Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
On Fire for God
On Fire, a sermon series for Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday, preached June 12, 2022 at the 930am worship
At the end of the Easter season are three special days; Ascension, Pentecost, and Trinity Sunday. Caitlan and I put those three Sundays together into a sermon series called ON FIRE, because fire needs three things… air, heat, and fuel.
Ascension is like the air. The Bible speaks of God in the air, the breath, the wind, the Ruach, the spirit that lifts Jesus on Ascension day. Caitlan imagined the air that enters our lungs and gives us breath. We wrote on pinwheels those things that catch our breath or make it hard to breathe. For those of you who played along, thank you.
Pentecost is like the heat. The Bible speaks of God calling Moses from a burning bush and baptizing with fire. Last week, we read the Pentecost story where tongues of fire heated the disciples and gathered crowds. We reimagined a sanctuary as a lively place of movement, energy, crowds, diversity, and voices. We wrote on Candles people or places that need Holy Spirit’s heat.
Today is Trinity Sunday, and we are adding the last ingredient needed for fire. We have the air and heat. All we need now is fuel. Let’s listen for the word of the Lord from…
Scripture Acts 2:37-47
37 When the people heard (what Peter said), they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This is the word of the Lord… (Thanks be to God)
Sermon On Fire for God
I don’t much like the word “repent”. The first church I served was about to make a big decision to activate some monies and restart a preschool, renovate the gym and open it for community use, improve our signage and curb appeal, and put on a big community celebration. One member, who was very opposed to these changes, stood up to speak at a congregational question and answer meting. He came to podium with a printed stack of papers about 5 inches thick and slammed them down on the little podium. He said “This is a copy of every one of Rev. Joel’s sermons for the last two and a half years, and not once has he used the word Repent. Not once.” His point was that I couldn’t be trusted as a spiritual leader because I didn’t use the word Repent.
I didn’t check to see if he was right. He might have been. I doubt I used the word Repent in sermons, though I am sure I read it whenever it was in Scripture.
That’s an example of why I don’t like the word Repent, because of how religious people often use it. Religious people fire that word like a weapon at those who believe differently or practice faithfulness differently. Repent is often spoken as a command or a threat. “Repent, or else!” Repent is often used to force someone to conform back to the norms and traditions religious folk feel we should be protecting, and I’m not comfortable with that word when it's used those ways.
But I love what the word Repent means. It means change. It means stop, turn around, go a new direction. It means do a 180. It means do the opposite. It means let go of the old ways and try a new way. It means letting former things fade and leaning into new things. I love what the word Repent means. I just don’t like what religious people usually mean when they say it.
When Peter uses the word, repent, what do you hear Peter saying? Is he threatening or inviting? Is he saying it with judgment or with hope? Is he expecting conformity to the way things were done before, or is he suggesting a new way to move and live beside one another, with one another?
Two weeks ago, when the spirit of God came in the air and lifted the resurrected Jesus from them, they were flabbergasted and stuck. A voice had to unstick them and send them back to Jerusalem to wait for something new that was about to happen. Last week, when the heat of God appeared on each of them as tongues of fire, their voices came alive with passionate words of promise and hope.
Each time, some doubted. When Jesus was crucified, died, and buried, I imagine some gave up and went back to old ways, but some didn’t. When resurrected Jesus ascended beyond them, I feel sure some gave up and went back to old ways, but some didn’t. When heated tongues spoke God’s words through simple Galileans, some dismissed them as drunk on morning wine and went back to normal routines, but some stayed.
Peter says to everyone still listening, “Repent. Turn. Change the way you think about God, no longer as one far off in the distance, but one right here, right now, in the crucified resurrected Jesus, and in Holy Spirit. Change the way you imagine God, not as some voice from a mountain to ancestors generations ago, but as someone among us now, telling us and showing us how to live. Change the way you talk about God, not as a warrior who will do anything to win, not as harsh passing verdicts on those who don’t meet the standard, but as a forgiving friend and brother, right amongst us, not above humanity, but immersed in the fullness of humanity, not all-powerful and invulnerable, but willing to risk everything for humanity’s wholeness and peace.”
Some decided to keep going the ways they had done or not done religion or God before. Peter’s REPENT is an invitation to change, change beliefs and practices, and begin embodying a new way of doing community with one another, with strangers and neighbors, and even with enemies. Peter invites us to be the promised kingdom of God among one another right now.
The story says about 3000 were added to the church that day. 3,000. Where we put them? How many services would we have to have?
Peter’s invitation wasn’t just to them back then. It was also to us today. Peter is inviting us all to repent, to change, and to begin living as if the kingdom of God is not just something we hope for when we die, but something we are willing to work for while we live.
And what does it look like?
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teachings and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs begin performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and shared everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple spaces. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.
That’s what God imagines for us. That’s what Peter is inviting us to. That’s what it looks like to be on fire for God.
We have the air needed for fire in God’s holy spirit.
We have the heat from God’s holy presence on Pentecost.
We just need fuel. We are the fuel brothers and sisters. We are being invited to be on fire for God, and to be embers in the great community of God.
What is it that keeps you and me from loving our neighbors and our enemies? What is it that keeps us from sharing more, giving away more, hoarding less? What is it that blocks us from coming together for worship, fellowship, and meals? What is it that tempts us away from studying together, praying together?
On the tables are small sticks and markers. While Kate plays something for us, pause and reflect on the thoughts and feelings that block you and me from being on fire for God, from being a Pentecost church? When you’re ready come to one of the tables and write whatever came to mind on a stick. Maybe you have multiple. That’s okay. Write them up and down the stick, both sides, or get another one if you need. Then, bring the stick with you back your seat.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever more, amen.
(break the sticks, take them to the fire)
Now, blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night this moment and forever more. Amen.