Tongues of Fire!

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Homily for Pentecost Sunday 2014
(Scriptures for today's Mass)

Audio for homily

(The four photos of flowers in this post - Gloriosa superba, the "fire lily" or "tongues of fire" - are perfect images for today's first scripture reading!)

(On this Sunday at our 11:30 Mass, we offered a special blessing for graduating high school seniors, thus the references in my homily.)

Suppose that what happened on the first Pentecost
- happened here this morning.
Suppose strong driving winds began to rip through this church
and then tongues of fire began to settle on peoples’ heads.
If that happened – what would you do?
I think I’d be scared.
I think I might run.
I might want to get the heck out of here as fast as I could.
I’m not sure I’d have made a good first century disciple of Jesus.

The image of the Spirit in the first reading today is almost threatening:
driving winds threatening to knock you down
and flames threatening to burn you.

That’s the threat,
but the Spirit’s coming doesn’t bring devastation.
Rather, the coming of the Spirit:
gathers the scattered,
unites the many,
fills the empty,
discloses what’s hidden,
reveals the unknown,
opens minds,
enters hearts,
brings understanding
and heals what’s broken.

Hurricane winds and open flames – but no one is harmed.
And this, because in addition to all the special effects,
there’s that one phrase in the scripture
that might seem rather innocuous, but tells us the whole story: 
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit… 
We’re so mesmerized by the exterior audibles and visuals
that we easily miss the interior movement in the scene: 
They were all filled with the Holy Spirit…

2,000 years later, I can’t help but think of how much each one of us 
needs the power of God’s Spirit in our lives:
• to gather what’s scattered in minds and hearts;
• to unite what’s splintered in our lives and our families;
• to fill the lonely emptiness our culture can’t satisfy;
• to disclose what’s hidden in the corners of our souls;
• to reveal the truths we need to know and face;
• to open minds and hearts walled in by anxiety and fear;
• to bring understanding between ourselves and others;
• and to heal what keeps us from peace in our own day.

And I can’t help but think of our graduating seniors with us today
who are beginning a new chapter in their lives:
• when they may find their lives more scattered than ever before;
• when they’ll be splintered from the familiar
and making their way in new places with new people;
• when a new kind of loneliness might be theirs for the first time;
• when they’ll discover parts of their souls they never knew before;
• when knowing true from false will become even more complicated;
• when new unsureties will challenge long held ideas;
• and reaching understanding will become a lifelong task
and the making of peace the purpose of all healing.

Our graduates need, we all need, the gifts of the Spirit
and the scriptures tell us that the Spirit’s gifts are these:
Godly desire
and hope…

Is there anyone among us here this morning
who doesn’t need all of these gifts, the Spirit’s gifts?
Our graduates need, we all need,
the Spirit who came in wind and flame.
But the Spirit’s arrival these days is usually much more subtle
than on the first Pentecost.

• Today, the Spirit comes to us in prayer:
how important then to sit, every day, quietly, in God’s presence,
to ask the Spirit’s blessing on all we say and do…

• The Spirit comes to us in whispers…
so how important then for us to listen to the wisdom of the Church
and to the voice of our own conscience,
to the voice of God within, leading us to choose
what’s true, what’s fair, what’s good…

• The Spirit comes to us in the Church…
how important then for us to gather, as we have this morning,
to gather with God’s people every week
and, together, to seek the Spirit’s grace and guidance
in the scriptures and in the sacraments…

• The Spirit comes to us in all things beautiful and whole and pure…
how important then for us to desire and seek true beauty:
in our relationships, in our thoughts, in our leisure, in our play…

St. Paul reminded us today that each of us has been given a share
in the Spirit’s gifts to be used for the benefit of others.
We are sending out gifted, graduating seniors.
We pray this morning that they will take the gifts
that are in their hearts, in their souls and in their lives
and bring them to life and share them with others,
the new people they meet as they leave home, leave their parish.

Let’s pray that all of us, and especially our graduates,
will discern what the Spirit has given us, and how the Spirit calls us
to use our gifts to serve our neighbors.

In a few moments we’ll pray for the Spirit to come down
upon our gifts of bread and wine
and to make of them, for us, the Body and Blood of Christ,
our Passover, who was sacrificed for us.

May that same Holy Spirit
come down, like a flame of fire,
and settle upon each of us and the gifts we’ve been given,
so that like bread we might be broken and shared to nourish others
and like wine, that we might be poured out
to fill and heal our neighbor’s hearts.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in us, in each of us, the fire of your love. 

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