This morning, I lit the two tall candles on the communion table, as we prepared for our online, live-streamed worship service. The pungent smells of oil and burning wicks and smoke filled my nose and throat. The flames were tiny but radiant and powerful. Today was a day for fire. It was Pentecost, the day many Christians celebrate the birth of the Church. The day God sent the Holy Spirit among humanity with a mighty wind and in a blaze of flames shaped like tongues. And those who were present that day suddenly had the ability to speak in different languages and tell the story of God’s love in those languages. There was diversity, but unity. There was speaking, but also listening and understanding. And there was the blazing power of life and love that can never be quenched, even in the midst of darkness.
Today was a day for fire, but this has tragically been an entire week of fire. The fires of protests, fueled by despair and anger and a passion to end the evil of racism. The fires of partisan bickering and blaming. The fires of hatred, unchecked privilege, violence, and stubborn ignorance. The smoldering ashes of apathy and self-centeredness and “unaffected-ness.” The flames began on Monday with the appalling death of an unarmed African-American man named George Floyd at the hands—or knees—of police officers. But did those flames just begin on Monday? The agonizing reality is that the fire has been burning long before this. Only a couple of weeks ago, I, as a privileged white woman, “ran with Maud” to protest somehow against the murder of another innocent African-American man, Ahmaud Arbery, in my neighboring Brunswick, GA. But then there have also been Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Philando Castile, and so many many other names we’ve heard recently. Yet the list of names of innocent black and brown people who’ve been murdered goes much further back than even these. It rolls back for centuries and centuries. The horrific fire of racism is not new. . . .
Fire can be a bad thing. It destroys. It burns and wounds. It rages if not handled with care. But fire can be a good thing. It warms. It cleanses. It removes and refines. It inspires. With today being Pentecost, the day of God’s fire, how will we respond to those flames? Will we tend the flames of those who have suffered without a voice throughout history and even now, responding to their cries? Will we actually do our part to put out the destructive fires of racism and hate? Will our hearts burn with compassion, so that God’s justice and peace will become a reality for all? Will we live as blazing sparks of God’s love, truly displaying the words and actions of Jesus—and not betraying them?
Today is a pivotal Pentecost. May we not simply wish the Church a “Happy Birthday,” sing some “Spirit” songs, then tuck away our bright red decorations for next year. God is calling to us now. The Holy Spirit is burning now. If there is any time really to act like Jesus and be the Church in the world, it is now.