EARTH, WIND AND FIRE

 

SCRIPTURE: Genesis 11: 1-9; Acts 2:1-21

 

In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!

 

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Today is a special day in the life of the church, because the great story of the church had its beginning on the day of Pentecost. Today, we remember the birth of the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church over 2000 years ago After the disciples got back from Jerusalem, they were together in an upper room. And suddenly they heard the sound of rushing wind and the Holy Spirit appeared as tongues of fire.

††††††††† And as those gathered in the room were filled with the Holy Spirit, they began speaking in languages that some of them had never been taught before. And they poured out of the room, preaching in these languages, and the people on the street were able to understand them. That day, three thousand were baptized as disciples of Jesus Christ, and the Church was born.

††††††††† On the first Pentecost, fire and wind came together symbolizing the coming of the Holy Spirit and bringing life into the new church.

Picture if you will fire and wind blowing across the earth a century ago, or even a few days ago in Alberta, Canada or here in Wyoming causing a deadly mix in the tinder-dry prairies. In the early spring and late fall, when the grass is dry, lightning or campfires from settlers or native Indians could spark a prairie fire. These fires raged across miles of open prairies, and fueled by strong winds could jump rivers and fire-guards. The native Indians called these fires the Red Buffalo.

††††††††† The pioneers tried to fight the fires by plowing fireguards around their homesteads, or by using backfires, a deliberately set fire in advance of the prairie fire. Sometimes these methods worked, sometimes not. Families came from miles around to battle the prairie fire. Still many homesteads were destroyed each year, and many lives were lost due to smoke inhalation, of people getting trapped in and burned by the fire.

††††††††† This morning I want to trace with you one of the themes that runs through the Bible that helps us understand whatís going on in Pentecost.

††††††††† This particular theme starts back in Genesis. In the beginning God created the world to be good. Then things began to break apart. The first break was between male and female, when they moved from partnership to subjugation and lordship. The second break was between brother and brother, when one brother killed his sibling out of jealousy. And it snowballed from there.

††††††††† It snowballed to the point that a few chapters later we have the story of a civilization called Babel, where everyone spoke the same language and lived in an enormous city. They grew so power-hungry that they aspired to build the most magnificent building on the face of the earth Ė a building that would reach all the way to heaven. They wanted to become gods themselves.

††††††††† Stop for a moment and think of the civilizations throughout history that have aspired to make themselves gods, reaching for heaven and reigning over an enormous city where everyone speaks the same language. Think of the civilizations throughout history who have forcibly created entirely uniform societies in which everyone obeys because everyone worships the leader as a god.

††††††††† Lest we think that it is a new phenomenon, here is Genesis, reminding us that there is nothing new under the sun. A very long time ago, in a place called Babel (Confusion), the power of humanity was misused to create a shrine unto itself. Even when humanity was not killing each other, it was misusing its power to worship itself.

††††††††† And so God scattered them. The story goes that God changed their languages, so that they were no longer one people. And no longer being one people, they didnít have nearly so much power to abuse. Humanity was scattered across the face of the earth as disparate tribes. And the wound of Eden grew bigger.

††††††††† One of the deep beliefs of Christianity is the belief that there is a brokenness in the heart of every human being that traces itself back to Eden. Every time siblings hurt each other in ways that are not simply kids growing up, every time spouses live in war instead of partnership, every time friends verbally stab one another in the back, every time anger breaks out to the point of violence, or a tribe or nation goes to war, every time a person withholds forgiveness, every time a person fails to take notice of human suffering around us, it comes from our ancient wound.

††††††††† We are not supposed to live like that with other human beings. We are not supposed to live in fear of each other. We are not supposed to live in anger with each other. We are not supposed to think of those around us in terms of what we can get from each other. We are not supposed to live in perpetual unforgiveness.

††††††††† And when we do, it reminds us that we are broken. It reminds us that we inherited Eden.

††††††††† The good news of Pentecost is that God started fixing what was broken. Think about the story of Pentecost. Did any of it sound familiar? The speaking of the languages was a direct un-doing of the Tower of Babel catastrophe. It was God putting back together what had been scattered. Except this time, he didnít cause everyone to have the same language. They all kept their languages. But he gave the people the gift to understand each other in spite of their differences. And when they could understand each other, they began joining together.

††††††††† What was created at Pentecost was not the homogenous empire of the Tower of Babel. It was a community where people still had their differences, but suddenly those differences didnít keep them apart anymore. It was a community of people who cared more about the wellbeing of each other than about themselves. It was a community that was so close, so compassionate, so healthy, so life-giving that it would one-day be known as a Body.

††††††††† And the wounds of Eden? Because of what Jesus did on the cross, the wounds started to be healed. And people had the capacity to live in grace and compassion with each other in a way they never had before.

††††††††† People found in the grace of Christ the capacity to live as servants, as brothers and sisters, as friends. They found in the grace of Christ the capacity to be together in a way that was healing. And they saw for the first time since Eden a glimpse of Godís plan for his human race: to live together, as one family, with nobody left out. Mother Teresa said that the great problem of the world is that weíve forgotten we belong together, all of us, with nobody left behind, forgotten, or disposed of.

††††††††† In Pentecost, we saw the beginnings of what it looked like when we begin to remember that. We saw people drawn together, knit together, held together by love.

††††††††† There is a Roman Catholic priest known simply as Father Boyle. He runs what has become the largest gang ministry in the U.S., and has a great story to tell. On one occasion Father Boyle was speaking and using John 17 as a source. This is where Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and he voices a hope that someday, ďthey may be one.Ē Many of us read that and think about unity among denominations or churches or whatnot, but Father Doyle read that and thought that meant nobody should be left out of the Christian community. Period. As Father Boyle put it, ďthe whole goal is to create a circle of compassion and kinship, and then slowly move alongside the people on the edges so that nobody is left out.Ē

††††††††††† And so he felt himself called to work with one segment of people who were left out of the Christian community: Gang members! Father Boyle has been working with gangs close to 30 years. And is method is simple and brilliant. He goes to prisons, hands out thousands of his cards, and says, ďCome and find me when you get out, and Iíll give you a job.Ē

††††††††† If they do, they become part of Homeboy Ministries, a nonprofit that is focused on simply inviting gang members to become part of a community, and in the process is usually a catalyst for transforming their lives. And so members of rival gangs who may have hated each, and within six months of working at Homeboy Ministries are usually transformed.

††††††††† Father Boyle has realized that the deepest longing of Godís heart Ė that we might be one Ė is also the deepest longing of ours. There arenít enemies who deep down donít yearn for reconciliation. There arenít outcasts who donít deep down yearn to be brought back into the community. There isnít anyone who doesnít long to be part of the human circle of kinship. There isnít anyone who doesnít at the deepest level of their hearts yearn to at be one with others in a healthy, holy, life-giving community. What God longed for since the Tower of Babel and initiated at Pentecost is also one of the deepest yearnings of each of our hearts.

††††††††† Thatís what Pentecost is all about. It started the age of the Church. And the Church is supposed to be the place where that kind of healing, that kind of relationship, that kind of community happens.

††††††††† The Church is supposed to be the place where the outcasts finds a home. The Church is supposed to be where enemies find forgiveness in each other. The Church is supposed to be the place where strangers become friends, and friends becomes family, and family becomes the Body of Christ. The Church is supposed to be a place where everyone us invited in with grace and compassion, and nobody gets left out.

††††††††† Are we coming to church looking for that kind of community? Are we coming to church looking for that kind of healing, that kind of invitation? Are we coming to church looking for that kind of welcome? Are we coming to church intending to be that kind of community, practice that level of compassion, leave no one out?

††††††††† Are we coming to church looking for the miracles that God will do between us, knitting us together into a Body? Are we willing to live into our part of this Pentecost story?

††††††††† The disciples on that first Pentecost experienced the rush of a mighty wind and tongues of fire. What resulted was not a controlled burn --- but a wildfire across the earth.

††††††††† MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH