A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Earth, Wind, and Fire: A Lectionary Reflection on Acts 2:1-21

Acts 2:1-21

When a past is so secure (or at least remembered so), so profitable (or at least remembered so), and so dominant (or at least remembered so) it can create an unwillingness to consider the future. Past success can blind the church to the importance of seeing the implications of a changing world and to admit that past accomplishment is no guarantee of future success.

Two thousand years ago, on that first Christian Day of Pentecost, the first followers of Jesus were thrust into God’s future in a powerful way. The earth became a different place for them and God dramatically revealed the tectonic shift in their lives with the untamable forces of wind and fire. We all know how destructive wind can be. A hurricane force gale can rip the roofs off houses and it can pick up a tractor trailer and throw it like pitcher throws a baseball. Fire can destroy thousands of acres of forest and any human-made structures that stand in its way. Wind and fire can be frightening.

But wind and fire are necessary as well. Two hundred years ago, mariners used the wind to sail across the ocean, and wind power is being harnessed today as a clean and renewable source of energy. Fire warmed the frigid climate of ancient humanity and today it still provides essential heat for people all over the world.

Of course, we do well to avoid the wind of a hurricane. Every year when a hurricane hits the coast of the United States, there are those whose false sense of invincibility gets the better of them and they stay in the path of danger; and they pay for their decision with their lives. There are also those who build their houses in the midst of the pristine forests of the southwest who lose their homes in a fire fed by a drought. Yes, we do well to avoid that kind of wind and fire.

But Acts chapter two challenges us and encourages us to inject ourselves right into the middle of God's transforming wind and cleansing fire. On that first Christian Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon God's people in dramatic, unmistakable fashion. Those first believers found themselves in the midst of a divine hurricane that would change the earth forever. As those first believers ran out into the streets to proclaim that God was now doing something new in Jesus Christ, so God was bringing heaven to earth in the form of wind and fire to make it clear that he was in the business of change and he was bound and determined to get our attention. God would begin the transformation of this world in the “bodies, minds, hearts and lives of the followers of Jesus.” (N.T. Wright, Acts for Everyone, Part One Chapters 1-12.)  It was Jesus who had brought salvation to the world, and on that first Christian Pentecost, The Holy Spirit gave birth to the church that would be the vehicle to bring the message of that salvation in word and in deed to the entire world.

Power can be used in at least two ways: it can be unleashed, or it can be harnessed. The energy in ten gallons of gasoline, for instance, can be released explosively by dropping a lighted match into the can. Or it can be channeled through the engine of a car in a controlled burn and used to transport a person 350 miles. Explosions are spectacular, but controlled burns have lasting effect, staying power. The Holy Spirit works both ways. At Pentecost, the Spirit exploded on the scene; His presence was like “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). Thousands were affected by one burst of God's power. But the Spirit also works through the church—the institution through which God began to tap the Holy Spirit’s power for the long haul. Through worship, fellowship, and service, Christians are provided with staying power.

Two thousand years later, we the church have access to that same explosive power available to us because we are in it for the long haul. God has given us a mission to complete and we cannot fulfill God's will in this world without the presence and power of the Spirit in our lives as individual Christians and as a church. God does not want people who play at Christianity, who make the faith into a part-time activity, to pay attention to only when it is convenient and when there is nothing else to do. Jesus Christ did not die on the cross for us so that we could give only a small portion of our lives to him. Christ wants all of us or nothing at all. He will not settle for anything in between.

Bishop Tom Wright states the following:
…when it comes to Pentecost it's far more important that you’re out there in the wind, letting it sweep through your life, your heart, your imagination, your powers of speech, and transform you from a listless or lifeless believer into someone whose heart is on fire with the love of God.
God did not send his Spirit so that life could be business as usual. The wind and the fire have come. The earth has been changed; and the people of God have been called to live in the wind and the fire.

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