Easter Meditation 6/6: On the Holy Spirit’s Fire

Listen to the reflection here: http://www.stjohnsnewhaven.org/resources/

By Kaylie P.

Hello, St. John’s family. In this meditation, I want to think about the image of the Holy Spirit as fire. This is something I’ve been dwelling on for the past few years, and I’ve gotten to see several different sides of this image that I’m excited to share with y’all.

In our Acts reading this Sunday, we saw that when the disciples were together on Pentecost, “divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit.”1 Why does the Spirit come among the disciples symbolized by fire?

Well, to start with, fire burns. It is a threat: when we get too close to a real fire, we get hurt, and there is a sense in which this is true of the Holy Spirit as well. In his poem “Little Gidding,” T. S. Eliot describes Pentecost like this: “The dove descending breaks the air/ With flame of incandescent terror/ Of which the tongues declare/ The one discharge from sin and error./ The only hope, or else despair/ Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre–/ To be redeemed from fire by fire.” This is an intense and frightening image. The theme of God approaching His people like a fire appears throughout Scripture, but God is specifically described as refiner’s fire over and over. He’s a fire that purifies us as gold and silver are purified and their dross burned away. I confess I have dwelt too deeply on the intimidating parts of this image over the past few years.

The truth that God draws near as a refining fire is intimidating, because my heart is deeply, deeply sinful; no part of my being is free from dross, and there are evens sins that I’ve chosen so often that they’ve become part of my very identity. So sanctification often feels like having parts of myself burned away, and the more that gets burned off, the more I can see in myself that still needs to go. Sanctification is hard, and it’s scary, and sometimes it feels like being thrown into the middle of a fire and having to grit your teeth and endure the burning instead of running away.

But fire, especially the fire of the Holy Spirit, doesn’t just cause suffering. As Aang and Zuko learn in the show Avatar: The Last Airbender, which has just come onto Netflix, fire is life and not just destruction. God even subverts the nature of fire in Scripture; in Exodus, when God appears to Moses to declare His name and bring His people out of Egypt to worship Him in covenant community, He appears as “a flame of fire in the midst of a bush. The bush was burning, and yet it was not consumed.”2 I think we see the same thing at Pentecost, where the tongues of fire on the heads of the disciples lead them to declare God’s deeds of power and the salvation He wrought in Christ, in languages that all people can understand. This is the same Spirit of power we have in our midst now.

This doesn’t lessen the truth of the suffering that comes when our dross is burned away, but it contextualizes that suffering within a story of such abundant joy that there’s no way it can’t be worth it. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are marvelous and powerful things, and drawing near to God might burn off parts of ourselves, but those are parts that need to go in order for us to worship Christ and declare His truth as new creations. The Spirit can and will purify us through affliction—most of the disciples who received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost became martyrs—but this affliction is worth facing because, as Hebrews says, our confidence has a great reward. As St. John’s has been experiencing an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in prayer during this time of quarantine, I want to exhort us all to be aware that trials and challenges will come as we confront our own sin and the sin in the world around us, through the power of the Spirit. But in these sanctifying trials, let us not look to the things we are losing, but earnestly desire the reward.

1 Acts 2:3-4

2 Exodus 3:2

Easter Meditation 6/2: Moses and Pentecost

Listen to the reflection here: http://www.stjohnsnewhaven.org/resources/

By Mike G.

 I knew it was going to be a busy week when Bill’s email arrived in my inbox asking me to do a St. John’s podcast. He recommended I use one of the lectionary readings as a jumping off point. I immediately gravitated to Acts 2 and Numbers 11. A few years back I had studied these two passages together for a chapter I wrote. When I searched for the paper on the cloud, I could not locate the document. I later realized I had written the chapter over 15 years ago. Oh my, how time flies. 

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Sermon reflection: Ellendale H.’s sermon on Pentecost

By Jennifer B.

I was reflecting on Ellendale’s sermon on Pentecost Sunday when she spoke about how much the Holy Spirit means to her. That really resonated with me, especially after such a difficult week, when it feels like the world is burning, figuratively and literally. She said He is often referred to as the forgotten member of the Trinity. I realized that I am guilty, if not of forgetting Him, of taking Him for granted. Because I know He is always there quietly inside, He becomes like a background process on my computer running without user intervention.

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Sermon Reflection: David B.’s sermon on the Ascension

By Betsy P.

“Second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

When I listened to this week’s sermon on Ascension Sunday, I was getting serious Peter Pan vibes. David’s homily on the Ascension was solid. It stands alone as a beacon of light for us to see more clearly what Christ’s Ascension means for us. It speaks for itself; my reflections are just little twinkles around that light. A little pixie dust of fun.

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Easter Meditation 5/21: A Beloved Water Pot

Hello, this is Michele Sigg. I have been a member of St. John’s for many years and I am currently on the vestry.

              There is a tall ceramic vase that sits on a bookshelf in my office. (I have included a photo in my transcript.) It is actually a water pot—one of many that I made years ago when I was actively making pottery.

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Easter Meditation 5/19: The Great Physician

Yichuan Wang’s Meditation: Journeying on the Road to Emmaus, toward the Great Commission, with our Great Physician

Hello St. John’s family, thank you for this privilege of bringing God’s word to you. Let us pray: Lord, may You bless our time together here, according to Your Will and where You find our hearts to be. Amen.

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