I will admit right up front that I designed this title to grab your attention…and yes, I did have certain ones of you in mind ?
This Sunday we celebrate Pentecost, the “Birthday of the Church,” the recognition of the gift of the Holy Spirit. We use red to symbolize Pentecost because it reminds us of the tongues of fire that descended on the crowd in Jerusalem fifty days after Easter.
Those flames are on my mind today–those flames and the lesson my junior high school science teacher taught me about what a fire needs to continue burning.
In case you’ve forgotten, a fire needs two things to continue burning after it’s started: fuel and oxygen. As I contemplate this, I try to interpret it in light of the flames that burned at Pentecost. Why then? What changed on that day that could account for those first “Little Lights of Mine”?
I think it’s not too big a stretch to say that the flames began to burn because God had imparted a divine spark upon humans, and at Pentecost that divine spark came into contact with the two elements necessary to keep a fire burning: fuel and air. They possessed fuel, something with form and substance, in the Gospel. They had air in the breath of God, the Holy Spirit.
Those two things–the Gospel message of love and forgiveness and the Spirit of God–are enough to keep our flames burning. But sometimes, we lose our hold on one or the other, and our flames start to burn out.
Now that I think about it this way, I bet the term originated in the church. I bet it’s not something that we carried into the church from our stressed out, over worked lives. Burnout was born in the church. Probably at Pentecost!
Now, you might think this sounds negative and cynical, but I think it’s helpful and hopeful. We only cure diseases after we discover the causes. We repair breakdowns after we discover the problem. Why wouldn’t it be the same with burnout?
And if it is, then the remedy is simple. To keep the fire going, keep the fuel and air coming. Immerse yourself in the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness. Fill yourself with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
So often when we experience burnout in our church context, we do so because over time we have let ourselves lose the fuel or the air. We try substitutes: projects, positions, personal relationships, orthodoxy, even absence. But what our souls really need to burn brightly are the empowering Gospel and the inspiring Spirit.
I’m sure I have many kinks to work out of this theory, but even if it’s mostly wrong, I’m pretty sure it’s on the right track.
Peace and Grace,