Psalm 104:24-34; Acts 2:1-13
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
May 20, 2018
What is the one tool that human civilization has always found indispensable? Fire. The moment that humans were first able to create and control fire was, arguably, the moment that humans began to assert their dominance on the earth. Because of this, fire has always been seen as one of the key elements of life. It is revered in many societies and always seen as a necessity for life. There is this great little show on TV called Survivorman where they take this guy named Lee and they leave him in the middle of nowhere, sometimes the Arctic, sometimes the Amazon, sometimes, Africa. No matter where Lee is, the most entertaining part of the show is watching him try to either create or control fire. As soon as he gets it you know he is going to survive another episode and until he gets it, fire is all he talks about. Without fire, we humans would be nowhere.
And yet, while fire is elemental to human life, it also contains the potential for extreme danger. As some of you have experienced first hand and all of you have seen on the news frequently, fire is a powerful force of destruction. Each summer it ravages our forests, is a daily threat to our homes and has decimated some of our greatest cities, like Chicago and San Francisco. Fire is something that we cannot live without yet it is also something that we can never fully trust.
And fire is more than this, in our society it is also a metaphor. In our society, having fire means having a real, burning passion for something. But like its namesake, fiery passion is likewise double-edged. To be successful in life, you need some fire. I remember living in Indianapolis when their football team, the Colts, had a famous quarterback named Peyton Manning. Manning is one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, but when I was there he never won in the playoffs. Each season, after their final loss and people did the autopsy, they started to blame Manning’s lack of fire for the postseason flameouts. He was just too calm on the sideline. You have to have fire!
Just not too much fire. We like people to have passion but when they have too much, we start to get uncomfortable. I think back to a famous moment of televised passion from the Oprah show a few years ago. She was hosting the famous actor Tom Cruise. At this time he was dating his now wife Katie Holmes. When Oprah asked about it, Tom lost it. He started yelling about how much he loved her and how happy he was and then he started jumping on the couch and around the set. Oprah sat and stared in shock. Yep, you better have some fiery passion, just not too much.
Fire is a dangerous thing, but without it, we would not be human. We all need to have some fire in our lives, some things we are passionate about, but we have also been taught by society that it is best not to have too much passion about something lest people think we are crazy. Better to be Barack Obama and have people question your passion than be Tom Cruise and have people question your sanity. Of course, the disciples on the day of Pentecost were a lot more Tom Cruise than Peyton Manning.
On Pentecost, we celebrate the birth of the church and we do so by telling the same story, year in and year out. And it is a story of fire. The disciples were gathered together and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit, purveyor of spiritual fire, blew through their midst and all of a sudden things got couch jumping crazy. The disciples started speaking in foreign languages and little tongues, tongues of fire, appeared over their heads. And in this way, the Church of Jesus Christ was born, with a dozen men being accused of being drunk.
And so you can see, the Christian Church was forged with fire. That dangerous tool that has both helped and hindered humans for eons was introduced into the church right from the beginning. Now, why would God do this? Why introduce such a combustible thing as fire. Why not have reason befall them, or perhaps extreme intelligence. Maybe a wise old owl could have flown through the room and they all could have started doing complex mathematics. Surely this would have illustrated God’s greatness. But no, it was not to be. God chose fire. And the reason for this seems pretty clear in retrospect if you are going to start something from scratch, you better have some passion.
Think about it, if you were going to start a business or club or marriage or some big thing, you better have some passion. And so, on this day, the church was forged with fire, with passion. And for the rest of the book of Acts, the passion of the disciples literally leaps off the page. They are persecuted and imprisoned, they are mocked and faced with trial after trial and yet their passion is never waning, their enthusiasm and energy never goes away, and because of all this they were able, with the Holy Spirit, to create an institution that has lasted some 2,000 years.
But will it last another 2,000? This is the question that faces us on this day because, at least here in America, there isn’t a lot of passion. And we Presbyterians are the poster children of passionless Christianity. Our nickname, in case you forgot or did not know, is the frozen chosen. As a denomination, we have kind of arrived at the point where we think there is no real place for passion in a proper church. In worship, one should maintain a stiff upper lip and a passive demeanor. Best to not seem too excited or enthused, best to leave the fire for other parts of our lives. Now, I am not saying we are bad Christians, far from it, but I do think that it is clear that we need a strong dose of passion.
And I know you have it in you. You guys are really passionate about lots of things, Arkansas basketball, your kid’s activities, politics, mahjong. All sorts of things. And none of those are inherently bad, but then again, none of them are God either. We should be at least as passionate about Jesus as we are about any other thing in our lives. Think about it for a moment, think of what you have received from God. Think of all the gifts you have been given. Is this congregation important to you? Is your faith important to you? Is this world important to you? All of these things came from God and if you can’t get a little excited about it, a little passionate, if that isn’t enough to make you want to jump on a couch from time to time, I don’t know what is.
The reason the disciples were able to take a hundred people and turn them into a modern church of over 2 billion members is because they not only had intelligence, they not only had faith, but they had the fiery passion of Pentecost. And you know what, we need to rediscover our fiery passion. We shouldn’t worry about what other people will think, what they might say about us, but instead, we should recall that none of us would be who we are without the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And on those occasions when we have the opportunity to talk about our faith we should, like those first disciples, do so with intelligence and passion.
All of us have that fiery passion in our lives about something. All of us come here each week because God means something to us. But now is the time to remember that coming and sitting and even serving is not enough. We need passion, the type of passion that means we can’t help but talk about and be excited about our faith. You know, there is nothing in our lives, nothing, that is more important than our faith and it’s okay to be passionate about it. Amen.