Creekside Church
Sermon of May 23, 2021

"Wind, Fire, and Water"
Acts 2:1-4, 37-42

Pastor
Rosanna McFadden

 

Good morning! This is Pentecost Sunday and we invited you to wear red, yellow, orange or white as a sign of the Spirit’s presence among us -- even if you didn’t wear those colors as a visible sign of the Spirit, we are still confident that the Spirit is among us and before us and above us: our new members are a sign of that.

I am told--I don’t know if it’s true -- that some of you pay attention to the screen at the beginning of the service which welcomes you to Creekside and gives the scripture reference for and the title of my sermon. I appreciate the Media Team putting that out there. In case you missed it this morning, the title of the sermon is Wind, Fire, and Water. These are three of the four elements of life -- summarized as Earth, Air, Fire, Water. You can probably think of similar groupings: maybe the 1970’s R&B band Earth, Wind, and Fire or maybe Rock, Paper, Scissors. I want to consider Wind, Fire, and Water this morning because they are all present in this account from Acts 2, and they are all signs of the Holy Spirit.

Particularly on Pentecost, we usually focus on wind and fire. It isn’t hard to figure out why -- it’s in the opening verses of Acts chapter 2, where we read Luke’s account of the day of Pentecost, following Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples were together in one place, and there was a sound like the rush of a mighty wind -- the NRSV says a violent wind -- and then divided tongues, like fire, rested on each of them. I hope you can appreciate why I don’t invite you to dress in wind colors for Pentecost. Wind doesn’t have a color; it is moving air. We don’t see wind, we hear it as the disciples did, feel it if we are in the space where it is happening, or witness the effects of a mighty wind. Fire has flames we can see; we can feel the heat it creates, and we know that it needs fuel in order to continue to burn.

The book of Acts is not the first time in the Bible we encounter fire as a sign of God’s presence and power: in Isaiah Chapter 6, Isaiah has a vision of the Lord seated on a throne and the Temple is filled with smoke, and a seraph brings a live coal from the altar and touches it to Isaiah’s lips. And in 1 Kings 18, the prophet Elijah challenges the priests of Baal to a fire-battle to see whose god can light the sacrificial altar. Yahweh incinerates the competition. There is a character of both wind and fire which is mesmerizing and beautiful, but also powerful, uncontrollable, and potentially destructive. Remember, it wasn’t a gentle breeze which blew through the disciples gathering, it was a mighty wind.

If you are familiar with the Pentecost account in Acts 2 -- and you should feel free to look at it if you have your Bible with you -- you probably noticed that I had Lodema begin and the beginning and skip towards the end of that chapter. She vaulted right over the Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Phrygians and Pamphylians which often plague scripture readers on this Sunday, and even skipped Peter’s stirring speech from the book of Joel. This sermon so moved its listeners that they were cut to the heart and asked, “What should we do?” Not for a minute would I suggest that my sermon is more important than Peter’s -- read his in Acts 2, by all means. But I wanted to be sure you heard what was happening the afternoon of Pentecost, and not just at nine in the morning. In verse 37 the people ask “What should we do?” and Peter says to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the gift is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord God calls to him.

And this brings us to the water. The water of baptism is an image which leads us deeper and deeper. It is, of course, the water of God’s love: water which nurtures us and holds us and gives us life. It is water of blessing and promise. It is also the water of cleansing and repentance, the repentance which John the Baptist preached as preparation for the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Peter tells the new converts on Pentecost to Repent and be baptized. Part of becoming a follower of Jesus is to confess your sins and try to live differently in the future, with God’s help. It’s no coincidence that proclaiming our belief in Jesus as Lord and Savior is a confession of faith. Claiming Jesus as Lord means that I am not Lord, and that any attempts I have made in the past or the future to be lord of my own life are doomed to failure, and will lead to my destruction. And here’s where we get into really deep waters. I talked about this with the candidates for membership, because it is part of the terrible beauty of believer’s baptism in the Church of the Brethren. Being baptized by immersion is also a sign of death. Going below the surface of the water is symbol of drowning, or dying to your old life. You’ll be glad to know that you come back out again, and that is the new life in Christ which we are born in to. Just as wind and fire can be destructive forces, water has the potential to drown our old behaviors and priorities so that we can emerge into new life in Jesus Christ, and claim, as Christ did after his own baptism, that we are God’s beloved.

You may know that the Church of the Brethren was a later tributary of a stream of religious renewal called Anabaptism. Ana- means again. These weren’t believers who were anti- (against) baptism; they were folks who in their reading of the Bible, especially the book of Acts, came to the conviction that baptism is a commitment which should be made by believers who are mature enough to understand the cost of that commitment. These Anabaptists came from Catholic and Lutheran traditions where they had been baptized as infants. The made the choice to be baptized again as adults, and that choice cost some of them their lives. The state churches at the time were not happy with believers who took baptism into their own hands, and undermined the authority of the church. Anabaptists were not drowned in the waters of baptism; they were arrested, imprisoned and sometimes martyred because of their decision to be baptized as a sign of their commitment to Jesus Christ. Tim Morphew shared about one of these martyrs -- one of these Anabaptists -- Dirk Willems, who died on May 16, 1569 after he escaped from prison, but returned to save his jailer from drowning after falling through the ice. Willems was re-captured and later burned at the stake. Water and Fire, life and death.

It is a significant thing which Cheryl, Jeff, and Brandon are committing to this morning: this public witness to their faith. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a solemn occasion. New life--whether it is the birth of a child, the commitment of a new believer, or a Christian who has fought the good fight and is returning to eternal life with Christ -- new life is a gift to celebrate. That new life happens through the gift of the Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin, and comforts us in loss.

 

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