Faithlife Sermons

Deserving Our Warning Sign

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Deserving Our Warning Sign John 12:20-33 Preceding today's passage in John 11:38f, we have the raising of Lazarus from the dead. Can you imagine what would happen if the media reported an event like that today? Why, it would start a fire storm! Imagine the headlines: "Minister Raises Loved One from the Dead." In the following article, it reads, "A local minister, preparing to conduct memorial services for a close friend, asked the friend to come out of his coffin and stand among them. To the astonishment of everyone present, the man, known to be dead for four days and prepared for burial, rises and stands among them. The local church becomes quite the center of attention and activity." Do you think that would start a fire? As amazing as that story was at the time and would be today, the true miracle was yet to be disclosed and the scope of Jesus' mission was yet to be realized. In our passage today, we have Jesus saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." The Lazarus incident was just a warm-up for the great event yet to come. As Jesus describes how a grain of wheat must first die in the earth before bearing fruit, it appears that the message to the inquiring Greeks and others is not only an immediate prophecy of His own death and resurrection but actually, a call to discipleship. Jesus implies that for the glorification of the Son of Man to be complete, there must be a new crop of disciples who can proclaim Him as the Glorified One. The message of the Resurrected One and the mission to let the world know of His glory needed a fire that would both warn the doubter and inspire the faithful. Speaking of warning, have you ever noticed all the warning signs along the road? There are warning signs for school zones, speed zones, curves, deer crossings, slow children (why would anyone ever advertize their children as slow?), railroad crossings, falling rocks, bump ahead, church in the vicinity... Wait a minute, Church?!!! What is the church doing with a warning sign? Does our church deserve a warning sign? Actually, there is only one kind of church that deserves a warning sign. It is a church that's "ON FIRE." We may have seen a church on fire, but I'm afraid that they are burning down and not fired up. They are being devoured from fear and keeping the status quo and even entertaining some cliques and cults. Did you happen to see 60 Minutes on Feb. 21? They interviewed a Rev. Derek Cabilis, a Methodist pastor in northeast Ohio who has been personally confronted with Q Anon “tearing through his community.” His church is on fire 2 with conflict, and he is being singed himself with the recent political divisions in the country there in his own church. Some churches are lit up but too often with ire, not fire. I have known churches fight about the color of new hymnals or choir robes or the kind of pie they should serve for a dinner or the color of a new rug rather than spend their energy on how they might best serve the needs of the poor around them. They are burning down, not fired up. The church needs a "fire in our bones" as Jeremiah pleads to his people. In Jeremiah 31:31, God promises a new covenant with His people that He will be their God and they will be His people and that He would write His word not in stone, but as a covenant seared and sealed upon their hearts. Jeremiah had tasted God's word, it had become for him "a raging fire, shut up in his bones." Jeremiah knows that his inner fire is unquenchable and eternally warming. That is why the power that God promised in the New Covenant would be internalized, written, perhaps even burned onto the hearts of God's people. We need that fire. From Moses at the burning bush to the tongues of fire at Pentecost, fire is a symbol of the light and presence of God. There are at least thirty-four Bible verses about God appearing as fire. Hebrews 12:29 says, "Our God is a consuming fire," and the marvelous thing is, God shares that fire with us. Can we find that fire in our bones again? Can we feel the presence of God's covenant seared and sealed into our hearts? The Greeks, who came to see Jesus, came with open eyes, eyes hoping to see God, big G. They came hoping to see Jesus, not as some reflection of their own gods they had devised for themselves, but hopefully as the real deal. More than anything else, faith in Christ means changing the way we see. Our faith is the art of seeing; first, seeing things as they are and second, seeing things as they can be. Seeing involves two kinds of sight. We can see from experiment and we can see from experience. We can see from our heads and our senses, and we can see from our hearts and our celebrations. We can see from what is rational and we can see by revelation. We can see from science and we can see by the Spirit. For example, Jesus said, "Consider the lilies of the field" (Matthew 6:28). How are we to "consider" a lily? How do we learn thoroughly, how are we to note carefully, from a flower? What else could Jesus mean? Well, as for the flower, you can take it apart petal by petal, or measure it, or you can pollinate it and grow more. That is one way of considering it and seeing it. You can, also, smell it and experience it. You can appreciate the 3 beauty and the joy of the giving of it to somebody else. That is seeing in a spiritual way. One way of seeing is as a critic or as an observer. The other way of seeing is as one who loves and appreciates the beauty. Love is as much a means of knowledge as scientific criticism, and the language of knowing Christ is the language of love. Consider the lily? What does that mean? It means thoroughly appreciate the beauty of God’s love and He who was sent as His presence. In Mediterranean cultures, beauty is more than a cerebral aesthetic or an artistic head trip. It's an appreciation and participation, even celebration of beauty. The French scholar Pierre Babin tells of seeing a number of elders sitting motionless under a tree, staring at a picturesque mountain range. He spoke to them, "Beautiful - isn't it?" Their response: "We feel good here." Babin tried again. "Your village is so beautiful!" They replied, "Do you feel good in our village?" For them, beauty was not fullness of artistry or perfection of lines; it was the fullness of being, it was the perfection of presence. Jesus is the perfection of God’s presence. We sing a song as children, "Jesus loves me, this I know." How do you know that Jesus loves you? Yes, "the Bible tells me so," but we also know through our spiritual experience. Experiencing Christ, knowing Him, does more than inform, it transforms. That is why the message that Jesus preached to the crowd was one that proclaimed He would be "lifted up" (inform) and would "draw all people unto Myself" (transform). Christ's story is not yet finished. We are called to complete the story of Christ by spreading the Gospel. We are called to help lift Christ up before the rest of the world. The living experience of seeing Christ must ignite a fire within us that compels us to make Christ known to others. We "keep the faith" by "spreading the faith." For any church to be worth its warning sign, it has to be turned on. It has to be on fire. As restrictions for gathering are lifted, save for the cautions we must still employ, as vaccines spread through the populace, as we seem to be heading out of a year of darkness and isolation, now is the time to get fired up, start your engines and reinvigorate the life that is the church. We, as a church, can become a flaming torch of Spirit and energy and faith and fire power for all to see and feel and, we pray, for others to be drawn to. Jesus said, in Luke 12:49, "I came to bring fire to the earth." Has Jesus ignited your soul, that you even burn in your bones? Hold out just the candle of your heart and let the fire of His Spirit light you up. Then we will deserve our warning sign that says, “This church is on fire.”
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