Experiencing God Through Refining Fire

Written by Pastor Mark

Theme Background

As originally conceived this Sunday was going to be a study of how fire can be a blessing to an ecological landscape.  I’ve heard stories of the Tillamook Burn, but the several fires that made up that burn all took place before I was born.  By far the most memorable example for me is the Yellowstone National Park fire in 1988.  The fire was the result of increasing evidence that fire was good for the ecosystem, in fact it was necessary for a healthy forest.  The policy was instituted in the 70’s, but it was the 1988 fires that put the policy to the test.  It was a huge fire that burned over 150,000 acres of forests.  We were visiting Montana that summer and the effects of the fire could be seen everywhere, in the smoke plume which blotted out the summer sun, in the ash which fell from the sky several hundred miles away, and by the outcry of the media about the folly of allowing such a priceless national treasure to burn to the ground.

We visited the park a few years later and it was amazing how quickly the park recovered.  Only 1% of the soil was heated enough to kill seeds and roots under the surface.  The lodgepole pines which need fire to regenerate came back in abundance.  Some surveys found up to one million new trees per acre of the burned lands.  Fire is a necessary part of that ecosystem.  So, how do we make this into an experience we can share?  Do we take one of our buses on a tour of Yellowstone?  Do we visit the Tillamook Burn where you can’t even see much evidence of those fires?  Luckily Robin came across a much more portable example of how fire is good and necessary.  It’s coffee!  The idea was contained in a novel she read this summer called “Slow Dancing on Prince’s Pier”.  Here is how the book begins:

What I love about coffee is this: the dramatic change a coffee cherry goes through before it becomes a coffee ‘bean.’

If you’ve every dumped out a bag of fresh-roasted coffee beans, you’ve probably stolen a sniff of that gorgeous, earthy aroma.  You must have marveled at that glossy, dark sheen.

But the smell and those oils simply did not exist in the coffee cherry when it was little more than a hard green fruit growing on a mountainside.

It’s fire that forces the transformation from seed to bean.  Roasting alters the seed’s makeup—an intense molecular restructuring.

In that way, I think coffee cherries aren’t much different from people.  Heat and pressure change us.  When we walk through fire—and we all do at some point—we come out the other side to find ourselves altered.  If we’re lucky, we become richer, more complex, more alluring people because of our trials.  But sometimes, we just get burned.

In this light, God’s actions of punishment in the reading from Isaiah may also be seen as planting the seeds for new growth.  The vineyard God provided them will be burned up, but God will not abandon them.  Jesus says he has come to set a fire.  I usually think of that as a bad thing, but fire can be good.  Yes, it destroys the large above-the-surface structures we so admire.  But the roots and seeds are still fine, and may thrive in the newly de-vegetated surface.  I think God is preparing the church in north America for new growth.  It may look like a fire sale right now.   But God is active under it all, and I believe new growth is coming alive just under the surface.

Jesus has come to light a fire within us, to release our passions and let them loose in the world—just like a wonderful batch of just roasted coffee beans.  It’s a pleasing aroma.

Quotes for the Week

Do the things you used to talk about doing but never did.  Know when to let go and when to hold on tight.  Stop rushing.  Don’t be intimidated to say it like it is.  Stop apologizing all the time.  Learn to say no, so your yes has some oomph.  Spend time with the friends who lift you up, and cut loose the ones who bring you down.  Stop giving your power away. Be more concerned with being interested than being interesting.  Be old enough to appreciate your freedom, and young enought to enjoy it.  Finally know who you are.              Ritu Ghatourey

It is worth remembering that the time of greatest gain interms of wisdom and inner strength is often that of greatest difficulty.              Dali Lama

Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.        William Butler Yeats

st Lesson Isaiah 5:1-7 (NRSV)

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. 2 He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. 3 And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. 4 What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? 5 And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. 6 I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. 7 For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

Gospel Lesson Luke 12:49-56 (NRSV)

“I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 52 From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; 53 they will be divided: father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” 54 He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. 55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. 56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

Questions for the Week                                                                         Describe a big fire you have been through in your own life.  How did you get through it?

What is one passion in your life that is being pushed down?  What would happen if your released it?

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