Sermon: Pentecost RCL B – “Fire”

The podcast can be found here.


Gaston, a Cajun highlander from Rapides Parish in central Louisiana, was an older, single gentleman, who was born and raised a Baptist, living in South Louisiana. Each Friday night after work, he would fire up his outdoor grill and cook a venison steak. Now, all of Gaston’s neighbors were Catholic.  All was well with the neighbors until Lent came around.  The Catholics were forbidden to eat meat and the delicious aroma from the grilled venison steaks was causing such a problem for the Catholic faithful that they finally talked to their priest. The priest came to visit Gaston, and suggested that Gaston convert to Catholicism.

After several classes and much study, Gaston attended Mass and as the priest sprinkled holy water over him, he said, “You were born a Baptist and raised a Baptist, but now you are Catholic.”

Gaston’s neighbors were greatly relieved, until Lent and Friday night rolled around again, and the wonderful aroma of grilled venison filled the neighborhood.

The priest was called immediately by the neighbors and as he rushed into Gaston’s yard, clutching a rosary and prepared to scold him, he stopped in amazement and watched.

There stood Gaston, clutching a small bottle of water which he carefully sprinkled over the grilling meat, and chanted: “You wuz born a deer and you wuz raised a deer, but now you a catfish.”

Last week we talked about being transformed by God into temples of the Holy Spirit and the analogy that scripture sometimes uses for transformation is that of someone making a pot.  The potter cast the clay on the wheel and as it spins, the pot is formed.  In the process of turning the pot, the pot can be spoiled, so the potter takes the clay off and begins again.  However, once the pot is formed, it is still not finished.  It is still just clay and must be fired in a kiln—an oven—before it is suitable for use.  While in the oven, several chemical reactions take place.

When the clay reaches a temperature of almost 1000º, all of the water is finally pushed out of the clay and the pot becomes very fragile.  When the pot reaches a temperature just over 1800º it becomes what is known as ‘biscuit ware.’  It is very porous and absorbs water, but is relatively strong, because the clay has actually begun to melt and fuse together.  To get that glossy look and seal the clay, the pot must be allowed to cool, a compound is applied and the pot is fired again.  All this sounds easy enough, but it is a process that has been refined over the past 18,000 years.

As for us: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.”  God formed us from the earth and formed us in his image, as a potter forms the clay: “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.”  But in order for us to be completely formed as pots, temples of the Holy Spirit, then there must also be heat—fire.  “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples 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 where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.”

Archbishop Michael Ramsey pointed out that the fire of the Holy Spirit serves two very specific purposes: light and warmth.  He writes, “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 perceiving people as they really are with the light of Jesus upon them.”  The Potter forms you, then the fire of the Spirit comes upon you and its light allows you to see and understand your need for God and your relation to others.  The fire also provides warmth—love.  Not some sentimental or superficial love, but a love that lays down ones life for one friends.  A love directed toward God and neighbor.  You can see and you can feel, but you are not there yet, because the fire must do one thing before this work is completed: the fire must burn.  Ramsey writes, “The Spirit will burn his way through to the core of our being in the ever painful process of disclosure, penitence, and divine forgiveness.  Only by such burning can our heart be exposed fully to the warmth, and our mind be exposed fully to the light.”  Just as the potter places the pot into the kiln to transform it from clay to a usable vessel, we are placed into the fire of the Holy Spirit, which burns away the impurities of our lives, forming us into those vessels, those temples for the Spirit of God and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  Bishop Ramsey summarizes: “There is no seeing and no warming without burning.”  Anybody got a match?!

In addition, as the pot is glazed, sealed, we too are sealed in the Holy Spirit.  The priest pronounces while making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the newly baptized with chrism (holy oil), “You are sealed with the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ’s own for ever.”  You have been transformed—not into a catfish—but a temple, a sanctified, holy temple for our God.  In the words of Pastor Garland Ray Hall of St. Stephen’s AME Church, “Somebody say, ‘Amen!’”  Now we’re getting somewhere.

At the time, it probably wasn’t easy for the disciples to hear: Jesus was telling them that he was leaving, that he would be put to death, but as he spoke to them he said, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you.”  In order for us to receive our salvation, Jesus had to be put to death.  Had he gone and not sent the Holy Spirit, then our interaction with God would have been similar to what it had been before his coming.  The Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius IV of the Greek Orthodox Church speaking to the World Council of Churches in 1968 put it this way, “Without the Holy Spirit God is far away. Christ stays in the past. The Gospel is simply an organization. Authority is a matter of propaganda. The Liturgy is no more than an evocation. Christian loving is a slave mentality. But in the Holy Spirit, the cosmos is resurrected and grows with the birth pangs of the Kingdom. The Risen Christ is there. The Gospel is the power of life. The Church shows forth the life of the Trinity. Authority is a liberating service. Mission is a Pentecost. The Liturgy is both renewal and anticipation. Human action is deified.”

Jesus died and in so doing, God transformed us into temples, so that when Jesus ascended, the Holy Spirit—the third person of the Holy Trinity—could be sent, and we could receive Him.  St. Paul writes, “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.”  Therefore, as Jesus said to those first disciples, I say to you, “Receive the Holy Spirit” and be transformed into the temple, the glory, and the image of the Lord.

Let us pray: Come, O Spirit of GOD, with God the Father’s love, by Christ’s Body and Blood; in the new birth of Thine own breath. Come to cure our littlenesses and consume our sins, to direct all our desires and doings; come with counsel on our perplexities, with light from Thy everlasting scriptures; come to reveal the deep things of GOD, and what He prepareth for them that love Him; come with Thy prayer into ours.  Jesus we pray.  Amen. 

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