Friendly Fire Pentecost Sunday Acts 2:1-21 6/4/2017
According to Leviticus 23:15-16 the day of Pentecost is the 50th day after the Sabbath of the Passover week. Pentecost is also called the Feast of Weeks in Deuteronomy 16:10. In Exodus 23:16 it is known as the Festival of the Harvest and the Day of First Fruits in Numbers 28:20.
Even these ancient festivals were borrowed upon by the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures, the OT, borrowed from the different cultures they were exposed to — those cultures that had heavy influence on them–the Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian cultures, traditions that go back even before recorded time.
So, you see, Pentecost is an ancient festival celebrated years before the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But this festival is a continuation of a promise made by God in Jesus Christ and promised by Jesus in his last days and hours with his disciples. On this day we celebrate the help, the hope, the confidence, the guidance, the freedom, and the empowering presence of God’s promise, the Holy Spirit, the Counselor, the Advocate, the Helper.
Let us pray: God of Life, on this Day of Pentecost we are reminded of your powerful work through the Holy Spirit. Make us ever more mindful of the work of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. For it is the Spirit who calls us together, gathers us in community, and opens our minds, eyes and hearts to your grace. It is the Spirit that moves us to do good things. It is the Spirit that upholds us in our faith. Gracious God thank you for sending your Spirit upon your followers that day in Jerusalem which began the Christian church. Continue to uphold us in your grace that, with the power of the Holy Spirit we may be flames of your grace to this troubled world. Amen
If you’re not one now, you can become one — and perhaps that’s the ultimate message of Pentecost: becoming a Spirit-filled hotshot for God.
Hotshots – are those modern day persons who fight forest fires. Take the Arrowhead Hotshots, for example. Their job is to put out fires. Hotshot Christians may be more interested in setting a few fires, or keeping the flame alive. But, don’t distress. The Arrowhead Hotshots are starting to get busy right now and expect to be throughout the summer as do most if not all of the forest fire fighters.
It is the beginning of the fire season, and they’re not likely to get much sleep. Forest fire predictions for the western states will probably be as high as usual.
Fire fighters have no life, except fighting fire. Listen to what the Web site says about the duties of an Arrowhead Hotshot: Hotshot crews are expected to accept the most difficult and hazardous tasks. A typical shift is 16 hours and working for 32 hours without relief often occurs. Firefighters often endure hot, smoky, dirty, dusty working conditions with little sleep and poor food. Sleep deprivation is the norm and working with sharp tools, in the dark, on a steep hillside, under hazardous conditions is a common occurrence.
Hotshots are frequently required to work for days at a time with only the 40 pounds of equipment carried in a fire pack. The work performed is physically demanding and emotionally taxing. Together for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 6 months, the crew eats, works, travels, and rests as a unit. Under these conditions, compatibility, friendship, understanding, and team pride are an absolute necessity.
That’s the kind of Pentecost commitment the Holy Spirit brings to the church: compatibility, friendship, understanding, and team pride.
As the Arrowhead Hotshots work, they function with two basic truisms in mind: Forests are good. Wildfires are bad. That’s the unforgettable message of Smokey the Bear and Bambi, popular characters who have branded our brains with the idea that wildfires are the enemy of the forest.
For over a century, we’ve battled these blazes with everything we’ve got, and our army of firefighters has grown to over 30,000 strong. In 2015 alone, the Forest Service spent just over $3 billion to fight fires.
But our efforts haven’t paid off in ways we expected. In fact, our efforts to control wildfires have actually made the forest fire situation far worse — according to many experts. Maybe Smokey shouldn’t have been so down on smoke.
Don’t get me wrong. We need the Arrowhead Hotshots and thousands like them. But the forest hasn’t always had a combative relationship with fire. For a long time, fire was really quite friendly. Before humans intervened, scattered ground fires — naturally ignited by lightning — cleared forest floors of accumulating leaves, branches and needles every 5 to 25 years. These ecological friendly fires swiftly swept across the forest floor, leaving large trees intact with room to grow.
Fire is good for trees such as scrub oaks which re-sprout from roots or branches after a burn has incinerated their outer limbs. Likewise forest fires are good for lodge-pole and jack pine trees, which both rely on the pulse of flame through their crowns to melt away the waxy bond that holds their cones closed; their seeds then fall to fresh ash below, where they can take root without much competition. Even wild blueberries and raspberries produce a more abundant crop from a hardier root stock after a burn. Periodic forest fires, it seems, are natural, normal, divinely intended and helpful.
Our efforts to control friendly forest fires have actually made conditions worse. For over 100 years we’ve interrupted an organic cycle we didn’t even know existed, and are only now beginning to understand. Scientists suspect certain plants have evolved by using naturally occurring burns to their advantage. Through our firefighting we may have inadvertently impeded the spread, the natural balance, and growth of wild vegetation.
Farmers know that some burning is good for the plants and good for the soil of the farm. Some burning, some adversity, might be good for us, too. If only we could periodically burn away the weeds choking our virtues; if only we could periodically torch the harmful minor faults in the undergrowth of our hearts. Then might we be better Christians?
Friendly fires create appropriate fertilizer, strengthen root systems and remove debris that thwarts vigorous growth. Isn’t that what we want in our faith? Isn’t there something to create spiritual fertilizer with appropriate and helpful nutrients, strengthening our roots and removing debris that hinders growth?
What could there be?
Call it the friendly fire of the Holy Spirit, which came on Pentecost and remains alive and available to any and all. The Holy Spirit came that day to start the church, flames like tongues of fire alighting on the heads of men and women, illuminating their minds with the first great gift of speaking languages they did not know.
The friendly fire of the Holy Spirit can burn away the undergrowth and debris of our lives, and allow new life to appear. We can have our souls renewed, our hope enlivened and our worship services made even more powerful, if only we allow this cleansing fire of God to burn within us.
We need the Holy Spirit to be healthy Christians, to be a healthy church — like our lands and forests need friendly fire. Deprived of fire, woodland landscapes from New York’s Adirondack Mountains to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, from the Florida Everglades to the Hollywood Hills of California have undergone dramatic changes:
- Once-grassy clearings are closed up with trees.
- Swamps are filled in with vegetation and have dried up.
- The open area under the tree canopy, known as the under-story, is clogged with a thick mass of vegetation.
Our souls, too, may feel closed up, dried up and clogged. But it doesn’t have to stay that way, because Christ sends to us the Holy Spirit, right here and right now. This Holy Presence, this gift, is a cleansing fire that changes lives. Maybe that’s what stops us. Maybe fear of change stops us.
- It doesn’t stop the Arrowhead Hotshots.
- It need not stop the Holy Spirit Hotshots.
- Take the risk. Jump into a new and dangerous faith.
- Get unsettled.
- Feel the fire.
- Let it burn.
Leap blindly into God’s friendly cleansing fire! This little adversity, this little challenge is good and healthy for every soul. Take the leap. Open your heart. Let the fire of God burn within you!
@Tim Wolbrecht, June, 2017
Here’s the audio recording of the sermon. TO LISTEN, in the SoundCloud window below, CLICK (or double-Click) the red button with the white arrow pointing to the right. If that does not work, then click on the “Sermon 6-4-17” name of the sermon.