fire

He said: Why not become fire?

A story from the desert fathers: Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?

It has been said by preacher types that preaching needs to be more "practical" and action oriented. Preachers are supposed to give people something to do when they leave the place of worship so they can put their "faith in action".

The intent behind this advice is well intended, we want to give people something to do in order to keep from people a people focused on personal holiness to the detriment of social holiness. However, there are a couple of unintended consequences that may come with giving people something to "do". 

First, it implies that the "doing" is the "real point" of the sermon. Put another way, it implies that "doing" is more important than "being". It is like when people tell a story and you check out while listening only to check back in when they tell you the moral of the story. It is the moral of the story that really matters, because it tells us what to do.

Secondly, and more of my concern, is that it diminishes the imagination of the gathered community. If the preacher is the one that comes up with the things to do that put your faith in action, then there is little reason for you to imagine what you could do to put your faith in action. It lessens the chance that someone in the community will come up with something new because they are focused on doing what the preacher said to do. Trust me when I say, preachers are not always the most imaginative people.

Preachers can teach you how to do your little fast, prayer, meditation and other "action" items, but worship may be one of the few places where we are "set on fire". The inspiration of the Spirit is what sets us on fire. People come to worship and are trying to do all that we can to grow closer to God, and perhaps what we need is less "here is what you can do" sermons and more "here is how you become fire" sermons.