One of the symbols of Pentecost is the flame. It comes from the description of that Pentecost event that we have in the book of Acts. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2:3) Although I have often felt the Holy Spirit to move like wind, this time when I read this piece of scripture it was the flame, or fire of Pentecost, caught my imagination.
Fire is a powerful thing. It can be a life-giving and transformative source of power or a destructive and uncontrollable force. It is equally awesome both in power and in threat.
A month or so ago, I posed a hypothetical situation followed by a question to the folks at the Thursday morning Service. It was basically this, imagine one Sunday as we are all driving up to church, we find the church on fire. And the question was, if there was one thing you could go in and save what would it be? After I got a couple of answers, I realized that it really was the wrong question to ask, because the question assumes that a parishioner of this parish would want to run into a burning building. Jesus died to save us, not any thing in a building.
The fire of the Holy Spirit holds much in common with ordinary fire in its power and force, but in one important way it is different from common combustion. The fire of the Holy Spirit is a guiding force and power with the sole purpose to bring about the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. Jesus says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (Jn 16:13) Like a streetlamp on the road, the fire of the Holy Spirit has a purpose, to lead us to the kingdom.
The Fire of the Holy Spirit is also in us, to melt our hearts and change us. In our story from the book of Acts, after they are touched by the “tongues as of fire”, we are told that disciples are transformed. Acts reads, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4) The disciples were filled and transformed.
From the moment of our Baptism, Jesus has had a goal for us and the fire of the Holy Spirit has burned within us to fuel us and guide us to fulfill that purpose. Sometimes the flame has burns brightly and other times it has gone cool. When we go to church, when we pray, or when we read the scripture, it should have the effect of fanning those flames so that the Holy Spirit burns bright in each of us. And then burning brightly enough, the impurities of our life, the mistakes, the errors, the bad habits, and addictions, are melted away. What we are left with is both the life that Christ wants for us most of all, and the light of that flame then points us the way to the God’s Kingdom.