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This morning as I was watching the news on the CBS affiliate out of Albany, I saw a commercial for a car dealership. Now, this is a major dealership that’s been in business for decades. This is a major broadcasting station. This is a major market, a real city, not a jumped-up town, but a city, estimated population of 100,000 souls, roughly 1/3 the size of Pittsburgh, PA.

So I was a little surprised to see this commercial. It was the dealership’s owner in a tech tee shirt and a pair of shorts and sneakers, standing in front of an SUV talking about how great the new model is. He misspoke a couple times; at one point he tried to open the back door to show the interior, but the back door was locked. So he yanked on it, and it didn’t open. The camera shook, and the front end of the SUV was cut out of the shot.

It was, in short, a bad commercial. But it’s this guy’s work. More than that, it’s his business. And I couldn’t help but think, you know, it doesn’t have to be a massive production, with professional actors and Spielberg behind the camera… but you’d think, as a business owner and operator, he’d at least want it to be… you know… decent.

This parallels our life and work in the church. Too often, we let ourselves get by with just enough. Doing just enough of something to be able to check the box: done, completely, fulfilled the bare minimum required to say I did it.

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. 2

There’s a quote that’s attributed to John Wesley, though there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that he actually said it; still it’s a good quote:

I set myself on fire and people come to watch me burn.

Or, at it is sometimes written:

Light yourself on fire with passion and people will come from miles to watch you burn.

The work of the church, the collective noun, that is to say “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together,” is to light ourselves so on fire with passion that people will not only come to watch us burn but to become ignited themselves. This Holy Spirit thing is powerful business! It’s catching!

But a fire can’t catch if it’s never lit.

Too often I think we stand outside the SUVs of our comfortable churches, and speak a Gospel but leave the doors of the car locked so that it’s hard to get others to get in. It’s easy to downplay this lack of faith, because that’s really what it is, a lack of faith in the transforming power of the Gospel, but Wesley didn’t say, or isn’t claimed to have said, light yourself on fire and people will come to burn, but that people will come to watch him, you me, we, together, burn. From that point it’s the movement of the Holy Spirit. If we can allow ourselves to burn, hot, bright, publicly, with a passion that can’t be missed, the Spirit can take over from there.

But no one is going to warm up to a fire they never see burning in the first place.

References   [ + ]

1. Ecclesiastes 9:10, NRSV
2. Ecclesiastes 9:10, NRSV