Message from Our Pastor
Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's May 20th homily. Relevant readings:Acts 2:1-21, John 15:26-27 & 16:4-15, Ezekiel 37:1-14
In general, I don’t like festival Sundays – at least not when it comes to preaching. Christmas and Easter are the worst. What more is there to say than the angels’ “For unto you this day has been born a savior, the Lord,” or Mary Magdalene’s “I have seen the Lord! He is risen.” But I like the festival of Pentecost. There are so many images: the rattle of bones, the pains of birth, what it means to be called and sent as a prophet, adoption, and that’s just some of the readings.
Today I’d like to talk about the fire of Pentecost. The text from Acts actually says: “...divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, a tongue resting on each of them.” But I think it is fair to talk about the more general fire of Pentecost. After all, John the Baptist said: “I baptize you with water, but the one who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”
Take a moment to think about fire. What comes to your mind? What are your experiences with fire? Do you think of fire as primarily good or as mostly destructive?
Fire changed the world. Fire provided protection from cold and predators. Fire cooked meat preserving the supply and aiding in digestion. Fire hardened spearheads and pottery making them more durable. Fire turned silica into glass, softened metal to make it more pliable and purified precious metals like silver and gold.
Could we live without fire today? Probably not...well, maybe we could. But would we know how to live without fire of some kind?
Consider some of the Bible’s fire texts. In the Old Testament fire is predominately used in the offering of sacrifices. Bulls, goats, sheep, grain, flour, olive oil. All are meant to be offered up as a sacrifice to God by means of fire.
Without the fire there is no sacrifice. And the sacrifices described in the Old Testament required a very specific fire: the altar fire that was never permitted to be without ember or flame. It was a holy fire, a fire instituted by God, breathing in and out the very presence of God.
Today, this flame continues to burn in many sanctuaries. We call it an eternal candle or eternal flame. Here at St. Mark, we are fortunate enough to be able to use our eternal flame as it is intended, as a sign of God’s presence. The flame tells us that Jesus is here, literally.
The Holy Spirit that has been given so graciously to us at our baptism requires our vigilance, both to keep its passionate flames burning and to watch for unfavorable conditions that could lead to a firestorm. It is a gift with great possibilities, allowing us and enabling us to give witness to the gospel in ways we could not have previously imagined. But it is a gift that comes with responsibility.
So, as you encounter the flames of life, on the grill, around the campfire, on your stove, in your fireplace, under your fondue pot, at the tips of your candles — remember that you are alight with the Holy Spirit. You are a walking eternal flame, the warming, light-bearing presence of God in the world.
On you, Christ has breathed his flaming breath. In you, he lives and burns. This gives you a power capable of changing lives. Amen.