SERMON – The Fire of Life
I have to admit that during these last few months of lockdown I have been caught out time and time again as to what happened when, was it last year or was it the year before – and I don’t think I am on my own in this. For a short time let us play the game of ‘do you remember when’. There were horrible bush fires in Australia which seemed to rage for weeks, the flames were fanned by strong winds and many people lost their homes as well as whole neighbourhoods and one of the saddest things was that animals lost their habitat. The forests were all burnt down and there was no food, shade or shelter. Do you remember seeing pictures of little koala bears with burnt feet and scorched fur trying to get out of the way of the fire. It was horrible to watch, but it happened because we as custodians of this planet failed in our duty to care for it properly. Those fires happened because of climate change and then just a few short months later we were seeing pictures of floods and people watching as their houses slid away from them. Again, the cause is climate change and it all stands firmly at our door with our incessant need for more burning of fossil fuels.
I can remember though the BBC reporter Clive Myrie visiting Australia during the fires and he reported that just a few short weeks after the fire there were signs of new growth on the forest floor. It is interesting the way that fire consumes what is on the top of the ground, it not only burns but it also cleanses, it gets rid of all that consumable detritus which in turn allows moisture in and the cycle of growth can start to take place again. New plants burst up and come up out of the soil, eventually new trees will sprout and many more will be planted and the forest will slowly, slowly return to what it was before. The animals will though retain their scars, they may return to the forest but they will not forget.
We read today about the coming of the Holy Spirit as fire and wind on all the believers, they were gathered in Jerusalem, the centre of the Jewish religion which also attracted people then as now from many countries. Jerusalem was and is now a hubhub of life – the city was filled with many people from different countries all talking in their own languages how God had been good to them but strangely understanding what the believers were telling them. Peter stood up and he began to speak about what the prophet Joel had predicted that the Spirit of God would come down on the people and that in his name miracles would be done, visions seen, he went on to speak of Jesus of Nazareth, about his life, his work of healing and miracles, about his death and resurrection about the wonders that God had done for them and the wonders he would do in the future. This was the beginning of the Christian religion as we know it today, it came about through fire and wind coming down on those 12 men and it was kept alive and spread by their passion for Jesus and what he had done for them.
We acted out for you a drama of a conversation between Jesus and Peter in which Peter had no idea of what the shape of the church was going to be like. He had no idea of who it was for, who it was aimed at, where it would take him, what he would do. No idea at all, he couldn’t see the future, all he could do was hope that the future with this strange man, now a friend would somehow happen, that he would be a part of it and that maybe Jesus would stay close.
Many of you here today will know that before there is new birth there is a time of pain and groaning. Birth is a messy business. Before forests can reinvent themselves after fire or people reinvent their homes after floods there is a time of pain and groaning, we are in spiritual pain for the loss we have received. At the moment we are in crisis when the whole of Creation is groaning because of climate change and before it improves for the better there will be much pain and groaning and that will be all of us because we are the ones who are going to have to bring about that change and it will not be easy.
Through this groaning we live in hope that the Holy Spirit will come to us and aid us in our pain and set us free. It takes a lot of patience to watch a forest regrow, many years of planting and watching and waiting. It takes many years to watch and hope for a church to grow and thrive and move and change and many of you have been doing that for a long time. Often there are setbacks and we feel as if God doesn’t listen to our prayers, but as St Paul tells us in his letter to the Christians in Rome it is the Spirit who pleads with God for us in groans that words cannot express. St Paul also assures us that God does hear us through the Spirit, he does listen, he knows what you and I are going through – we live in hope, we cannot see it, if we could then it wouldn’t be hope but we know the future is there we only have to reach out to grasp it. During this last 12months of the Covid pandemic it has been so difficult to keep on trusting in God, we have been through a time of testing but we have come out the other side I am sure stronger than we were before. There will be other times of testing but we will be survivors and we will move forward in the love of God and his Son, Jesus Christ. Know that you will come through the fire and be renewed. Breath in the life breath of God and he will light up the fire of the Holy Spirit and the passion for Jesus will be reborn in you it will grow again and you will live long to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.