MASSILLON, Oh. (BNC) by Rick Kelley — Everyone has heard a fiery sermon. Some old preachers were known as fire-and-brimstone preachers. I had a book some years ago called Sermons that Sizzle. It even had flames on the cover. But I never imagined a sermon with actual fire. Well, sort of.

I was preaching the second lesson in my series, “The Greatness of the Bible.” The first one had gone well, was received well, and I had mountains more material than allotted time. So I decided to let it be a running series until I was exhausted, or my material was exhausted. I hoped the people who told me they wanted more weren’t being sarcastic.  

The second lesson was on Sunday night, January 3. But this one was different. Of course, the material was new, but something else was different.

Rick gets lots of respect at church.

Rick gets lots of respect at church.

At some point during the sermon I smelled smoke. I was certain of it. Northern Ohio is known for some bitter cold, and there are many wood stoves around. But it has been warmer than usual this winter, and we have the benefit of more modern facilities.

I wondered for a brief moment if anyone else smelled the charred smell I was smelling. It was a bit unnerving, but since no one else seemed to be bothered, I was going to carry on until I saw fire extinguishers or heard an alarm.

Preachers — at least this one — kind of have tunnel vision like that. We learn to block it out. Let the babies cry, let the people shift, let the man in the front seat fall asleep — no bother, we have work to do. I chalked it up to odd circumstance, or olfactory confusion, and waxed on.

Then, moments later, as I looked down to my notes, I noticed something strange: smoke. This time, it wasn’t olfactory dissonance, and I was fairly certain it wasn’t a ghost. It was coming from the pulpit, sure as the Bible, and I announced to the company before me as much.

Where? I couldn’t tell right away. It seemed to be wafting upward from beyond the top ridge of the lectern, just beyond the microphone. The wires! I became instantly convinced that a concealed wire had begun to scorch the oaken podium from within.

My line of reasoning ceased. The sermon, over. The crowd, vanished. I became like a deranged character in an Edgar Allan Poe tale. I was completely inside my own head, never mind the blinking eyes that were left behind while I sought the source of the blaze. I looked left, right, I thought of moving around to the front, or dropping to my knees and examining the underbelly of the roasting rostrum.

Another glance toward the top of the stump and immediately I realized that the culprit was not some mad arsonist, some conspiring menace who sought to kill the messenger. It was not some frayed electrical component that had slowly worked its evil combustion by the cover of darkness as I stood to declare the Light.

It was … the lectern light bulb. And its victim, the top right corner of my favorite New Testament.

I immediately drew the cowhide-covered Volume to my hands, and examined it, marred as it was, and announced to the crowd, in heroic fashion, that I had indeed solved the mystery of the smoking pulpit.

Yes, it was me. Me, I tell you! I was the culprit, the victim, and the clever detective.

Rick is the fiery evangelist working with the congregation in Massillon and a columnist for Forthright Magazine. He and his wife Samantha have six children.