June 15, 2005
"Shaped By The Fire"
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A mother asked her little girl if she would like an ice cream sundae. The little girl replied, "I don't want to wait until Sunday... I want ice cream NOW." (1)
Have you ever waited expectantly for something? Christmas day, your Wedding Day, a birthday, commissioning. There's that whole jittery sense of anticipation. Well, that's sort of the way I've felt about this sermon. Partly because it's Pentecost Sunday, the day we received the outpouring of God's Holy Spirit and the day we celebrate as the birthday of the church.
I've anticipated this day because it's also Confirmation Sunday and a great group of young people will be making personal decisions for Christ today. Some will be baptized but all of them will become full members of our Church. Plus, we have a few others who will be making those same professions of faith and joining the Church as well.
But those aren't the only reasons for my anticipation. You see, I've been anticipating this sermon since February 21st. That was one of the days we had some free time in Ireland. We took a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory. It was absolutely fascinating but it became spiritual experience for me.
Let's look at the passage for this morning Acts 2:1-21 and then I'll explain.
Acts 2:1-21 (NRSV)
 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.
 And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.
 Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.
 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.
 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.
 And at this sound the crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.
 Amazed and astonished, they asked, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?
 And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?
 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,
 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes,
 Cretans and Arabs--in our own languages we hear them speaking about God's deeds of power."
 All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?"
 But others sneered and said, "They are filled with new wine."
 But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say.
 Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.
 No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
 'In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
 Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
 And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
 The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord's great and glorious day.
 Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.'
The wind and the fire of God's Holy Spirit swept into the lives of the disciples and believers in the early church and changed their lives and our lives forever. The wind blew through with an awakening. And the fire shaped their lives.
And that's where the spiritual experience in Waterford comes in. It began with a simple phrase by the tour guide. She was showing us the inspection room. All of sudden we heard a loud crash. Some of us jumped. And then she explained, "When you get to the Showroom and Store, you will find that we don't sell culls or seconds. There are no seconds in Waterford Crystal. Anything that is imperfect and not of the highest quality, we destroy. Then we melt the glass down and start over."
I wasn't there to write a sermon or even look for anything spiritual, but that phrase, "There are no culls, no seconds," clicked in a part of my brain and from that moment on, all I could see were the spiritual aspects of what the artisans were doing.
You see, what struck me is, that there are no culls in the Kingdom of God. You and I have been created in the very image of God. It may be trite to say it, "But God doesn't make junk." There aren't any seconds; there aren't any culls in God's Kingdom.
We are held up to the Light of Christ and declared fit for the Kingdom, not because we are perfect. But because in the hands of Jesus and the through the Fire of the Holy Spirit we can be perfected. Jesus is the artisan. The fire of the Holy Spirit is His tool to shape us. All we have to do is put ourselves into the hands of the Master Artisan and let ourselves be perfected.
There are no culls, there are no seconds. Trust the Master Craftsman to shape your life.
The next place we visited was the Glass Blowers. The furnaces used to heat the glass to it's pliable and molten state heat that glass to 1400 degrees Celsius or 2550 degrees Fahrenheit. That's hotter than Midland during the worst Texas summer.
It's in that heat that the glass begins to take its shape. The glass blower reaches into the furnace with a hollow iron rod, choose just the right amount of molten glass for his particular project and starts the shaping process.
He pulls the molten glass out of the furnace and begins the process of shaping it. He blows the glass into the beginning shape and then uses wooden molds and tools to finish the process.
God does the same thing with us. At our creation, God breathes life into us. And then at our baptism, God breathes the presence of the Holy Spirit into our lives and the shaping process begins to take place. God too, uses a wooden tool to shape and mold us in the fire of the Holy Spirit. That tool, of course, the cross of Christ.
Once the piece is shaped and molded, then it's brought to the Glass Cutter. These are the artisans. A Master Glass Cutter goes through a stringent training that involves a minimum of 5 years as an Apprentice and 3 years as a Journeyman. Glass Cutting is a very precise and specialized skill which requires steady hands, dexterity and concentration. And while the piece is marked, the pattern is done by memory, whether it is one of the flat cuts or one of the wedge cuts.
The actual cutting is done with a cutting wheel. And because that cutting generates so much heat that the crystal would shatter, the wheel is constantly cooled with water. The water acts as both a lubricant and as part of the cutting process.
Each piece, though created to look like each other are in fact, unique. No two Glass Cutters hold the piece or cut the piece in exactly the same way. Nor do they do each piece exactly the same. They are unique, just like you and I are a unique creation of God's.
When each piece is finished and inspected it is bathed in a series of chemical bathes, cleaned and polished. The same thing could be said for the waters of our baptism. Through our baptism we are bathed, cleaned and polished. The physical water may dry up but the spiritual waters of our baptism still run and flow through our hearts and souls as Christ shapes and molds us into God's own unique design.
That brings us to one last phase of the Waterford Crystal Factory. Sometimes special pieces are created or chosen to have further enhancement added through etching. The etchers are true artists of the craft. They turn beautiful pieces of crystal into almost priceless works of art. When the crystal piece is created a place is left for the artist to etch anything from a woodland scene to a family crest.
For me, this symbolizes God's call in our lives. I believe that we are all called by God. You may not have discovered your calling yet. Mine is preaching. I don't think we are truly happy if we are not doing what God has called us to do. And I believe that the Master Artist and Creator has etched that calling on our hearts and spirits.
So, you see, what started out as a tour, became for me, a powerful spiritual experience. I'll never look at a piece of crystal the same way again. And because of this day, Pentecost Sunday and what has taken place in the history of the Church. And because of what will take place in the life of those, who this day will confess their faith in Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives, we can no longer look at them the same. They have been changed.
And they will continue to change and be perfected, just as we continue to change and be perfected under the hand of the Master Craftsman who is shaping and molding our lives through the Fire of the Holy Spirit. Today, these people come to put their lives into the hand of the Master Craftsman to be Shaped by the Fire.
I want to close with something Dr. Laurie Wirthlin, who was with us in Ireland, wrote in an email.
"After going through the factory I realized that I had been praying for the wrong thing - I had been praying that I would be translucent and that Christ's light would shine through me .... What I realized after going through the factory was that I needed to be praying to be transparent ---- that no part of me hindered the light of His Love from shining through me.
I am praying that you and I will become like a transparent pieces of beautiful crystal - Taking the fire of His Love & Light that has been put into our hearts into the world, and letting it shine through us with Grace and Peace in His Service." (2)
Let the Fire of God's Holy Spirit warm your heart and set it on fire like the early disciples. Then let the Fire of God's Holy Spirit shape you, form you and mold you into the person God would have you be. Let Christ perfect you and make you transparent, so His light will shine through you and bring Him glory.
1. Parables, Etc. (Saratoga Press, P.O. Box 8, Platteville, CO, 80651; 970-785-2990), December 1993
2. Dr. Laurie Wirthlin
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