Congregations sometimes can act more like the dry, dusty bones of Ezekiel’s vision than the fired-up gathering of God’s people in the Pentecost story. Instead of burning with zeal for the gospel and being led by the Spirit, too many Christians waste away in arid committee meetings, fret over shrinking membership and poor stewardship, and pine for those nostalgic “good old days.” Fear drives decisions and blocks the visionary work of the Holy Spirit. If your context exhibits none of these traits and habits, then give thanks, praise God, and keep doing what you are doing well. If, however, dried up bones and wasting hope are entirely too familiar, then take heart.
The same Spirit that came with fire and wind and infused the apostles and the early church is still active today and ready to blow new life into tired, discouraged, and struggling faith communities. The same God who animated the bones of Israel in the prophet’s vision is still in the business of putting sinews and flesh on the skeletal remains of dying hopes and faded dreams. Jesus still promises to be with the beloved community wherever two or more gather to worship and break bread together, whenever water and word meet in baptism, and when God’s people go into the world to share the gospel and serve in the name of Christ.
We are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit to animate our faith, enliven our communities, and even intercede when words fail us. As the Church celebrates this Pentecost Sunday, remind each other of this amazing power that can energise us, of the ever-present Advocate, and of the Saviour whose love and mercy are stronger than death. Go ahead! Dream big, set a bold vision.
You know I heard the story of a person who was leading worship one Pentecost when, during the prayers, the gauzy red Communion tablecloth met a candle. After a few moments of shouting, confusion, and frozen uncertainty, someone grabbed the baptismal font and dumped water on the flames. While this was a perfectly practical thing to do, it makes for a strange metaphor. As the person telling me the story put it, “In an absurd clash of symbols, the waters of baptism actually extinguished the fires of the Spirit.”
We may well laugh, but the reality in this clash is hard to miss— sometimes entering the church (one of the things baptism symbolises) is the fastest way to douse the flames of passion: “We’ve never done it that way before.” “That’s not what we do here.” Working the system to get something done, try something new, or put passion into action can be exhausting. Many give up— why bother? Especially when the world tells us to go with the flow. It’s easier to come to worship, or drift away, or find some other place where we can put our passions and gifts to good use.
Flames belong in their place— safely contained in fire pits or rule books, not actually burning and heating and lighting and spreading. But the fire of the Spirit can’t be contained, any more than the tomb could contain Jesus or the Bible can contain God. God has a way of bursting out of the confines that we construct. The disciples were, literally, blown out of the house, to speak to the ends of the earth— because the promise is for you, and your children, and everyone who is far away, everyone God calls. Wind and flame will work together to spread God’s transforming love, setting the world on fire. Will we fan the flames or dig the trenches?