8/25/2019 1:34:10 PM
Reflection: Consuming Fire
For the last two weeks, we've met a God of fire. Today's reading from Hebrews 12:18-29 begins by describing how Moses met on Mt. Sinai but it doesn't stay there. By the end, we've moved on to the heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus, and how "our God is a consuming fire." A God who is fire is a bit scary. Like I said last week, we are way more comfortable with a God who is love, mercy, and forgiveness. We don't usually like to say that God is fire because fire, to us, burns. Fire can be scary. Our technology has gotten so advanced; we don't usually notice the fire that's around us. But in Jesus' time, fire was always present. The night was illumined by the flames from candles and torches. Food was cooked in ovens heated by open fires. Blacksmith shops and jewelers used super- heated fire to refine metal into something more whole and pure. Fire was, and still is, dangerous. But fire, in Jesus' time, defined was a visible part of everyday life. The fire around him did more than destroy or cause harm. Instead, it gave light, warmth, and food to the community. A God who was all consuming wasn't only burning things up. God was also refining people into something new. The God would could shake mountains is the same God who has consumed you. And, in the process, God is already shaping you into who you are meant to be.
Today's passage has been used to push aside or downplay the Jewish experience. It begins with comments about Moses meeting God at Mt. Sinai and then points to our meeting Jesus in the new Jerusalem. Our instinct might be to try and compare the two experiences but I don't think we have to. I'm not sure if the author of Hebrews is trying to say that one experience is better than the other. Instead, it's possible that the author was trying to remind the people he was speaking to (who were mostly not Jewish) that they have already met God. In baptism, in worship, and in the love we share with each other, that's how we see and experience Jesus Christ. We might want or desire a moment like Moses had on Mt. Sinai but we have, through the ordinary experience of church, already met Jesus himself. It isn't only those big and over-the-top experiences of God that shape, form, and refine us. It's also the little moments, the mundane one we don't even recognize as moments, that make us who we are. You have already met Jesus and he's already become a part of your life. And since that's true, that means when people meet you, they're meeting Jesus too. That is one of the gifts and challenges of our baptism. We are, through Jesus, united with him and his entire community. But that also means that we are the primary medium through whom people meet Jesus. You are, by baptism, connected with the God that can shake heaven itself. And that connection also means that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, the love, grace, and mercy you share can move mountains too.