I’m trying to catch up on a whole bunch of things, so please pardon the lateness of this Pentecost reflection:
Wind and Fire. These are the essential elements in the Pentecost story found in Acts 2. It’s the story of the Church’s “coming out party” , the communal decision having been made to take what up to that point had been a private revelation and make it public. And as anyone who has ever had the painful experience of realizing that what they meant to say is not what people actually heard (and isn’t that all of us?) going public with any message is dangerous. Especially if it’s a proclamation that shakes the very foundations of the beliefs that people cherish and threatens to smash to smithereens the neat worldview on which they have come to rely. And particularly when it poses a threat to their economic, social and political self-interests and privileges. (Though almost no one will ever admit that last one.)
A crucified Messiah? Thems fightin’ words for the Jews to whom those first witnesses at that first Pentecost spoke and whose faith they shared. This was blasphemy of the first degree. A universal Savior who is the very embodiment of unconditional love and therefore cannot be bribed or coerced? There would be a multitude of pagan priests, priestesses and practitioners lining up to attack these “atheists” (that’s what the Romans called these odd Jewish followers of Jesus of Nazareth at the beginning) who risked offending the gods and goddesses. These imaginary dieties – and the priestly intermediaries who made quite a nice living offering sacrifice – depended on the abject terror of the populace to keep the Empire strong and the world spinning on its’ axis. (Appeasement theology is such a deadly temptation, isn’t it? We who profess to be Christian say we believe that we are loved beyond our ability to imagine – the essence of Covenant- but human nature doesn’t give up its’ dark impulses so easily. Always we are in danger of succumbing to the siren’s song of Original Sin, which over and over again whispers to us that we are Alone and Unloved in a universe that Doesn’t Give a Damn. Often we give in to the temptation.)
And how about the Powers That Be? It would take a little time for the embryonic Church to be noticed by those who ruled the Roman Empire, but the writing was on the wall. Caesar was not just the undisputed ruler of the Empire, he was a god himself – or would be, after death, and considered himself so during life. What was this nonsense about “giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s” and “giving to God what is God’s?” EVERYTHING belongs to Caesar! “Religion” whatever its’ form, was a tool to be manipulated, an opportunity for photo ops and publicity stunts, to be trotted out when more basic and brutal means of coercion weren’t working. or would’ve appeared distasteful.
When you consider all of the about, you have to wonder what was wrong with these first followers of Jesus. Why on earth would they voluntarily allow themselves to get swept up in a massive forest fire? (Because that’s what you get when you combine wind and fire together.) When you stack up the elemental forces of destruction of nature, a forest fire is in the top ten. Imagine, for a moment, being in the midst of that conflagration, seeing all that you have known and loved destroyed, realizing, in your final moments of consciousness, that you are being destroyed as well.
There are only two answers to that question which make sense to me:
- They were complete lunatics. (Which, if you read the story to its’ end, seems to have been the conclusion of many in the crowd.) Or:
- They were women and men of supreme Faith. What they saw in the midst of the conflagration that was the Holy Spirit was the Love of Christ, the very person of Christ Himself. And so in they went.
And then something absolutely marvelous happened:
Because we have built our cities and towns so close to forests, most stories we hear about forest fires involve tragedy – massive destruction of property and loss of life. But there’s a paradox in nature when left to itself , which goes something like this – If it weren’t for forest fires there wouldn’t be forests.
When a forest fire blazes, the trees that most often fall victim are the old and the dead trees, trees that are near the end of their lifespans or beyond, lifeless or near lifeless things that block out the sunlight, greedily absorbing more nutrients than they need anymore from the rain and the minerals in the ground, insisting in their own way on preserving a status quo that no longer works, making it impossible for young trees to get the essentials they need to live and to grow. Were it not for fires, all of the trees would reach old age together and die, and the forest would be no more. Forest fires allow the forest to thrive.
So, are you ready to jump into the holy conflagration? To allow all that is dead and dying to burn away in the fire of the Spirit’s love? To allow yourself to be changed, to be renewed, to see your life and the world around you with the eyes of a newborn? To see a vista of God’s grace and movement in the world that you’ve never seen before? To say goodbye to your self , your Ego as you’ve always known it and to allow a new vision to emerge that is closer to that glorious creation God sees when God looks at you through the eyes of unconditional love?
No way of ducking this question anymore, I’m afraid. The wind and fire are raging all about us, forcing us to make a choice. We can shield our eyes (and harden our hearts) and try and flee as far away from the conflagration as possible,. The price of that, however, is the death of our souls as Fear, Despair and Rage kill off the remnants of Faith, Hope and Love within us. Or ,we can take the first terrifying step forward, knowing that Christ has our backs and that the fire of the Spirit will never destroy but will only transform.
I pray that you’ll take that first step today. Or that next step.
And , when you do, if you see me there at the edge, clinging to something that’s dead or dying…….could you give me a push?
(If you wish to purchase book length versions of my writings, I have an author’s page on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/James-Philipps/e/B001K8CO6Y?ref_=dbs_p_ebk_r00_abau_000000)