I heard of a fire that destroyed a century-old home. Thankfully no one was physically injured. Firefighters and inspectors had a difficult time finding the cause of the fire. Until they discovered the south side of the house had beveled stained glass windows, and that on the day of the fire the sun had shone brilliantly.
By reconstructing the scene they were able to determine that the angle of the sun’s rays had shone through a part of the glass that had concentrated the light in such a way as to start a fire on some papers in the house. The sun’s rays were concentrated through the glass with increased and incredible energy and power to start a fire.
Who would have known that the sun’s rays could release such power, properly channeled?
On this Day of Pentecost we recall how God came to the disciples as a flame as fire upon their heads. Pentecost calls us to catch fire with God’s power, God’s love.
How do we do that? Try harder? It seems to me when families, marriages, organizations and churches start spinning their wheels with all the effort of trying this, trying that, as if the solution is only trying harder ….
What about starting with just being ourselves, which can be a far greater challenge.
“Catching Fire” the title of the 2nd in the series of “Hunger Games” books by Suzanne Collins. “Fire” is the symbol for the main character, Katnis Everdeen, as she survives all the threats to her safety and the safety of those whom she loves. She accomplishes incredible feats of victory in the deathly Games not by trying to be someone she is not and just “playing it safe”. Yes she takes risks and sacrifices herself for the well-being of those she loves. But she does not succumb to what the evil “Capital” wants her to be. She is herself. And her best friends are those who encourage her to be herself.
The symbol of fire conveys truth. Getting at the truth of something or someone. Burning something down to what is essential. Truth-telling, in love. We often associate fire with love, passion, a healthy marriage, right? But healthy couples have the ability to tell the truth about each other, to each other, about each other – in love. And this is not always easy:
Being honest about who we are. Those who work with youth in the wider church and community state time and time again that young people are not looking for a perfect church, but an honest church. We need to be honest with ourselves, individually and collectively. Even when it comes to our weaknesses, our faults. We don’t need to be perfect. Just faithful. Let’s start by just being honest with ourselves.
On your way into the building this morning did you notice the logo on our church sign? A flame. That is great! Faith is faith when it’s the only thing you’re hanging onto in life. Faith is faith when we are forward moving with conviction and grace in the rough and tumble of it all, even at the prospect of our death.
Indeed, death we must all face. And tens of thousands of years ago archeology shows humans associated fire with funerals. There is evidence of torches at the grave sites. The word, funeral, derives from the Latin “funus” or “funeralis” which means torch or torchlight procession. The passion of life – the fire of living – is never snuffed out for people of faith. Not even death can extinguish us. So what do we have to lose?
In an article written to the “Canada Lutheran” magazine last summer (Vol.26,No.6,p.31), Bishop Michael Pryse of the Eastern Synod – Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada relates what someone once suggested to him: “Life is not just a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, ‘Wow, what a ride!’ That’s the kind of spirit,” concludes Bishop Pryse, “I’d like to see more of in our churches.”
We heard in the Psalm for today: “Yonder is the great and wide sea … there move the ships” (Psalm 104). A wise person (anon.) once wrote: “The safest place for ships is in the harbour. But that’s not why they were built.” Imagine the church as a boat, a ship. Where’s our boat? Is it continuously in the safety of the harbour? Or are we willing to venture out on the open seas where storms and unknown peril may await?
Usually when we think of expressions of power in relational systems – marriages, churches, organizations, teams – we think of inequality, distances, un-involvement by those who have power. Sometimes those who hold power seem somewhat removed from our reality.
But the good news is that God’s Spirit goes with us. In Romans 8 Saint Paul describes the Spirit of Truth of which Jesus speaks in the Gospel (John 15), a Spirit who travails with us. The Spirit that comes, though a tempest and a whirlwind, does not remain removed, distant, disinterested and disembodied from our risk-taking, our suffering and pain. The Spirit co-groans with us. God feels with us and suffers alongside us. Our honesty signals openness in our hearts. And that openness is always an invitation for that Spirit of love and grace to wash over us and be with us in our struggles.
I read a comforting word from author and Jesuit priest, James Martin, who tweeted this week, “If you are despairing, remember – Christ conquered death. All will be well in the end. And if it’s not well yet, it’s not the end.” Expectant waiting. Hope. A gift of the Spirit is patience. Not to give up.
Sarah Hughes, the only athlete ever to win medals in both Summer and Winter Olympics, was interviewed on CBC last week. She confessed that her many failures and defeats were more instrumental in her growth and development than her medal wins. For example, she mentioned her staggering losses at the Sydney Olympics several years ago when she didn’t win anything. These experiences taught her the value of not giving up and set the stage for her subsequent successes.
We can persevere because God has gone before us.
God bless us on our journey. May the fire of God’s love and Spirit empower us to ventures yet unknown.