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James: A Little Spark James 3:1-12 

15-07-2018

Introduction…

I remember growing up in Nova Scotia we had a very nice house. One feature in this house was its air-tight wood stove. We used this stove for heat throughout the winter, supplemented by electric baseboards. When it was cold, each night, we would let the fire die down until there were no flames visible, just some hot coals. We would then pack the stove as full of wood as possible then leave it with the air vent shut off.

As the night wore on, hidden beneath all that wood, the little embers would quietly heat up the closest piece of wood. From the outside, you couldn’t see anything happening, but sometime in the middle of the night, without fail, the stove would reach a critical turning point. Suddenly, a piece of wood, close to the hot embers, would reach ignition temperature and there would be a loud “whoosh!” sound. All the wood would suddenly burst into flame! The wood in the stove, packed in tight, would then burn through the rest of the night, keeping the house warm.

The chimney ran up the wall next to my bedroom. I remember sometimes in the spring, when the weather wasn’t as cold at night, but we still needed a fire, I would wake up the middle of the night sweating! The wood stove was so hot, the heat coming up the chimney would make my room hot!

When we went to bed, there was no sign of flame in the stove. There was no “fire” burning. But there were hot embers. Once or twice I was up late, or came down in the middle of the night, and I saw the fire flare up. It was remarkable! It was a good thing that the stove was well made and kept that fire in place!

Fire is a wonderful thing when it’s kept under control, when it stays within its boundaries, such as a stove or fireplace. Fire keeps us warm, it cooks our food, it provides light in the darkness. Fire even gets us from one place to another- fire is what makes most of our car engines work! (Unless you drive a Prius… that I don’t know what’s going.)

But, when fire escapes its boundaries, it can be terribly destructive. Fire that runs out of control can burn our house down, burn our town down, burn a forest down. Unchecked fire causes millions of dollars of damage every year and claims many lives. Not long ago, we were all gripped by the news about Fort McMurray. Wildfires swept across northern Alberta and burned down most of the town, an important centre for the oil sands industry. Even now, two years later, the town is not rebuilt. Only a fraction of the homes have been fully repaired or rebuilt. Up to half the town is still being rebuilt. Fire can be terribly destructive!

And it doesn’t take much to start a fire. If conditions are dry, a cigarette butt, an improperly extinguished campfire (same principle as our wood stove!), or even lighting can start a blaze that, if left unchecked, can burn down an entire forest. It just takes a spark, a tiny spark, to set something ablaze.

This is the metaphor James uses in Chapter 3. Actually, it is one of several metaphors James uses to describe how we use our words. James says that our tongue is tiny, but, just as a tiny spark can start a fire that engulfs a huge area, our tongues can do tremendous damage. Let’s take a look.

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