Benediction Online

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Into the Flame

Sometimes one of my cats will refuse to come in at night because she’s having such a good time chasing moths. The best way to get her in is to turn off the outside lights so that the insects are no longer attracted to it. Moths are drawn to light to such an extent that they will fly into a flame and get die in its heat. We humans are drawn to God but to get too close has meant certain death, Ever since the first people realized that they were separate from God, for us to come too close has been fatal. Moses was not allowed to see God’s face, only his back and the people of Israel were not even allowed to touch the mountain where Moses spoke with God; only the priests after proper precautions were allowed in the Holy of Holies where God’s presence dwelled; Isaiah on seeing a vision of the heavenly court responded, ‘Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips.’

Like moths in a flame we would die in God’s immediate presence. Today we celebrate God’s solution. God did not put special barriers around himself so that we would not get too close but instead God sent his Son, an integral part of Godself, to die and rise again so that we might no longer die. This is the awesome mystery of Easter. Now we can come into God’s presence without fear. Now we can fly into the flame and not be consumed.

It’s been many, many generations since the first Easter and I wonder if we take this too much for granted. I have never known anyone who died because they mishandled holy things or because they tried to be too intimate with God. I am used to the idea that God wants to be my best friend, my parent, my guide and is just waiting for me to let Him. I am used to the idea that God is waiting eagerly to hear my every thought should I care to direct it to Him.

We have domesticated God and treat him like some kind of household pet who doesn’t need feeding and patiently waits for us to give it attention. Now I don’t know about your cats, but I know that mine would never stand for that kind of treatment.

So do we treat God as though God is less important than a cat?

Mary did not recognize Jesus in the garden. Very often we do not recognize God in our lives. For Jesus first resurrection appearance we might expect a heavenly choir, a trumpet fanfare, a little bit of excitement, but no, just a man in a garden blending in with his surroundings. That is often the way God comes to us, quietly and disguised in circumstances, in an odd whim, in the words or actions of others.

If we could only meet God in the temple, if we had to perform elaborate rituals and were afraid that a misstep could result in death, then we would attach so much more importance to the meeting. It would be noticeable and remarkable.

We have the incredible privilege of meeting God wherever we are, whatever we are doing and whatever we are wearing! It doesn’t matter who we are, God is available to us because since Jesus died and rose again, we no longer die if we not careful in God’s presence.

But God’s unassuming availability means that we might miss meeting him. I am a great fan of Gilbert and Sullivan - English light opera from the late nineteenth century. Once a year the Performing Art Center brings a touring company who perform one of the popular operettas. I do everything I can to go. But I know that if they were performing here every week I’d probably go once or twice a year if that. It would no longer be so special. But since they come once a year I am attentive. I look for the Performing Arts Calendar, I hope they’ll be coming again and I look forward to it.

It is that quality of attentiveness and anticipation which we need to prevent us taking Jesus’ resurrection and the opportunity to be in relationship with God for granted. Once we start to pay attention and to notice God’s grace in our lives, once we start to give thanks for all that God has given us, then our lives begin to take on new meaning. Because we are made to be in relationship with the divine, and as we invite the Holy Spirit to transform us and as we say “not my will but thine’ a whole new life is ours.

Because life is really what it’s all about. Jesus brought life. Jesus gave his life so that we might have abundant life, the life that flows from being filled by God’s amazing and powerful love.

The message of Easter Day is that God loves you and me so much that there is nothing we can do which will make Him stop loving us. Even after we called for him to be crucified and nailed God to a cross in hatred he still came back to give us yet another chance.

If we take that for granted, we are missing out on so much. Like moths drawn to a flame, we are drawn to God. But there isn’t the same compulsion. We can fly around, saying ‘Hmm, I think this is probably the wrong angle’ or “I want to take my own individual flight path’ or ‘well I was going in with them but I just don’t like the way they sing’. We can come up with millions of excuses and then lose interest altogether – go off and fly around in the dark having a great life, but all the time missing something.

Or we can just go for it.

We can decide that living for and with God is the number one priority in our lives.
We can fly directly toward the flame, toss caution to the winds and throw ourselves on the mercy of God’s grace. We can believe that Jesus really has conquered death and that though we may be changed we will not be entirely burned and consumed as we engage passionately with the almighty and everliving God.

I hope that you will join me in coming in from the dark and the half light, trusting in Jesus’ resurrection, and flying full speed ahead into the flame of God’s extravagant love.


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