When I was younger I had an unhealthy obsession with fire… Ok, who am I kidding? My inner 13 year-old is still fascinated by fire and all things flammable. Those of you that were at the Easter Vigil this year can attest to this moth-like personality flaw of mine. Its amazing that I wasn’t then, nor have I ever been, turned into a human candle.
Once, as a tween, I recall setting fire to what seemed like a very large section of beach grass. I didn’t intend to set the blaze. But, you know, fire has this way of spreading. I was carelessly wiling away an afternoon lighting small clumps of dead grass on fire, and then stamping them out just as they started to spread. On one clump I waited too long. Realizing that the fire would not be contained, I panicked and bolted. On my mad dash from the scene of the crime I stopped a passing car to alert them that I had “seen” a portion of the beach on fire, and could they please get help.
Fire spreads. Duh. Its so obvious that religious folks have caught on, and fire is a profound metaphor across the religious spectrum. As a result, being the churchy guy that I am, you might say I am doubly drawn to fire. This Sunday the whole Church, and ours with it, will celebrate the gift of fire personified in the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended at Pentecost like a flame from heaven and, among other things, the Church was born. Ever since that initial spark the blaze has spread from person to person, from community to community, across all kinds of borders and boundaries. The fire of the Spirit will not be contained or constrained.
Often for Episcopalians, more comfortable with predictability and formality, this image of a wild God, a God that cannot be directed or channeled, is a frightening and off-putting prospect. But, just as God’s Spirit broods over, protects, and comforts, so too it challenges, provokes, and hopes to ultimately consume us.
This Pentecost, as Carol invited this week, I hope you will participate in the liturgy and pageantry of Pentecost. So too, I hope this season of Pentecost you will contemplate what it would mean to allow yourself to be caught up in the blaze that is life in God’s Holy Spirit and so be swept up in lighting the world on fire with the passion and power of God’s love.