Two Sundays ago, Bishop Ilhoff visited Christ Church and led three services, one of which was a confirmation service, where he confirmed eight of our youth. It was a beautiful service. The candidates had been through Confirmation classes beginning in March of this year. We then took the summer off and resumed in September, meeting on Zoom almost every Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. These confirmation classes were led by Mike, Denise, Marcia, and me.
Prior to the Confirmation service, we held a two-day retreat for the candidates. It was beautiful spending time with them, and it was heartwarming seeing young minds with so much ahead of them, with life waiting to be explored, with zeal in need of direction and nurturing, with hope bursting at the seams, and with a faith that, like yours and mine, needed to be fired up.
Bishop Ilhoff’s sermon that Sunday hit home with me, and I have been thinking about it quite a bit ever since. It, in fact, reminded me of a story about an elderly African American woman, Edith Childs. Edith - during the 2007 primaries as former U.S. President Barack Obama was campaigning in Greenwood, SC - shouted from the back of a room, “Fired up! Ready to go!” As if it was by design, everyone began to shout, “Fired up! Ready to go!” That became a slogan for a successful presidential campaign.
What stuck with me about the sermon was the idea that we are fired up by the spirit and so have been made free to burn with a particular zeal that lends itself to sacrificial love.
A prayerful reflection on being fired up led me to a stanza in a hymn “On This Day The First Of Days.” It reads thus:
Holy Jesus may I be
Dead and buried here with thee
And, by love inflamed arise,
Unto thee a sacrifice
The joy, for me, is the gift of knowing that an awakened love is fired up at the prospect of offering itself as a sacrifice. The joy, for me, is that it is only an inflamed love that can awaken thoughts of sacrifice in us.
It is this sacrifice that I see every day at Christ Church. This past Monday, I joined our Outreach Ministry meeting as they narrated all the work that they have done and are doing. At the meeting, I learned that Nancy Winchester, who took over the monthly Christ Church ministry to Dorsey Center/Route 1 back in April of 2011, and after sacrificially serving all these years, she decided to step down so another person who is also fired up for service can lead this important ministry. I am thankful that Shahra Toth will now be leading this ministry. This is also evidence of a love freed to be sacrificial.
Over the past several weeks, we have been soliciting your support for our various parish initiatives - pledges, reparations, handbells, Angel Tree, Christmas flowers and music, among others. Sometimes it can be a little too much, and I understand that. The truth, however, is that you are our only source of support, and every single ministry to which we are committed is evidence of a love inflamed to be a sacrifice. Your generosity is evidence of that sacrificial love.
I am always amazed by the extent of work we do - marvelous work by many different people, including you. In ways both small and large, all of you chip in to make sure that our ministry is ongoing, our common life is rich, and that each of us feels God’s touch in a way that not only supports the idea that we are fired up, but that we are fired up enough to bring that same fire to the many places of darkness.
I read elsewhere that when one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow. That is the love I feel here at Christ Church, and that is the love that comes alive, especially at this time of the year when each is reminded of the abundant love which makes it possible for us to offer ourselves as sacrifices.
We are a few days away from the climax of our Christmas celebrations. If you ask me, Christmas is about being fired up. It is about being set free to be, to be born anew, to be the person who is unchained in expressing boundless compassion, unlimited in choosing love over fear, uninhibited by the desire to grow in their relationship with God and neighbor, touched by grace so unrelenting in its desire for the common good, and excited about being fired up.
One more thing before I conclude... this Christmas, I am reminded of the amazing gift of YOU. I give thanks for your ministry and life here at Christ Church. I honor the many and varied ways in which, while being fired up, you bring that divine energy into this community of faith. I cherish the way in which you hold your own selves and families together with an awakened love.
My only ask of you this Christmastide, my beloved, is to keep the fire burning in you. Are you ready for Christmas?
I am fired up.