A Resurrection Fire
Acts 2: 14-21
Last week we encountered the power of a Resurrection Economy, and how the world can be transformed by an economic system based in the human personality and in love rather than the world’s economy that denigrates the human personality and is only accountable to the highest bidder.
This week, in the third Sunday of Easter, I will preach on the subject of a Resurrection Fire!
The words we heard from Peter this morning are the first words preached by a pastor of a church. It is the day of Pentecost and those who had been gathered in the upper room have had the world altering experience of the Holy Spirit land upon them. Tongues of fire had burned their spirits and given them the power to speak in other languages. Like the prophet Isaiah, it was as if an angel flew to them with a burning coal in its hand – a coal removed from the altar – and their mouths were touched by the Holy Fire. The heard the call and cried, “Here am I – send me!”
Consumed by Holy Fire, Resurrection Fire, they leave the sanctuary of the upper room and start to ignite the world with the resurrection fire. The tell of the Good News of Jesus – who was crucified and risen. They speak to the world and burn into existence a new world.
To those who could not hear the word – it seemed like these disciples had been dipping into the new wine a little early. Consumed by Resurrection Fire – they seemed drunk to those whose hearts were close – to those who tried to control a wild fire that seemed out of control.
But lightening had struck and a wildfire had begun to burn. And to those who could not hear – it was dangerous, but to those who could hear it ushered in a new and renewed world.
This resurrection fire burns like a wild fire. As the fire burns away it also lays the foundation for something new and beautiful. It nourishes the soil – the soil that was laid at the foundation of the word – it nourishes the soil and allows for new seeds to grow. It creates a place where the old soil is renewed and where new life can spring forth.
The wildfires we have seen on the TV for the last several years are heart breaking in their devastation. They are terror inducing for those whose homes are in the fire line. And for the most part they are human made – through intentional arson or unintended accident. They are fed by 100 years of forrest mismanagement.
For a long time, the status quo was to put out a fire as soon as it started. Contain it so that it would not spread out of control. It wasn’t until the last 30 or so years that the benefits of wildfires was understood.
It wasn’t until some forestry folks in Yosemite Park realized that there were not many new Sequoia trees beginning to grow. And if they did sprout, they would soon be killed by the massive undergrowth along the forest floor. Then a fire hit one of the Sequoia groves and in the aftermath they say an abundance of trees beginning to grow.
It turns out that the cones from a giant sequoia tree will only open in fire. The heat causes cone to open and the seeds to fall to the ground. It is only through wild fire that some of the oldest and most massive trees in our nation can begin to grow. The fire destroys that which gets in the way of new life and nourishes the new.
Another analogy is that of the city. There are areas of cities that developers have determined blighted – or areas called the swamp. And instead of working with people in those communities, and trying to created a controlled burn – something that tries to revive the community – instead they come with with bull dozers and destroy that which is there. They build their new and shiny condos, they call it an up and coming neighborhood and yet the soil that was there. The very foundation of that neighborhood has been paved over. It serves no purpose. It is forgotten and as a result it fights back – trying to preserve its place.
In these newly forests of glass and steel – there are upticks in crime as the roots of the community – the people who had been there struggle to be seen – to be heard. And as they fight for their survival – the new members of the community begin to see them as invasive plants. Not seeing that they were the native plants who gave this place its beauty and diversity. And in seeing them as invasive plants they being to figure out ways to remove them. To displace them.
And in doing so they form cliques and groups that create and us vs. them mindset. They begin to dehumanize those who were there first and claim the place as mine instead of ours. And as this happens they fail to set their own roots in a community and they begin to move away. They turn on each other. They turn on the new people who move in because they haven’t been there for the long haul. And the cycle continues. And anytime a change strike of lightening hits the land and the embers of a wild fire being to burn – it is put out because it threatens the way things have been.
We have been conditioned to see fire as a threat, and the resurrection fire can seem threatening – like the end of the world. It will appear as if blood and fire and vapor of smoke – the sun covered by the curtain of smoky darkness – the reflection of the moon will be as blood – but through the resurrection fire will come the great and glorious day of the Lord. And in those days – those who are consumed by the wildfire – by the resurrection fire – will be saved!
But it is terrifying. It is unnerving. It is upsetting to see those things we love being consumed. Fearful that they will never return.
I hear the voices say that things aren’t they way they used to be. Or that we have to do things a certain way because that is the way it has always been done. Churches are notorious for these kinds of words. And, yes, it is out of love. Love for the institution; for the memories; for the sake of posterity. There is a memory of the way things used to be – when the sanctuaries were full. The choir loft has songs raising to the heavens. The Sunday schools were over flowing with children. The heart behind those concerns is the soil that can bring new life to the church, but the fears – the holding on to – the insistence on an old status quo is the underbrush that prevents new life from spouting.
When the desire to hold on to the way things were is stronger than the vision to move forward – the church begins to suffocate itself. And conversely when the church is all about moving forward with out nourishing itself in the rich soil of history – it runs the risk of growing but with out the deep roots and at the slightest hint of conflict will falter. Churches are like the forests or the cities. There is a symbiotic relationship between the what was, the what is, and the what can be. There is a dance that can only be described as Holy. And when the dance moves – when it finds the rhythm and begins to really move – something beautiful happens. The flames of rebirth begin to burn. When the partner of the past and the partner of the present begin their tango – the future is built and a resurrection fire beings to burn.
Beloved friends, Emerson Avenue Baptist Church is at a crossroad. We spent the Lenten season walking along the cross road with Jesus. We went with him to the cross of calvary. We were there as the women cowered in fear on the day of resurrection, and here we are. Here we are in this Resurrection season – the embers of resurrection fire beginning to burn. The embers are smoldering waiting for the breath of the Holy Sprit. They are ready. Are we? Are we ready to let go of the way things were? Are we ready for the Holy Sprit to take a hold of this place and lead us into the future? Or are we more content with the status quo – because it is safe, because it is comfortable? Are we ready to embrace our deep roots in faith, to learn from the wisdom of the elders? To embrace their witness, or we going to bulldoze over them and give no mind? Are we ready for this dance?
Are we ready for what the Holy Sprit has in store? Are we ready to take that next step? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come an burn away that which has been stunting our growth – our spiritual growth as well as our mission growth? Are we ready for a resurrection fire to come and nourish the soil that we call home and being something new?
The Holy Sprit is about to descend on this place and take us away. Are we ready? Like the song says – people get ready -there’s a train a comin’ – you don’t need no ticket you just get on board.
Because when that resurrection fire comes. When it comes it will rain down like the fire on the altar built by Elijah. It will come like the tongues of flame at Pentecost. It will come and:
Our Sons and Daughters will prophesy –
Our young ones will see visions –
Our old ones will dream dreams.
Even the unexpected ones will prophesy because God’s Holy Spirt will be so strong in this place – no one will leave untouched.
When the resurrection fire of the Holy Sprit is unleashed – it will be the beginning of a new day. It will be the unleashing of God’s great reign. It will be what carries us into the future boldly singing:
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow –
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Thanks be to God!