Summary: This patriotic sermon shows that we all have the potential to start fires. The only difference is whether or not we warm things up or burn things down.

Romans 7: 15-25

Matt 11 16-19, 25-30

The Fourth of July is probably my favorite of the non-religious holidays. Part of this is because I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia far, far off the beaten path. Virginia also has some of the strictest fireworks laws in the country. This being the case, imported fireworks of questionable legality played an important part of our Independence Day festivities. I especially remember the summer when I was six years old. My father, who I only got to see a few dozen times a year, made a trip to Tennessee and bought a huge assortment of contraband combustible items. Oh what a bounty it was! He would buy firecrackers and jumping jacks, sparklers and spraying fountains, and bottle rockets and cherry bombs. Of course, I was only allowed to light the smallest and most innocuous of the items. Dad picked out a few things that with which he felt that I couldn’t damage to myself or my surroundings with and offered to let me light them. These items included a couple of little green cardboard tanks. You might have seen such an item on sale at the fireworks store this year as you were shopping. They still make them. Now this little tank, made just like the ones they used in World War Two, had a fuse coming out of its back end. When you lit the little fuse, it would first ignite something like a small rocket engine which would, in a spray of orange sparks, propel the little tank forward on its cardboard wheels. When the engine burned down, it would catch the fuse of a small Roman candle that comprised the turret gun of the little tank. The tank’s gun would then shoot three or four small, scarlet fireballs a distance of 5 or 6 feet. Sounds safe enough doesn’t it?

Anyway my father let me light one of the little tanks as the very first thing we did. My dad somewhat reluctantly escorted me over to the flat surface of the edge of a flower bed made from the filled in base of my grandmother’s old outhouse. I eagerly clutched the little lighting stick that my father handed me and approached the little tank. I could hardly contain my excitement as the fuse touched off. The little tank started off with a sputter and moved forward only a few inches before it fell off the edge of the flower bed. It landed with its gun at a forty-five degree angle and pointed directly at the box of fireworks that my father had forgot to cover up. Poof went the first shot falling short of the box, pop went the second overshooting the box just barely, Fsst went the third volley and this one was right on target. The little ball of fire landed directly on the fuse of one of the spraying fountain fire cones which, of course, ignited immediately. I can still see the look of horror and amazement on my father’s face as he realized what had just happened. He grabbed me and we dived behind my mothers, 1976 Chevy Vega. I couldn’t as much see the fireworks as I could here them. The m-80’s exploded, the bottle rockets, a whole gross of them, whizzed 12 at a time from their wrappers to explode only a few feet away. Jumping jacks and ground flowers scorched the yard. I am sure it would have been quite a show if I could have seen it from underneath my father.

When dad finally let me up off of the ground, there were no fireworks left. Only a smoking cardboard box and big spot of dead grass. Of course, I commenced to doing exactly what it is that six year-olds do. I started to cry. My mother heard all of this commotion and ran from the house to see exactly what was going on. My dad received a stern tongue lashing for trying to kill his only son and then mom took me inside and gave me some chocolate milk to calm me down while poor dad had to unroll the fire hose and clean up all the small explosive devices in the yard.

It’s funny isn’t it how one spark of something can set off a whole big conflagration isn’t it. At the turn of the century, Mrs. O’leary’s cow overturned a lamp in a barn and burned up the whole city of Chicago. Whole grain silos have been blown a mile into the air like rocket ships from one misflicked cigarette ash that ignites grain dust. It often does not require too much energy to start a whole big ruckus. Afterall, it only requires one match to strike off a whole powderkeg. Sparks can be powerful things given the right, or the wrong, application.

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