Catching (on) Fire
Luke 3:16 & Hebrews 1:7
Dear Grace Church Family and Friends,
It happened again, as it so often does in my head, that two otherwise unrelated verses of Scripture converged in my mind and got me to thinking. (Pondering is the theologian’s verb for it. And, yes, sometimes it can become ponderous…) In all the Scriptures that mention God turning people to fire, only a very few of them, understandably, represent this as a positive thing. First there are the words of John the Baptist as he speaks of God’s action in our baptisms, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” (Luke 3:17), and then Hebrews 1:7 “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.” Perhaps because the idea of catching on fire, (or being set on fire for that matter), is not an especially attractive thought, it might be construed as having no positive outcomes. Yet, as these verses point out, catching (on) fire can be a good thing!
Have a read of Virginia Bishop Porter-Taylor’s thoughts on this very idea below.
Why Not Be Turned Into Fire?
“The church exists so that God has a community in which to save people from meaninglessness, by reminding them who they are and what they are for.” Alan Jones
Lent. Sometimes I wonder if we know what it’s about. We are tempted to turn it into a season of Spiritual Olympics. We think to ourselves, “Let me see how to put on the mantle of holiness by giving up some part of my life that will make me seem and appear to be more holy.” Maybe we forget that we are made in God’s image and in our Baptism are “Christ’s own forever.” When that happens, Lent can become our payment to deserve Easter.
No. Lent is the season for an internal and external personal garage sale. What is it that we carry that increases our forgetfulness about who we are and why we are here? What are the habitual actions that push us further away from our true self? What are our habits that keep us from living the life we long to live and God longs for us to live?
Yes, we need to take a moral inventory, but if we do not catch a glimpse of God’s love for us, then we cannot get to transformation. We may clean up our house, but let us remember that what we seek is resurrection. We don’t want to improve; we want to be made new.
There’s a story of a young monk who came to the Abbot of the monastery. The young monk said: “Abba, as much as I am able I practice a small rule, a little fasting, some prayer and meditation, and remain quiet, and as much as possible I keep my thoughts clean. What else should I do?” Then the old man stood up and stretched out his hands toward heaven, and his fingers became like ten torches of flame. And he said: “Why not be turned into fire?”
Why not indeed? This is a time for us to remember who we are and why we are here. We are made in the image of God and created to be agents of God in Christ’s work of transformation. Therefore, let us ask ourselves, “What are the habits that simply fill up the day but are not and cannot be agents of transformation?” More importantly, “What is our true self calling for us to do and to be? What’s the vision we have for ourselves and our world that our inner critic has dismissed because of its impracticability? Can we embrace it? Can we rededicate ourselves to it? Can we be set on fire?” Lent is the season of preparation for Holy Week; the period where we ask God to kill off our old self and old patterns and resurrect us. To go from our routines to being made new.
How do we do that? Well, poets point the way. Here’s a portion of Wendell Berry’s poem, “The Mad Farmer’s Manifesto:”
“So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it….
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest….
…Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
What keeps you from being the person God is beckoning for you to be? What’s the vision of yourself you long to incarnate? What’s a step you can take towards that? How can you be set on holy fire?
Let’s not settle for giving up chocolate. Lent is too important, and our lives are too short. Let’s be about an inner garage sale by letting go of the acts and habits that weigh us down. More importantly, let’s remember who we are in Christ and why we are here. Then let us live the lives God calls us to live because life is too short to do otherwise.
Let’s practice resurrection.