Reflections on the Fire - October 24th

Reflections on the Fire - October 24th

Well, it has NOT been a quiet week in Sacramento, California my hometown! By now you know that I cannot be with all of you at Shepherd by the Sea because of a fire that caused serious damage to the Office of the Bishop early Thursday morning. If you have looked at the photos of the fire and its aftermath on our web site you will understand the power of the words from our Old Testament lesson, “I will show portents in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood.”

Even now as I work from home, the smell of smoke lingers on my clothes and in my papers and books. We are in the midst of an event that will significantly change the way we operate as a diocese and as members of the bishop’s staff forever. This fire is a reminder that life can change in a moment, when we are least expecting it.

The season of Advent with its portents of end times, fire and earthquakes, birth and death, beginnings and endings does not begin until November 28. But today, October 24th, I changed the colors on my home altar to blue and purple to reflect my recent experience. We have entered an early Advent. Life has changed unexpectedly and we do not know what the future will be like. We are forced into a time of transition, a time of waiting, a time of uncertainty and insecurity.

This is not the first time in my life where things have been turned upside down in an instant. This is not even the first time I have been through a fire. The house I was living in during college burned down with most of my worldly possessions inside. I’ve been evacuated from the Oakland Hills fire and a fire near my home in Reno, not to mention the earthquakes and even erupting volcanoes that I’ve experienced! Each of you have stories to tell about late night phone calls, the sudden lurching of the earth, the world spinning as the car loses control, the doctor’s news that begins with “I’m sorry to tell you.”

It’s as if we’ve found ourselves in a small boat in the middle of a lake in the darkest part of the night with a raging sea and the wind against us. If you’re like me you want to start rowing and bailing as fast as you can. Even if our best efforts are futile we try to take control of the situation and wrestle the chaos into submission. It would almost be comical if it weren’t so poignant. It’s as if we believe we have power over destruction, calamity and even death. If we’re smart enough, good enough and hard working enough, God will reward us by making it all better. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable we believe that it is our strength, righteousness and moral fortitude that will protect and deliver us. This response - keeping busy, taking care of business, making lists and checking them twice - is often a defense against our own powerlessness and vulnerability. Sadly this type of behavior can keep us so occupied that we fail to see and experience the presence of God in the midst of our greatest need.

We are like the followers of Jesus who were in a boat in the middle of a storm on the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus slept they worked furiously against impossible odds to get across to the other side. Trusting in their own power and relying on their own strength, they failed to ask Jesus for help but instead woke him up and accused him of not caring that they were drowning. Their fear kept them apart from the one source of peace and calm that they most needed.

You may have heard similar words or said them yourselves during a time of great stress, “I’ve been doing everything right. I don’t deserve what’s happening to me. It’s not fair. Why is God letting this happen to me?” Sometimes these sentiments result in a complete break from God. It seems that God has let us down after all we’ve done for God and we don’t want to have anything more to do with him.
Another response to these life-changing events is to try and escape and hide from the pain and sorrow they cause. There are a hundred ways to mute our emotions and mask our suffering. We all have our secret means of numbing reality and fleeing from responsibility. There are so many ways to justify our failure to remain connected to God and others by escaping into our favorite vices. Our failure to face fear, insecurity, grief and pain may lead us to become dishonest about many other aspects of our lives and we can lose touch with our best and truest selves.

The tax collector in today’s parable provides a very different example for dealing with devastation. He is completely honest about his life and how he has become separated from God and his neighbor. He cries out for God’s mercy knowing that he has no power in himself to save himself. He is open and vulnerable, emotional in a way that shocked those around him. He could not even raise his head to try and figure out a way out of his dilemma. He cannot trust himself for rescue. His only recourse is to turn to God not trusting in his own power or righteousness.

Maybe you’ve got some storms raging in your life. Perhaps something you value has gone up in smoke. You might feel the ground underneath you shaking. Yet here you are this morning “in the boat” with the friends of Jesus. Even now he is awake and preparing to speak “Peace” to the wind and the sea. Even now as the psalmist says, “You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples.”
This very morning God is present to receive our complaints and laments, to still the racing of our anxious hearts, to comfort our sorrows and to bring life out of death. And even if you’re currently experiencing calm seas and smooth sailing, today’s discipline of prayer and worship, generosity and thankfulness are strengthening you for the days when life can change in the twinkling of an eye.

Thank you for your prayers and support during out time of difficulty.

© 2013 The Episcopal Diocese of Northern California.

Designed by: Element Fusion