Part 6: Fire Up
Pastor Morris Brown
Sunday, May 20, 2018
I once heard a story about a fire that broke out in a building in a small town. The town’s fire department was called to put the fire out, but it proved to be more than they could handle. So, someone suggested that a rural volunteer fire department be called in. The town’s fire chief doubted volunteer firemen could help. But, he made the call anyway. Well, a few minutes later a rag-tag group of volunteer firefighters arrived at the fire in a dilapidated old fire truck. To the amazement of everyone, they drove straight into the middle of the flaming building, jumped off the old fire truck and frantically began spraying water in all directions. Soon they had snuffed out the center of the fire, breaking the blaze into two easily controllable parts, which the town’s firefighters were easily able to put out. The owner of the building was so impressed with the volunteer firefighter’s bravery, he gave them a check for $1000.
Then, he asked the volunteer firefighters,“What are you going to do with the money?”
“That should be obvious!” A volunteer firefighter said, “We’re going to fix the brakes on our truck!”
Okay, it’s a silly story! But, it does get us to the title of the 6th message in the “Up” worship series we’ve been sharing at Christ Church. And the title, is “Fire Up!” You see, if we want to be people who are living effective lives, if we want to be people that are blessing the lives of people who cross our path each day, we need to get “fired up!” So, what does it mean to get “fired up”? Why should we get “fired up”? I believe the story of Pentecost, which we read this morning, tells us!
You remember the story, don’t you? After Jesus resurrection, he appeared to his disciples at various times over a period of 40 days. Then, he ascended into heaven. Before he ascended however, he told his disciples to gather in Jerusalem and wait. “At some point,” he said, “the Holy Spirit of God will descend upon you! And when it does, it will empower you! It will empower you to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
So, the disciples did what Jesus said. They gathered in the upper room and waited. And on the day of Pentecost, which was 50 days after the resurrection of Jesus, it happened. They suddenly heard what sounded like “rushing wind.” And then they saw what they could only describe as “tongues of fire” descend on them. And the scripture then tells us each of the disciples was suddenly given the ability to speak in a foreign language. When they realized this, they left the upper room and they went out into the streets of Jerusalem where pilgrims from all over the world had gathered for Passover. And the disciples began to use the language they’d been given to tell people about the wonderful works of God! So, how does this story connect with us? Why should the story of Pentecost “fire us up”? Here’s why!
First, the story of Pentecost ought to “fire us up” because it reminds us that, as followers of Jesus, we have received the gift of the SPIRIT.
The story begins by telling us that when the followers of Jesus gathered on that first Pentecost, the room they were in was suddenly filled with wind and tongues of fire. In the bible “wind” and “fire” are both metaphors for the presence of the sacred, the power of God. For example, in Genesis the first humans came to life when the “wind” or “breath of God” was breathed into them. In Exodus, Moses met God in a “burning bush,” and the Red Sea was parted by the “wind of God” that blew all night. The Israelites were led through the wilderness by a “pillar of fire."
So, when the writer of Acts tells us that “wind” and “tongues of fire” filled the room where the followers of Jesus had gathered, he is telling us that the Holy Spirit – the presence and power of God – showed up. But, the Holy Spirit didn’t just show up! The story tells us that the Holy Spirit, the presence of God, filled each disciple. Each of them – despite their age, background, stage or station in life - was filled with the presence of God, the power of God! Well, believe it or not, as followers of Jesus we’ve received the presence, the same power, same Spirit of God is in us all!
When I was in high school one of the things I just loved to do was go to pep rallies. I loved to go for a variety of reasons. I loved to go because it meant we got out of class for the entire afternoon, and what teenage male didn’t want to do that? I loved to go because the cheerleaders ran around doing acrobatics. And what teenage male wouldn’t want to see that? Finally, I loved pep rallies because I got to join in on the cheers. Well, even though it’s been 37 years since I graduated from high school, I still remember one cheer the cheerleaders would do. They’d say, “I’ve got spirit. Yes, I do! I’ve got spirit, how bout you?”
Well, the story of Pentecost reminds us that cheer is true! As a follower of Jesus, I’ve got Spirit, you’ve got Spirit, we’ve all got spirit – yes, we do! Every one of us in this room has the presence and power of God residing in us, ready to flow through us to change the world for love in some way! And that ought to “fire us up”!
Second, the story of Pentecost ought to “fire us up” because it reminds us that the Spirit not only resides in each of us, but has given us a SPECIAL gift.
“When the Spirit of God descended on the disciples each of them was given a special gift, a unique language they could use to communicate God’s love to others.” Some of them were able to speak with Parthians, some were able to speak with Medes, some were able to speak with people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Asia, Libya, Egypt and Rome! But, the Spirit gifted each of the disciples with a unique language they could use to communicate God’s love with someone in the world.
Well, in the same way, as followers of Jesus the Spirit has given each of us a special language, a unique gift God calls us to use to communicate the good news of God’s love and God’s grace with people in our world! Now, our languages are not all the same, but every single one of us has a language of love we can speak. Let me give you just one example. In my last church there was a 90- year old woman by the name of Helen Holcomb. Helen had a love for flowers and for more than 70 years ran a florist shop that had been started by her grandparents. When she retired Helen didn’t want to stop sharing the love of God with other people. So, she began a ministry called “Blooming Blessing." Each Monday she’d come to the church. She’d take the large flower arrangement that had been used on the altar that Sunday and break it into smaller more beautiful arrangements. She would then take these arrangements to people who were shut-in or in the hospital. Attached to each one was the following note:
“Dear Friend, the flowers you have received were a part of our worship on Sunday. They heard songs of praise, the pastor’s message, and the prayers that were offered. We give them to you to remind you of the good news that God loves and cares for you!”
Isn’t that cool? Helen Holcomb, a 90-year old woman was given the gift of arranging flowers. And she used her gift to communicate the love of God to people in her church and community who are sick, shut-in or experienced some kind of difficulty in their lives. Now, we may not be able to speak the language of flowers! But the story of Pentecost reminds us that the Holy Spirit has blessed each and every one us with some special gift, some unique language we can use to communicate God’s love to others. Some of us can sing or play musical instruments. Some of us are great listeners.
Some of us are good with babies or children or youth. Some of us are gifted at organization. Some of us are handy with tools. Some of us have financial wisdom or excellent management skills. Our gifts are all different. But the Spirit has given each of us a unique language, a gift we can use to communicate God’s love to people. And knowing that should fire us up!
Finally, the story of Pentecost ought to get us “fired up” because it reminds us that we need to SHARE our gift with the world.
The story says, “The Holy Spirit descended on each one of the disciples and empowered, gifted each of them to speak a different language.” But, the story doesn’t end there, does it! Instead, it says, “the disciples left the upper room and hit the streets of Jerusalem where they spoke their language, where they put their gifts to use!” And because they did, people’s lives were changed! Pentecost reminds us our language of love must be spoken; our special gift must be put to use. Otherwise, it’s no good!
Some of you, who are as old as me, may remember the band, The Doobie Brothers. In the 1970’s they had a number of hit songs, like: Listen to the Music, China Grove, and What a Fool Believes. One of my favorite Doobie Brothers songs of all time however, was Takin It to the Streets. Now, I’m not going to sing it! But the lyrics go like this, “You don’t know me, but I’m your brother. I was raised here in this living hell. You don’t know my kind in your world. Fairly soon time will tell. You’re telling me your gonna do things for me, but I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see. Taken it to the streets, yeah, taken it to the streets.”
Michael McDonald, The Doobie Brothers lead singer who wrote the song, was once asked what the song meant. This is what he said. “The song was meant to remind people that we all have the ability to help people in need. We’ve all been gifted with resources, skills that can help others – especially the less fortunate. And we have a responsibility to recognize the gifts we’ve been given and put them to use. Instead of just talking about helping others, we must do something. We are all called to take the gifts we have “to the streets” where we can use them to help change the lives of people whose lives desperately need to be changed!”
What Michael McDonald is singing in this song is what the story of Pentecost is talking about. The Spirit has given each one of us a gift, a language that enables us to communicate the love and grace of God to someone in the world. But, in order for that communication to take place, we can’t just sit here in the church! Instead we have to take it to the streets! We have to look for and seize opportunities to share our gifts in ways that will communicate and enable others to experience the love of God. For when we do, it changes lives.
So, how do we do that? There are many ways. We can do it by getting involved in our children or youth ministries. We can do it by signing up to be a peer visitor and Stephen ministers for folks in our congregation who are in the hospital and rehab centers. We can do it by volunteering to work on our Habitat or our Lumberton mission team. We can do it by finding a way to get involved in at our new Glenwood campus in July.
There are literally hundreds, thousands of ways we can find to “take our gifts to the streets,” “to speak the unique language we’ve been given” and communicate the love and grace of God to people in our church, our community, our city and our world that desperately need to hear it. And that ought to get us “fired up”!
So, do you and I want to live an effective life? Do we want to live a life that will bless the people who cross our path each day? This Pentecost Sunday our faith says we can do it if we’ll get “fired up”! Fired up about the fact that we’ve all got SPIRIT! Fired up about the fact that we’ve all been a SPECIAL language, a special gift! Fired up about the fact that when we speak our language, take our gifts to the STREETS and put them into practice, people will experience the good news of God’s love and grace. And that will not only change their lives, it will change our lives and the life of the world! So, let us go forth today as God’s “fired up” people!