Community Campfire

Community Campfire

The Pillars of Cloud and Fire
When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer, for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness bordering the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle. And Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had required a solemn oath of the Israelites, saying, “God will surely come to you, and then you must carry my bones with you from here.” They set out from Succoth and camped at Etham, on the edge of the wilderness. The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.

Exodus 13:17-22 (NRSVUE)

Friends, I want you to imagine a campfire for just a minute. Can you picture it in your mind? I wonder, are other people around the campfire? Often, campfires remind us of scouting or spending time with friends or family. Many times, around campfires we sing songs, or share stories, maybe even ghost stories. And how about toasting marshmallows or making s’mores? Can you smell the fire or hear the crackle of the wood as it burns? Oh, and we can’t forget about mosquitos, the smell of bug spray, seeing bats fly over our heads, looking up at the stars at night, or just being mesmerized by the flames.

There is something about a campfire that makes everyone feel not only welcome but comfortable and included. There is a sacredness to a campfire. Isn’t’ there? We are warmed by the heat it provides, mesmerized by its flickering flames, and drawn into the light. The truth is, when it comes to fire, fire warms us. It lights our nights. It cooks our food. But there is something else. Wise ones through the ages have said that our relationship with fire is what made us human. Fire has been a protector, a teacher, and an invaluable ally to people since our beginning.

The truth is that modern life moves so fast, it changes so quickly, and it asks so much of us. It can leave us feeling disoriented and unfulfilled. Sometimes we need a time out, a place to go to get centered, to clear out the confusion, and to reconnect with what’s important in our lives. For many of us, worship is that kind of place, a place to center ourselves to quiet the outside noises and simply listen for the voice of our still-speaking God. But a campfire can be that kind of place as well.

When we spend time around a campfire, it feels so comforting to sit with others, to chat, to share a meal or a snack, to enjoy music, or just to sit and listen to the crackle of the fire. Campfires tend to bring people together, whether it’s a campfire in the woods, on a beach, at a campground, or in your backyard.

As many candle companies know, sometimes just the smell of a campfire can bring back memories of times past, memories of sitting under the stars around a fire, enjoying time with friends and family. And often, when we sit around a campfire, we tell stories.

Even in Jesus’ day, it was the stories that were told around campfires that were handed down for generations, family stories, faith stories, and cultural stories, the stories that have told us where we are from and who and whose we are.

Now today we have many of those stories written in a book that we call the Bible, but before the printed page, stories were simply shared orally and handed down from generation to generation.

Well, in today’s scripture reading, we heard a life-changing story, a story of bravery and courage, a story of transformation and change, a story of faith and trust in the midst of fear, a story of covenant and promise-keeping. You see, as our story begins, Pharaoh has just let the Hebrews or the Israelites go after having been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years. The Israelites don’t know what to do, but they do know that long ago, God made a covenant or a promise to them to take them to the promised land, a land that is said to be flowing with milk and honey.

Can’t you imagine those Israelites thousands of years ago, traveling by day and sitting around campfires at night? What do you think they talked about? Did they tell stories of the past? Or talk about dreams for the future? Did they grumble and complain, or were they happy to be free and excited about what each new day would bring?

Now we know that God cared greatly for them, and God wanted them to arrive safely in the Promised Land, but the journey there was not easy. There was no GPS or Mapquest at the time, so the Israelites had to trust in God to show them the way. Now, God didn’t always send them the shortest way, but God did send them the safest way.

As scripture says, The LORD went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.  So the sight of fires at night must have almost been like a night light that brought comfort to the Israelites, as a sign that God was near.

Throughout scripture, we hear many stories of God appearing in fire. Remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? And later, at Mt Sinai, God comes down in fire, and the mountain is covered in smoke. That’s when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. And then, more than a thousand years later, God appeared in fire and flame again as the Holy Spirit to Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost. No wonder we feel a sense of comfort and sacredness when we light a candle or sit around a campfire.

Now, our talk of campfires wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t talk about the tradition of telling ghost stories around the campfire. Maybe it’s the combination of the dark all around or the shadows of the flickering flames that can bring an eeriness to the night. I don’t know about you, but I heard something in today’s scripture reading that made me think of a ghost story. Did you hear the part that said, The Israelites went up out of the land of Egypt prepared for battle, and Moses took with him the bones of Joseph? It is not often that we talk about carrying the bones of someone with us, so I thought maybe we should talk about that part for a minute.

Joseph was the son of Jacob. And yes, he was the Joseph that wore the coat of many colors. Even though Joseph spent the majority of his life as a ruler in Egypt, he never forgot God’s promise to his ancestors. At a hundred and ten years old, just before he died, Joseph told his brothers, “I am about to die, but God will help you. God will bring you up from this land to the land He promised. Then Joseph said, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when God comes to your aid, please bring my bones with you to the promised land.” Then Joseph dies, and the Book of Genesis ends.

Well, when we open the next book of the Bible, the Book of Exodus, we find that, more than four hundred years later, God’s people are slaves in Egypt, and Joseph’s bones are still there, waiting to be buried in the promised land. As we heard at the beginning of today’s scripture reading, God was faithful to keep His promise and deliver His people out of Egypt. And as they started their journey out of slavery, Moses took the bones of Joseph with him. Joseph knew that God would be faithful and that He would keep his promise, and hundreds of years later, Joseph’s bones served as a reminder of that promise as the Israelites left Egypt on their way to the promised land. Joseph’s bones traveled with the Israelites through the Red Sea and wandered with them for forty years in the wilderness.

Over and over again, especially when they got frustrated, they would start to question. Will God really keep his promise? Will we be safe? Will we really make it to the promised land? But each night, the fire appeared, assuring them of God’s promise, and each day they carried with them the bones of Joseph, reminding them again of God’s covenant.

As we all know, waiting can be hard, and sometimes it feels like we will never get to where we are going. But with God’s help, we always do. Well, as for the Israelites, the day finally came when God’s people claimed their promised inheritance. The waiting, the doubting, and the frustration were over. God was true to His word. And here’s the best part: as for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they were buried in the land that God had promised to Jacob and his family hundreds of years earlier.

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t a scary ghost story, but it did include carrying someone’s bones around for hundreds of years and lots of mysterious and unknown moments, so I think that kind of counts.

But what does all of this mean to our everyday lives? Well, I don’t know what it means to you, but to me, it is a reminder to look for the sacred in the ordinary, to find comfort in sitting around a fire with friends sharing stories, to cherish the stories of our faith, and to remember that God comes to us in mysterious and unexpected ways. Even on days when I am sad or frustrated or feeling lost, my faith tells me that God is always there, like the inviting and comforting flames of a campfire or the gentle flicker of a candle or a night light shining through the darkness.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, take some time sitting around a campfire if you can or light a candle and take a moment to center yourself and quiet your soul. Think about the stories of your family and your faith. And notice the simple ordinary lights that show you the way because God is always there, even and especially when you least expect it!

My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, AMEN!


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *