Pentecost Sunday: The Church Gets Lit

May 31, 2020 
Pastor Marissa Jadrich Ortiz

When I was little, I was kind of scared of matches. Fire can be a little scary, especially when you’re little. And the thing with matches is, they’re very small, but also you have to hold them. I didn’t like having to touch something burning. I was always scared the flame would keep munching down the stick until it burned my fingers. Ouch!

Actually, matches are kind of amazing. See, they don’t burn for very long. They don’t make a very big flame. But they have a purpose. Can you think of the purpose for matches? The purpose for matches is to SET OTHER THINGS ON FIRE! That is a BIG responsibility for something so small! Now to keep matches in their place for a sec, I need to tell you that a match can’t light just ANYTHING on fire. Some things just aren’t for burning. Other things need something more powerful than a match to burn them. See we’ll try a little science experiment here.

Which things can a match light on fire?

  • A piece of paper, a tortilla A magazine a pizza box a carrot a log

Okay well now we know some things we didn’t know before. A match can light a piece of paper, it can almost light a magazine and a pizza box, it isn’t strong enough to light a log, and it seems like tortillas and carrots just aren’t burning sorts of things. We’ll just let them go (munch munch)

But back to science. See, matches are still pretty important even if they can only light candles and paper on fire. Because those things are a little bigger and stronger than matches, and they can light something a little bigger, and that can light something a little bigger—so you really could set this log on fire starting with just a match, if you use it right. Sometimes it takes a little work, but if you know the secret.

What’s the secret? I’m glad you asked. The first secret is that keeping the flame going is more important than keeping it growing. The real champions at starting a good fire aren’t the big logs, its the little sticks. So if you’re building a fire and it’s struggling to catch on, maybe you’re trying to take on the log too soon. What you want to do is add some more little sticks or paper, something that lights easily, and keep plenty of those around your log until it starts burning. Because if your flame goes out, you have to start over!

Going is more important than growing. Here’s a quick word for whoever needs to hear it, if your match is BURNING OUT that is not an indication that it needs to TRY HARDER. It means your match is paired up with something the wrong size for its capacity. When there’s a right size connection, your match is lighting a piece of paper, that’s good work for this match, that actually keeps the match burning longer and allows that paper to do its good work on something bigger. If your match is burning out on a big chunk of cardboard, it’s not gonna do the cardboard any good either, and you’re gonna need some extra work to get that match lit again. Don’t do that to yourself, don’t sanctify your burnout. And also please don’t beat yourself up if your match isn’t setting off fireworks or burning down barns. Little flames are where everything starts. And keeping the fire going is more important than keeping it growing.

But if your flame is small, that’s still okay, there’s always time for that little flame to spread and eventually grow.

There’s another secret that sounds a little like the opposite but I promise it will make sense in a minute. Sometimes the best way to get a flame to grow is to blow on it. Now that won’t work for a match! That flame is too little, like on birthday candles, you’d just blow it out. One of the things that helps flames burn hot and bright is oxygen…like in the air! So when you have a flame going and it needs a little help to catch on something else, maybe it’s not quite big enough or hot enough, you can blow on it and it will actually get bigger!

And now a word with those of you who are wondering why your pastor is giving you a tutorial on lighting things on fire!

Today, Christians around the world are celebrating a day we call Pentecost. It’s a great story! You remember how Jesus spent years telling everyone what it’s really like to be part of God’s family; how sad it was when Jesus died and how exciting it was when Jesus came back to life, even stronger than death. How he visited his friends and forgave them for totally abandoning him, and even said that the best part of the story was still to come. Well that was a kind of strange thing to say, because soon, Jesus went right up to heaven. “Don’t worry guys!” he said to them. “I’m sending you help! Soon! Just wait!”

Well that was confusing.

Jesus friends did just what he said. They waited around. They got together a lot, to remember stories about Jesus and pray together and ask each other “what do you think he meant?” And then, came a day they would never forget.

It was a very busy day in Jerusalem. Jewish people from all over had come into town to celebrate a special holiday together, the harvest festival. Jesus friends got together in the morning like they often did. Maybe they were just sitting down to breakfast. When they heard something—it sounded like a strong wind blowing through the whole house! And they saw something—a flame, just a little one, hovering over each person’s head! And that’s not all. Inside themselves, they felt something—it was the Holy Spirit, God’s presence and power staying with them from the inside JUST LIKE it was with Jesus. And then—they started talking. All of them. Not just talking, declaring the mighty works of God! But the CRAZY part is, they were speaking in other languages. Languages they don’t even know!

Well that was pretty amazing, and confusing. Not just for Jesus friends. Some other people outside had questions. Remember, it was a busy day in the city, and some people had travelled from far away to celebrate there. Well, these folks out in the street heard all this noise coming from their house. And no matter where they came from, they heard God’s praises in their OWN language. How is that possible??

How did that happen? Well God has unlimited power and can do just about anything. But that can make this sound like a party trick or an advertising stunt. I want to take a moment and talk about WHY this would happen. Let me tell you a story abut a time I spoke an unexpected language.

Once I lived for a year in a small country called the Czech Republic. A lot of people don’t even know it’s a country. When I started planning to move to the Czech Republic, I thought I should learn some Czech words so I could be polite, get help or food when I needed it. I learned a few words. Do you want to learn a few words. Here’s some easy ones:

Ahoy! That’s how you say hello or goodbye to a friend. Like a pirate. Ahoy!

Great you know a Czech word! Here’s one more Czech word:

No! Got that? No! That’s how you say Yes in Czech.

Now you know 2 Czech words! My favorite Czech word is snidam, that means I eat breakfast. My least favorite word is ridicky prucaz, that means drivers license. Maybe you’re picking up on some reasons why Czech is considered a difficult language.

So when I got to the Czech Republic, something happened that surprised me. Every time I spoke to someone in Czech, instead of getting mad at me for butchering their language, or getting frustrated when I didn’t know the words, or offended that I hadn’t made more progress and now we’re miming different menu items to understand each other…no, every time I spoke Czech even a little, people were surprised. Astonished. Flattered. They said things like why would you waste your time learning OUR language? This language isn’t very useful. It won’t get you anywhere. It’s hard to speak, the grammar is complicated. And you already speak English. Everybody wants to speak English. Why would you go to all that trouble just to talk to me?

Now that was an unexpected question. I thought the answer was obvious. Of course I should learn to speak your language. Because I want to talk to you! I have some needs here, sure, I need to be able to ask for directions or understand how to turn on the stove, but I wouldn’t be here at all if I didn’t also genuinely want to get to know you. I didn’t come here just to be a tourist. I came to live here. And in whatever small way is possible for me, to belong here.

Church, I think that’s what God was saying to the whole world on Pentecost. See, the language of commerce and trade was Greek. The language of power and politics was Latin. The language of worship and religion was Hebrew. But on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit directed Jesus’ followers to tell God’s story in the languages of people’s hearts and homes. I don’t even know what all these languages are! The book of Acts tells us they came from [list cities? point out on map?] To all of them, God was ready to speak right to them.

Well all these people from all these places were wondering what was going on! So Jesus friends came out to talk with them. Peter preached a sermon about how through Jesus, God has come closer to us than ever before. God’s forgiveness, Jesus’ victory over death, the Holy Spirit’s power, these are for everyone. Many people decided to follow Jesus that day. But I think hearing the words of God in their own language spoke even louder than a sermon. It proved that God knew and loved them—their homeland, their culture, their family, the jokes that wouldn’t be funny if you translated them. God wants to be part of EVERYTHING that we are.

And that is how the Church was born! Thousands of people heard Peter’s message, changed their hearts and lives, and got baptized. Some of them went back to their homeland, bringing the good news of Jesus with them. And some of them stayed in Jerusalem. Instead of just a handful of friends from Judea, there were hundreds of people from different cultural groups who worshiped, prayed, and shared food together in the city. How exciting!

I love this story and I think aside from the flames above everyone’s heads, it was a real light bulb moment for a lot of Jesus’ friends. They’d been wondering a LOT about what Jesus was really trying to do. At first, it looked like he was just talking back to the religious leaders. They thought he was ready to take over the government. But when his enemies confronted him he didn’t even fight back. After Jesus returned to life, he was still talking a big game about spreading the word to people everywhere…but then he left. And his final command to his followers was to stay put in one city. Now they were starting to see that each of them, each one of Jesus’ friends, was just like a match. They didn’t have to find a way to overthrow the government or light the world on fire or tell every person about Jesus. Their job (and ours) is to let that Holy Spirit flame light up the place God has put us. And let that Holy Spirit wind blow the mercy and power and healing and compassion and gentleness and joy that comes from being part of God’s family out from our lives into the people around us.

As the fire catches to others in our family or neighborhood, as people worship together and share with each other and travel to different places, the fire gets bigger and bigger until it’s unstoppable! It wasn’t always easy—people following Jesus got themselves into some sticky situations, and building a community with people who are very different from you always gets messy and painful. But they knew the wind of God’s Spirit was always blowing over them, ready to keep the fire going and growing. That’s how the church first was born, and that’s still what it means for us to follow Jesus together. Our words and our actions show each other and those around us that no difference, division, difficulty, or even death can stop God’s power through Jesus to make us part of God’s family, and through the Holy Spirit to make us family to each other.

This is such an exciting holiday for Christians! I don’t think it’s fair that at Christmas we open presents when Jesus was born, and on Easter we get candy in eggs when Jesus rose from the dead, and on Pentecost when the Holy Spirit started the church, nothing? So I thought we could start a new Pentecost celebration. I think we should all celebrate by lighting something on fire. This is the time for you to ask your parents, what could we burn today to remember and celebrate that the Holy Spirit is spreading the light and love of Jesus all over the world through Christians like us? If you’re a little scared of fire like I was, you can light a candle. That’s a great way to remember God’s presence is with us. Or check with your parents, maybe there’s a grocery ad or a pizza box or some sticks or logs or old furniture or a shed no one’s using anyway…you decide what’s a good way to celebrate Pentecost with your family.