Year C; FB Pentecost Sunday, 6.5.2022
I don’t remember too much from my undergraduate organic chemistry class at the University of Kansas. But I do remember one of the lab experiments. One day the lab Teaching Assistant presented us with an experiment to study how heat catalyzes chemical reactions. I remember that there were two liquid substances that smelled quite organic. One was labeled Substance A. The other was labeled Substance B.
We were to light our Bunsen burner – those were the little single flamed torch-like burners that had a rubber hose connected to the lab bench source of flammable gas. To light the thing, we had to use a metal hand operated device that produced a spark from a small piece of flint being struck against a rough surface.
Once the Bunsen burner was ignited and we’d placed a wire mesh stand over the flame holding a large beaker, we then combined Substance A with Substance B. What the heat produced from those two liquids was surprising and unpredicted. It became a solid foam. The liquids were completely transformed by the heat into something different.
Fire. It was fire that made the difference. The fire itself transformed those fluids into something solid.
In her cookbook, ‘Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking,” chef Samin Nosrat instructs the reader that salt enhances flavor; fat, amplifies flavor…; acid brightens and balances; and heat, heat ultimately determines the texture. Though in my organic chemistry experiment I wasn’t preparing food, I was recording the changed texture of the two liquids into one solid. Their texture was transformed.
Fire/heat – this is the element that draws our attention to God’s Power today – WE celebrate God’s Power used in the lively metaphor of fire. It’s a metaphor that we love to remember all these years later in the Pentecost story of Acts. And not just today, on the Day of Pentecost. God’s power is given to us day after day. This power is what we love to call the Holy Spirit. It has the power to change our “texture” and transform our lives sometimes into something very different.
The theme for Pentecost Sunday, is the color red to remind us of the Spirit’s fire and catalytic power. It’s transformative power. You can see that the hangings are red. Many of us are dressed in red. Our children have “party favors” with red streamers to shake whenever they hear the word, “Spirit.”
“SPIRIT!” Go ahead, shake your party favor when I say, “SPIRIT!”
On the day of Pentecost, God’s SPIRIT came upon the disciples. Acts tells us “…suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind…divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”
The group of disciples were filled with the Holy SPIRIT. The flame of the SPIRIT was transformative. It was so powerful that it gave birth to the Church, a community of faith that unites all the nations with God and with each other. The Holy SPIRIT gives God’s people the power to “proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love.” The SPIRIT activates the Church’s mission, manifests itself in prayer and worship. The SPIRIT gives us the courage to proclaim God’s great deeds of justice, peace and love. This is the Church’s mission. If this isn’t the mission, it can’t be called “The Church.”
I was speaking with a neighbor yesterday. He admitted that he watches too much news and listens to too much bad news on the radio. Sometimes, he is down and even, at times, despairing. He’s frantic about his grandchildren going to school and being shot. He despairs of so much greed and corruption and so few people in positions of power we can trust. I was starting to feel dragged down with him.
Until I remembered the Good News of today – that God does not leave us comfortless; that God is alongside us pulling us in that arc of Martin Luther King’s, the arc that bends toward justice. I believe this. And I believe that the Holy SPIRIT directs us powerfully forward.
I’ve seen the Holy Spirit transform lives. I’ve seen the power of a community in prayer that turns lives around. I saw it happen at the end of my father’s life. He was 58 years old and was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was an unhappy and angry man. He drank and he often raged at any little offense. A family friend, a retired Presbyterian pastor came to visit Dad regularly. They talked about antique cars, their children and Dad’s thoughts about his diagnosis. At the same time, Episcopalian friends of my brother’s placed Dad’s name on the prayer list at Trinity Church. The assistant rector there came to see Dad and pray with him, and my parents weren’t even members of that parish!
Dad wasn’t a believer. He wasn’t a praying man. But over the year of his terminal illness something came over him. His rage left him. His anger ceased. He was on chronic steroid medication to keep his brain from swelling too much and that made him lose most of his eyesight. Still, he did not complain. Instead, he had me get a large poster board and write in large letters the names of people HE wanted to pray for. He had befriended a little nine-year-old boy who also had terminal cancer and who with his parents was in Dad’s cancer support group. Dad had me write this kid’s name in large letters on the board. Anyone who was in trouble, their name went on the board. He could see well enough to read those names and offer them in prayer. Dad was transformed.
We can be discouraged. We can be sad. We can be angry. We can lament of all the things that happen in this broken world, and in our own lives. All these are powerful human reactions to things like the horrors of gun violence plaguing innocent people in this country, and the cities being crushed in Ukraine. But the beauty of today directs us forward in hope that the Power of God’s SPIRIT really does change lives…and bends toward changing the course of history.
The power of the SPIRIT, like the fire of the Bunsen burner, transformed immigrants and foreigners into one substance that day in Jerusalem. There were many languages, but one voice that everyone understood: God’s Spirit is here. God’s love, mercy, justice and peace do reign true.
GOD did the work of uniting them all. GOD’S Spirit is doing the work of uniting us all. God’s Spirit is not a power that divides. God’s Spirit that day, and today and every day brings all people together as one. This oneness. This unity is called “The Church.” Yes, it can be broken and human. Still, God’s power gives the Church the courage to witness the love that God has poured on us through the Spirit. Our mission is to “…pray and worship, proclaim the Gospel, and promote justice, peace, and love.”
What great deeds of God’s power is the SPIRIT calling us to share today? Shout it out in your own language! Forgiveness! Joy! Patience!