[The symbol of the cross and dual tongues of fire] is rich in meaning. It relates The United Methodist church to God through Christ (cross) and the Holy Spirit (flame). The flame is a reminder of Pentecost when witnesses were unified by the power of the Holy Spirit and saw “tongues, as of fire” (Acts 2:3).
Our tradition in the United Methodist Church is that we are people of the cross in that we know our salvation and life comes through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are also people of the flame in that we believe in that power of the Holy Spirit works in us and through us to accomplish God’s purpose in the world – at least that’s the theory.
I began to wonder the other day, are we really cross and flame people or are we really more cross than flame? Here’s what I mean. The cross reminds us that we are saved by grace. By the loving gift of God our sins are forgiven and we are connected to God. We like that well enough. It means we can live our life with a greater sense of peace. By the same token, we claim to be people of the flame – the symbol of the Holy Spirit – but, we are not usually as ready (or so it seems to me at times) to engage the Spirit in a real way. And, for the record, I am talking to the man in my mirror as much as I am talking to anyone else!
Fire is a great symbol for the Spirit for a number of reasons – and those reasons are the same ones we may not be so ready to engage the Spirit in a real way. Fire is unpredictable. Any fire fighter will tell you that. You can’t always know where a fire will spread or how it will spread. You have to be ready at all times for the flame to go in a direction you never anticipated. When we talk about living in the Spirit, this unpredictability can be a bit disconcerting. We like to make plans, figure out the path to take, try to understand all the possible obstacles and weigh our options. The Holy Spirit, in my experience, rarely moves with such predictability.
The other truth about fire is that it changes things. Unlike other elements in nature, fire always causes an immediate change of some sort. Water, earth, air, can change things – but it usually happens over time, if it happens at all. A fire cannot exist unless something is being changed – i.e., wood is being changed from a solid to a gas, gas is being changed from one form into another, etc. Also, things that come in contact with a flame are also going to change – water will boil away, skin will blister, and steaks will become yummy (not all change is bad). When we talk about living life in the Holy Spirit it means being ready for things to change – being ready for us to change. And most of us don’t like that. One reason goes back to the previous comment on unpredictability we can’t always be certain what the Spirit will change about us and that uncertainty is difficult to deal with.
I think we just discovered the issue of why we may tend to be more cross than flame. In the cross we find certainty. We are told that Jesus has died for our sins and through faith in him we are made right with God. It is a given. Yes, it takes faith to trust in that work, but it’s not a huge leap of faith. The bigger step of faith comes in our decision to be followers of Jesus, moved by the same Spirit that moved him. This Spirit drove him into the desert to be tested and made ready. This Spirit moved him to speak out against the religious stagnation and self-indulgence of his day. This Spirit provoked him to say a person’s possessions are more burden than blessing in the Kingdom of God. This Spirit made him appear a bit crazy even to his family. This Spirit also worked through him to set people free from their demons, raise people from the dead, and call people into the greatest, most challenging, most uncertain adventure of their life. Being people of the flame takes more faith and trust than just being people of the cross.
And so, I look in the mirror and I say to myself: “will you have faith enough to mess with fire – or better yet, to let the fire mess with you?” I have to ask myself, do I trust God not only with my eternal life but with my life in this place on this day? Am I willing to let the Spirit of God call me to new things? If so, I will need to be ready. That fire may consume things in my life and cause things I value to be taken away. That fire may move in directions I never expected. That fire may cause a drastic change in my life causing me to be someone and to do something I never would have imagined I would be or do. It will take much faith and trust to let the Spirit of God mess with me.
And what about you? Are you willing to be a person of the flame as well as the cross? To trust God to move in this life even as you trust God with you eternal life? I pray you will just as I pray I will.
Holy high-five to you,