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Campfires and Decodder Rings

I love this time of year when the thoughts of camping trips, exploring trails and campsites, are delightful companions as I sip my tea and enter my day.  I love looking at new areas and thinking about how I can explore the gifts offered by the flora and fauna.  But it is the campfire that is such a special part of these trips, particularly when the nights are cold, and the air is crisp.


When I sit around a campfire I often think about the "tongues of fire" that rested on the believers on that Day of Pentecost nearly 2000 years ago.  I wonder if it was the floating sparks from a warming fire that somehow enabled them to speak in other languages.  Was the Holy Spirit enabling their decoder-rings so these Galileans were understood by people who spoke Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Parthean, Elamite, Persian, Hebrew, and who knows what other languages?  


It is funny where your mind goes when you sit around a campfire...

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4

It is hard to say what was going on way back then, but I hear our human desire to know and understand one another as the backdrop for this story.


Today, we do have Google Translate and other AI tools that make it possible to understand across linguistic barriers. I can point the camera on my phone at a sign or label while in another country and know what is being said. I can ask someone to speak into my phone and have their words appear in English so I can read them and understand. Technology has made it possible for me to understand other languages without being required to conjugate or decline anything!

And yet I wonder about the difference between hearing and understanding and what the Holy Spirit was up to way back when. When the tourists who came to the Pentecost Festival heard in their own languages the Believers speaking about the "wonders of God" some were curious about what it meant, some thought the Believers were drunk, and some just walked away. It is clear that while their decoder rings were enabled (they were hearing the words), that many didn't understand (or trust?) what was being said. And yet, enough of those listening heard the Good News, the call to be awake, to pay attention, and to prepare for the days to come.


The writer was narrating this story long after the destruction of Jerusalem, and well into the decades when the early Church was trying to figure out who and what to believe. Nothing was clear, and yet the community who followed Christ kept listening to and trying to understand what the Holy Spirit was saying about the ecclesia, the "church". We know there were decades, centuries of struggle, competing communities, theologies, and eschatologies. We know that over the last two thousand years the faith and practice of the Church has changed over and over and over again, always trying to get that decoder ring to work.


We are still trying to get our decoder rings to work today. All of our discernment over these last two and a half years has been designed to help us engage the Holy Spirit as She attempts to guide us into the Resurrection Life that creates justice, healing, hope, and love. This is hard when we've left our decoder rings in the drawer or thrown them out as unnecessary clutter. And if we translate change as bad and read about resurrection possibility as drunken delusions......

Do I need to finish that thought?


As we enter the last discernment phase of this interim season, perhaps it is a good time to sit around a campfire and let the sparks dance before us so we can hear and speak about the "wonders of God" in new ways.


I believe that God IS Still Speaking,

and we still have important messages to share with our world today.


May the Holy Spirit light our fire again this coming weekend as we celebrate Pentecost!

Pastor Robin

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