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Smokin’

June 1st, 2015 § 0 comments

I enjoyed the following sermon written by my friend and colleague so, with his permission, I am posting it here.

Frank R. Fisher, Obl OSB
Interim Pastor
First Presbyterian Church
Pontiac, IL

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of Pastor Johnson’s somewhat boring sermon, it happened. All of sudden, the pastor’s calm and peaceful phrases were drowned out by a roaring sound. Ladies’ hats, and one or two of the men’s hair pieces, went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Johnson with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they knew the congregation could have a future. They knew the Spirit could empower them to reach out to others within their community. They knew the Spirit could give them the power to speak in ways their community both could hear and needed to hear. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could work through them and empower their work.

But in the midst of their excitement, they drew back. “I just don’t know if everyone will want to do this kind of work,” one worshiper observed. “Yes,” another agreed. “It’s a nice idea, but I’m not really sure
we can fit it into our schedules.” One by one the worshipers agreed that the path ahead was impossible to tread. Then in decency and in order they filed out of the sanctuary, shook Pastor Johnson’s hand, and
said, “nice sermon pastor.” Five years later the congregation closed its doors for the very last time.

***

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of the prayers of the people it happened. All of sudden, the Pastor’s Meyer’s words were drowned out by a roaring sound. Hymnals, bulletins, and the choir director’s robe went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire
that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Meyer with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they knew the reason for the congregation’s existence. They knew they existed to embody Christ’s love both to their community and to the world. They knew the Spirit could empower them to show that love. They knew the Spirit could show them the direction they needed to go and the work they needed to do. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could work through them to bring the light and love of Christ to everyone they met.

But in the midst of their excitement, they reconsidered. “This is a really good idea,” one member observed. “Yes,” another agreed. “Why don’t we make sure Pastor Meyer does this work. And we can hire some more staff to work with he r.” One by one the worshipers agreed they’d direct the pastor and her staff to get busy with the work that needed to be done. Then in decency and in order they filed out of the sanctuary, shook Pastor Meyer’s hand, and said, “it was a wonderful service. We’ll talk some more about what we need you to do at our next Session meeting.” As the years went by the clarity and vision they’d briefly observed became more and more obscured by the day to day tasks of keeping their organization functioning. More and more worshipers faded away to more and more places. Eventually the members decided there was no reason to continue their common life. And after a final worship service, they said goodbye and went on their separate ways.

***

Smokin’!”That exclamation of excitement and awe emanates from the mouth of a teenage visitor to the very tiny congregation. For an instant the worshipers turn and gape at the speaker with open mouths.
Excitement, you see, isn’t a normal part of this Presbyterian congregation’s order of worship. But the worshipers attention quickly returns to the morning’s main distraction. After all things are going on around them that don’t seem to meet their proper criteria of decency and order. Propriety has always been an important part of the tiny congregation. But they weren’t always tiny. Once their Sanctuary, in the church’s upper room, had thronged with people. All sorts of influential people gathered there every Sunday, and frequently during the week, for worship, work and fellowship. Lately though, their membership had shrunk rapidly. And as they gathered together for worship on this Day of Pentecost, they couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before their doors shut forever.

Then, in the middle of the service, in the midst of the Lord’s Supper it happened. All of sudden, the words of the pastor’s great prayer of thanksgiving were drowned out by a roaring sound. Communion bread, the chalice, and the pastor’s stole went sailing into the air as a hurricane force wind burst through the doors and windows and swirled around and around the Sanctuary. And in the midst of the wind appeared tongues like fire that reached down from the ceiling towards the heads of every person in the room.

“What can be happening,” someone cried out with alarm! “Don’t be afraid,” answered Pastor Smith with a voice filled with awe. “It’s Pentecost, and the Spirit’s fire is falling again!” Indeed it was the Holy Spirit coming among them, and reminding them of the day Christ’s church was born. For as the fiery tongues reached each person, they were reminded of their baptism vows and their call to reach out to others as member’s of Christ’s body. They knew the Spirit could empower them and direct them as they reached out to follow their call. They knew the Spirit could show them the people they would serve and the ways they would serve them. Exciting visions of a vital ministry stretched before their eyes as they saw the way the Spirit could transform a burned out lamp to a roaring flame that would shine Christ’s love out clearly in the midst of the darkest night. They accepted the Spirit’s call to be about their Lord’s work. Those who were able began to minister to those who were in need as the Lord commanded. And their worshipers who were older and could no longer labor began the vital task of prayer for all those the congregation encountered. In words and in deeds the worshipers spoke to those to whom Christ called them in the language of love; a language all could know and understand. New life abounded among them as they gathered to worship, for fellowship, and to serve. Fiery worship filled with the Spirit’s power became their norm and kept them focused on their Lord’s call. Not one of them knew how long their congregation would exist; indeed, not one of them even cared. For they were about their Lord’s work and living each day in the burning flame of the Spirit’s breath.

The teenager worshiper’s exclamation of awe became their byword and standard, and the way they were known to all around them Smokin’,” visitors shouted in wonder at the joy of their worship! “Smokin’,” the community cried in wonder at they way they showed forth Christ’s love. “Smokin’!” “No, not us,” the worshipers replied. “For we work and worship in the love of Jesus Christ and through the power of the flame and wind of the Holy Spirit. And to God alone be glory.”
Amen.

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