United Presbyterian Church of West Orange

Date: August 21, 2022

Sermon Title: "Fire"

Minister Kimberly Braxton

Focus Scripture: Hebrews 12:18-29


   1) Mount Zion is a better, everlasting covenant and

     2) Our God is a consuming fire.



I’m glad that we had a temporary break from the intense heat this past week. I don’t know about you but going outside when it feels like the sun is chasing you down is never a welcomed experience. It was as if the sun was determined to give “main character energy”. Each time I walked outside I could almost hear the song "Fire” by the Ohio Players.


But there are other dangers that come from that intense “center of the sun” heat that we in the northeast have grown accustomed to dealing with this time of year - - wild fires. Now, I’m no forest ranger – but in my youth I went camping a few times. Wait, that’s not the full truth. What had happened was I was FORCED to go camping. FORCED to sleep in the outdoors on the dirt in a bag. And from that experience I can’t say that I developed a love for the nature

and the great outdoors. What I can say is that I have developed an intense appreciation for the climate-controlled environment that a five-star resort complete with indoor plumbing can provide.


But I digress.


There is one thing that my brief stint of camping taught me that I have carried with me to this very day. It was about the power of fire. From waterproof matches to learning how to start a fire with flint and kindling. Fire was critical, some would say crucial to the camping experience. - using fire to cook food, to keep you warm at night and even keeping the critters at bay. Understanding fire and its uses was important. But the most valuable lesson I remember was how to put out a fire properly. Because when the temperature rises, and the brush dries out if you are not careful to completely extinguish your campfire you could be responsible for starting a wildfire. And as we know from recent headlines that wildfires are all consuming. A wildfire will destroy everything in their paths. They cannot be contained or controlled. They are all consuming. It doesn’t matter if you live in a multi-million complex, if you are a great sequoia tree, or even just an open field with dried and withered grass. A wildfire doesn’t discriminate. Its consumption is absolute and when it is burnt up all it can nothing is left standing.


And that brings us to the verse from this morning’s lectionary passage that has burned in my consciousness all week. Verse 29 “for our “God is a consuming fire.” This passage was actually adapted from Deuteronomy 4:24, with a slight shift in the pronoun usage. In Deuteronomy it reads “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” But in verse 29 it states, “for

OUR God.” Very subtle but extremely significant. It marks one of the major traits of our new covenant - - the privilege to have a personal one-on-one intimate relationship with the Lord.


In this new relationship dynamic that we have access to through power of Jesus’ atoning work there is the danger of becoming too comfortable, too familiar with the holiness of God. What do I mean by that? Well, I mean Jesus is so long suffering and forgiving. Full of grace and mercy. So if I cut my devotional time down with Him he’ll understand. He’ll understand that I needed the extra time to get to work because my boss isn’t as understanding. So I won’t risk being late to work but I will cancel my prayer and devotional time.


And although we have the option of praying in all places and spaces why is it we can plan and give so much care and concern in selecting a restaurant for dinner but give absolutely no regard for when and where we pray. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - - highway meditation while you’re driving is challenging for even the most devoted of saints.


But I’m not fussing. I’m just discussing. And I can say these things but I have done these things. All of the things….


I’m not speaking for you this morning but I can tell it for myself - - there are times when I can be found guilty of taking advantage of all the grace and awesome privileges afforded to me by nature of my relationship with Jesus. Think about it. The access granted to us laid out in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”. John 15:15 states “Instead, I have called you friends” To realize that the Savior of all mankind

counts me as his friend. The fact that I can have an audience with the Almighty. The One that spoke and created something out of nothing. To be able to commune and sit with Him. Yes, I know this in my heart and in my mind and I have to admit that there are times that I take vastness of this relationship for granted and treat it casually.


So I show up a little late to prayer. Perhaps cutting the time down so I can sleep a bit longer. Or I allow myself to get distracted by whatever bright and shiny thing has grabbed my attention on the internet or social media. Or instead of doing what Philippians 4:6 states, “Be anxious for nothing, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” I will set my heart and mind to begin to ruminate on all my cares and concerns to the point that I am overrun with anxiety and worry. Then fixating on things I have absolutely no control over. Trying to micromanage God’s to-do list for your life? The petitions begin to take on the tone of an angry Karen yelling at a manager at Starbucks for getting her drink order wrong instead of a plea for help and assistance from the Almighty.


If this is you I’m not asking you to say anything this morning.. Perhaps I’m the only one here that is flawed and feckless in my faith at times. But if you identify with anything of these things you can blink at me. If you’re wearing a mask you can mouth “amen” and no one will know. To treat the holy as common is reckless. And in times like this it is an important reminder to have the image of God as an all-consuming fire. God is a jealous God and Isaiah 42:8 states “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not yield my glory to another or my praise to idols. And in this freedom that we have as Christians under the new and better covenant I want to challenge you this week to look over your life with a critical eye and ask the Holy Spirit to guide and direct you to remove anything from your midst that is trying to come between you and Your God. It is helpful

in these moments I’ve found to remind myself of the vastness of God. See we as humans have a tendency to attempt to bring God down to our level. Think about Job. He asked God for a face to face meeting to discuss why He was allowing all these things to be destroyed in his life. And when the Lord came to Job He did not answer a single one of His questions or give a justification

for why he was going through what he was going through.


Yes, He is kind and merciful. But He is also God an all-consuming fire. And He will not share His glory with another.


This passage from Hebrews shows us that we have been redeemed from the curse of the Law and the terror that the children of Israel felt when God came to meet with them on Mount Sinai so long ago. We are free to experience the joy and sweet fellowship of the Lord under the new covenant. However, in all that freedom never forget verse 28, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”


You may be saying, “Preacher that’s great for you. You went to school for this. God wakes you every morning with a choir of angels singing to you. And a halo of holy covers you. It’s not like that for me.”


Well, first off no. As everyone in here knows getting into a relationship is the easy part but maintaining a relationship is the true challenge. There are times when may relationship with the Lord grew cold and stale and I had to sit down and ask “What is coming between us? And how can it be fixed.”


Testimony time - I’m going to be honest with you. 2019 was the worst year of my adult life. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Work wasn’t right, family was struggling trying to handle a devastating loss, it was a year of transition and calling to account. And I could not hear the voice of God clearly. I realize now He was burning everything up. I was desperate for some kind of revelation and relief. So I went looking and searching. I found a

Christian woman that introduced me to crystals. explaining how they worked. It didn’t feel right but my center was off so I tried. The fire hotter in my life. Everything consumed and I was standing in the middle of a field that represented my life that had once been thick and lush with verdant growth that now looked like a ghost town. Desolate and burned away. Just soot and ashes me and the almighty and silence. I kept praying for clarity and direction and

for the destruction to stop. Then the Holy Spirit started to reveal what was blocking me. What the issue was. These little idols in my pocket and the things stored around my home. These seemingly innocent crystals that I had put such hope in for restoring my peace, protecting my life and providing a feeling of wellness and security . However these idols in my pocket were coming

between me and my God. So I tossed them out. I repented and asked for forgiveness. The pressure continued. I prayed and finally I saw a sign of growth. I could hear the whisper of God again. And doors began to be silently opened. Just a crack but there was hope. Luke someone giving you a flask of water while you’re burning up in the dessert.


Finally Through a series of circumstances the Lord arranged a type of spiritual intervention. I met a Christian that called me out of this delusion. They let me know that there was restoration and relationship waiting for me but I needed to repent and be restored in order to rebuild the relationship. And with that through more tears than I could count. I released it. The resentment for the suffering of 2019. And for allowing myself to be misled I could finally hear God clearly again. He is an all consuming fire. And He is and will always be jealous for our affections. And He will never, ever ever share His worship with another.


So if it’s your job that became your idol prepare for it to be toppled and consumed.


If it’s money that become your idol prepare for it to utterly consumed.


Whatever you have decided to lean of for safety, comfort and security other than the Almighty is in danger of being utterly consumed.


It’s not that God doesn’t want us to have nice things. He doesn’t want the nice things to have us.


The text this morning h reminds us that Jesus’ blood sacrifice was essential and the he shed for our sins has brought us into new covenant. How dare we dishonor His sacrifice by trying to find a another way.


If that is you this morning I’m not going to ask you to speak but I would like to extend an invitation to come down to the altar. I would like to pray for you.


God gave His one and only son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.


Jesus was obedient to the point of death on a cross.


The Holy Spirit was sent to lead and guide us into all truth and righteousness to equip us for successful living.


He’s given too much. Demonstrated His love in too many ways for us to turn our backs on Him and look to another person, place or thing for comfort.