Pentecost Sunday (June 4, 2017)
Since we were tiny tots we have been learning that some things are hot and some are cold. We learned that it is good to know about this before we touch something. When something is hot, we say it’s hot as fire . . . Or, in August, we might say: Today was hot as hell. When something is cold, we say, “It’s ice-cold.”
Fire and ice are effective metaphors for personal, relational, and spiritual realities. In fact, we categorize our relationships by their temperatures. Our emotions are the thermometers. I hear, “She is hot stuff . . . a real hotty.” [But, what would a simple priest know about that?] “He really burns me up.” At the other end of the thermometer, ice is associated with the absence of passion. We talk about an “icy stare,” a “cold shoulder,” we speak of relationships “warming up” or “cooling off”.
With long-term relationships, couples, good friends, find a comfortable temperature between fire and ice. Warm is used for daily life. Of course there will be occasional spikes of higher and lower temperatures - and that is normal in relationships; that is life. But. On balance, warm is good; we want warmth in our valued relationships - the warmth of security and trust, the warmth of understanding and acceptance, the warmth of devotion and care.
Two thousan years ago Jesus and the early church -- building on human experience -- spoke and wrote most eloquently. Today, on this feast of Pentecost, we hear Luke’s spectacular account of Pentecost: hearing a noise like a strong driving wind, with miraculous communication and fire! “Tongues” - - because they would preach the word - - “as of fire,” rested on each.” Think of it! Fire from heaven, dramatic manifestations of the coming of the Holy Spirit. Almost terrifying in its drama. The drama did not occur again in this book or anyplace else in scripture - no later sounds of rushing winds and no more tongues of fire. But. There was enthusiasm; there was excitement in relationship of persons with God and God in Jesus -- and among the members of the community.
The Holy Spirit is the fire of god that inspires, incites warmth in our sometimes-chilly hearts toward each other and toward all of God’s children. Within us the Holy Spirit is the fire that stands over against the ice of our cold- heartedness, our selfishness, our deadness. The fire burns with us, not to produce some sort of visible, celestial pyrotechnics, but to incite us to be loving. We recall Paul writing to the Corinthians in regard to the various gifts of the Holy Spirit; he concluded: “The greatest of these is love.”
The fire ignited at our baptism burns within our depths; it needs to be nurtured on this feast. The essence of sin is the attempt to put the flame out or say that less-than-warm is good. Is “being cool” good? ... A question for pondering.
When we speak of hot and cold in relationships, we recall the glorified Jesus spoke some scary words to the Laodiceans in the Book of Revelation: “I know your deeds; I know you are neither hot nor cold! But, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold,” --- and now the scary part --- “I will spew you out of my mouth.” Our Lord gives hope a few verses later: “Here I stand, knocking at the door. If anyone hears me calling and opens the door, I will enter his house and have supper with him, and he with me.” Warm. This is the picture on the holy card with a gentle Jesus standing by a door with no handle on the outside. We must open the door from the inside of our hearts.
Today is the feast of Pentecost. The first Christian community moved from fear and inertia to pants-on-fire enthusiasm. We have fire within us. We also have some chill within us. This feast reminds us to open our hearts to the Holy Spirit, the spirit of love who reminds us of our baptism, and calls us to moments of fire and the realization of warmth -- for the long haul.
The Holy Spirit has called each of us by our own name. St. Francis de sales stated so clearly the manner of our call: “Be who you are and be it well.” Today is a day to become very aware of our gifts, not our shortfalls. A day to pray: “Come holy spirit.” Today is a day to examine how we are developing the individual, unique gifts that the Lord has given us. Today is a day of warmth - even of fire.
Today is Pentecost, the day of the great gathering and the day of the great sending out. We have been waiting for the spirit; let’s show our faith to the world.