1/7/01, Jesus' Baptism

“Flames of Fire Flash Forth”
Psalm 29:7; Luke 3: 15-22

y uncle Winfred of Graysville, Alabama, used to tell the story about a hobo who stopped by the church one Saturday while the Men's Group was ready to eat breakfast. They invited the poor man in and the Preacher even asked him to say grace. The traveling man took off his worn and dirty hat, closed his eyes and prayed, "Through the teeth and over the tongue, if there's any left Lord, we'll give you some."

Three neighbor boys were playing in the woods and found a dead squirrel. They decided it needed a Christian burial so they found a shoe box, wrapped the Christian squirrel in a rag, dug a hole, invited in some neighborhood children to gather around the grave, and the preacher's kid repeated the prayer that he remembered his Daddy saying at gravesides, "Glory be unto the Faaather, and unto the Sooon, and unto the hole you go!"

The point of this is that it's not always liturgically proper words that
make a prayer, it's the fire-- it's the holy heartburn that makes it real.

John the Baptist promised that although he baptized with water as a sign of repentance, and the washing away of sins, when the Christ came He would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with Fire. It's the fire that matters!

God appeared to Moses from a Burning Bush that was not consumed by the fire. The Psalmist described the voice of the Lord as being powerful and majestic and one that, "Flashes Forth Flames of Fire." (29:4-7, NRSV).

Marilyn wanted a fire in the hearth on Christmas morning as we unwrapped gifts. I wanted to save the fire for a really cold day, but she pointed out that it was so cold in Georgia that the Snowman had been asking to come into the house. So, we had a roaring fire and it warmed our hearts.

The hearth in the home is a kind of Holy Altar for it's there that the
family gathers to share special moments that become sacred memories. Most of my Daddy's church members heated with fires in the fireplaces, or coal burning potbellied stoves. Many time I would go with him to visit the folks and we always sat around their sacred fire, unless it was summer when we all sat on the porch and endured the hot fire from the Carolina Sun. Now we all have central heat and air conditioning, but I sometimes miss the fires.

Fireplace fires required a lot of work, they were not spontaneous. Our
family was kind of "Citified" in that we had our firewood and coal delivered. Most neighbors chopped their own and hauled it to their homes on wagons. The teenagers were the ones who kept piles of firewood in the box on the hearth. There was another pile on the back porch ready to be brought inside. The daddies would get up during the night and keep the home fires burning. Today we all have gas starters and gas logs, but we had never heard of any of that, back then.

To carry this analogy of fire and spiritual flames one step further, we
must say that our hearts become the fireplace and God provides the fire. He is somewhat like the gas logs of our hearts that flashes forth flames of fire. My mental picture is of a volcano erupting in our hearts, spewing fire and smoke and sending new converts forth to turn the world upside down with the Power of the Holy Spirit.

It gets mighty cold at home with no fire. This November and December we have experienced Global Cooling. I have been wearing a jacket at my desk and running an electric space heater to supplement $1.00 per therm natural gas. We are having to shell out $ 2,800 for a new furnace at home. But we must keep the home fires burning!

Yet sometimes we neglect the more important fires in our hearts. Our
hearts can grow cold and we don't even feel it until we catch ourselves turning away a friend, or tuning out a Christmas carol, or turning away from the Gospel that once flamed hot in our hearts: a fire from the Holy Spirit that once remolded our lives. My, how cold hearted we can become!

I never met any sinners so cold that they wanted the flame to go all the way out. They just wanted to go out and play in the snow and then come back in occasionally into the presence of the fire for renewal.

Perhaps the analogy breaks down at this point for if the fire is going
to burn at all we have to keep it flaming hot all the time-- the smoldering fire eventually dies out.

The Good News of Revivification is that the once cold fire can burn once more. Renewed life can bring us back to the land of the living from the outer coldness. And we don't even want to be reminded of the "chaff that will be burned in the unquenchable fire," that Dr. Luke's Gospel describes in our text.

Let us focus on the dove as the new symbol of the presence of the
Spirit of God. We think of a dove as clean, fresh and innocent-- "as innocent as a dove." And that's how we can see ourselves as our hearts become a home to His presence.

My lifelong friend continues to teach in the religion department of our
college. He says he loves being around fresh kids full of a new calling from God. There is something right about that picture. Perhaps the secret of maintaining zest through the mature years is to keep the fires of enthusiasm burning, or allow God to keep them burning.

How about us? What's our spiritual thermometer reading today?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

1/7/01, Jesus' Baptism