Sunday, June 4, 2017

"Fan those Flames" - Pentecost Sermon, June 4, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Fan Those Flames”
June 4, 2017: Pentecost Sunday
Pastor Andrew Davis
Acts 2: 1-21
1 Corinthians 12: 3b-13

            About 30-ish years ago, I got to go on my first camping trip with my dad, grandpa, and a family friend up to Antelope Lake not too far from here.  Now, this was my first time camping away from home and will just say it only lasted one night for me, as I went back down with our family friend the next day.  But as he and my dad went out to do some scouting, I think for the upcoming deer season, my grandpa and I stayed behind.  I was eager to build a campfire, so my grandpa decided to show me how to build one.  It was only with small twigs and some paper towels to start and while it was a pretty pathetic fire, that moment taught me the basics of building a fire, a skill I’ve developed over the years.  Then again, I’m known to build some pretty hot fires too.  Plus when I’m down at my parents house and build a fire there, their tortoiseshell cat, Nikki is almost always stretched out in front of the fireplace before long, so we know she is content whenever someone builds a fire in our house. 
            But in order to start a good fire, you need some tinder such as newspaper or pine needles, some kindling (more like what I tried to build my first fire exclusively with), and then the big, coal-producing logs, preferably oak or walnut which will burn long or hot.  Then you want to fan those flames as your fire gets going so it’ll spread and ignite and become a nice fire.  While fire is useful for keeping warm, cooking, and providing a nice, relaxing atmosphere, we know all too well that it can also be destructive and deadly, especially since it can cause severe burns and destroy homes and land.  In fact when I took a drive up to Antelope Lake last September while exploring the outdoors in Plumas County, I could have cried when I saw the scarred hillsides, burnt-out trees, and destruction caused by the fire up there ten years ago.  And we know that with the effects of extensive drought and bark beetle infestation around us in California and the West, we know that fire can happen at anytime and how destructive fire can be when the fuel is there and the flames are fanned by the wind.  Plus, there are many of you here who still vividly remember the fire on Christmas Day 1984 that damaged this sanctuary and part of the education wing.   These are two cases where we don’t want to see those flames fanned. 
            As we just heard in our lesson from Acts a few minutes ago, we heard the story of the first Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit showed itself to all the believers in an amazing, powerful, spectacular way!!  But besides coming in like a rushing wind, the Holy Spirit also appears in the form of tongues of fire, settling on every believer gathered in that house that day (Acts 2: 2-3).  Now I’m not sure about you, but I’d be a little worried about seeing fire resting on me, as my first instinct would be to do like we learned in elementary school, ‘stop, drop, and roll over.’ But this fire was not like a destructive fire, but was the fire of the Holy Spirit, as it didn’t burn anyone.  Remember back to the burning bush story where Moses encounters the burning bush, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire?  That’s a lot what the fire of the Holy Spirit looks like, burning, but not consuming.  And that fire was powerful, as people also began speaking different languages and understanding each other (Acts 2: 4-12).  In this case, they were on fire, but on fire with the Holy Spirit, a case where those flames need to be fanned!! 
            When the Holy Spirit works through us, amazing things can happen, as it’s the fire of passion that burns through us.  Back in 2002 when Salt Lake City hosted the Winter Olympics, the theme for those games was “Light the Fire Within,” something that I think about whenever I think about the fire of the Holy Spirit.  We have the fire of Christ’s presence within each of us, the flames of passion for being his hands and feet in our community and world.  More importantly, each of us gathered here has unique gifts and passions, as each of us can fan those flames of the Holy Spirit in realizing and fully using our gifts. 
            In fact, the Apostle Paul talks about using those gifts of the Spirit in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12, verses 4-6 when he says
God’s various gifts are handed out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various ministries are carried out everywhere; but they all originate in God’s Spirit. God’s various expressions of power are in action everywhere; but God himself is behind it all. Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! (MSG)

            Each of the gifts we have, that fire within us, and our passions are all connected to God and that fire can burn brightly when we allow the Holy Spirit to work within us and fan those flames.  And perhaps, we can even throw some kerosene on those flames too when thinking of how to use our gifts from God!!  As we talked about last week, we all have different experiences in life, different viewpoints, and likewise, we have different gifts and different passions, but it takes the Holy Spirit and fanning those flames of the Spirit to work through us.  Now, it doesn’t mean that we’re literally going to burst into flames (although there are some Sundays I get so excited that I may just burst into flames!), but we need to rely on that fire of the Holy Spirit within to guide us along the way on this journey of faith, even through the ups and downs that life brings us.  But more importantly, what are we as a church most passionate about?  What are the flames that are burning within each of us that need fanning, perhaps need a little kerosene thrown on? 
            One of the things our committee on lay leadership (aka nominations) is doing this summer is a study of Rev. Mike Slaughter’s book, The Passionate Church which talks about The United Methodist Church’s Four Areas of Focus which are 1) Developing Principled Christian Leaders, 2) Engaging in Ministry with the Poor, 3) Creating New and Renewed Congregations, and 4) Improving Global Health.  I have to say that I see the flames of the Holy Spirit burning in each of us here, as we have very strong lay leadership in this church, a passion for music and worship, a passion for helping people and active involvement in the community.  And we do it by joyfully living our faith!!  In fact, we follow in that same line with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, as some often wondered if Wesley would catch on fire because of his enthusiasm for living his faith in the world by visiting the sick and poor, preaching in the fields and coal mines, and through his intense devotion and study of the Bible.  However, Mike Slaughter explains that “Wesley reconnected Christ followers with the power of the Holy Spirit and birthed a new, transformative movement that actively served the mission of Jesus in the world.”[i]
            And so on this Pentecost Sunday, we acknowledge that Jesus while is not physically present in the world today, we STILL feel his presence and see his presence alive and well through the power and movement of the Holy Spirit, lighting the fire within each of us, and fanning those flames through the wind of the Spirit.  But it’s also up to each of us to carry on that work in the world today, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us and to fan those flames of passion.  As we go into this new week, I want all of you to think about something you are most passionate about in this church, and perhaps where that passion and the Holy Spirit may guide you to serve when you fan those flames.  Let’s see those flames burn bigger and brighter than they did when I built my first campfire and let’s see our passions burn brightly in this world as we go out to serve, guided by the Holy Spirit!!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN!!    

[i] Mike Slaughter, The Passionate Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2016), 17.  

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