Nature of Life

Fire and Rain

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. Through the flame, you will go. But it will not consume you.

The passage from Isaiah about God promising to be with us through hell and high water is almost as famous as James Taylor’s song: 

I've seen fire and I've seen rain. I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.

Isaiah’s lyrics were a comfort to the people of Israel as they returned from exile in Babylon. Most congregations have either a fire or a flood story, or both, in their archives. Unfortunately, for those being effected by this year's El Nino, the memory is in the process of being made. If you are currently in the midst of the flood, this scripture speaks over the millenium about our God, who never tires of saving us. If you are dry and comfortable, this is a good time to dig in the archives and discover your church's flood/fire story.

For James Taylor, the fire and the flood deals with his struggles against heroin addiction and mental illness. His lonely sojourn in a mental institution, forms the second of three stanzas about deep loss. Fire and rain seem appropriate metaphors for James to use to describe the wilderness that surrounded the suicide of a friend, the brutality of shock therapy, and the breakup of his band and friendships at Apple records.

I think it would be a mistake to simply think that its only the theme of water and flame that links James Taylor and Isaiah with Luke’s account concerning the fiery preaching of John and the Baptism of Jesus. All of these stories and lyrics hit us with a two by four. They scrape raw the memories of our darkest days.

Sunday, January 10, 2016
Epiphany 1

What's in the Way

Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I think that one of the things that made Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath was the way he welcomed what others saw as obstacles. For him, sabbath occurred when a woman was released from the burden of her painful back ailment. For others, sabbath was a weekly ritual that had to be done right in order to please a perfection hungry god. Jesus taught us to experience the glory of God in the midst of daily life and its struggles. Others were teaching that only those who separated themselves from family obligations and mundane tasks could be holy. Jesus showed us the importance of knowing our neighbor (literally, do you know the person next door?). John remembered this aspect of Jesus and said, “Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Others have said that you prove yourself a Christian by avoiding anyone you think might be sinning. It is amazing how often we listen to others rather than to Jesus.

Luke tells us that the religious leaders of his day were shamed when Jesus said, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" I can easily imagine circumstances where similar faults could be found with church life today, and no one would be ashamed. Consider:

Sunday, August 25, 2013
summer
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