On Fire For God - Reservoir Church
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Fire - Lent: A Spring Season

On Fire For God

Ivy Anthony

Feb 11, 2024

Each year, in the weeks before Easter, our church embarks on a season of spiritual formation. We take time and attention to look reflectively at our lives, to welcome God’s guidance and presence. This season in the year where winter meets spring is called Lent. Lent comes from an Old English word meaning “spring.” It’s used to refer to the six-week period before Easter Sunday. For centuries, Jesus followers have marked this period of anticipation for Easter through prayer,  fasting and giving. 

A few years ago we decided by whim and by Spirit – I believe… that we should plan for a 4-year series of  Lenten seasons in advance. And the series should be on the elements – Water, Earth, Wind and Fire. The last two year’s Lenten themes were Water and Earth. This year’s theme is Fire. It feels right, it feels timely. 

Fire, whether regarded as a controlled source of warmth or an incinerating force, offers us intensity. And in my own spirit I’m grasping for an intensity that can meet the fervor of the world around us. Fire that’s unabashedly mesmerizing, beautiful, and powerful. A metaphor that you can really lean into that stands up —  that doesn’t look away from the realities of the world – but looks at it squarely, blazing and crackling as it does. 

This Lent we’ll turn to the spiritual significance of fire through many lenses.  Each Sunday to come we will explore a different theme of fire. We’ll talk about what to do and where to find hope when it seems the world is on fire. We’ll think about the passion and light and power of God.  We’ll talk about the cleansing and purifying fire of the Spirit, and discuss less-toxic, kinder ways to think about concepts like judgment and hell. *Not only will our Sunday services cover this — but so does our Lent Guide which covers all that good stuff and more!!*

We hope through this journey of Lent we’ll remember that on this Earth – we too are the fires that take light, that roll through our landscapes – schools, workplaces, sidewalks –  signaling  how to be in partnership and action with a God that is “larger, free-er, and more loving” than we could ever imagine (as James Baldwin emboldens us to do).

This morning, I invite you to wonder what a season like this could kindle in you? I invite you to wonder if the warming presence of God could flame and breathe new urgency into your love of life. THIS LIFE. All of this life, its beauty and its brokenness.


God of fire — thank you for your presence this morning that offers us warmth, clarity, rest, and light. In ways that we need more of all those things – greet us this morning with your Spirit that never holds back – but comes full force in abundance with what our heart needs. Fold into us the embers of your light that never are extinguished —  the divine sparks that keep us going, keeps us hoping — and you, the Divine spark that keeps us. Keeps us close.

In the name of the Fire,

The Flame

And the Light,
(John O’Donohue)


Story: “On Fire for God”

Now there’s nothing I love more than being warm. . . maybe other than being ‘hot.’  I talk about the weather all the time,  the forecast, the temperature — it’s not just small talk to me, it’s part of the way I experience the world and God. I grew up in Maine, with a wood stove in our kitchen — our only source of heat and there wasn’t a day that I wasn’t as close to that stove as possible. I take scalding hot showers, do the dishes in blistering hot water, I have the seat heaters on in any car all year ‘round in the middle of summer … I love to be warm. 

So when I first heard the spiritual question,

Is your heart on fire for God?” 

when I was eight or nine years old from one of my summer camp counselors.

I was stunned. “Wait – that’s an option?”

My heart could be a source of heat and warmth?  Well I’m not sure it is — but I am game to find out!

I didn’t grow up with Lent as part of my tradition or yearly rhythm.

But I did grow up with going to an annual Christian summer camp! It was a small camp on a small lake, about 15 minutes from where I grew up in Maine. 

And this camp was a highlight of my year. I’d pack a good three weeks in advance, I truly looked forward to it. 

Each year, toward the end of the week of camp we’d build a fire, a big bonfire  – as a culmination – and there’d be some sort of spiritual talk (during which I’d usually be strategizing how much money I had left in my snack bar kitty and whether it was enough to get both Swedish fish & sweet tarts). I’d know the end of the talk was finally coming when the cadence and volume of the leader would get a bit amped.. And then the invitation would come,

“If your heart is on fire for God – come on up!”

And all of us would gather up around the bonfire.. 

Faces aglow. 

Hearts on fire – as best as we knew.

I wonder what memories or thoughts come to the surface as you hear the question, “Is your heart on fire for God?” 

Part of the beauty of the Lent Guide this year is that in addition to selections of scripture and some provoking commentary written by Steve… is that it is peppered with a bunch of ‘wondering questions.’ Taking the nod from our kids church philosophy of Godly Play that to wonder kindles curiosity, reflection, and engages the Spirit of God in ways that unveil God’s great love for us. 

And this is the richness of Lent. 

Perhaps for many of you Lent is a season of self-denial, of fasting, of giving something up. I know that these components are so meaningful to many of you. We’ll make room for that but also lean into wondering questions, reflection, prayer… to illuminate just how this season is also about God’s fiery love for us.  

But Lent doesn’t always lead with the “God’s great fiery love for you” vibe. I mean it starts with the remnants of fire… the absence of fire – ash.  Ash Wednesday – a reminder of our human limits, our mortality, that we’ll all die.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

Lent is an acknowledgement that life can be gritty.  And it doesn’t try to soften that – it actually invites you into that reality — with nothing to buffer. That’s what I appreciate so much about Lent.  There is no cheery Santa, or candy canes to balance the darkness and somberness.  It’s an invitation to a landscape of ash. Of nothingness — to see what can begin again. Of wilderness and God’s voice asking,

I wonder from the ashes what we can find/create with one another? I wonder what embers I can fan for you?

I wonder how you’ll find and hold on to God’s love in your fears, trauma, doubts – when it feels like there’s nothing in your hands to grab on to – it’s all just silt.   

Lent is a deep, deep season. 

It is about God’s love for us — us that God created from dust. 

It’s about God’s love in us – – given life by breath.

It’s about God’s love moving through us —  by the fire of the Spirit of God.

Reminding us that these elements — dust, breath, fire — that seem like nothing, prove to be everything.

And Lent invites us to consider what living a life with this love at center, “with a heart on fire for God” looks like.  

I think this passage in Romans captures some of its essence: 

ROMANS 12:9-12

Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. 

2- Story: “On Fire for God”

When I heard the invitation. “If your heart is on fire for God, come on up!” 

I went up.

I went up  in good faith. But I think I was mostly pretending. 

I so wanted my heart to be on fire for God. 

But I didn’t know what it really meant – and I didn’t know what it really felt like.

I wanted what seemed like this unwavering blaze of faith and courage — and just steam-rolling through life with confidence. My friends at camp weren’t hesitating  – they were enthusiastic – running to that fire.

I wanted that “high” of friendship and what seemed like a fun and joyful GOD – to sustain me once I left camp… But when I got home my life felt the same as I had left it – annoying four brothers, boring, and cold. 

It felt bewildering to me – – how to fan that flame out in the wilderness of life.

Each year after camp ended, we would be invited to give our testimony at a Sunday service —  a reflection of our time and I never shared because I felt like I’d failed somehow – that I was just “smoldering” – not “on fire!”

Part of that sense of “smoldering” was:

  • My childhood imagination pretty quickly was challenged once I learned that I didn’t in fact carry around with me a personal inner furnace that kept me warm at all times
  • some of it was just naturally developmentally appropriate, and 
  • some of it was the foundational theology that underpinned my experience.  All the ways Christians have historically and still do misuse the metaphor of fire to say all kinds of wild things about the character of God, eternal judgment and hell that try to scare and control us — this was true of my upbringing and also influenced a sense of “being on fire” or “not” as a result of good or bad choices. We’ll press into this reality a bit in the middle of the Lent Guide – – it’s a good one, “The Fires of Judgement!”

Anyway – I did think that 

-“If” I was to be a heart-on-fire girl I surely would have  figured it out by now, after multiple summers.

– I did think “if” my heart was on fire for God, I certainly would be more like Peggy Jones in the couple pews over from me – – opening her Bible and taking notes.. 

– I did think that “If” my heart was on fire for God, I certainly should give up thinking about candy during a sermon.

There were definitely some conditionals that were setting up in my thinking.

And there are likely easy I can tell this story – or you can hear this story as a point in time – an adolescent summer camp story. But I think there are elements that get woven all through our not just spiritual life – but all of life… and the Lenten journey mirrors how this ‘same dynamic’ goes down with Jesus in the wilderness as well. 


Lent is commonly described as a commemoration of Jesus’ 40-day fast in the desert, when he was tempted by evil that prowled around him. And interestingly the voices that came to tempt Jesus start with this conditional  word “if” — — – –  which is perhaps the greatest evil..

The voices challenge him: 

“If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

“If you are the Son of God,  throw yourself down.”

“If you will bow down and worship me” – I will give you all this…

“If” it’s such a destabilizing word.

“If your heart is on fire for God… then….”

But Jesus rejects all of this the very premise of it — he says,

“No thanks, I live by every word that comes from the mouth of God, don’t test the Lord your God, worship the Lord your God.”

He gives IN –  He doesn’t give in to the conditions, or the temptations.

He gives in –  ALL IN – to the love of God.

This is the invitation of Lent – to give “in” – not necessarily “give up” something.

It’s not “if”  you are “doing Lent” then you are “giving up” x, y, or z.”

The irony of Lent as Richard Rohr says, is that it’s not about “trying hard” it’s not a “trying” at all – it’s a foundational “giving in.” 

Now, Lent is to in solidarity accompany the journey of Jesus in the wilderness….. and it is to reflect on our lives. And examine where our faith has picked up some grime – some sediment.. where we’ve attached to false premises … .or collected extra things on the back of our own ambitions.

And it is time to re-set, to take note, to orient again to the love of God. And our reflection is not in vain, it is to open up our stories to the stories of our spiritual ancestors… The stories where their hearts were ablaze with the goodness and trust and faith of God, even in their very own wildernesses, and where we can sit in the glow of their joy, their strength — letting it fan our own heart’s embers. 

In Psalm 126 we read these words of our ancestors:

When the Lord changed Zion’s circumstances for the better,

    it was like we had been dreaming.

 Our mouths were suddenly filled with laughter;

    our tongues were filled with joyful shouts.

It was even said, at that time, among the nations,

    “The Lord has done great things for them!”

Yes, the Lord has done great things for us,

    and we are overjoyed.

Lord, change our circumstances for the better,

    like dry streams in the desert waste!

Let those who plant with tears

    reap the harvest with joyful shouts.

Let those who go out,

    crying and carrying their seed,

    come home with joyful shouts,

    carrying bales of grain!

This Psalm is one in a special group of psalms, the Songs of Ascent  comprising Psalms 120—134. They are also called Pilgrim Songs.

This is a scripture where our ancestors declare,

“We have faced and we DO face exile and loss of fortune. But we live in hope – hope of the return of DREAMS”

I wonder if we could dream again? 

Hope to have our mouths filled with laughter, and hope to have the nations declaring that God is good. God has done great things for us. As our ancestors sang in memory and nostalgia, WE catch their flame and continue to pray, even as they did,

‘Restore our dreams, O God and cling to the promise that while, in fact, we do live in exile and wilderness sowing in tears and sorrow, we can move forward with our ‘hearts on fire’ in belief of a good and life-giving God — a “God that has done great things for them – and a God who does great things for us.”’

Here’s the thing — Lent has often been given a quick descriptor as a season of “giving something up.” And it’s true we might just find ourselves giving up a lot of things as we return and give in to the love of God.  

We may find where we have attached ourselves to things that have promised us relief, escape, even momentary joy — and we may find that those are tangible things in our lives that do – as we end up giving in to the love of God –  end up burning off like dross.  

Some of the ways that that feels most doable is through prayer. We are just ending a whole series on prayer.. And it’s great timing because Lent is also a season of prayer. Prayer that helps identify all of that excess stuff we might be carrying around… it helps clear the hazardous brush that’s built up around us – that is in jeopardy of engulfing us in flames of despair.

This Psalm was a prayer often sung by Jews traveling to Jerusalem for one of the three main annual Jewish festivals (to remember the wilderness and God’s provision within it,  and God’s continual promise of being with them in the future).  They would sing and pray these prayers on the “ascent” – as they traveled up the hill to the city. Recalling a history of standing their ground when they were in trouble and devoting themselves to prayer. A present day invitation to us too. 

Lent is a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage of the heart – a pilgrimage of descent and ascent. One, that if we can make the journey illuminates the world around us – in such a way that we can see the landscape riddled with fracture, and war and division — but also see in the cracks the blazing beauty of God’s love roaring through.

Geologists tell us that at the heart of the earth, there is no neutral or cold center, but rather a great heat.

Thousands of kilometers below the earth’s crust there is a heart of fire, molten magma. — John O’ Donohue

Maybe that’s what Lent helps us see – that molten magma rippling under the surface of everything. Piercing love – for us, and for the world around us. A world that is worthy and so greatly in need of such love. This is the work of Lent —  … where we pray together for strength for the dreams of this world, our households, our kids, our nation – our year ahead.  

Throughout this Lenten Guide there is a beautiful simple prayer practice that you are invited to try. You can try it alone – your household, your family – no matter the age… with a community group … The practice includes a candle — actual fire!, and integrates some wondering questions for you to form your own prayers…..whatever they might be  — Padraig O’Tuama the poet and theologian, says,

“Prayer is a small fire lit to keep cold hands warm”

and maybe you’ll find that it will keep your hearts aflame as well. 

We have lots to pray for, friends. 

Oppression will continue to course through the veins of society. Dominant and evil forces will push and pull on our collective life. But Lent gives us an intentional time to sharpen our clarity:  

To “Hate evil, and hold on to what is good.” 


Set my heart on fire!

Help me find again that my story and the story of Jesus are bound together in hope, faith, love and community.

2024 is already on fire. It absolutely has all the components of being combustible.

  • Wars across the globe. 
  • An election that we are already feeling the heat of.
  • The actual temperature of the Earth rising. 

Richard Rohr says that

“Lent is just magnified and intensified life.”

All of it, the tears, the laughter, the forces of empire, the forces of love –  the beauty, the singing, the prayer – some of it burning off, some of it flaming the flame. And us drawing closer to God and closer to others as we sift through it all – unto to a more just, more free world for all of us.   

3 – Story: “On Fire for God”

I could imagine an alternative to the summer camp invitation, “if your heart is on fire for God – please come up..” could have been. “You all are fire!” “You all such awesome, fun, curious kids!”  Come on up here – let’s light something on fire — (like sparklers).”

I wonder if that would have registered as a little less conditional and a little more of the

“Love each other like the members of your family – be the best at showing honor to each other!”

I was at the GBH event a little over a week ago – that Steve mentioned last Sunday. And I was taken aback by the conversation between two colleagues who were introducing this new podcast called, “What is Owed?” (coming out Feb. 15th) – a podcast seeking to understand what reparations might look like in Boston. Saraya (who’s the host), and her colleague Jerome both were on the panel. And the interviewer asked Jerome,

“what did you enjoy most about producing this podcast?”

And Jerome turned to Saraya and said,

“It’s been working with you.”

And then he proceeded to go on –

“the thoughtfulness, humor, the quick-wittedness that you brought to the work made me be able to say after every interview — that was the best interview. No, that  was the best interview.. Actually this one, this last one — was the best interview…. And mean it!”

And there sat Jerome just flaming the fire of goodness in Saraya.

He flamed this inner-part of her – “You are fire!” – and what you touch – what you bring voice to, what you unveil – the work you do, is also fire. 

Maybe that’s what this Lent can feel like to you too. That God could just be fanning the indwelling of the Spirit of God that is already within you. Helping you peel back some of the layers that have crowded it – to make room for your heart to really fire… So you can hear God say day after day .. 

“wow, I love you the most today. And then the next day say, “actually today, today — I love you the most …”  

I do think we need our hearts to be made incandescent by the Spirit’s fire. 
I do think that’s what is going to help us all LOVE LIVING OUR LIFE. 

And I do think that this Lent can aid you, guide you in experiencing some of the warm love of God –  jump in a community group, do it with a friend – definitely download the Lent Guide! 

Let me pray for us,

God could you help us love this life, one another, and you – without pretending?

Could you help us to name and hate what is evil and hold on to what is good. 

Could you help us to love each other like the members of your family and show honor to each other?

Could you help us to be enthusiastic – to be ON FIRE IN THE SPIRIT with you God?

May we be happy in your hope, stand our ground when we’re in trouble and devote ourselves to prayer.  

In the name of the Fire,
The Flame,
And the Light.   
(John O’Donohue)

– Amen