God is beginning to bring children to Morton Church again, and recently a 3 1/2 year old noticed the lit candles on the communion table and asked, “Why is there fire up there?” His question inspired this sermon for our Homecoming Service.
Why There’s Fire in the Church
A Sermon on Exodus 3:1-10 and Acts 2:1-21
Homecoming Sunday 2013
During worship two Sundays ago, the burning candles on our communion table caught a child’s eye. He asked, “Why is there fire up there?” What caught Moses’ eye was a burning bush. And whenever you see fire in the Bible, it means that God is around somewhere, and it means that God is up to something. Sometimes, like the church gathered in the upper room, Bible people are expectantly waiting for the fire. For others, like Moses, the fire comes to them as a complete surprise.
The day Moses first saw the fire started out just like any other work day. Moses was out in the fields of Midian, doing what he did every day: keeping track of a flock of sheep. Suddenly, there on the horizon that he had scanned countless times before, he noticed something different. “That’s odd,” Moses said to himself. “That bush is on fire, but it’s not getting burned up. Wow! I’ve got to go take a closer look!”
There! God had Moses’ attention, and the next thing you know, God was relighting an old passion in Moses. “Don’t come any closer,” God said when God had Moses’ attention. “Take off your shoes. You’re on holy ground here!”
God then proceeded to pour out what was in God’s heart. “I’ve seen the terrible suffering of my people in slavery in Egypt,” God said. “I’ve heard every one of their cries. I know how miserable they are.”
Moses knew it, too. He had seen it and heard it, too. Years ago Moses had killed an Egyptian that he saw beating an Israelite, and that’s what led him to run away from Egypt and immigrate to Midian. Doggone right Moses knew what God was talking about!
“I’m going to get them out of there and lead them to a new homeland,” God continued. “And so, I am sending YOU as my agent. You’re going down to Egypt, you’re going to tell Pharaoh to let my people go, and you’re going to get them out of there.”
Shocked, Moses proceeded to argue with God about why he was a poor choice for this job, and why God really ought to send somebody else. Eventually, though, Moses quit objecting and headed for Egypt. Despite himself, Moses found his heart on fire again, and soon he found himself face to face with the king of Egypt, right in the heart of the oppression and pain of the Hebrew people, calling for justice in the name of God.
The group gathered in the upper room in Jerusalem was a small church with a big task ahead of it. “You’re going to be my witnesses,” Jesus had told them, “starting here at home in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. And when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you are going to get the power to do it.” The fire was on the way.
As the church talked and prayed and waited, a fly on the wall might have heard something like this: “How are we going to manage this? I mean, look at us! Where do we start? What do we say? What about the people who don’t speak our language? And we know this is going to get us in trouble just like it got Jesus in trouble. What will we do then?” You can bet there was some big time praying going on in the upper room, along with Bible study and telling and retelling the stories of Jesus.
The Day of Pentecost found Jesus’ followers together. This time, God didn’t come quietly. God didn’t slip in on the horizon and wait for them to notice. This time the Spirit of God swooped in like a fierce wind, and fire appeared among them and rested on them. In pictures of this event, Jesus’ followers often look like human candles with flames above their heads. And no, they didn’t get burned, either!
Next thing you know, they’re outside of the upper room telling everybody about Jesus, telling everybody about the wonderful things God does. It happened to be homecoming time in Jerusalem then, too. Lots of people from all around the known world were there. They were amazed when they heard the members of the church telling God’s story in their native languages. The Spirit had given the church the ability to speak the languages of the people on the outside who didn’t know Jesus yet.
The whole city knew something was going on. Everybody was amazed. “What has gotten into these people?” they wondered. Some scoffed that the church obviously had been imbibing spirits, the alcoholic kind. But others just kept asking, “What does this mean?”
Peter spoke to the crowd, “No, it’s not spirits that have gotten into us. It’s the Holy Spirit of God. This is what happens when God pours out the Holy Spirit on God’s people. What you’re seeing is Joel chapter 2, verse 28 in action: when I pour out my Spirit, says God, your sons and daughters are going to proclaim the word. Old and young alike are going to see visions and dream dreams.” Yep. The fire of God had gotten into the church, and soon Jesus’ followers were headed out to share the gospel.
When the fire of God gets into the church and reignites people’s hearts, they hear God’s call again. “I see these people, and I see this need, and so I am sending you,” says the Lord. “Go be my witnesses!” And the church answers, “Here we are, Lord. We will go, if you lead us.”
Burning with Christ’s love, burning with thankfulness, the church takes heart and takes one another’s hands and moves out on a mission. Old and young and in-between see visions and dream dreams together.
Burning with compassion and courage, burning like Moses with a passion for justice, the followers of Jesus dream of freedom and healing and wellbeing for all people, for ALL, not just for some. They dream of the time when there will be no more hunger and sickness and sorrow and pain, and they live that way now, and they work to make that happen now. They fight hunger now. They wipe away tears now. They seek to relieve suffering now. In the name of Jesus, they seek abundant life for others now. They dare to go to the palace of Pharaoh or wherever else they need to go, and they call for justice now.
Burning with Christ’s love, they tell others about him now, and they show others his love now, and they invite others to follow him now and always.
Something has gotten into Morton Church. Something is going on around here. In the name of Jesus, people here are dreaming dreams. New sparks of the Spirit are turning into flames.
You can see it in these children gathered here today. Another way you can get a glimpse of those sparks is if you visit the Morton media room, a room we’ve been updating for use by all of God’s people, but especially by our young disciples and their families. Go in there and look at the array of pictures on the bulletin board. Most of them are photos from the Morton Tuesday night summer program.
You will see pictures of children and their adult friends listening to the story of Jesus together, and exploring God’s wonderful gifts of music and art and drama together. You will see the joyous faces of people joining hands to dance. You will see what this sanctuary looks like when there are a whole bunch of young people in here, considering the things of God together, and sharing prayer concerns, not just for people, but for other living creatures, too. Our children care about animals.
Sparked by the Spirit, at Morton we are dreaming dreams of young and old and in between as a multigenerational family of faith together, dreaming of children and parents and grandparents together in Jesus’ family, surrounded by lots of extra grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that are kin to each other through Jesus. Kinfolks in Jesus who cherish one another from cradle to grave. We yearn and we burn for that kind of beloved community here!
Sparked by the Spirit, at Morton we have a vision of young and old and in between learning together to follow Jesus, serving side by side in mission together. Sparked by the Spirit, we might even literally gather soon around a campfire, like the tribes did in the Bible, when faith was passed from older folk to younger folk and back again around the fire.
We MUST dream this! The Lord sees the community out there. God sees all those houses around us. God sees all the people who live in them. God sees what is happening in their lives and knows all their joys and sorrows. God hears what is going on in their hearts. God sees people of all ages that he loves more than words can express. And so God is sending us. Yes, us, to be his witnesses, just as he sent Dr. Morton and his friends out into this countryside to be witnesses a century ago.
All you who in some way see Morton Church as home, or love someone who does, all who have seen what God has done around here, and all who believe in what God can and will do around here, all who love Jesus, your prayers are needed! Your encouragement and support are needed! If you’re local, your active involvement is needed! Come and fan the flames! Dream the dream!
Praise the Lord, the living God is here, right here among us! God is up to something right here! And that’s why there’s fire in the church.