Longing for Fire
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Acts 2:1-21
I think that “last days” get a bad rap. Between the Left Behind series and some of our Christian siblings claiming that everything from uncharacteristically bad weather to gay people getting married are signs of the last days, I get why some of us are a little put off. Especially when it means folks letting themselves off the hook for climate change or doubling down on dehumanizing certain people.
For these folks, war and wildfire and smoky mists spell good news. We can’t wait for the sun to turn black and the moon to turn to blood. It means Jesus is coming back!
But that’s not what Peter is talking about in Acts today. He’s quoting the prophet Joel, and what Joel is longing for is an end to famine and plague and oppression. He’s longing for the restoration of his people. His prophecy is at its core a call for hope.
Who among us doesn’t long for last days sometimes? The last days of grief. The last days of chronic pain. The last days of estrangement. The last days of anxiety. The last days of poverty. The last days of illness. The last days of lies. The last days of greed. The last days of hatred.
Sometimes, we just want it all to burn down.
Sometimes, all we long for is fire.
I know these past few years, fire has also gotten a bad rap. Especially here after the Gorge fire. And I was in Oakland last fall during the Camp Fire that destroyed the entire town of Paradise and blanketed the Bay Area and central California in choking smoke.
Those were horrible, devastating fires. And they were also human-made. The Eagle Creek fire was started by illegal fireworks. The Camp Fire was triggered when the power company didn’t shut down lines when they were supposed to. When they knew conditions were perfect for a fire storm. Conditions created by climate change.
But wildfire, when it’s not sparked by us humans, is as natural as wind, rain, and snow. It has an important role in our ecosystems. Especially forest fire. The forests need fire to thrive. When there’s no fire, underbrush gets thick, making it impossible for new trees to grow and old trees to flourish. Fires clear out all that underbrush, making room not only for the trees but also for animals and birds, new grasses and other plants. Fire kills insects and diseases that threaten the entire forest. And, once it burns, the ash the fire leaves behind provides nutrients for the newly cleared ground.
The forests need fire to thrive. We need fire to thrive.
Today is Pentecost, the day that fire comes. This fire, like all fire, is indiscriminate. This fire engulfs everyone. It gives prophesy to daughters and visions to young men. Those who are old burn with dreams that this fire gives. This fire engulfs the oppressed.
Maybe that sounds terrifying, but today, this fire is good news. Because the fire that tore through Jerusalem that day was the coming of the Spirit.
That day, Jews who had immigrated from the furthest corners of the Empire were gathered for the Feast of Weeks, a huge holiday commemorating when God gave the Torah to Israel. That day on the streets of Jerusalem. There were Parthians, Medes, Elamites, residents of Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, and two places that our reader pronounced admirably but that I won’t attempt. There were people from Libya and Rome, Cretans and Arabs.
It’s how I imagine the streets of cities in France are this month with the Women’s World Cup going on. People from Thailand, South Africa, Norway, and Chile; Australia, Argentina, and Germany. Folks from 24 countries gathered from every corner of the world for a huge festival of soccer.
Picture them all gathered in Paris, wearing their country’s colors, singing their country’s songs, when suddenly a hurricane force gust blew through, fire appeared, and then the Thai person starts speaking to the German in German, and the German person responds in Thai.
To be honest, because it’s soccer and all, it would be natural to think that they were all drunk, even if it was 9 in the morning.
But can you imagine the sudden joy that would light up their faces, the joy of understanding and of being understood without having to change or compromise any of the beautiful, unique parts of who they are? It would be a miracle.
I have talked a bit these last few weeks about the joys of our differences, about loving how God made us, however that is, however different we might seem from the “norm.” And I will double down on that every single day of the week.
AND I think one of the biggest sins we can buy into is that our differences separate us from each other. In fact, I believe that sin itself is about separation. And by separation, I mean the belief that we don’t belong to one another. The first commandment, Jesus said, is to love God, and the second commandment is to love our neighbor. Separation is how we break these commandments.
Believing that we don’t belong to one another is what leads to putting immigrant children cages. It’s what murders trans women of color at astronomical rates. It’s what perpetuates the water crisis in Flint.
Separation is how we break God’s commandments, but Spirit is what brings us back together. The fire of the Spirit didn’t burn away the differences of those gathered in Jerusalem that day. No, the Spirit came, and each person there was able to both fully be themselves and fluently speak the other’s language, too. The Spirit came and burned away all that kept them from each other, renewing their life as a community, as a new family in Christ.
So, yes, I’m longing for the last days. The last days of separation. The last days of believing that we don’t belong to one another.
I’m longing for fire.