Sermon by Canon H. Stuart Pike
There is nothing quite like the inspiration of getting up early and watching a Royal Wedding. Especially when the wedding was held on a gloriously sunny Mid-May day in the absolutely beautiful part of the world that is Windsor. Windsor was where I spent the first couple of weeks when my family moved to England for a few years. The home that the RAF was providing for my family was undergoing some renovations and so we stayed at the Windsor Castle Hotel, right across the street from Windsor Castle which was the epicenter of such fanfare and celebration yesterday.
The music was glorious and drew from both very traditional and very modern and both very English and also multi-cultural sources.
Besides the vows and all the liturgy of Holy Matrimony, I especially found the sermon by Archbishop Michael Curry to be very inspirational. His sermon, drawing from both the Old Testament and New Testament readings was about Love (of course) and about Fire! He quoted from the Song of Solomon which speaks about the characteristics of love: “
love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame”
Today we celebrate the Feast of Pentecost, and fire plays a central role. We don’t quite get how that works, it’s even hard to try to imagine what the disciples actually experienced, but whatever it was, it certainly changed everything for them. They were transformed from a huddled group of terrified disciples, hidden behind locked doors into a bold and empowered Church of Apostles who would go out and spread the message of God’s unconditional love, made known to us in the life, teachings and even death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus, our Lord.
What did it look like? Well, there are two major kind of primal elements that come together: Wind and Fire!
The disciples have been through so much. After the years of amazing, powerful and often confusing ministry with Jesus, they’ve seen him crucified. And then starting three days later they start to see him, seemingly in flashes. Appearing and disappearing – sometimes seemingly substantial – proving his physicality for example when showing his hands and side to Thomas, or when eating a piece of fish on the beach with the disciples, and sometimes seeming ethereal like when he just appears among them behind licked doors, or when on the way to Emmaus, he breaks bread with two disciples, they recognize him and then he vanishes. And then finally, the event which we celebrated last week, he Ascends into heaven but promises that he will send the Spirit of truth, which he also calls the Advocate. They’re probably more confused than ever at this point.
But they do what he says: they remain in the city until they are clothed with power from on high. Now they know what Jesus means!
You know, some translations of the Bible speak of the Holy Spirit in today’s Gospel as the ‘Comforter.” That is certainly the word that the King James Version used. So there are all kinds of Churches across the world called the Church of the Holy Comforter. In the NRSV, which we used today, Jesus speaks about sending the Advocate. In the Greek, in which the Gospel is written, its the word, Paraclete. No, that’s not parakeet (in place of the dove of the Holy Spirit.) Imagine, at Jesus’ baptism, his being dive-bombed by the holy budgie!
When thinking about the event of Pentecost, the imagery that we get, and its results, I really think that the English word, “Comforter” is the wrong word. The Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to be engaged in the act of comforting here – nor in anywhere in the Bible that I can think of.
The disciples first know something is up when, behind closed doors, they hear the rush of a violent wind. Its sound fills the room. That’s the first element. And the second is fire – tongues of fire in the midst of a violent wind which rests on each of them. We remember John the Baptist’s words
“I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” This doesn’t sound like a comforting Holy Spirit!
Now, from previous Pentecost sermons, you know of my fascination, as a boy, with fire. Is it a guy thing? Is there a pyromaniac in the heart of all small boys? Maybe it’s in everyone?
You’ve heard how my brother and our friends used to experiment with blowing things up, or trying to perfect molatov cocktails flung at rocks in the gravel pit, but I don’t think I’ve already shared that at an earlier age, (parents, please cover the ears of your children) my brother and I managed to set the garage floor on fire! It was almost a foregone conclusion. We were in charge of mowing the lawn. There was the container of gas for the lawnmower, here we were in a mostly empty garage with a cement floor. What could go wrong?
It was just a small little puddle, who could have known that the whoosh of flames would practically touch the ceiling, and would take more time than we imagined to burn itself out! It was powerful! It certainly had the potential to be violent – just like a violent wind. Fire is elemental, it changes things – undoes things - remakes them – energizes them – it consumes – it can destroy and it can also create.
Archbishop Michael Curry showed how fire is so essential to life and to progress. It allowed the industrial revolution, and the fire of the sun burning is what gives the energy and life to our world! The burning of fire within a person is how love is represented a fire that burns and cannot be extinguished. The fire of passion that spurs us to action in every kind of love – romantic (like at a Royal Wedding) but also compassion shown here at St. Luke’s in the many acts of outreach which has grown and multiplied over the years, and the love that feeds us in worship and receiving Holy Communion.
Today we celebrate Fire and Wind – and the way that it recreates the first disciples and can recreate us. Our faith, inspired and created by a fire burning within us and a great wind that pushes us out of closed doors to action always showing the passion of great love.
I leave you with a question: Where is your passion? How can you draw on the living flame of God’s love, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit implanted in you. Remember this holy love which burns inside you. Fan the flame, draw from it, be on fire with your passion for being faithful to God’s call to action to you! Amen.