Monday, June 13, 2011

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire

Sermon from June 12, 2011
(The Day of Pentecost – Year A)
Acts 2: 1-21
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

Last Thursday afternoon, Susan and I flew back from a few days of vacation in Las Vegas.
On the plane trip back home, we had beautiful views out of the window.
After we departed from Vegas, we saw the desert below us - and then the magnificent sight of the Hoover Dam.
Soon after, we were treated to a bird’s-eye view of the Grand Canyon down below us.

After a while the pilot of the plane made an announcement.
The pilot informed us, saying:
“Folks, if are sitting on the left hand side of the plane, you can look out your window and plainly see the wildfires that are raging through Arizona.”
Susan and I then gazed out of our window down below.
However, I could not see any red or orange flames at all.
But we could very plainly see miles and miles and miles of smoke, billowing up from the parched earth below.
The area covered by the white smoke in Arizona was truly massive.
Yet even though I could not see a single red or orange flame, I could certainly see the smoky effects of this disastrous fire.
For I know that
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Today is the day of Pentecost.
The day of Pentecost was and is a Jewish festival occurring 50 days after Passover.
Therefore, since Passover and Easter coincide, the Day of Pentecost is also 50 days after Easter.
The day of Pentecost seems to be the one Sunday each year when we give a particular shout out to the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity.

The history book in the New Testament, called the Acts of the Apostles, gives us an account of what happened on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection.
In the Acts of the Apostles, it is written:
“When the day of Pentecost had come, the followers of Jesus were all together in one place.
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind and it filled the entire house.
Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them.
And all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Back two thousand years ago, many people were in Jerusalem for the Pentecost festival.
And upon hearing the sound of the fiery wind of the Holy Spirit, the crowd gathers together in amazement.
The people cannot see red and orange flames of the Holy Spirit.
But the crowd can hear the followers of Jesus speaking in the native languages of the crowd.
The crowd can hear the apostle Peter raise his voice and confidently preach the words of the good news of Jesus Christ.
For even though the crowd on Pentecost morning could not see a single red or orange flame, they could certainly see the smoky effects of this amazing fire of words.
Because where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Today, on this day of Pentecost, as your preacher for the day, I believe that it is part of my job to show you, to convince you, that there is a Holy Spirit.
There is a Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus who is alive and active in our world today.
As your spiritual leader, I do believe that there is more to this world than what meets the eye.
As we say in the Nicene Creed, we believe in all that it is, seen and unseen.

Although most of us will never see the red and orange flames of Pentecost,
We can see the effects of the Holy Spirit.
We can see the smoke that billows up from the fiery Spirit of Jesus.

When Jesus began his earthly ministry, Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus at night.
Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Holy Spirit is like the wind.
You cannot see the wind, where it comes from or where it goes.
But we can see the effects of the wind, how it bends tree branches and flutters flags on flagpoles.

So it is with Jesus’ Holy Spirit.
We might not see the wind and the flames.
But we can see the smoking effects of the Spirit.
For where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

Sometimes, I wish that you could have my perspective on the people of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church.
Sometimes I wish that you could look out of the airplane window and get a bird’s-eye view of the massive amount of Holy Spirit smoke that is billowing out of the windows and doors of this church.

A few months ago, one man came to my office to tell me that - after worship one Sunday, he turned to his wife and said:
“I don’t know about you, but I believe that the Holy Spirit is doing incredible things at St. Alban’s.
Is it just me? Am I crazy?
Or can you feel the power of God working in this church, as well?”
And his wife turned to him and replied:
“Yes, honey.
I can feel it, too.”

One woman, a life-long Episcopalian, came to my office after Easter Day.
She came to tell me that had felt an energy, a holy and energizing presence, during Easter worship that she had never felt in her life before.
As she drove away from this church on Easter morning, she had exclaimed to herself:
“O my God, this is what the Holy Spirit feels like!”

Another woman, a woman named Debbie Williams, also came to my office after Easter.
She told me that she wanted to be baptized.
And so we are baptizing her today, baptizing her with water and with fire.

My brothers and sisters, I can see smoke pouring out all over this place!

Therefore, I do not need to see the Holy Spirit.
I do not need to see the Holy Spirit, because I see the smoking effects of God’s Spirit working in you.
I see the massive clouds of smoke pouring out of these windows and doors and I know that Jesus is alive.
I know, I know, that where there is the smoke of God’s love, there is also the fire of Jesus’ Spirit.

However, the Holy Spirit was not poured out on Pentecost morning just to give the followers of Jesus a warm and fuzzy feeling.
The Church, throughout the ages, messes up over and over again when we think that the Holy Spirit is here to just make us feel good and self-important.

The real reason that we are ignited by the Holy Spirit is so that, like a wildfire, the smoke of Jesus’ message will billow outside of these walls, outside of Jerusalem, outside to the very ends of the earth.
For the risen Jesus’ last words on earth, before he was ascended, were these:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.
And you will be my witnesses, to the ends of the earth.”

The Holy Spirit is here to give us power, the power to get over ourselves and to love the people whom we find unlovable.
The Holy Spirit is here to give us power, the power to find just the right words to say to someone who is lonely or sick or having a bad day.
The Holy Spirit is here to give us power, the power to open our mouths up and to spread the good news like wildfire that Jesus is alive and he loves everyone!

My friends, the Holy Spirit is here and alive so that the fire of Jesus ignited in us at Pentecost will spread to your home and to your office and to your school and to your neighborhood and to the ends of the earth - even to the other side of the Brazos River.
The Holy Spirit of Jesus is here and alive so that your words of power will fill the room with holy love.
The Holy Spirit is here and alive - to fill the whole world with holy smoke.

For where there’s smoke,
There’s fire.


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