On this day of Pentecost we make a fuss about fire. We have the banners in the nave of the Cathedral; the ministers on the sanctuary are wearing fiery red. So Pentecost is about fire. We heard the story of the first Pentecost where the disciples saw what seemed like tongues of fire that came and separated and rested on the head of each of them. Fire is a remarkable thing, and we inhabit this land, a great big island which we call home; a land which has been a land of fire for thousands upon thousands of years. The great fires have swept down year upon year, and in their wake there is only the black land, the land of death and devastation. Nothing is left, it is all gone. Yet if you come back in say 12 months time and we’ve had some good rain and sun, what you see is no longer the land of death, the black land, what you see is fantastic new growth; new life that has come only because of the fire. You understand why our indigenous forebears actually torched the land – not to destroy but to create.
So what does the fire of God that we call the Holy Spirit do? It destroys in order to create. And what does it destroy? In the Gospel that we have heard the disciples now are behind locked doors. The doors were closed in the room where they were for fear of the Jews. So what is it that the fire of God, the Holy Spirit destroys in the human heart, in individuals and in communities like the church? Fear, which is the great enemy; the cancer of the human heart. The opposite of love is not hatred but fear. Love, says St John, drives out all fear, and that’s the work of the Holy Spirit. So the fear is destroyed. Why are they cringing behind locked doors? What are they afraid of? They have seen Jesus die a most atrocious death. He appeared for them for 40 days and then he appeared for them no longer. Now they sense themselves perhaps abandoned, and they know that the Jewish leaders are after them, the disciples of Jesus, just as they were after Jesus. They could get the chop just as he did. They had good reason to fear; good reason to lock the door. Yet we see Jesus appears through the locked door, that’s the way he is – risen from the dead. And what does he say? Peace be with you! What’s the new life? It is the new growth that can come only because of the destruction? The peace only the risen Christ can give and which nothing and no one can take away? There is the sure sign of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of individuals; at the heart of the church and at the heart of the world; the peace that nothing and no one can take away. This then brings to birth a church that lives beyond fear and lives in the power of the risen Christ; an Easter people. Once they were touched by that peace, which Jesus breathes into them, then the disciples thrust open the locked door and they go out into the streets of Jerusalem and out onto the highways and by-ways of the world to do the very thing that would cost them their lives. They all died martyrs, and yesterday in San Salvador we had another martyr beatified – Archbishop Oscar Romero. He was assassinated on the 24th of March 1980. Oscar Romero was a man who came to live beyond fear. There was almost an air of inevitability about his death. He knew that the gunmen were on the way but it didn’t stop him and it didn’t silence him. Why? It is because Oscar Romero had come to a point of living beyond fear. Even facing death as he stood at the altar, shot while saying Mass, he knew the peace that the world cannot give but which Jesus Christ, arisen from the dead, most certainly does.
Here today we will confirm Emilia. Whenever we confirm someone we are calling them to journey with us, out of a world of fear and the locked room, into the world of peace which empowers us to become missionaries even unto death. Here today on Pentecost Sunday, with the whole church, in Brisbane and around the world, the great cry that rises from the heart of the church, an old prayer but thrillingly new; we say it with one heart and one voice and the peace of Christ – “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful people, kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and they shall be created. And you Holy Spirit, you shall renew the face of the earth.” Amen.