Faith Perspectives – May 23, 2018
By Rev. John Campbell
United Presbyterian Church, Oakdale
“Fire” That one word can signal fear or action or even comfort. If one hears “fire” and smells smoke, the thought of destruction quickly comes to mind. Yet when one is at a shooting range, the word signals action. But when it is cold or one is trying to survive, fire can mean a source of warmth or protection. The context is very important.
Last Sunday, the Church celebrated the Day of Pentecost. This is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. And of that day in the second chapter we read that those gathered saw “what seemed to be tongues of fire.” In many groups the emphasis is on “tongues” and this is particular true of the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. For this column I want to consider the image of fire for the occasion called ‘the birthday of the Church.’
First, let us remind ourselves that Pentecost was a feast day of the Hebrews. The Jews celebrated this day 50 days after Passover. As the Passover feast celebrated the exodus of the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt, so Pentecost celebrated God’s gift of the ten commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai. Exodus 19 recounts that when Moses brought the people to the mount, this is what they saw:
“Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire.”
The LORD is connected with the fire. Earlier in Exodus, God had appeared to Moses in the burning bush. One can understand that for the Hebrews it was a very fearful sight to be standing before the fire of the Lord Almighty. So we can see the connection of fear with the fire of God. Yet the Lord’s purpose in fire was to help the people to see the way of life through the ten commandments. God desire followers to be purified, that is to be holy as God is holy.
Now in Acts the tongues of fire that rested upon those gathered on this occasion at first might have seemed fearful, but when “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and … rested on each of them”, they were given the power of speech. When God’s Spirit, God’s energy, comes upon believers it is for a purpose. And that is to give the power to witness, to proclaim the word of God, the word of faith.
The comfort and joy of the fire of God coming upon us is to enable us to be assured of God’s presence in our lives and to give us power to witness to God’s saving work in this world today.
Pentecost invites us to consider our own participation in the fellowship, worship, and mission of the church. It is a time to renew our commitment to live as an essential member of the body of Christ, using our gifts to build the church and share the love and justice of Christ with the world.