The Uniting Flames!

Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. (Acts 2: 3) (NRSV).

The Uniting Flames!
Photo by Conscious Design / Unsplash

Sermon by Rev. Andrew K. Lairenge
delivered at Chalmers-Wesley United Church
on Sunday, May 28, 2023.

Acts 2: 1-21
1 Corinthians 12: 3-13

Today is the Day of Pentecost which has been nicknamed the birthday of the church. In our Christian Calendar, Pentecost comes 50 days after Easter. Pentecost is all about the coming of the Holy Spirit into the early Christian church.

Our Pentecost tradition is based on the Bible story that we read from the Acts of Apostles. We read of how all the disciples were gathered in one place and how the Spirit of God came upon them. How a sound, like the blowing of a strong wind, came and filled the house where they were. This reminds us of the promise of God that I preached about a few Sundays ago, where Jesus promised his disciples that he will not leave them alone, but he will leave them with the Spirit of God or the counsellor, (John 14:15–21).

For today, though, I want us to pay attention to the imagery of the Spirit represented by the flames of fire:

“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.” (Acts 2: 3) (NRSV).

As I reflected on this, I think there are some lessons to pick from here.

The spirit of Pentecost is an empowering spirit. It is a spirit that respects each person individually in all their uniqueness. I like the statement, that, a tongue of fire rested “on each one of them!”

There is more. This was not just a tongue of fire, but a tongue to speak. I like the fact that the tongues of fire went hand-in-hand with the ability to speak and understand other people’s tongues or languages.

The spirit of Pentecost gives those without the power to speak for themselves an ability to be heard. The voiceless are given a voice and the silenced are given a forum to speak in their own tongues, accents and intonations without the fear of being judged. This reminds me of the story of Simon Peter just before Jesus was persecuted. In the Gospel of Matthew 26: 73, it is Peter’s Galilean accent that singles him out:

“After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” (NRSV)

The irony of this, on the day of Pentecost, is that it was Peter, that denier of Jesus, whose accent was very audible, who leads the disciples in declaring the resurrection of Jesus without fear. On the day of Pentecost, the accented tongue of the cowardly Galilean is now empowered by the tongue of the Holy Spirit to proclaim the great deeds of God.

In addition to the story that we read from the Acts of Apostles, we read more about the Spirit of God in Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians. We see how the early Church delicately attempted to understand the work of the Holy Spirit in the church. For the Church in Corinth, the understanding of the works of the Holy Spirit had gradually grown into a topic of debate and probably controversy.

Among the churches that Paul founded, the church of Corinth seems to have been the most pragmatic. It provided both positive and negative excitement that came with the new teaching of Christ as preached by Paul and his companions. When it came to the manifestation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it appears that this was bringing competition and dissention instead of unity and love. So, Paul aims to set things straight about the power of the spirit of God.

Chapters 12 to 14 of 1st Corinthians are almost entirely dedicated to the debate on the Spirit. In chapter 12, Paul talks about gifts of Spirit of God. He tells the Corinthian church that the gifts of Spirit should not bring division but unity:  

“Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.” (NIV)

It appears that that these early Christians in Corinth had started to compete among themselves. But Paul reminds them that the Spirit of God is supposed to unite them as parts of one body.

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (NIV)

If the Spirit who came upon the church in Jerusalem on Pentecost is the same Spirit in the church of Corinth, then this power of God is the same power among us today. It is that power that I have called “the uniting flames.” These are the flames that that give us the power to speak to people who are different from us.

This reminds me of the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) meeting that I attended earlier this week. The Canadian Council of Churches is an ecumenical body that brings together many Christian denominations in this country. Its main agenda is to bring Canadian Christians closer to each other while respecting their diversities. CCC believes that each one of our Christian denominations has a space in Christ’s body and it is better when we work together than divided. Its driving motto is Christ, Community, and Compassion. I believe the work of CCC can be a good example of the working of the Spirit of God.

The Uniting flames of the spirit of God warm our hearts to experience the love of God. These flames light our lives to see clearly that we are not walking this journey alone, at least, not without our neighbours. It is the flame that melts the earwax that makes us unable to hear the language and accents of our neighbours. As somebody once said, Pentecost is not only a miracle of the tongue, to speak foreign languages, but also the miracle of the ears, to listen and understand the foreigner speaking!

May we receive these uniting flames of God so as to form one strong church of Christ.

May we be empowered by the Spirit of Pentecost!