The Fire that Lights the Church

20 May 2018 – Pentecost

Fred Craddock suggests that the Gospel is found where Spirit and tradition meet. . . . We cannot make up whatever sounds exciting or novel because the tradition holds us in check. Likewise, we must not be mired in empty ritual and piety because the Spirit is wild and unpredictable, and “blows where it will” (Jn 3:8). If we have learned anything during the two thousand years since the body of Christ came into being on that first Pentecost Day, we have learned we’re not in control.

Our tradition shows us that truth is not a monochord refrain, but is a cacophony of voices, held together by the presence of that same spirit that Jesus promised as he gathered with his closest friends in the days before human insecurity and pride tried to force God’s hand. A simple litmus test keeps the church true to its cornerstone: . . . if the spirit in our communities perpetuates our own selfish desires—not grounded by the tradition—it is not Gospel. –– Jennifer Copeland

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15

Jesus has always been a little cryptic in his explanations, suggesting that a field with one mysterious treasure is worth more than all the gold in one’s possession or that a crop tangled by weeds ought to be left alone until both weeds and crop are grown and the truth of the produce can be sorted out more accurately. Most of us would keep the gold and pull the weeds.

Now Jesus tells us that we are better off without him so the Advocate, the Counselor, can come and guide us in the way of truth. Most of us would rather order another round for the house and keep the dinner party going a little longer. . . . But faith is seldom tactile, more often ephemeral; seldom fixed, more often momentary. So it is with the promised Advocate, dipping down to touch our heads with tongues of fire, searing our souls with just enough truth to let us know Jesus was right, but not so much as to kill us. –– Jennifer Copeland

Acts 2:1-21

Luke implies that the 120 mentioned included some women plus Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Jesus’ brothers (Acts 1:14). (Christian art tends to include Mary with the Twelve in picturing Pentecost.) In describing the Pentecost experience Luke draws images from Exodus where both wind (14:21, 15:10a) and fire (19:18) are associated with the presence of God. It fulfills the Baptist’s prediction in Luke’s Gospel that the mightier one would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. –– Regina A. Boisclair

Romans 8:22-27

In Judaism, the firstfruits of the early harvest were offered to the Temple at Shavuot (Pentecost). Christians who have received the first- fruits of the Spirit are saved in hope for this redemption. Despite the fact that one does not presently experience what is hoped, those who hope wait with endurance while the Spirit assists human weaknesses, makes up for an inability to pray appropriately, and intercedes to God with inex- pressible groaning. Paul concludes with assurance that God, the one who searches human hearts, knows the intention of the Spirit, who intercedes for Christians according to his will. –– Regina A. Boisclair

Regina Boisclair, a Roman Catholic biblical scholar, teaches at Alaska Pacific University, Anchorage, Alaska.

Jennifer Copeland, a United Methodist ordained minister, served for 16 years as chaplain at Duke University and as director of the Duke Wesley Fellowship. She is currently executive director at North Carolina Council of Churches in Raleigh-Durham.

Homily Service 42, no. 3 (2009): 4-16.

David Turnbloom