Fire. The Church began in Acts 2 with the striking image of flames burning over the heads of all those present in that early church worship service. On Pentecost Sunday, June 9, we will combine with our sister congregations, Scott Boulevard to share in a joint celebration of recalling this momentous event in the life of the church. We will recall how those ordinary people became courageous witnesses to the what God was doing in the world.
This idea of the energy and change the Bible describes begins in some interesting places. We will hear more about these images over the coming weeks as we draw near to our June 9 service. Moses and the burning bush is one example. But the following offers another from Leviticus.
Each morning the priest shall add wood to it, lay out the burnt. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning … Every offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat pieces of the offerings of well-being (Leviticus 6:12).
This fascinating and less well known part of the Bible acquaints us with an additional discovery and new symbolism for today. Early people learned that, as fire burned, it created heat. And this heat generated warmth, gave light, cooked food, and sanctified offerings. In the case of this particular series of scriptures in Leviticus, the fat of the offering changed from a solid into smoke:
“The priest shall turn them into smoke on the altar as and offering by fire to the Lord” (Leviticus 7:5).
Further, there is a repeated phrase regarding this transformed offering, that it would be “a pleasing odor to the Lord.” At work in the scripture is both the transformation of the fat of a dead animal into smoke and the pleasing smell created by grilling meat (anyone familiar with cookouts this time of year can attest to this).
As the smoke and the aroma rise, presumably, so also do the prayers that would accompany the offering. This would please God and, therefore, the prayers stood a better chance of being answered. Such assumptions seemed to be behind these rarely read but instructive passages in Leviticus. The point here is not to evaluate the validity of early sacrificial practices but to recognize what the Israelites saw in the properties of fire and the nature of God. Both were mysterious forces that could bring change.
Fire could transform things. As such, it is very practical for the Bible to present the reality of God’s presence through fire. This month, take this metaphor of fire a step further—beyond a warming of your heart to the changing of your outlook. No longer do we need the priest to place the sacrifice on the fire of the altar. Your life today can be the sacrifice—not in or through death but in and through the goodness and grace of God. That itself is pleasing to God.
Or as we have been studying together from Romans over the last three weeks: I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your spiritual worship (Romans 12:1-2).
May this fire of the Spirit transform us into the kinds of sacrificial lives God calls us to!
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin