"That's My Fire Hydrant!"
When I was 16 years old, I had a summer job doing water line construction. I was able to be outside, and it paid better than minimum wage—quite the attraction for a high schooler! However, the honeymoon period wore off within the first week as the reality set in that I was waking up before dawn, and it was 97-degrees with 80-100 percent humidity outside. On my third day on the job, we were stringing out six-inch PVC pipe that would be put together by hand as we went alongside an open field. Our job that day was to keep up with the trencher. When it stopped, we could stop. That was easier said than done since I was still trying to get the hang of joining these twenty-foot pieces of pipe together. Furthermore, while we were stringing out the pipe first thing that morning, the guy who was helping me dropped his end which sent my beveled end slicing through my hand. It was not a good start to the day. Nevertheless, rest did come after the first 1000 feet as we had to set our first fire hydrant. We stopped while the hole was being dug and while the hydrant was slowly lowered into the earth. Once in place, we bolted it together to the pipe, put rebar and concrete around the fittings (since there would be lots of pressure), and waited once again as the area was filled with dirt.
We laid another 700 feet of pipe after that, and at the end of the day the “boss man” came around to review our crew’s work while we found some shade. It didn’t appear as if he was concerned about anything but that fire hydrant. I watched as he pulled something out of his pocket that he used to examine it. As he made his way back to us, the thing that had been in his pocket was revealed. It was a level. Before anyone could say a word, he said (in the nicest way, of course), “Boys, go back and do it again.” The pipe had to carefully be brought up with straps and held up with wood, and the rebar and concrete encased hydrant was raised up with even more caution just to be set all over again.
What was his problem? He said to us, “Y’all are out here all day putting things into the ground, and no one sees anything of your work except these fire hydrants. The one hydrant that appears every 1000 feet is all that reflects me and my company. It’s going to be flush to the ground, and it’s going to be level on all sides every time. If the hydrant looks bad, I look bad. That’s my fire hydrant.” I had not really noticed fire hydrants before, but I never have looked at them the same since. I have never forgotten his words.
As pastors we lay piping in the ground all week as we visit our members, reach out to our communities, prepare sermons and Bible classes, go to meetings, and everything else that’s involved in pastoral ministry. But unless it’s that individual member being seen or someone happens by the office to see you preparing, no one else sees the pipe being put into the ground. No one sees the work. All they see is the fire hydrant.
Brothers, your fire hydrant is the Divine Service. If it’s tilted or isn’t flush with the earth in any way, it sticks out, and it’s a reflection on you and your work as a whole. It’s important that your hydrants be flush and level. In other words, actually prepare your sermons. Study the readings so that you don’t stumble through them (Old Testament for Trinity 13, anyone?). Conduct the liturgy with reverence and with all the pieces in place. Removing parts of the liturgy (especially the Sacrament) or altering them the way you see fit is like leaving out a section of pipe or changing from six-inch to four-inch just because you think it fits better. It doesn't work. Make sure your vestments are in order. See to it that your acolytes are participating and that the elders and ushers are paying attention. They’re essentially your crew. Everyone involved goes into making sure the hydrant is flush and level, but in the end, it’s a reflection not on the crew but on the pastor himself. If the hydrant is out of whack, chances are that other things are, too.
You might be in a situation where Sunday morning doesn’t really matter to you as much as it should because you’re burned out. You might be getting paid and don’t want to ruffle any feathers, so you go through the motions. You might be one who moves things around or is careless with the liturgy and its ceremonies even going so far as to say that you don’t need the liturgy. In any case, when I approach Sunday morning (and I plead with you to do the same), I always think, “That’s my fire hydrant.” Get out your levels, brothers. Let’s get to work…and in some cases, let’s do it again!