Every Pentecost I think of Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire.” Sing it with me now:
We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning
Since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No we didn’t light it
But we tried to fight it
I will do my best not to bust out in this song during my sermon on Sunday, but I can’t guarantee anything. It’s Pentecost after all. STRANGE THINGS CAN HAPPEN ON PENTECOST!
For example, in Acts chapter 2 we learn that 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection and just a short time after Jesus’ ascension, there was a sound like the rush of a violent wind and what should appear, but divided tongues, as of fire. The people may have tried to fight it, but there was no use because it was about to fill the entire house where they were sitting. More than that, God’s power was being ignited and spread like never before, with no chance of ever putting it out. EVER.
It is this outpouring of God’s power, as of fire, that the church tries to celebrate on Pentecost. I say try because I have been to and led some pretty lame Pentecost services where the main feature was birthday candles and cake. Why candles and cake? Pentecost is known as the birthday of the church. And so what better way to contemplate this dramatic, strange, messy birth story than by singing happy birthday, blowing OUT candles, and eating cake? I have nothing against cake and candles (the birthday song is another story), but I think we may be missing the mark when our Pentecost celebrations become an overly domesticated and controlled birthday party.
Having said that, we will have candles on Sunday. In fact, we will have enough candles to warrant appointing our worship committee chair as our temporary on call fire chief on Sunday. (He called me this morning to say he would be holding a fire extinguisher during the service and all I could do was sing: We didn’t start the fire; No we didn’t light it; But we tried to fight it.)
Billy Joel’s song isn’t the only tune on my mind as we approach Pentecost. My go-to Pentecost artist is a woman by the name of Anne. She may not be as famous and fiery as Billy Joel, but she is an artist in her own right. She is much, much more than a one-hit wonder, but she is probably most well known for the hymn text, “Holy Spirit, come with power.”
Anne’s late husband Kenneth was a Rainbow pastor for a short time, so many at Rainbow will remember Anne. I had the good fortune of being her pastor for a short time at Bethel College Mennonite where she is still a member.
I will be sharing a little about Anne on Sunday and yes, we will be singing her masterpiece, Holy Spirit, come with power.
And so as we prepare to gather for this light-filled service, I share Anne’s spirit-filled words here:
Holy Spirit, come with power, breathe into our aching night.
We expect you this glad hour, waiting for your strength and light.
We are fearful, we are ailing, we are weak and selfish too.
Break upon your congregation, give us vigor, life anew.
Holy Spirit, come with fire, burn us with your presence new.
Let us as one mighty choir sing our hymn of praise to you.
Burn away our wasted sadness and en-flame us with your love.
Burst upon your congregation, give us gladness from above.
Holy Spirit, bring your message, burn and breathe each word anew
deep into our tired living till we strive your work to do.
Teach us love and trusting kindness, lend our hands to those who hurt.
Breathe upon your congregation and inspire us with your word.
Words: Anne N. Rupp, 1970, (©1970 Anne N. Rupp)
I’ll put Anne up against Billy Joel any day.