This is the second sermon in our summer series: “Pop Culture.” The audio will soon be available on our website, at which time I’ll share the link here.
I’m no Donald Trump, but I know fire when I see it.
But what does fire have to do with ending someone’s employment. Legend has it that this term – “firing” someone started with John Henry Patterson, founder and owner of National Cash Register (or NCR). Patterson, you’ll want to know, made Time magazine’s list of 10 worst bosses. Here’s an example: when Thomas Watson, Sr., NCR’s top Salesman, suggested to Patterson that mechanical cash reigsters would one day be replaced by electric ones, Patterson sent Watson on a sales call. While Watson was out, Patterson had his desk hauled out into the street and set on fire. Hence, “fired.”
Don’t feel too bad for Watson, though. He got on as General Manager with NCR’s competitor CTR – Computing -Tabulating – Recording Company. CTR, under Watson’s leadership, later changed it’s name to IBM. You’ve heard of IBM.
Using the word “fire” in this way doesn’t have much to do with the Bible. Other than Donald Trump, it doesn’t have much to do with Pop Culture, either.
But maybe that’s a good place to start today.
Why do so many people like to watch Donald Trump say “You’re Fired!” Let’s face it – Trump says “you’re fired” a lot more than he says “you’re hired.”
Today we look at and talk about fire – in Pop Culture and in our faith.
But first, a summary from last week’s intro to this series.
- Culture is “what humans make of the world.” Pop Culture is what we make of the world-specifically all things “popular” -related to, about, from, entertainment and connecting people.
- Culture, and Pop culture, are about truth or at least human attempts to find, express, experience, grasp truth.
- All truth is God’s truth – wherever we find it, whomever it comes from. God Himself is the author of truth – Jesus said, I am the truth – and God is such a good, loving God that God has not entirely depended upon us, his people, to spread truth. Truth precedes us
So, now, on to Fire.
It was on fire when I lay down on it and there is smoke on the water. U2 sang of The Unforgettable Fire and Johnny Cash described love as “A Ring of Fire.”
Bruce Springsteen sang “I’m on fire” and Katness Everdeen was the “Girl on Fire.” Billy Joel promises that “we didn’t start the fire – that it was always burnin’’ since the world’s been turnin’”
What is that fire that was always burnin’ since the world’s been turnin’? Could that be the fire that was burning a bush in the wilderness at Mt. Horeb, with which God got the attention of a fugitive murderer named Moses?
Could this be the same fire that John said Jesus would baptize with? Here’s Luke’s account:
The people were filled with expectation, and everyone wondered whether John might be the Christ. John replied to them all, “I baptize you with water, but the one who is more powerful than me is coming. I’m not worthy to loosen the strap of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. (Luke 3:15-16)
Perhaps this fire is the refiner’s fire Malachi referred to in this morning’s OT reading. A refiner’s fire heats metals from a solid to a liquid state. This makes the impurities float to the top, where they can be removed.
What is left is pure – or at least purer than before the heat was applied.
We’ve all known this kind of fire in our lives. Sometimes the world swirls around us – and through us faster and with more confusion or damage or hurt than we think we can stand.
How long has it been since you’ve been at that place in life that you weren’t sure you would survive? Are you there right now?
If you aren’t there right now, but you can remember having been there, you have likely been through the refiner’s fire.
This could be the fire John the Baptist was talking about. One of the things Jesus does, that follow Jesus does, is help is see the impurities and separate them, lay them aside.
Dante’s Inferno, along with John Milton’s Paradise Lost, is where we get most of our modern imagery and expectation of hell or eternal damnation. Yes: current ideas and imagery of hell – pop culture AND the Church – come more from Dante and Milton than from the scriptures.
Which doesn’t change the fact that the bible recognizes the destructive power of fire. Fire destroys.
But the destructive power is, I think, best seen – in pop culture and in our faith, as a reminder of the power of fire. When harnessed, fire provides light and heat. When the power of fire is not harnessed, it destroys.
Which might tell us more truth about power than about fire; because power in any of its forms, when not harnessed, destroys.
How do you witness power around you? How do you exercise power? When are you most challenged in trying to harness the power you have?
Which brings us back to Johnny Cash. Here’s how “The Ring of Fire” starts:
Love is a burning thing
And it makes a fiery ring.
Bound by wild desire
I fell into a ring of fire.
Like Fire, love has power. We will spend more time on love next week – that’s the topic of next week’s message – but for now let’s connect fire and love, starting with Johnny Cash.
Love and fire connect in literature and music, culture and pop culture, because fire is a great metaphor for passion, which is one of the ways we talk about love or one of the aspects of love.
Passion heats us up. Passion catches us on fire. Springsteen and Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger games trilogy make so clear to us.
They remind us that we are passionate people.
Or are we? Judging from the culture I was raised in, One might wonder if we are passionate or not. Passion was for all those other people, because passion, somehow, meant weakness.
Thankfully, not all of us are from that culture. Take the way we worship. Many of us were raised in a culture where applause WAS NOT TO happen in worship. The concern was that the performers – or whoever received applause, would let it go to their head, feed their pride.
Some of us were raised, though, in a culture that set us free to respond, to interact. In these cultures, applause, or shouting, or standing up and dancing, or whatever, were expressions affirming the presence and power of God.
Like so much about culture, no one of these expressions – or lack of expressions – is “right.” A seminary friend of mine was at a conference of her church – the Pentecostal Holiness church. She tells how she and a friend were seated behind “Big Eddy.” Now, Big Eddy was often one of the first at such conferences to feel the Spirit. This time, Big Eddy got help. My friend and the person sitting with her stuck Big Eddy in the seat with a pin.
Big Eddy got the Spirit. Or so it seemed.
Now, before you think I am making fun of christian cultures that are livelier and more excitable than my own, I am not.
After all, I’m more of the christian culture that this story describes. In a Sunday morning worship service, one of the congregation passed out cold. Unable to wake him up, 911 was called. When the EMTs got there, they had removed half the congregation before actually getting to the one who had actually passed out!
Some respond to the moving of the Holy Spirit with energy and motion and noise, some with stillness and quiet.
The point is to respond to the Holy Spirit. The point is not to suppress the Spirit or fake the Spirit.
How do you respond to the Holy Spirit? Are you aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence here and now? Are you paying attention to the Spirit?
Passion is about our response to the Spirit, as well as to other things. Passion calls us to DO something. This is why one way of describing what passion does within us is to say “we are moved.” Passion doesn’t leave us where we are, or the way we are.
Another way of describing what passion does within us is to use the language of fire.
We see this, even about God, in Exodus 4:24 – “the Lord your God is an all-consuming fire. He is a passionate God.”
Fire is powerful. Passion is powerful! Which brings to mind that the power of love is a curious thing; it makes one man weak, and makes another man sing,” but that’s next week.
Sometimes you can see passion, feel passion, as truth. Words and music can come from sheets of paper, or they can come from the soul – even if they’re read off sheets of paper.
Tell me which of these has passion
Jesus’ last week among us is often referred to simple as The Passion, or The Passion of Jesus – oh! which is close to the title of a movie, now, isn’t it?
I believe that Pop Culture engages passion, and I believe that as followers of Jesus, we are called to be passionate people – to harness the passion that God created us to have.
When we harness the passion God puts within us, people take notice. When we harness the passion God puts within us, we are more believable, more credible, more interesting.
When we harness the passion God puts within us, we are less hypocritical, less judgmental.
When we harness the passion God puts within us, we put ourselves in a place to follow Jesus a bit better today than yesterday.
Speaking of harnessing passion, Let me take you back to Johnny Cash. Trent Reznor is the lead singer for Nine Inch Nails. That’s a band, if you aren’t following yet. Reznor wrote a song, “Hurt,” for the 1994 album “The Downward Spiral.” He was in his late 20s.
In 2002, Johnny Cash covered “Hurt.” (“Covered” means he put out his own recording of someone else’s song.”
Hurt is about pain – in case that wasn’t obvious. It captured the mood, the languish, the passion, of pain and suffering. If you know anything about Johnny Cash, you know he had seen a little pain and suffering in his life.
Cash’s cover of “hurt” was so good, so moving, so full of passion, that when Reznor heard it, He said this: “that’s not my song anymore. That’s song belongs to Johnny Cash.”
There’s a kind of life that God authored that God wants you to have. It’s called eternal life; “life lived to the fullest.” Life lived in the presence of the God who made us and who breathed life into us.
May the baptism of the Holy Spirit burn within us. May it stir the passion with each of us that, when we harness the passion that God puts within us, We may claim the life as our own that God has for us!