Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sermon: August 19

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!”

As I sat with that statement of Jesus, I thought of the wild fires that I have been reading about in the West, one near Yellowstone, others in Washington & Montana. And as I read, I did some searching on the internet, its amazing what you can find on the internet. Not only our website and my blog, but I found a website listing all incidents of wildfires in the U.S., both current and contained. 153 Incidents with 80 Active,73 Contained, and 4,412,781 Acres burnt. The stats may seem meaningless but it struck me that over 4 million acres have been burned this year…
If we lived in the west, like Montana or Wyoming, we certainly would have the wildfires on our minds, Here in quiet CT, the reality of a wild fire is not on our radar screens.

When I think of my childhood, I remember the great fire that ripped through a national forest near my parent’s cottage in MI. A month after the fire, we returned to the cottage to find miles and miles of national forest gone, it was hard to see any life. The only thing the huge fire missed was the town’s schools, located in that forest, to the disappointment of many kids. It finally was stopped less than a mile from the outskirts of the town. Unlike the fire outside Yellowstone started by a lightning strike in dry weather, that fire in MI happened because of an unattended campfire. The next year, where everything the previous summer was burnt, new seedlings had popped up. The plants that grew on the forest floor had come back. It was hard to tell that the area was just devastated except for the noticeable lack of large trees. Signs of new life were seen everywhere throughout the forest. The fire had not only destroyed but it had also renewed the ground. From that destruction, new life was born, and that forest is alive and well today.

A few years ago, I was hiking through Yosemite in California, and I walked through the remnants of a controlled fire. The underlying forest floor had been burnt but not the large trees, so that the fuel that would help a forest fire grow would not be there. It was amazing to walk through it, and see the controlled burn, smoke still lingering, still smoldering in some parts and knowing that the ground and the forest would be reborn, and the large trees would still be alive! Fire can destroy, but fire also can purify and pave the way for new growth.

I wonder if that’s what Jesus had in mind… Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” I don’t think Jesus was talking about a fire that would consume the earth and destroy everything... For God so loved the world, that he sent his only son to destroy it…no, that’s not it. This is after all, the Jesus who gave us the commandments about love. I think Jesus came to set our souls on fire, to purify us and to kindle in us the love for God and each other, to move us away from our self-serving practices and our ego trips, and to serve and love each other and all of God’s creation.

For that fire is passed to us through baptism by the Holy Spirit. It is in baptism, just like Jesus’ baptism, that we are named by God, and not just named but sent forth into the world to proclaim through our lives the Good News, to love each and every person who comes before us, and to love our God who created us.

Today, Ian Hudson Chichester will be baptized and the fire of God will be given to him, and will slowly grow with him as he grows into his faith and life. And as we all follow Jesus, through the sacraments of baptism and Eucharist, and then out into the world to minister in Jesus’ name, it is his fire that burns in us, renewing us, restoring us, making us whole. It is the Holy Spirit that comes and kindles God’s will and message into our lives.

But sometimes, we seem to lose the fire; and to regain it some will go on a spiritual retreat, or renew their worship and prayer life; some will revisit their service to others. Like a controlled burn, these are ways we can help renew the ground of our lives and allow for new growth with God. And for some, it is the circumstances of their lives, that bring opportunities for new life even in the darkest hours. For it is this same Spirit that will kindle hope when we have none. It will give strength when we are weak. When things look dead & gone, the Spirit will be with us to renew us and give new growth and our lives will change.

A story is told of some workers in Africa who received a box, as they often did, from the States: "Only this box of clothing and help—this care package, as it were—had a note and many, many strips of cloth. The note said, 'We are former members of the Alabama Klu Klux Klan. Recently we have been converted to Jesus Christ and we've taken these robes that we used to wear and cut them into strips. We thought you might be able to use them as bandages." (The Rev. George Antonakos)

It is the Holy Spirit who is most active in our lives even when we don’t see God’s activity. For it is the Holy Spirit who guides us to life, who helps us grow and thrive in God’s will, to live and move and have our bring. In the lives of some Klu Klux Klan members, it is that Holy Spirit that moved them into real life and real relationship with Jesus, using their former robes to bring healing to our world in the name of Jesus. Jesus is our teacher, who tells us there will be conflict, there will be division if we follow his ways but his fire can renew us and lead us to true life, that through faith in Jesus we can live and hope and persevere.

So maybe its time for us to put on our work boots on and our hard hats and go out into the world, to spread the fire of God’s love that fills our souls, to bring hope & forgiveness where death & destruction lay, to fulfill our baptism and follow God’s ways, so that there can be new growth for everyone. God wants us to be part of the message, part of the mission of the Kingdom of God. If we look out into the world with the eyes of faith, we will see that God’s hands, are indeed at work in the world around us. So lets gets those boots on, and help kindle that fire, a fire set by the Holy Spirit, for there is more life that God is ready to give! Amen.

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