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Fire and Wind

By Ray Trygstad
A Sermon for May 26, 1996: The Feast of Pentecost
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville, Illinois, USA

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Fire and wind.
In today's scripture reading, we heard the story of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended on the Apostles. It is an evocative passage which portrays several powerful symbols of God's presence: a mighty wind and tongues of fire. The gift of the Holy Spirit gave the early fathers of the church the power they had lacked to bring the Gospel to the world.

Fire and wind.
In an interesting juxtaposition, tomorrow we celebrate Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died in our nation's service. The holiday was first proclaimed on the fifth of May, 1868 by General John Logan in his General Order No. 11, and was first observed on the thirtieth of May 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers.

In these two days we celebrate God’s special presence in our lives and the loss of those who fought to preserve those lives. Memorial Day commemorates the height of the human spirit in the willingness of men to lay down their lives for others, and the depth of evil that makes that sacrifice necessary. Sometimes it's not even evil so much as it is loyalty or sense of nobility that brings us to battle; in the war originally remembered by this day there were honorable men who believed in their cause on both sides, and the memory of those on both sides was honored. Sacrifice is a key here; the concept of the nobility of sacrifice in battle has a strong pull on us. Throughout history, we have always honored warriors, especially the fallen.

We're fortunate to live in a nation where our warriors have been citizen-soldiers, committed solely to the defense of the nation and never permitted to force their will, or anyone else's will, on the general population of our country. I believe it is unique in the world to live in a society where the military has no involvement in domestic affairs. This lends a certain clarity of purpose to those who serve our nation. To further focus this purpose, our officers take an oath that is clearly singular. It is not on oath to the country, the government, or superior officers, nor is there a single word in the oath about obedience. It is clearly shaped by the Founding Fathers' view of the position of the military in our society. In it, I as many before me swore to ''support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same'', and ''to well and faithfully discharge the duties upon which I am about to enter''. It is not an oath to a king or a nation, nor is it an oath to an old piece of parchment; it is an oath to an idea, the ideas embodied in our constitution.

But of course for all its nobility of purpose and good intent, this is still the works of men. Certainly we should honor the memory of those who have given their lives for our country; most of us would agree that these lives were given to a high cause.

Fire and wind.
Often a sign of battle.

Pentecost honors a sacrifice as well. It is the result of the transcendent sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In John 14, Jesus told his disciples, ''15 If you love me, you will obey what I command. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.'' Pentecost is the fulfillment of that promise.

In Acts 1 Jesus commanded his disciples ''Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'' They knew there was reason to wait, but certainly it was not clear to them just what it meant. They huddled in a locked room, fearful of the Pharisees. The day was the feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Suddenly there was the sound of a mighty wind sweeping through the house; a cleansing wind, a powerful wind. Much to everyone's amazement, tongues of fire appeared on the heads of those in the house. As they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they were not necessarily afraid, but we can imagine there might have been a little consternation at the situation. They left the house, and emboldened by the power of the Spirit they began to preach, casting aside any immediate fears of arrest.

Fire and wind.

The power of the Holy Spirit filled the Apostles. They were now much more than just men; they were men filled with the spirit of the Living God. This was a new presence of God in the world. They each began to speak, and all of those gathered in Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost could understand them. This was a miracle, of course. Jesus had promised them that ''When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.'' So the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, testified through each of them. Many make a great deal of this ''speaking in tongues'' but the real miracle of the day was the boldness with which they preached the Gospel of Jesus.

Peter, the same man who fifty days before had denied Jesus three times, now spoke with eloquence, basing the first sermon of the Christian church on a series of scriptures. In a sermon drawing upon the deep-set beliefs of a large part of the target audience, Peter quoted three passages, all designed to point to the role of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.. The portion included in today's Scripture reading is from the prophet Joel, and is perhaps the clearest Old Testament prophesy concerning the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Peter wove this into a discussion of what the people were seeing before them, that is, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the language of each and ever one present.

What is the crowds' reaction to the miracle of Pentecost? ''Hey, these guys are drunk!'' This reaction is probably not too much different from the way people would react were this particular miracle repeated today. ''Hey look at these guys! What are they up to anyway?'' The public has a tough time with miracles in general, and even more so with this ''speaking in tongues'' miracle. But it was time for miracles, for a very visible miracle to demonstrate the power that the Holy Spirit brought into the lives of these apostles.

Fire and wind.
It quickly became clear as Peter's sermon unfolded that this strange phenomenon of fire and wind brought power to this band of Jesus' followers; it also unlocked the power in each one of them. In First Corinthians 12, Paul discusses how these gifts of the Spirit vary, and how all work together for the good of the Church. Not everyone will be granted this type of power, but the fruits of the Spirit granted to each are of equal value to the Body of Christ, His holy church.

Peter drew upon this gift of the Spirit to speak boldly and fearlessly in witness to the ministry and the divinity of Jesus Christ. This particular gift, the one often overlooked in the glitziness of the other miracles of the day, this boldness, is the gift that the Holy Spirit will bestow upon each of us today, if only we will let Him. It is no easier now to bear witness to Jesus Christ than it was in the early days of the church. Despite the fact that we live in a nominally ''Christian'' society, people are still surprised when folks truly are ''Christian''. Does God expect us to bear witness boldly as Peter did? No, frankly He expects us to bear fruit according to the gifts He has given us, and this particular gift is clearly a rare one. On the other hand, He still does expect us to bear fruit according to the gifts he has given us. In most cases this means that we are expected to witness through our lives and use the gifts we have been given in His service.

Fire and wind.
Not all of us are ever called to be in a position to lay down our lives for our country. Even more so because this is the case, we honor those who have done so. Nor does God call each of us to publicly burn brightly with his Spirit; there are no tongues of flame for most of us. But just as many of us have answered the call to serve our country, God still pours out his Holy Spirit on His believers and expects them to answer His call. God expects us to use the fruits of the Spirit he has given us for the good of the Church, and to bear witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our lives.

Let us pray:
Oh Lord, just as you have poured out your Spirit upon the early church, send the Holy Spirit to each of us. Let the cleansing wind sweep through us, and let us each harbor the fire of Your Spirit within us. Embolden us to live in witness to Your glory and sacrifice. Let us remember the sacrifices made for our nation and be thankful for them, and give us the strength through the Comforter to make the sacrifices You demand of each one of us as Your believers. In Christ's Holy Name we pray, AMEN.

Copyright 1996 Raymond E. Trygstad; all rights reserved. May be copied and distributed freely in its entirety if accompanied by this statement.
Copyright 1999 Ray Trygstad, Naperville, Illinois
Email: trygstad@trygstad.org
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