Grace and peace to you, friends.
A week or so ago I had the opportunity to join some friends in serving a family near Zumbro Falls with clean-up from a devastating flood that hit the area in late September. This particular family had been renting a trailer house that was completely covered in water. The young adults living there pretty much left everything as it had to be destroyed anyway. Turned out FEMA wouldn’t haul the trailer away unless it was emptied of all it’s contents. Since the family who owned it was trying to clean up their own place and also has a few health issues, they invited us to come and clean out the trailer.
Five of us went at it. The woman wanted everything burned, so we began making a big pile of soaked stuff. Beds, tables, chairs, sofas, three closets full of clothes. Food, books, blankets. We used a little gas to get the fire going and hot, and amazingly these wet things burned pretty well. It was quite a fire. The only thing we saved was the kitchen cabinets as the water didn’t quite get up to them. Appliances, furnace, water heater. All out. We made a separate pile for the variety of electronics that were in the house…stereo, tv’s, dvd players. It really was a mess.
At one point, the woman was standing by the fire with tears in her eyes. I asked if she was ok. She said she just felt bad for the “kids” that were living there who lost everything.
As I stood there with her, silently watching the fire burn on this overcast day, I thought how odd it was that the trailer was destroyed by water, and then we were completing the job by throwing it all in the fire
Being the pastor that I am, I couldn’t help but think of the water and fire images that occur early in the stories of Jesus. John is out baptizing people in the Jordan river for the forgiveness of sins…using water as an outward sign of an inward grace of cleansing the soul. But he says that there is one who will come after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. So, for the Christian, this whole idea of baptism has something to do with both cleansing and purifying…destroying the sin and making us holy…so that we can start over, rebuilding our lives in a new way, with new hope and grace. The model or pattern of that new life of course, is Jesus himself.
A little later we decided to have lunch. We had enough to share with the family and invited them to join us. We had pleasant conversation. But we also had devotions. We invited the family to join us for devotions which they did. It was during that time that the woman shared her anger with God about all the destruction from the flood. It was also during that time that her brother (who just had his leg amputated and had been in wheel chair during the flood) shared with all of us how much he loved his sister. What a great servant she was. How she gave of herself for him and the community, even when she wasn’t in great health herself. And he apologized for not ever saying that before. Once again there were tears in most of the eyes around that circle as fears and doubts were expressed, but also hope and life and love and forgiveness. As we ended that time together we prayed. God’s healing grace was evident in the prayers of each one, even the angry woman, and the agnostic brother.
Water and fire and servanthood brought reconciliation and healing and hope. And I think that is what followers of Jesus are supposed to do in this world. We are not about power. We are not about winning (an election, for example). We are not about “taking back this country”. We are not about “change”. We are not about being against this, or for that. We are about reconciliation and healing and hope. The way we bring this message to the divided, hurt and despairing world we live in really, really matters. I think it starts with humility and servanthood.
I want to encourage you today to think of an area of life where you have been angry, hurt or broken and let the waters of baptism and the fire of the Holy Spirit bring forgiveness, and renewal and hope to you. And, at work or at home, be an agent of reconciliation and peace. Do not work for conflict and hate. I know that when we get this right, our world, your world, will become a better place.
May God bless you richly in these days!