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Edward F. Markquart

Nothing but fire kindles fire 

Pentecost     Acts 2:1-21

Grace to you and peace....

Pentecost is one of the three great feasts of the church.  Of course, Easter is the greatest feast of the church; and Christmas is a great feast of the church; but today we are celebrating Pentecost, the third great festival of the church.  Today’s sermon is a Pentecost sermon.

Some years ago, I discovered and learned three favorite quotations from theologians of a generation ago (Brooks, Fosdick and Spurgeon), and these three quotations penetrate the heart of Pentecost.  The first quotation is this:  “Nothing but fire kindles fire.”  The second:  “If you want to set someone on fire, you have to buuurn a little bit yourself.”  The third:  “A burning heart will soon find for itself a flaming tongue.” 

In today’s sermon, you are going to help me. You need to be a chorus.  I will teach you a key part of each of those quotations.  During the sermon, I will point to you as a congregation, and you are going to have to remember your part of the line.  So would you activate your brains and remember.  I will say to you, “Nothing but fire...” and you say  “kindles fire.”  (Repeat it, once or twice to people learn it.)  The second quotation is this:  “If you want to set someone on fire, you have to ...burn a little bit yourself.”  You say the second part:  “You have to burn a little bit yourself.” (Repeat it.)  The third quotation is this:  “A burning heart will soon find for itself a ... flaming tongue.”  Ready?  (repeat). So now let’s do all three quotations:  “Nothing but fire ...    If you want to set someone on fire, you have to  ...  A burning heart will soon find a ...   You have to get into the mood of this sermon: Let’s do it again.  “Nothing but fire... If you want to set someone on fire, you have to ...  A burning heart will soon find a ...  Good.  During the sermon, I will point to you and you need to be the enthusiastic chorus.

The first Pentecost was like this.  One hundred and twenty people were gathered together in a larger upper room.  These first Christians were waiting, waiting, waiting for something very special to happen to them, and they weren’t quite sure what they were waiting for.  They were waiting for the Holy Spirit to come on them and in them, but they didn’t know what that would mean.  Then it was like a rush of wind into the room.  Like the Holy Spirit coming into their lives.  Like tongues of fire above them.  Like tongues of fire inside of them.  They felt the power of God inside of them, and they rushed out of that building into the streets.  They went from street to street and home to home and neighbor to neighbor and family to family and nation to nation.  ...  It was like a prairie fire blowing across the Midwest.  Get a prairie fire in you mind.  Do you see a prairie fire?  It was like a prairie fire, flaming across the Midwest on parched dry fields of grass. It was like a forest fire rushing up the Cascade mountain range. Get yourself a forest fire in your mind.  It was like a forest fire, being driven by the wind, in a very dry forest with tinder wood.  It was like a fire on an oil slick on the ocean, flames leaping across the water.  That’s the way it was in that first century of Christian expansion.  There are many books written about the decades after Pentecost, and many of these books are titled, “The Spreading Flame.”  It was like the flame of Jesus Christ was spreading across the whole world.

Why did that happen?  I know why it happened. “Nothing but fire ...  If YOU want to set someone on fire, YOU have to ...  A burning heart will soon find for itself a   ... “ 

What happened is that those Apostles first went to a village or town. Those first Apostles planted a church, and then went to a second village or town, and planted a church. They went to a third village or town and planted another church.  They ... whoops.  We have to go back to that first village or town and look more carefully.  We have to go back to that first village, because before the Apostles went onto the second village, they left a group of people in that village who were committed to Jesus Christ.  The Greek word is “laos.” They were called the “laos”, which means,  “the laity,” “the people,”  “the people of God.”  The Apostles always left common and ordinary towns people and villagers whose hearts were on fire, whose tongues were on fire, who hadn’t gone to the seminary, who hadn’t seen Jesus face to face, who hadn’t talked with him in the flesh.  These were not the Apostles.  These were not the twelve disciples.  These were the people of God in each village who spread the Gospel from house to house, and neighbor to neighbor and friend to friend and family to family.  That’s the way it always is.  That fundamental principle is always true; it is the laity, the people of God, who become inspired by the Holy Spirit.  They are the ones, not the twelve, not the Apostles, not the pastors.  It is the laity, the people of God, who go about winning souls to Jesus Christ and nurturing those souls into maturity.  

How do the laity do this?  Do they do this by their own enthusiasm?  By their own intelligence?  By their own seminary training?  I kid you not.  Do you know why the laity are able to do this?  I’ll tell you why.  “Nothing but fire ... If YOU want to set someone on fire, YOU have to ... A burning heart will soon find for itself ... ” 

Well, that’s what happened in that first century.  The first century was a great century of Christian expansion.  The Church went to Ephesus, Rome, and was going onto Spain within thirty years.  From farm to farm, from village to village, town to town.  It was absolutely incredible, spreading across the whole known world.  It was like a spreading flame.

The year is now 1998, and the flame of Jesus Christ is still spreading.  It is still spreading like wildfire.  The spreading flame of Pentecost is greater in this century than in the first century.  I want to repeat that so you clearly hear it.  The spreading flame of Pentecost is greater in this century than in the first century. The spreading flame of Jesus Christ is spreading more rapidly in the twentieth century than in the first century.  The spreading flame of Jesus Christ is greater in this century than in any other century of Christian expansion.  The twentieth century has been the greatest century of Christian expansion.  You and I have lived in this time, this great era of Christian growth.

Let me give you several examples of this spreading wildfire on our planet today.  I will ask you some questions:  today, on the average, on earth, how many people were baptized today?  63,000!  Yes, 63,000!  How many congregations are born every day on our planet?  How many new congregations were formed today?  1600 new congregations were formed on the planet Earth today.  Last Easter Sunday, how many people were gathered together in worship to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ?  How many people were gathered together worshipping Jesus Christ as their Lord?  More than one billion people.  25% of the Earth’s population. 

This flame of Jesus Christ is spreading all over the Earth like wildfire.  Let’s talk about Africa.  Africa is rapidly becoming a Christian continent.  Namibia, for example, down in the southern tip of Africa; 50% of the people in Namibia are Lutheran Christians.  85% of black Namibia is Christian. That’s more churched than Minnesota. That’s 20% “more Christian” than good old USA.  Tanzania. Madagascar. These are Christian nations.  The flame of Jesus Christ is spreading all across Africa.  When I was in Tanzania, I met David Simonson, the famous Lutheran missionary there. They were baptizing 3,140 adults that coming Sunday.  It was going to take them a week to baptize all those people.  How did it happen?  Because a missionary went to their village?  Don’t kid yourself. Two chieftains came from their village across the Serengeti Plain.  These two chieftains came to the pastors; gave their lives to Jesus Christ; they got themselves educated about the basics of Christianity; and these two chieftains went back to their tribe and villages.  When the missionaries arrived, they had 3,140 people ready for baptism.   It wasn’t the missionaries, seminary educated from the USA, who were the primary catalysts for conversion.  ...  It is forever true.  It is fundamentally true.  Every pastor and missionary knows this.  Whenever the flame of Jesus Christ is spreading across village to village and town to town and city to city, across all of Africa, we know why:  “Nothing but fire ... If YOU want to sent someone on fire, YOU have to ... A burning heart will soon find for itself a  ... ” It’s always the same.  It’s always the laity who are moving in the great missionary expansions in every century. 

Let’s move south.  Let’s go to South America.  Let’s go to Brazil.  Let’s go to Sao Paulo, Brazil.  It is one of the largest cities in the world, seven million people, soon to be twelve million people.  That great city is heavily Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic community is very much alive.  In Sao Paulo, Brazil, there are more than 80,000 Base Christian Communities.  What is a Base Christian Community?  It’s like a home group Bible study;  it’s like we have in our church and you have in your church.  There are 80,000 home group Bible studies, and is there a pastor in any of them?  No!  There is a layperson who is a lay Bible study leader who is head of each of these 80,000 Base Christian Communities.  It is a movement led by the laity.  It’s across all of Brazil and South America.  It’s spreading like wildfire.  So are the Pentecostals.  They too are spreading like wildfire across all of Latin America. 

Let’s go to another continent.  Let’s go to Asia.  Let’s be more specific; let’s go to Korea.  A generation ago, Korean was 99% Buddhist.  Today, 1998, it is 20% Christian...within one century!  And the largest Christian congregation in the whole world is found in Seoul, Korea, with a membership of more than 500,000 members.  Some people think that our congregation is getting too large.  Those people meet in home Bible studies, in these cell Bible studies, much like the Base Christian Communities in South America, much like our home Bible studies in our congregations.  Many of you are like home Bible study leaders who become like pastors to your small group.  ...  This flame is now spreading to Indonesia, and the Philippines, and of all places, to Japan.  The Koreans are now sending missionaries to Japan.

The flame of Christianity is spreading all across Africa, all across Latin America, all across Asia.  25% of the Earth’s population was in worship on Easter Sunday. Why?   Why is the flame spreading so rapidly in our century?  It has to do, not with the Apostles, but with the laos, the laity, the people of God, common and ordinary people like yourself who understand that ... “Nothing but fire ... If YOU want to set someone on fire, YOU have to ... A burning heart will soon find for itself a ...”  Who not only understand in their heads but burn in their hearts with the power of Pentecost.

Well, that’s the good news.  Now I have to share with you the bad news.  Let’s talk about England.  40% of the people in England belong to the Church, primarily to the Church of England.  Only 16% of their members bother to go through the education necessary for Confirmation.  On Easter Sunday, 4% of the members of the Church of England go to worship.  Is it possible that the flame of Jesus Christ that was spreading during the time of the Wesley brothers is going out, so that there are very few flickering flames left?  Yes!

Let me give you some other examples.  Today, where do you find the most irreligious place on Earth?  Where you go and ask the people such questions. George Gallop, Jr.  does. He asks people around the globe: “Is your religion very important to you?”  What is the nation in which the smallest percentage answer “yes” to that question?  The answer is Japan. Is your religion important to you? The Japanese say:  “Nope.” George Gallop, Jr. continues to ask this question around the globe, “Is your religion important to you?”  The answer is “no” or “not very much.”  Which countries are the most irreligious in the world, second only to Japan?  Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany.  The mother countries of the Lutheran Church.  These Scandinavian countries have the State Church, and the State Church has been deadly on the Pentecostal passions of the Spirit.  Only 23% of the people in Norway say that their religion is important to them.  You see, it is possible for one’s faith to grow cold to the Spirit of Pentecost.  That’s what the Book of Revelation is all about. In Revelation, the Church in Ephesus had grown cold and indifferent to God’s purpose in the world.

Let’s talk about the good old United States.  No let’s talk about the West coast.  No, let’s talk about the State of Washington where we live, work and do ministry.  The state of Washington’s population during the 1980s grew 17% and has continued to grow vigorously in the 1990s about 13%.  So how much did the Lutheran Church grow in the l980s in the State of Washington?  In the 1990s?  17%?  15%?  12%?  7%?  4%  1?  Shall we go in the minus figures?  The population grew 17% in the 80s but the Lutheran church declined during these booming years of population in the State of Washington.  How is that possible?  The important question is:  is it possible for the laity to no longer be on fire by the power of Jesus Christ?  Is it possible for a church to gradually become a self-contained unit that has lost all sense of evangelical fervor?  The answer to that question is a tragic “yes.”

Where we live in the State of Washington, the population surrounding us is 65% unchurched. We are more unchurched than Tanzania, Madagascar, and Namibia.  We are very unchurched, with thousands of unchurched people living around us.  The big question for our congregation is this:  Do the laity understand, not only with their heads but with their hearts, do they truly understand, that for us to be a missionary church in the State of Washington, that “nothing but fire ...  If YOU want to set somebody on fire, YOU have ... A burning heart will soon find for itself a ... ”

The question before us today is this:  Do these evangelical principles that I have been discussing with you, these principles that have been found to be true in the first and twentieth centuries of Christian expansion, that have been found to be true in Africa, Asia, and South America;  that have been  found to be true where we work and live in the State of Washington; are these principles still found to be true in (your location, situation) at the end of the second millennium and the beginning of the third millennium?  ...Is it true for you and your congregation, in your life situation, where ever you may be as a Christian, in whatever your situation or setting that ... “Nothing but fire ... If YOU want to set someone on fire, YOU have ...  A burning heart will soon find for yourself a ...  It is always the laity empowered by the Holy Spirit that make the difference.  Amen.

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