June 5, 2022 Pentecost Love’s fire Rev. Paul L. Escamilla
When we lived in Austin, our little neighbor, Fiona, who was about three at the time, had an interesting name for this little contraption so widely appreciated by families with babies. A baby brother had just been born into Fiona’s family, and it wasn’t long before she figured out that if baby Corbin went to fussing or fuming or fidgeting, the world instantly became a more passive place when this found its way into his mouth. Most of us call it a “pacifier.” Maybe pacifier was too big a word for Fiona at the time; or she might have just been saving on syllables. She called it “fire.” Corbin would begin to fuss or fidget, and she’d say, “Fire! Fire!” signaling to her parents what she thought needed to happen next.
Fire for comfort is not a novel idea. In the cold of winter fire, in one form or another, is a source of comfort—even survival. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s definition of hospitality was simply this: a little food, a little fire, and an immense quiet. Pentecost itself actually chooses a similar blending of fire and comfort. You may recall that one of the names for the Holy Spirit in John’s gospel is “Comforter.” And as we heard Andy read just now, the Holy Spirit is described as resting on the disciples with tongues as of fire. Comfort and flame. Pacifier.
People from all over the known world were living in Jerusalem, and each heard in their own languages from the newly kindled tongues of these men and women who were Jesus’ followers the mighty works of God, a love revealed extravagantly and universally in Jesus Christ. Good news, and in their own tongue.
Have you ever been in a foreign country without knowing the language, and you needed something but didn’t know how to express it; and someone approached you and gave you the help you needed in your own language? Have you ever been the one to offer that assistance to someone here who was from a foreign country and did not speak English?
Here in San Antonio, some of us have been privileged to relate to refugees and at-risk immigrants through Interfaith Welcome Coalition. Liz and I spent a day once with IWC helping families get settled for a few days while they waited to travel elsewhere. And recently we’ve been actively welcoming our Afghan friends into the community, relaying messages of welcome and gratitude, as well as information, helpful suggestions—most always through a translator.
That message of good news is translated and reaches their ear, and then, suddenly, there’s understanding. To see a face at one and the same time brighten with understanding and warm with gratitude is a very tender thing.
The outcome of this outpouring of the Holy Spirit was that the hearers embraced the good news; 3000 were baptized, welcomed into the Jesus community, and then were described by Luke in a very specific and perhaps surprising way: we’re told they became glad and generous. Let’s pause for just a second. Think of someone you know you would describe that way: glad and generous. And think of what happens around them wherever they go, the meeting, the conversation, the bus station. They light up the room.
The fire of Pentecost is not a fire that harms; the fire of Pentecost is a fire that conveys love—a fire that warms; that welcomes; that blesses and empowers and lights up the world.
My faith burns low, my hope burns low;
only my heart’s desire cries out in me
by the deep thunder of its want and woe,
cries out to thee.
The poet could have been writing her verse in the late spring of 2022. Difficult times. Divisions. Violence unveiled. Accumulation of weary longings for a safe and peaceable society that is so within our reach but so beyond our grasp. Then there is a shift in her tone, as though a flame is kindled:
Lord, thou art Life, though I be dead;
love’s fire thou art, however cold I be:
nor heav’n have I, nor place to lay my head,
nor home, but thee.
Love’s fire thou art. To warm and welcome, to kindle faith and hope anew, leaving us with glad and generous hearts. And when that happens then what happens? We begin to light a way in the darkness for others to follow.
Growing up in Edinburgh, Scotland in the 1840s, the poet and novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was often sick as a child, sometimes confined to his room for days and weeks at a time. In that setting the boy must have grown discouraged as he languished there. He would certainly have understood the plaintive mood of his contemporary Christina Rosetti. My faith burns low, my hope burns low . . .
One evening near dusk little Robert looked out his bedroom window onto the city street below and saw someone moving up the street with a lamplighter in hand, lighting, one by one, the gas lamps at the side of the street. When his nurse came into the room and asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m watching someone make holes in the darkness . . .”
From lamp to lamp the lamplighter went down that Edinburgh lane making holes in the darkness one small gesture at a time—that’s all it takes; that’s really all we have, all we need when the Holy Spirit is at work. Eventually the lamplighter reached the end of that street, turned the corner, and disappeared from view. That lamplighter has left; but it’s alright, because now you’re here.