Jon Davis

The Fire at Notre Dame; A Modern Day Parable

I watched with sadness and awe on Monday April 15th in Holy Week as Notre Dame Cathedral burned for hours.  I have never been there but I have sat in other magnificent cathedrals around the world beholding their beauty.  There is something about entering an ancient and massive structure that breathes deep reverence in my soul.  It was so very sad to see this building burn.  The flames climbed high into the sky and the stones glowed crimson red. 

The recent tragedy of the Notre Dame fire got me thinking about the nature of fire.  First off, Fires command attention.  You can’t help but notice them.  I’m sure the citizens of Paris could walk by Notre Dame day-in and day-out and rarely stop to pay attention. Notre Dame was a familiar presence to residents, often unnoticed – that is until the spires are in flames.  Nobody misses that!  

It makes me wonder for the people who live there; What did Notre Dame represent?  Yes, it was a cathedral.  It had been there for 800+ years.  It was a landmark icon of the city. More so, was it a relic from a time gone by?  The Christian heritage of much of Europe is a shadow of what it once was.  Church attendance is in the single digits.  Though there was a Roman Catholic congregation inhabiting the space more people came as tourists. Like many cathedrals in Europe It had become a museum. Notre Dame was a piece of architectural art.

On this day people noticed a church on fire.

There are two types of fire.  Some fires destroy;  they take what is good and reduce it to rubble and ash.  I have witnessed wildfires here in Florida.  I have smelled the smoke for days on end from 50-100 miles away.  Later, driving through a burned area, you see barren stands of trees standing black and gray like toothpicks for acres upon acres.

But there is another kind of fire; a holy fire that ignites, that builds up, that causes growth.  Consider the fires of revival that swept through this nation in the late the 1600’s and 1700’s led by revival preachers such as Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley and George Whitfield.  There was Spirit-filled fire on Pentecost (in Acts 2). People noticed. A church, God’s assembled people truly on fire with the power of the Holy Spirit will garner people’s attention.  On that Monday people noticed Notre Dame. Their eyes were fixed. People are looking for a church that is truly on-fire. 

Like a real fire, revival fires offer heat and light.  The world is often cold and dark. There is pain, suffering, violence- tragedy abounds day after day.  Within days after the fire at Notre Dame there were church and hotel bombings in Sri Lanka killing hundreds.

I meet people who possess a real spiritual hunger, they are looking for warmth and light. People feel the void in their lives; things, possessions, social media, technology, success, experiences will not fill the emptiness and deep longing for meaning and purpose. There is a desperation in all of us that we want our life to count for something- we want to matter.  Yes, we may drown out this primal yearning as we drift from one thing to the next but it remains a constant.

There is a concept that people have a God-Shaped void in their lives. The Christian philosopher and theologian Blaise Pascal in 1670 published Pensées, which was a defense of the Christian faith. (It should be noted that this book was published after his death in 1662.)  In that book, he has a quote:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Blaise Pascal, Pensées VII (425)

Fresh Expressions is a means of bringing purpose and meaning to a person’s life by introducing them to Jesus Christ. It is a conduit to bring people light and life to fill the abyss with the very fire of God. If people were to see a church truly on-fire in the Spirit they would come close to be warmed by the love of God.

If people were to see a church truly on-fire in the Spirit they would come close to be warmed by the love of God. Click To Tweet

A church is not a building. The church of Jesus is a gathering of people under the banner of Christ to invade the culture with Good News of God’s love. A church is not somewhere you go or attend. The church is a community of people living the life of Christ for all the world to see.  A connected, loving, giving, kind and generous, full of grace and truth kind of people and when the world sees it they will notice. A church was not burning in Paris- a building was.

Buildings will come and go. It appears Notre Dame will be restored. I am glad for that. Wouldn’t it be better if the church Jesus intended was resurrected in fullness and power? That is my prayer this Easter season and I believe in many ways Fresh Expressions holds a strategy to see the Kingdom of God come near in this era and generation.

Finally: Where is the fire burning in your life? Is your life, your witness truly a flame that ignites, that draws the attention of others and causes them to want what you have? Or is your life a lukewarm smolder that is not that appealing? How can your life be heated up to where the brightness, the heat, the intensity is captivating?

Fresh Expressions is a spark that can ignite the church and set it ablaze in a way that people will stop and notice. Click To Tweet

These are weighty questions and they are answered when we lean into God through prayer, study, being with others believers; practicing an authentic Christian faith. They may be more specifically answered by getting involved in the mission of the church through Fresh Expressions. You are invited to drill down on this website, attend a Vision Day or Dinner church Encounter, sign-up for a learning community. Fresh Expressions is a spark that can ignite the church and set it ablaze in a way that people will stop and notice.

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Jon Davis

Jon Davis

The Rev. Jon Davis PhD is an Episcopal Priest, church planter, teacher, worship leader. He is on staff with Fresh Expressions as a mission strategist and is launching some Fresh Expression gatherings through the Abbey Mission in a NE suburb of Orlando.   jon@freshexpressionsus.org

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