Between water and fire

I have shared before how, at the age of 14, a word of prophecy was spoken over my life which left me a little skeptical, and a lot afraid:

But now, this is what the Lord says – he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel:

‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.

When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.

Isaiah 43:1-2 (NIV)

Today, as I was reflecting on the foundation of my faith story as part of a six-week in-life retreat, I had an epiphany: that it has often been in the most difficult moments of my journey (the desolation) that I have grown the most in faith and humility and obedience.

The image above came into my mind of how God has held me through it all; for there have been fires and floods aplenty.

So … for those who – like the Wise Men that we remember today – are setting out on an adventure, answering God’s call, or just taking life’s journey step by small step with little or no certainty of how they are going to get through today, let alone tomorrow, a promise and a prayer:

God of Israel, God of Jacob,
God who creates, who names,
who forms, and transforms,
let me live this day in the space between
the blazing fire of Pentecost
and the cool waters of baptism.

When life’s flames threaten to burn,
and the floods to sweep me way,
keep me from fear –
for I live here:
safe in your hand.

Hold me in this place –
despite the discomfort:
here where the fire tests and purifies and refines me
but can do no harm;
here where the waters wash me clean and smooth out my rough edges
so that I rise reborn but never undone.

And may I live through all –
the light and the dark,
the joy and the sorrow,
the searching and the knowing,
the wrestling and the growing –
to proclaim Your faithfulness
to all generations,
Great God who never lets me go.

From Sand to Stream

I’m captivated by the selection of Scriptures for this first Sunday in Lent  (lectionary readings) which have much to do with this sacred time of preparation for Easter being a period of promise as  God’s draws ever nearer in the acts of repentance, affirmation, retreat, and testing.

Below is an idea for entering a time of worship and fellowship with the call to worship being taken from the Gospel for a refreshing change and the Psalm being used later in the service as a responsive prayer of confession/promise after the sermon/meditation.

The altar/focal point should be set up with a tray or box (preferably perspex) of sand covered with small pebbles and a blue flowing scarf to resemble water or a jug and bowl into which water can be poured during the prayer of invocation.

Call to Worship: Mark 1: 9-15 (NCV)

Reader 1:
At that time Jesus came from the town of Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan River. Immediately, as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven open. The Holy Spirit came down on him like a dove, and a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love, and I am very pleased with you.”

Reader 2:
Then the Spirit sent Jesus into the desert. He was in the desert forty days and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and the angels came and took care of him.

Reader 3:
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, preaching the Good News from God. He said, “The right time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Change your hearts and lives and believe the Good News!”

 

Prayer of Invocation

God.

God, You are.

God, You are everywhere.

God of sand,
God of stream,
God of everywhere
in between…

God of the dry places
where the sun beats down
and the rivers dry up
and the grasses brown …

God of the streams
where creatures meet
to quench their thirst
and escape the heat …

God of hearts
as hard as stone,
struggling through life
as though alone…

God of children
called by grace,
to meet You
in this sacred space …

bless us
in this time of Lent;
change our lives
as we repent;

give us eyes to see
and ears to hear:
the time has come,
our God draws near.

Come. Drink. Flow.

A reflection for Pentecost. Based on John 7:37-39

There is a story* told by the rabbis of old of a great and harsh desert which people were hesitant to cross because of its scorching heat and shifting sands. In the midst of the barren and dangerous wilderness was a well so deep that you couldn’t even see down to the water within it so people had forgotten what it was and what it was there for.

One day, a man who had to cross the white sands came across it and stopped to wonder at its presence and its purpose. And, as he wondered, he noticed a rusty, cup-shaped object half-buried nearby and a half-a-dozen golden strands scattered around around the strange structure.

While hundreds of others had passed by in too much of a hurry over the years, this man took the time to examine each new discovery, and to wonder whether they fit together and if they could somehow help reach the damp coolness that he could feel coming off from the inside of the sturdy stones.

After a long while of pondering and playing, he settled on tying all of the strands together and the big cup with a handle to one end.

Cautiously, he lowered it into the pit and, just as he reached the very end of his makeshift rope, he heard a strange sound and felt the weight of the bucket – for that’s what the rusty object was – shift.

So he heaved and he heaved and, finally, hauled out a bucket full of the purest, clearest water. And as he drank deeply, he was changed – along with his whole view of the desert world around him.

Now the story actually has two endings. In the first, the man set off on his way again, leaving the bucket and the many strands tied together so that the next person could easily reach and taste the transforming water. In the second, before heading off he carefully untied the golden strands and scattered them again so that the next person to come across the well would have the experience of figuring out the puzzle and finding the treasure of the deep well for themselves.

I wonder which ending you think best.

 

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus finds himself in a dangerous place: the Jewish leaders already hate him and are plotting to kill hm, his disciples are pressuring him to be more of a public figure than he wants to be, and the people are whispering about whether he is a good man or simply a great liar.

Yet, as he stands on the temple courts on the last day of the great festival of Tabernacles, he extends this gracious, grace-filled invitation to them all:

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

We all need to hear this invitation on this day of Pentecost for we are living in dangerous times; in a dry and barren place cunningly camouflaged as a welcoming oasis by the luxuries of air-conditioning and uber-eats and internet shopping and thousands of uplifting, motivational messages sent straight to our inbox or Facebook stream.

Even as we advance technologically and acquire more and more stuff to give substance and a vague sense of purpose to our pretty mediocre, mundane lives, we lose the capacity for silence and wonder, for compassion and justice, for unconditional and all-encompassing love.

Like the man in the desert who took time to pick up and put together all of the scattered pieces and gain the refreshing, transforming waters of the deep well, we need to mull over and take time with Jesus’ words to us today if we long to live beyond the shallowness and superficiality of this day and age.

 

In an inhospitable, suspicious world of high fences, diverted faces, and people always on the GO-GO-GO, Jesus’ first word to us is one of intimacy. COME!

“Come” is the eternal invitation to “approach,” “advance,” “draw near.”

“Come” is the starting point of a conversation, a friendship, a journey, an adventure.

“Come” reminds us of the open arms of God and God’s continual desire to be with us …

… even when we are broken, disobedient, angry, fearful, empty, questioning, thirsty.

The first step towards deeper, Spirit-filled living lies in drowning out all of the noise, the pressure, the demands, and taking a deliberate step closer to God.

“Come.”

 

But drawing near to God is just the beginning for the next word comes as a command: DRINK!

Imagine for a moment that you are out at a friend’s house, sitting comfortably together when she asks you if she can get you anything. Immediately, you reply, “Actually, I am quite thirsty. I would love a glass of water!”

She returns a few minutes later with a cup of cool, clear water in her hands which she holds out to you but you simply sit there and stare with your own arms crossed. Will your thirst be quenched by looking at the glass?

Of course not!

It requires you to reach back, receive, and deliberately drink deeply of what is on offer.

How many times do we come to God and feel like we are leaving empty-handed, with unanswered prayer, because we’ve actually been holding on too tightly to things that distract and destroy us? How often do we make time to draw near God in worship and walk away feeling irritated or unfed because our constant internal critique of the worship team, the sermon, how we were greeted – or not welcomed – at the door has kept us from hearing the word that God intended?

“Drink.” Jesus commands.

“Take hold of the grace, the love, the wisdom, the peace, the healing, the guidance, the strength that you find in my presence and make it part of you.”

Once again, the act is deliberate. “Drinking” requires attention and intention – not to mention a good dose of humility for reaching out and taking hold is an expression of something we lack, of something we need.

 

But when we drink deeply of the Spirit of God, when we take the grace we have received into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our communities, something amazing happens: we are changed in a way that changes the world.

Jesus’ final word to us in today’s reading is a promise: “living water will flow from within them.” FLOW!

Many years ago, we purchased a home with an annoying dripping tap next to our patio. The constant trickle of water stained the bricks black with algae that Darren (my husband) had to scrape off every few weeks. He tried brute strength to force the tap closed. He even replaced the rubber stopper but still the water drip-drip-dripped.

Eventually, at my mom’s suggestion, we placed an old cast iron bath tub beneath it; filled it with soil, and planted Louisiana irises which flourished from the constant trickle that had once irritated us so.

Now I’m not suggesting that we, as Christians, become irritating drips to others, but I am wondering: if a trickle of water can bring a bathtub of soil and bulbs into an abundance of life and beauty, what can the free flowing waters of God’s Spirit accomplish? If the unexpected treasure of a deep well in the midst of the desert can change the way a man sees the world and make him consider the legacy he wants to leave for others, how does the Spirit within us open up new ways of looking and loving and living?

“Come. Drink,” Jesus says, “And the Spirit will flow.”

We need to be intentional about the first two words, then God will take over and open the floodgates for there is an everlasting abundance of Spirit to be shared.

Why, then, do we keep trying to tighten the taps? Why do we so often hoard and hold into the grace we have received as if there is not enough to go around?

Raised in the desert world as we are, we learn lies from an early age like, “I’ve earned this,” or “people like that are not worthy,” or “I won’t give them a hand because they’ll take the whole arm.” These moral judgments, entitlements, inadequacies all act like dams in the river of God’s Spirit, interrupting the flow.

 

This Pentecost may we receive the word of invitation and come to God as we are – deliberately drawing near.

May we hear the command and drink deeply of the grace on offer from the One who loves us most and knows exactly what we need in this present moment.

And may we trust the words of promise and break down the barriers in our hearts which keep the Spirit from flowing in a way that brings beauty and life to others.

***

* This story has been draw from the Godly play lesson entitled “The Parable of the Deep Well.”

 

In overwhelming waters

Isaiah 43:1-2 But now this is what the Lord says – he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.  When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

Here lies who I am –

the measure of my worth.

I am precious, honoured,

beloved in the eyes of God.

God created me for God’s glory.

God formed me and made me.

God redeemed me.

God called me by name.

I belong to God.

Though the darkness presses heavily upon me

and the chaos threatens to overwhelm me;

though my feet are so often knocked out from under me

and I feel like I am losing my way;

though, at times, I can barely keep my head above water;

though I am battered and broken,

bruised, burned, and sometimes burned out …

nothing can separate me from the love of God.

I belong to God.

Oh loving God, in my belonging may I find strength.

In my belonging, may I live out your love.

In my belonging, may I know no fear.

In my belonging, may my life overflow with generosity, compassion, and joy.

In my belonging, may I step through the fires and through the waves

for I am never alone.

I belong to you.

Amen.