It is not too often we get to hear Jesus in a rant. So when we do hear about Jesus driving home a point, we are naturally on guard and paying close attention. Today’s gospel is part of an ongoing conversation between Jesus and the disciples. Today’s gospel follows on from last week where Jesus talks about treasure and where our heart is, there our treasure is found; and the next passage that follows on from today’s gospel, where Jesus is talking about the disciples judging for themselves, taking matters into their own hands, as it were.
Today we hear a particularly juicy bit of the conversation. Jesus has come to bring fire and there is going to be much turmoil as sons and daughters are in conflict with their fathers and mothers and so on. Oh and then in the next breath, he talks about the weather. Couldn’t be more Canadian if he tried.
There is a lot going on in today’s gospel alone that it is hard to discern where our focus should be. For me, what stands out is the image of fire. Fire is a natural element we all relate to and have our own experiences. While living in Kelowna back in 2003, there was a great fire that spread rapidly moving along the Okanagan-Similkameen Valley from Naramata and Penticton through to Kelowna. This was a fire that was hard to control. Homes were destroyed, about 239 in total with thousands of people evacuated. You may well remember that fire too. It seemed that for the whole of the summer, Kelowna and the Okanagan was living in a cloud, transported to another world. So much so, that the fire - as can happen - developed it’s own weather system. So thick was the cloud of smoke that it almost blocked the sun to the point that the temperatures in town were noticeably cooler. It was only when you travelled away from town were you reminded of the extreme Okanagan sun and heat.
At the time I was the Chaplain at Camp Owaisi, an Anglican Camp along the west shore of Okanagan lake. As the fire made its way into Kelowna parents came to pick up their kids with the cars and camper vans loaded with as many possessions as possible as they prepared to leave town. People were afraid, very afraid of the unknown, the immediate and the future. Where were they to go? For how long were they supposed to be away? How far is safe? Would they have a house when they came back? So many questions, so few answers.
When they were able to return, and the fire eventually got under control and was ended. Life was different, very different. Driving through the neighborhoods that were most affected by the fire was like driving through a ghost town where the land had been scorched black and a small mound of brick remained, the remnants of a chimney to a house. Yet right next stood stood another house, almost untouched except for slight wilting to one side of the siding. Another house, across the street stood completely unscathed from the outside, windows, doors and chimney intact. Funny thing about the nature of fire and how random it chooses what to burn and what to leave.
It took a long time for people to return to a sense of normal and a routine of life after the fire. As life resumed, houses rebuilt and nerves settled the land and vegetation also changed. Slowly but surely fresh green blades of grass, shrubs and trees began to emerge through the blackened earth. Seeds that require fire to begin germination where now beginning to open and take root. Life was beginning to be restored. Restored and made whole for sure, only not in the same way. The fire had changed the land and the people. Life returned to a new normal as we all began to appreciate what we have, and the people in our lives.
Fire is powerful and evocative. Yes, it can be fearful and demands our respect. But it is also, at the same time, life giving. Remember Pentecost and how the flame of the Holy Spirit rested upon the disciples?
We find ourselves, you and me, once again in a stage of transition. Once again we find ourselves in uncertain times as together we begin the process of saying good-bye and farewell as you begin an Interim Period and I begin a new ministry in a new parish. The future is uncertain and there are many questions, many of them that have no clear answers, at least not yet.
While this is a time that can be filled with fear and uncertainty, it is also a time where hidden treasures and dormant seeds can begin to germinate and take root. Where the future will take you and I, remains in God’s hands. What we have, is the now. We have the present and where we are now with who we are and with the resources that God has entrusted us here at this time and in this place.
As our Gospel today concludes, with the question from our Lord, “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” It strikes me that the root of much of our anxiety at any given time is that we are often caught living in the past or in a future that has not yet been realized.
We live with the memory of how life used to be with its many gifts and blessings and the glory days of the past. Funny thing, how we don’t always hold onto the challenges of the past in the same way . . . At the same time we live with expectation of what a future will be. Depending on who we are and where we have come from, this is a future that fills us with excitement and anticipation or fear and more anxiety. The pendulum seldom rests in the present with the present gifts, joys and opportunity; and yes the present challenges as well, that it is easy to loose track of where we are in the hear and now. We lose track and sight of God in the midst of us, holding us and guiding us through to tomorrow and a new adventure.
So in the couple of months that we have together, I pray that we begin to see anew the gift of this time and the time we have together. That this may be a time that is life giving and hopeful as we hold up the accomplishments we have achieved together and the hope that our future, while uncertain, is one where we are called once more to become more fully alive in the image of God.