This Homily was written for Pentecost Sunday, 2020.
Fire. Think of the sheer power of fire. Fire burns, it destroys. I grew up in the mountains of the Gold Country, and we were perpetually afraid every summer. I remember as a child driving through areas that had been burned, it looked as if the very soul of the forest had the life just sucked out of it. Ash and charcoal, the skeletons of the trees left behind. More recently, we have seen the power of fire as it destroyed nearby communities, and many we know have been personally impacted by the loss.
Water. The destruction of the Crescent City harbor comes to mind as they dealt with the devastation that a tsunami can inflict on a coastline. Every sailor and fisherman knows that water is to be respected, to be treated with a very careful hand indeed. I think of Katrina breaking the dams and flooding New Orleans, leaving thousands homeless, many never to return.
Wind. The power of the tornado, hurricane and cyclone can have more force than a mountain of dynamite. Whole homes lifted from the ground leaving not a trace, destruction that can tear forests from their roots.
These are the symbols of the Holy Spirit. They are raw, they are forceful, they have real power, but they are destructive. The Holy Spirit too, is destructive. He wants to tear you down, to rip your life apart. He wants to take everything that you are, pull it apart, and make you into what you were meant to be. This is glorious, but if we are going to be honest, it is not always fun.
Today we celebrate the Pentecost, and I think we can get the wrong idea of what is happening here. This is an event of power. We are used to seeing the sweet paintings with little flames on the heads of the apostles, but in the middle of a town wide celebration, the sheer magnitude of this event had people coming out of their homes to see what was going on by the thousands. Whatever was going on was not quiet, it was intense. Scripture tells us that thousands were baptised on the spot, and though Peter was a great preacher, I’m sure, only a real event could have had that kind of impact. This was a big deal.
But this event was destructive for the lives of each and every apostle. From this point on, life could never be the same. All their plans were out the window, all their chances to follow their own will for their lives gone, all that was left was the raw power of the Holy Spirit directing their lives.
This cannot have been fun. Paul for example talks about the stoneings, the shipwrecks, and the long months in prison. The apostles suffered deaths that make the goriest action movies look tame. The only one to escape such a death was John, who was lucky to serve in exile on an island for the remainder of his life.
But had they not followed this Spirit, had they not let the Pentecost overtake them and fill their hearts and their lives, would we remember them at all? If they had gone back to their comfortable lives, would they have meant anything to you and me? Assuredly not.
The Holy Spirit wants to destroy your life. I know, you pray for God to help you with some small part of your life, and that’s all you want. Lord, help me with my finances, with my vices or with my health. It’s like inviting a contractor to come in and install a dishwasher. But the Holy Spirit is not a fix it man. You want Him to fix the toilet, and He walks in and wants to tear down walls. He wants to build rooms. He wants to take the house that is your life and turn it into a mansion. Nothing else will do, He doesn’t work by halves. He destroys.
But you want this, you need this destruction. God has called you to be a Saint, not just a good person. He wants you to burn with joy, with holiness. He has called you to take the hard road, the straight and narrow path. No other path will do. It is only the Cross that will win the day, only the Cross. And though it can feel hard, though it can be challenging, though it can take the form of loneliness, sickness, sorrow and pain, in the end it is Mercy itself. For to live anything less than wholeheartedly for God is to leave something of ourselves behind and in the dark.
We don’t belong in the dark, we are children of the light. So let the fire of the Holy Spirit consume you. Let it wreck your life. Let it set you ablaze. Don’t even try to put a damper on it. Become the light on the hill, the salt of the earth, the lamp set on the lampstand. Live out Pentecost.
In the end, if you don’t, it will be the only thing you truly regret.