This Church Is On Fire

Grace Lindvall
(Acts 2: 1-21)

It’s Pentecost, y’all! One of my favorite Church holidays – today we celebrate the descending of the Spirit into our lives, which were forever transformed that Pentecost long long ago. We read this morning from Acts 2, and we hear the story of our family of faith and the coming of the Spirit into their lives to ignite the spread of the gospel message. Our scripture reading picks up in the second chapter of Acts following the disciples witnessing the ascension of Jesus and their subsequent return to the Upper Room to pray for guidance on what to do next and to seek the presence of the Holy Spirit in the next chapter in their faith and in their lives. We meet the disciples in that Upper Room here in Acts 2:1…

Listen now to Acts 2:1-21

Will you pray with me? God who is present with us always, pour out your Spirit among us like a violent rush of wind, inspire us, stir your Spirit in our hearts and in our minds that we may come to know and trust you more and be inspired by your active, vibrant, disruptive presence in our lives – in this place and in the places we are to go. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

 Fire. Its flames are dangerous, they can engulf and destroy.

Fire, its terrifying, its overpowering. And yet its life giving. It has the power to destroy and the power to create, the power to light up an entire space, the power to heat a gathered people. It has the power to change entire landscapes. Fire, it is both life giving and it is dangerous.

Wind. A cool breeze on a summer day relaxes and comforts, brings soothing to an afternoon of heat. Wind moves across the landscape creating beauty and energy. And when the wind is harnessed, the wind can do powerful things like create energy. But the wind can only be harnessed, it can never be stopped, and its violent rush can cause major change.

In the scripture we just read, the story of Pentecost, we hear the description of the moment the Spirit descended upon the disciples, the imagery that it paints. There is no use trying to paint a picture of what this event looked like, what the tongues of fire that rested atop the disciple’s head looked like or how the wind blew open the doors of the Upper Room. That may only lead to a distance between ourselves and that first Pentecost, for we have not seen flames of fire and rushes of wind. Rather, what is more important here in Acts, is the imagery which Luke, the writer of the book of Acts, uses. The excitement he drums up with the descriptions of fire and wind, the drama of that Pentecost moment. Throughout the Bible, fire and wind are associated time and time again with theophany experiences, experiences of God made manifest in the world.

Why fire and wind though? Why do experiences of God always become associated with fire and with wind? It’s not because God only presents God’s self in fire and wind in a literal sense. I think rather it is because fire and wind capture the rush of the experience of God’s presence in our lives. The danger and the life giving capabilities of fire and wind, the danger and the new life of God.

Yes, I said it, the danger, the danger of the fire and wind – the danger of the Spirit. The Spirit is not simply a holy comforter, the Spirit rather is as disruptive as fire and violent rushes of wind. The Spirit is disruptive and beautiful, inconvenient and life-giving, confusing, and inspiring.

So it is in this Pentecost moment; perhaps not quite what the disciples had been expecting, perhaps not quite what they had wanted to be frank. But that’s the way of the Spirit, its absolutely life-giving and absolutely not what we were expecting.

Throughout the Bible we see instances of this over and over again – of the Spirit pouring out upon the people not to ease the pain of life’s challenges but to create new and exciting life, to call us from our places of comfort into new places of unknown grace. The Spirit has a funny way of being absolutely life-giving and totally inconvenient.

As the grandmother of a seminary classmate of mine was keen on saying, “God is the enemy of comfort, and the Prince of Peace.” God is the enemy of comfort and the Prince of Peace.

The disciples in the Acts passage experience that, they are gathered in the Upper Room, praying, hoping, for the Spirit to comfort them in the Upper Room, to comfort them in their despair for their departed savior. And the Spirit comes but it does more than comfort them, instead it compels them. We read in the beginning of the story that the disciples are gathered together tucked away in private in the Upper Room and then the Spirit comes and once the Spirit comes the disciples are then gathered on a public corner speaking in tongues about the glory of God to the crowded streets. The Spirit compels them to leave the Upper Room and to begin ministry on the streets that surround them.

There they are a defeated bunch, not too unlike us, I might presume. Their grand plans hadn’t quite worked out how they expected. They followed Jesus, went on a three-year tour of Israel watching him heal and preach and teach, following the one they believed in. And then he was killed by the occupying Roman Empire, their dreams smashed, their expectations of rising to power were quelled. And as Jesus went to the tomb, the disciples left, the crowds dissipated, the energy left and there they were, the remaining few tucked away in that Upper Room.

Its not unlike us, if we’re honest with ourselves, if we are willing to admit the black sheep in the room, or the sanctuary. Mainline Christianity is on the decline; our church too has seen its membership dwindle throughout the last 40 years. We’re the last remaining few who we have watched others come and go. We’re still here, but the truth is that memberships in churches across the country, particularly White mainline congregations have dwindled and our congregation has not been immune to the problem.

As the disciples sat, the last remaining few of them, perhaps wondering what went wrong, what they should do now. Should they go back to the way things were before they knew Jesus? Is the whole Jesus thing over? Did they fail? Should they return to lives as fisherman? Or, can’t they just go back to how it was when Jesus was alive, when they were witnessing miracles and amazing preaching – can’t they just have that back?

So too we sit – wondering, what do we do now with our declining membership, our lower worship attendance, our smaller budgets and fewer programs. How do we get that back? How do we get back the vibrancy of the 1980s how do we go back to a time when the sanctuary was full, the rolls were long and the programs were abundant? How do I get back to the way things were? The way I liked things?

As the disciples waited, they prayed, they prayed fervently – with trust and with hope. What came for them was not Jesus, not the way things were three years ago, it was not another Galilean messiah they could follow around and watch do miracles. What they got was the Spirit and the Spirit didn’t bring them back to the way things were – rather, the Spirit compelled them to go out and do a new thing, do a new thing over and over and over again. The Spirit compelled them to leave the Upper Room, the closed door and go onto the Streets where the people sneered at them but also where the people stood in amazement at the new thing God was doing. The Spirit compelled them to be messengers of the gospel message not just watchers of the gospel message. The Spirit sent them out so that they may prophesy.

So, what with us? We’re a people not unlike the disciples, sitting, wondering, waiting, hoping, praying. What is next? What comes after things didn’t work out the way we had planned? What happens when the ways things were isn’t the way things are? What happens when the way things are isn’t what I like? What happens when the way things are can’t be fixed by bringing back the way things were? What then? What then? What then?

The Spirit comes. And in the Spirit’s way – it calls us out, giving us disruptive, inspiring, life-giving and new words, new actions, new ways for things to be. The Spirit gives us a new word, a word that calls us out of what we know and into the deep mystery of what we do not know. It calls us out of our comfort so that we may find where true peace with Christ lies. In the midst of all our discomfort, the Spirit will give us peace. For, remember, God is the enemy of comfort and the Prince of Peace.

Just as it was with the disciples, so it is with us, or so it ought to be. The Spirit comes and the Spirit changes things – the Spirit creates new things, the Spirit does not maintain the old, the Spirit creates and re-creates, the Spirit brings about the new over and over and over again. Before the Spirit descended upon the disciples gathered in the upper room, the disciples were left to return to the ways of before. But no disciple goes back to the way things were for, as David Lose says, “When the Spirit comes upon the people, the return to normalcy is no longer an option.”

So, I ask you this question – what Upper Room is the Spirit calling you out of? What Upper Room is the Spirit calling Trinity Presbyterian Church out of? What comforts have we come to know too well to make room for the Spirit? And what streets is the Spirit calling us to? What new thing is God doing with you? What new thing is God doing with Trinity Presbyterian Church? What is keeping us knowing the ease of comfort rather than the Prince of Peace?

Friends- we must look for the work of the Spirit not in the ways it comforts us but in the ways it compels us. Not in the ways it maintains what we know but in the ways it creates a new thing. We must look for the Spirit not in what we know but in the mystery we do not yet know.

For that is the way of the Spirit, since the beginning of time it breathed life into the places that were void and dead. The Spirit moved itself across the watery chaos to bring forth life in the beginning, the Spirit moved across the land to guide Abraham and his ancestors to a new place, the Spirit breathed across a valley of dry bones to awaken them. The Spirit descended upon the disloyal, betrayers of the Jesus, the dwindled disciples gathered into and Upper Room to create a movement, to create a faith, to create a church!

It moves into the nothing, it moves into the failures, it moves into dead-ends. It moves into places where there seems to be no way. And there the Spirit swoops in, when there is no comfort left, when there is no assured way forward, when there are no certainties, but only the mystery that lies ahead, the mystery that lies with God. The Spirit moves in to create a new thing.

So we must let ourselves and let our church let go of those things that we hold onto, those things that keep us from letting the Spirit dive into our lives and do a new thing. For we will not find ourselves in the Spirit as individuals or as a church until we give ourselves away. Until we give away that which we know, that which we like, that which is just how we want it, and move instead into what the Spirit is inviting us to, into what the Spirit is compelling us to, to a whole new mystery that is far greater than our comfort and far messier than what we know and far more beautiful than what we can imagine.

For God is the enemy of comfort and the Prince of Peace.

In the name of God who awakens us to new Peace. Amen.