Sermon: Pentecost RCL C – “Burning”

A young man had a vision: he had been walking along a country road, enjoying the beautiful weather. As he passed a certain pasture he was astounded to see a ladder in the center of the field extending all the way to heaven. Determined to see more of this glorious thing, he approached and encountered an angel standing at the foot of the ladder. He watched, and as other people came to the ladder, the angel would hand them a piece of chalk, and then they would begin climbing.

Finally, gathering up his courage, the young man approached the angel and asked what was going on. The angel explained: the ladder leads directly to heaven and all you must do is climb it, but on each rung of the ladder, you must use this piece of chalk to write down one of your sins. When you have written them all down, then you may continue to heaven unimpeded. Following the explanation, the angel asked, “Would you like a piece of chalk?” “Certainly!” the young man declared. And so he began, with each rung of the ladder he wrote down one of the sins that he had committed in his life.

For hours he wrote and he climbed. Finally, wondering how close he was to heaven, he looked up, and to his astonishment he saw someone coming back down the ladder. Her blue and white habit gave her away even before she arrived. It was Mother Teresa. Completely distressed, he said “Mother, have you made it to heaven only to discover that it is not worth it? Does this ladder not work?” She answered as sweetly as only a saint could, “No. Nothing like that, my child. I’ve simply run out of chalk and am going back down for more.”
After reading that story and after considering this congregation, I have decided to invest in the Acme Chalk Company. I’m going to make a killin’!

Today is the Day of Pentecost. It is the day that we celebrate the giving of God’s Holy Spirit. Archbishop Michael Ramsey shared in his 1963 Pentecost sermon that the Spirit is the knowledge of God’s power within a person and a community. By using the symbol of the fire that descended upon the disciples on that first Pentecost, he speaks of how the “fire gives light, ‘and the Holy Spirit enables you to see, and to see like a Christian—perceiving things as they really are in the eyes or mind of Jesus, and receiving people as they really are with the light of Jesus upon them’” (Glory, p.70). However, in order for this to occur, there must be a burning that clears away those distortions that make us “fearful, unloving, selfish, and hard.” “Only by such burning can our heart be exposed fully to the warmth, and our mind be exposed fully to the light…. There is no seeing and no warming without burning.” For there to be light and warmth, for there to be the love of God within us, the fire of the Holy Spirit must first burn away all those things that are not of God, so that what remains is the perfect image of God. This is true not only in the individual, but within the community, and the church.

The problem: there is not enough chalk. Other than Jesus, who among us has ever reflected that perfect image of God? I would love to tell you that I’ve come close, but I wake up every morning. I don’t know about you, but there lies my problem. As long as I’m not six feet under and still taking nourishment, I will not be able – no matter how hard I try – to reflect that perfect image of God and neither will you and neither will His church. His Spirit has been poured out on all flesh, yet all that distorts His image in us has still not been burned away. So, what are we to do?
There was a man who was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly his room filled with light and the Savior appeared. The Lord told the man He had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. The Lord explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day. For many years he toiled from sun up to sun down, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. In all that time the stone did not move even half a millimeter.

Eventually he became discouraged and so, day by day, his efforts became less and less. He would still go out to the stone each day, but eventually his pushing on the stone amounted to nothing more than leaning against it.

After several months of this, the Lord appeared again to the man, but before the Lord could speak, the man blurted out, “Lord, I have labored long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock a half a millimeter. What is wrong? Why am I failing?” To this the Lord responded compassionately, “My child, when long ago I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. However, never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.”

We can’t reflect the pure image of God because all that distorts that image has not yet been burned away. So what are we to do? Push. We are to press on and allow the fire of the Spirit to burn daily within us. Each day burning away the impurities and further revealing the image of God.

What form will this image of God take when it is revealed in us? The answer is simple and hugely difficult. John writes in his first epistle, “God is love.” When the image of God is revealed in us, we will take on the image of love. Love Incarnate. Jesus.

There really isn’t enough chalk in all of creation for us to be able to write out all our sins and achieve heaven. There is only grace. But each day, we push on. The Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, that through Christ, he wants to attain the resurrection of the dead, but then adds, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Push. Press on each day with the fire of the Spirit burning within you and further revealing the light and warmth of the love of God to the world around you.

Let us pray:

 

Come Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit
and they shall be created.
And You shall renew the face of the earth.

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant that by the same Holy Spirit
we may be truly wise and ever enjoy His consolations, Through Christ Our Lord.

Amen.

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