . .[and] . . . Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them . . . “

If we think about it, wind and flames are common images and symbols in the Bible for God’s appearances on earth. Theologians call an appearance of God a “theophany” it’s a Greek word that translates as “God appears.”

And God does often appear in the Bible as wind and fire. Indeed creation begins in Genesis with a theophany of God as wind, the breath of God, “ruah” a feminine part of Yahweh, sweeping over the dark void and birthing the world.

CHARLOTTE: All of creation is not just birthed by God but soaked through and through with God. All things are bright and beautiful . . . which just happens to be the name of the next song we are going to sing. It is also in the red hymnal, number 30 and we can again remain seated:

All Things Bright and Beautiful , by Cecil Alexander
Red # 30

SCOTT: God is soaking all of creation. But sometimes we have trouble seeing God, or we take God’s presence for granted. Theophanies shake that up with spectacular experiences. Wind roaring and fire burning are good metaphors for such God’s experiences. . . Sometimes the experiences are so spectacular, that others share our God experiences.

The Lectionary text explains that after the strong wind and fire of the Spirit were experienced on Pentecost and the Jesus followers “started speaking in . . . different languages . ..” and others took notice.

CHARLOTTE: Here is how Acts 2:5-11 puts it:

“There were many Jews staying in Jerusalem just then, devout pilgrims from all over the world. When they heard the sound, they came on the run. Then when they heard, one after another, their own mother tongues being spoken, they were thunderstruck. They couldn’t for the life of them figure out what was going on, and kept saying, ‘Aren’t these all  Galileans? How come we’re hearing them talk in our various mother tongues?

Parthians, Medes, and Elamites; Visitors from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene; Immigrants from Rome, both Jews and proselytes;

Even Cretans and Arabs! They’re speaking our languages, describing God’s mighty works!’”

SCOTT: The disciples talking made others stop and think of God’s great works. Which is still one of the goals of the church. And it’s not just for others but for ourselves that we do this. God soaks everything. If we all just stop and look we will notice that Creation is crammed full of God and we’ll notice how Great God is in it all, and in our lives.

CHARLOTTE: Creation is truly awesome. And we are a part of creation. As Scott reminds us every week, we matter. Please grab the red hymnal again and turn to number 51 and join in singing that great old song “How Great thou Art”

Red # 51

SCOTT: The disciples got their neighbors thinking about God. But God-talk and miracles can also cause neighbors consternation and confusion. This can lead to mockery. Which is what happens in the text Charlotte is about to read. Peter responds by letting the neighbors know that Jesus’ Way that they follow is about equality for all and salvation for anyone who wants it.

CHARLOTTE: In Acts 2:12-21 we are told that: “Their heads were spinning; they couldn’t make head or tail of any of it. They talked back and forth, confused: “What’s going on here?” Others joked, “They’re drunk on cheap wine.”

That’s when Peter stood up and, backed by the other eleven, spoke out with bold urgency: “Fellow Jews, all of you who are visiting Jerusalem, listen carefully and get this story straight. These people aren’t drunk as some of you suspect. They haven’t had time to get drunk—it’s only nine o’clock in the morning.

This is what the prophet Joel announced would happen:

‘In the Last Days,’ God says,
‘I will pour out my Spirit
on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy,
also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions,
your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes,
I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.
I’ll set wonders in the sky above
and signs on the earth below,
Blood and fire and billowing smoke,
the sun turning black and the moon blood-red,
Before the Day of the Lord arrives,
the Day tremendous and marvelous;
And whoever calls out for help
to me, God, will be saved.’”

SCOTT: Saved. The Spirit like wind and fire swirls down from heaven to save us humans . . . all of us humans.

And remember that the Spirit of God has come to God’s people before in fire. . . to save.
Indeed, the most famous theophany in the Bible may just be when God appears to Moses in the flames of a burning bush to save him and all of God’s people.

And the flame theophany motif continues in the Exodus story with God appearing as a pillar of fire at night before the Hebrews as they roam through the desert.

God is also experienced a number of times on mountaintops in fire and smoke.
Fire symbolizes the Light that God is in our lives. The light of fire – like the Light of God– glows and attracts, it can show us a pathway, and make our way safe. It can be a beacon on a hill for both warning us and guiding us. And we are, of course, supposed to be shining lights ourselves, lights that are not kept under a bushel.

And fire can temper, that is make strong, love does that to our faith. Love can also burn away that which troubles us in the faith, even hate we may arrive with or have been taught. Jesus tells us that all of scripture hangs upon the commandments to love God and others.

God is everywhere and in all things. The loud noise and bright flames of God are everywhere, but sometimes we need to stop and listen. To be quiet and pay attention to see it– to experience it. To get the message, to learn we are all loved and need to be love, that God is in all of us.

CHARLOTTE: Here’s a song along those lines. It may be new to some of us. It’s called Hush and the words and music can be found in our bulletins.
HUSH by James F.D.Martin

SCOTT: This Pentecost, may we all burn like a flame in the wind;

CHARLOTTE: and feel the power of God

SCOTT & CHARLOTTE: and know that the Spirit calls each of our names. AMEN!
* This script comes almost entirely from a script I wrote for Pentecost in 2013.