Scripture: Romans 10:5-15
I was born months after the Empire Strikes Back, the second Star Wars movie, premiered. I remember playing with Star Wars toys at a very young age, and I remember when my parents took my brother and I to see Return of the Jedi. I grew up loving Star Wars, but eventually that faded. Like many young boys, in Elementary school I went through a dinosaur phase. I also really liked Ghostbusters and then Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and then comic books got my interest. By the time I was in 7th grade, Star Wars was all but forgotten about. It had been years since I had seen any of the movies, and Star Wars had more or less faded into a distant memory of something I used to like a long time ago from a galaxy far, far away. However, on a lazy summer day in between my 7th and 8th grade year that all changed. It was one of those situations where I had to find something to do, because if I complained about being bored my parents would give me something to do. So I went looking through a stack of old movies that had not been watched in a long time, and out of that stack I picked the original Star Wars. It was on that summer day when my fandom was revived, and 22 years later it is still going strong. All it took was a single spark to reignite something that had long been dormant. That is what a revival is after all, it is a spark. Because of how the word has been used and potentially abused over the years, we sometimes tend to have the wrong idea about a revival. Often we think of a revival as a Billy Graham style crusade only in a tent. We tend to associate a revival with altar calls, sinner prayers, and evangelistic efforts to share the gospel with people for the first time. That is not what a revival is meant to be though. The goal of a revival is not to make new disciples, it is to remind the faithful why they are faithful. A revival is meant to be the spark that renews a faith that may just be coasting by, smoldering, or has gone cold. A revival is meant to remind of us of the power of this morning’s scripture.
In the book of Romans we get the closest thing to a systematic theology in the Bible. The church in Rome had sprung up organically. Paul or another of the original apostles did not plant this church. Because they had never had an apostle visit or teach them, Paul wrote this letter. Romans is meant to be a primer on what the gospel of Jesus Christ is. It was a systematic way to explain to them what exactly this Christian faith was about and what they were signing on to. Paul methodically and masterfully lays out in the first nine chapters why people need a savior, why Jesus is the savior, and why salvation can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. In the first nine chapters Paul lays out the Who, the What, and the Why of the gospel. Now, in this morning’s scripture, Pau gets to the How. He answers specifically how one is saved, how one is forgiven, and how one is justified by faith. The formula is simple: “If you declare with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” One of the things that the rest of Romans makes clear, is that the hard part of salvation has already been done, that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The rest of Romans makes it clear that our acts cannot save us, Only Jesus saves. Salvation is not earned it is given. All that is left is for us to respond to it, to open the gift that has already been given, and we do this through faith. To believe in our heart is to accept in our inner-most being that Jesus did the impossible, that he beat death and lives. This belief, this faith that Jesus saves, must be strong enough that we do not hesitate to proclaim it. We proclaim it with our words but we also proclaim our faith with our lives. If we truly believe in our hearts that Jesus is Lord and Savior then that must exist than more just theory. True belief drives action and our actions should proclaim our faith.
Everyone who is a Christian has experienced this moment, there was a time when the heart of a believer said yes to God’s yes, that the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead took deep root in the heart, and a proclamation of belief was made. For some of you this may have been at an energetic worship service at camp or even under the tent. For others of you it may been at the depths of a dark time in your life. Only when you reached rock bottom did you finally realize that you could not save yourself. For others perhaps you grew up in the church, and one day there was finally a catalyst that caused faith to be more than tradition, but something very real in your heart. Faith is like fire, it is a pile of dead things until a spark ignites it and gives it life. What makes us Christians, and not just people who think church is fun, is that we have had this spark in our life, a catalyst that made Jesus real to us, and ignited our heart with the love of God.
How long ago was that for you? When did the light of Christ first set your heart ablaze? For some of us it was a long time ago. The thing about fire is that it only blazes as long as you keep feeding it, and many believers have gone through times when that stopped happening. Often our faith takes a back seat because a lot has happened in life. Work got busy, Kids got older and driving them took a lot of effort, a major illness seemed to consume everything, or the life stopped feeling less like an adventure and more like a rut. The fire that once burned so brightly, is now diminished. It lays dormant, but it is not out. In 2002, I was a staff counselor at Camp Mone’to. As it turned out I pulled a three week stint at Outpost camp. At outpost camp we slept in big tents and everything was done by the fire. By the third week, I had learned a thing or two about how to manage a fire. On the first day of camp, the fire pit was dead and our Firestarter was not working. Instead of going to the next site and borrowing theirs I began to dig. I knew there had been fires roaring in this pit for the past two weeks, so I dug through the ash and I felt heat. I uncovered a small coal that still had some heat trapped in it. I put kindling on that coal and gently fanned that heat into flame. Within minutes, what was once only a visible pile of ash was a blazing fire. If you have ever experienced the life changing forgiveness of Jesus Christ, if you by faith you have ever accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, then there is a flame in you. It does not matter how cold it feels, it is not extinguished. Return to your first love, remember God loves you so much that he sent his son to die for you. Be revived by the knowledge that you are forgiven, that your sins are as far as the East is from the West, and there is nothing that will ever separate you form the love of God. Pray, read the bible, force yourself to come to church whenever you do not feel like it. Do whatever it takes to revive that flame inside of you.
Having the flame of faith burning brightly does more than just warm up your heart and life. A revived and brightly burning faith can make a real difference in the lives of others. This is what Paul is getting at in verses 14 and 15. Others can only call on the name of Jesus if they believe in him, and they can only believe if someone tells them, and they can only hear if someone purposely goes to tell them. The primary mission of any church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, to help others confess in their hearts and declare with their mouths that Jesus is Lord. We can only do this, if our faith is on fire. There is a quote in the Wesleyan tradition that speaks to this. It goes like this, “Set yourself on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
To have a faith burns brightly does not require you to be a slick-talking, bible-thumping, revival evangelist. One of the greatest revivals in American history had an unassuming beginning. It was 1857 and many were lamenting the spiritual state of the country, especially in the large cities. In these cities the industrial revolution had brought a lot of industrialization which led to lots of workers living in close proximity and working long hours six or seven days a week. These workers were tired. Church and faith were not a priority. Many churches during this time, were also moving out of the city centers to the outskirts where their wealthier patrons lived. A 48 year old man named Jeremiah Lanphier, cared about the souls of those huddled in crowded cities. His first step was to pray, and he put out a flyer advertising a prayer meeting. The goal of this prayer meeting was revival as his flyer stated: “This meeting is intended to give merchants, mechanics, clerks, strangers, and businessmen an opportunity to stop and call on God.” The prayer meeting was at noon and it was meant to be a chance for busy people to connect with God and revive their faith even a little bit.
The first meeting was on September 23rd of 1857. Jeremiah Lanphier had the doors to the Dutch Reformed church of Manhattan open at noon. No one came. Finally after half an hour of praying on his own, a total of six men gathered. This was enough for Lanphier to try it again next week. This time close to 20 were in attendance, and by the third week this had doubled to 40. The attendance continued to climb so the weekly prayer meeting became daily, and the tone of the prayer meeting began to develop. The primary prayers being offered up were prayers for the souls of the lost. Those who came and bowed in prayer would often pray by name for the people they knew who did not yet know Jesus.
Within two months, the prayer meeting had grown even more. It completely filled the church. So much so that daily there were three simultaneous meeting in different parts of the building. The desire for prayer was so great that it began to spread throughout the city. At one point a large theater began opening its doors daily for the prayer meeting and it would be filled with over 5,000 people. This spread across the country. Prayer became a daily ritual in places like Washington DC, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh. In St. Louis, the desire to pray was so high that many places would three different prayer meetings a day. This was not a time of enthusiastic preaching, it was not a high pressure sales pitched to convert, it was people gathering to pray. It was a revival movement where thousands of people had their cold hearts warmed by the Holy Spirit. God answered all of this prayer, and many people called out on the name of Jesus and believed in their heart for the first time. One report from that era claims there were 10,000 new converts on a single day in New York City alone. The revival of 1857 is the single greatest evangelical effort that occurred in this country’s period, and it all began because six people gathered in an old church to revive their faith.
How is the fire in your heart this day? If it does not burn as brightly as it used to then, may you remember that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, and God out of God’s great mercy has saved you. May you earnestly work on revival to keep the fires of faith lit. Like Jeremiah Lanphier may you seek God in prayer, and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit may you get fired up about our Lord Jesus Christ. May that true for each and everyone one us, may we be a church where revival rolls. May we not keep our revived faith under the basket of this building, but may it be like a city on a hill that shines out in the darkness, may we burn brightly and may we take the gospel and victory found in Jesus to others, because as it is written How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!