My late Uncle Alex worked for the National Coal Board in their offices in Edinburgh at Lauriston Place.
At pavement level in one of the windows of the building there was a picture advertising the Coal Board’s principal product, and a slogan along the lines of: ‘There’s nothing like a real fire’
This was kind of ironic as the Fire Station was right next to them!
That Fire Station is no longer operational, but remains as a museum.
It always had an attraction to me when, as a youngster, I would visit Uncle Alex in his offices next door..
I enjoy watching youngsters, girls and boys, at the Dumfries & Galloway Fire Brigade’s Open Day at Brooms Road, as it always brings back a lot of happy memories.
I wonder how many of these kids posing in front of the fire engines for photographs, had, like me all these years ago a great aspiration to grow up and be a fire fighter?
The old fire station in Lauriston Place in Edinburgh contained just about everything there was to engage a young boy’s imagination There were the bright red gleaming fire engines into which we were able to climb. There were the lockers with all the fire-fighter’s coats and helmets There was all sorts of other equipment, each item having some fascinating use for a small and wonder filled boy.
But most of all, there were just the grandest thing – a gleaming fire pole down which the firemen would slide from their quarters above down to the ground floor where the fire engines were. Oh the excitement of it all!
Certainly, to be a fireman would have just about been the best thing ever!
Of course, there are the long hours of training, long shifts away from home, the long boring hours when nothing is happening Then there is the tough physical conditioning,, and oh yes, lest I not forget, the danger of fighting fires!
Well, as a kid, I thought that maybe, I could just pretend to be a fireman.
What if I went out and bought a red fire-helmet and boots and a heavy fireman’s jacket And maybe I could find a used fire truck
And in my house, it probably wouldn’t be too difficult to install a brass pole from the first to the ground floor Then I could look like a fireman, act like a fireman, drive a fire-truck, ring the bell and blow the siren, install a brass fire pole, and slide down it each time I wanted to go to the ground floor. I could even tell fire stories But in the end, I might fool some people, and maybe even fool myself — The truth would be, that if I refused to put out fires, I would NEVER be a fireman.
You can have all the trappings and all the equipment, but if you do not put out fires, then you cannot be a real fire fighter.
What is true of the fire brigade is true of the Church and of religion.
We may sing our hymns with vigour, pray our prayers with fervour, hear the Scripture eagerly, but if we leave it at that and do not put into action what we profess, then it’s a shallow exercise.
We may have the finest of Church buildings and most beautiful of sanctuaries, the most ornate pulpits and altars, and the loveliest of stained glass windows, but if we do not live a godly life outside of these walls, loving God and our neighbour in the name of Jesus Christ, then we are not a Church.
In the Old Testament, in the book of the prophet Micah, there is a famous passage in which the people think that true religion lies in the type and quality of sacrifice they make before the altar.
Micah answers that the real demands of God on humankind are moral and spiritual, and the proper worship of God is a life obedient to them.
He says ‘With what shall I come before the Lord? ….. He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’
And then we hear Jesus repeat so much of this scripture in his ministry and indeed, add to it in an ever deeper call to love God through loving our neighbour when he speaks of the greatest commandment — You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
In the Letter of James, the author likens the tongue to a weapon of destruction, to coin a phrase.
Remember his words, “the tongue is a small part of the body…..”. Then adds “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body”
We worship God with that tongue, and praise him with it. But how many folk have we come across, who do so on a Sunday; then destroy others with their sarcasm, rudeness, slander, mockery, spite and malice – outwith the four walls of the Kirk?
Most Christians would shrink back from sins like corruption, abuse, misogyny, homophobia, molesting children, or murder as being depraved or morally evil.
Yet we tolerate gossip, deceit, half-truths, put-downs, and other sins of the tongue as if they were no big deal.
James says that all such sins have their origin in (as in his words and world view) the pit of hell.
They destroy others. As a believer in Christ, we must confront these evils in ourself and be bold enough to confront them in others.
If we, who claim to be Christians, do not have that fire in our heart, that zeal in our heart, that burning desire in our heart to live for others, as Christ lived for us, then we are like the fire – fighter who has all the gear, all the equipment, all the resources, but refuses to fight fires.
The picture of a laughing little boy on a gleaming fire pole is a joyous memory which is deeply cherished, but it is nothing more than a faded picture when compared to the joyous realm of the kingdom. A kingdom which is revealed to us by a loving Redeemer, when we truly seek to love and honour God. May God give us the courage to seek to worship him in the very best way we can.
And – as a postscript that includes our putting out the metaphorical fires that engulf our world and society: injustice, bigotry, racism, homophobia, and so on.
It includes a burning desire to help end the smouldering disgrace of homelessness, child poverty, reliance on food banks for survival – and I’m sure that we can all add to that list.
We don’t just attend Church. We have to be Church. We have to do Church. With a burning desire.