When a kiln is loaded by a potter, the pots need to be close to each other. There needs to be some space between pots for the fire to move like snakes among the grasses. And there needs to be space around the mass of pots and shelves so that the fire can move up into the kiln, hitting the ceiling and arching back down the sides to create circles of fire-pathways. But the pots need to be together.
Pentecost, in this scene from Saint Andrew’s reredos, seems to be not only about the fire of the Holy Spirit, but about the fire’s arrival to a group. And not just any group, but a group of people whose words were different – whose languages were different – and who suddenly, miraculously understood each other. Jesus’ last deathly miracle was one he sent air-mail express. And this last miracle associated with his life on the planet was less about bodies or theology, not about church or liturgy, and not even much about illnesses spiritual or physical. This last earthly-Jesus-life miracle was almost a signature-miracle.
We all have these signatures. There are the ink-signatures. Then there are the signature meals – those meals we all most love to cook and by which we are known. Mine are Chicken Tetrazzini, Dim Sum and Cassoulet. We have signature sermons. Mine is “God is crazy about us – liking as well as loving us.” We have signature gestures and even signature faces.
It would seem that Jesus’ signature miracle is associated with His mission as the Word made flesh. He made word. He was and is Word.
It is odd to me that we lift of silver goblets and plates with bread and wine in them. Some even place a bread wafer in a gold and glass sparkly thing and lift it with cloth between their hands and the gold so as not to mar the bread with mere flesh – lifting it high with reverence which inspires a kind of awe. Or seeks to anyway. We bow to the bread. We bow to the wine. We genuflect to the gold wall-safe which holds the bread-wine-leftovers. We light a candle to sit with them – to indicate that the gold wall-safe has No-Vacancy. The merlot and the loaf of Rye need to keep driving- finding a larder somewhere.
And yet, we are so casual about our words. Jesus came as the Word. And yet our words are many and careless. At least mine are. I fling them about like they are soft and smushy – and some are. But others have glass shards in them or needles or razors. Some people even cast rumors aloft, twisting truth just slightly off center and sending them, like ripping open a feather pillow on a windy rooftop – the rumors aloft to do their worst. And they do – impossible to pull back – like hungry rats let loose in a crowded swimming pool.
We can be so careful about what we say. But we are not very careful about what we do not say.
My new favorite musician is Carrie Newcomer. This acoustic musician from Indiana has a song called Two Toasts. And it has a wonderful line at its center which I have begun to use a lot in my head as a prayer and to begin preaching and teaching:
“To the words that live between us. And to we who live between the words.”
The words we say are important. They are the gift of the Holy Spirit and they move between us like the fire in a potter’s kiln. They can cause great good by exposing injustice or inspiring compassion. And they can cause great harm by twisting truth into lies with a charming sugar-coating.
Fire warms and fire burns.