Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. Acts 2:3, NRSV
I always thought of fire in the church in that way from the Book of Acts until one day there was a fire of another sort. It was not the fire of the Holy Spirit. It was the fire of destruction with flames, smoke and soot. It was the kind of fire which brought fear to my life and which I had to call the fire department in a matter of minutes to save the church building from burning down.
Now that was not the first fire I experienced. When I came home from college one summer, a storm swept through the city with rain and lightning. I thought I was safe in my parent’s home, but that would not be the case. During that storm the doorbell rang. It was a stranger. I opened the door carefully to see what this woman wanted. She said with a firm voice. “Your house is on fire. I was driving by and I saw lightning hit your house”…
So fire in Scripture is associated with judgement on the last day. But thank God the story does not end there. There are references where fire is seen in a good light. John the Baptist proclaimed that Jesus the Messiah would baptized his followers with the Holy Spirit and fire. That fire pointed to the day of Pentecost where tongues or flames of fire rested on the head of each apostle so they could preach about God’s saving love through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
WHAT LUTHER WROTE
But God’s Spirit alone is called a Holy Spirit, that is, the one who has made us holy and still makes us holy. ( The Annotated Catechism of Dr. Martin Luther 1529, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2016, Kirsi I. Stjerna, volume editor, pages 358-359)
HYMN TEXT from COME, HOLY GHOST, GOD AND LORD (public domain, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #395)
Come, Holy Ghost, God and Lord, with all your graces now outpoured on each believer’s mind and heart; your fervent love to them impart. Lord, by the brightness of your light in holy faith your church unite; from ev’ry land and ev’ry tongue, this to your praise, O Lord, our God be sung: Alleluia! Alleluia!
(Art image – The Descent of the Holy Spirit Upon the Apostles, Joseph Vladimirov, 1666, public domain the United States, Wikipedia Commons)