I remember my mother warning me to warm up my freezing hands with cold water not hot. I had come in from playing outside in the snow and my hands were icy-cold. I did not listen to her and used hot water instead. I was instantly sorry.
My hands felt like they were on fire! Right away I turned the tap to cold and like magic my burning frigid hands became warm.
This made me think about various Bible verses that point to God’s judgement as a refining fire.
“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. “He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness.” Malachi 3:2-3
For our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:29
John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Luke 3:16
… among others.
What if fire in this sense is really a metaphor for Love? If a person’s heart is cold and/or hardened, perhaps Divine Love feels like flames burning off the chaff or dross as it transforms one’s heart. This perspective could certainly alter our viewpoint and experience of God’s judgment.
Frankly, I have come to believe that the only way anyone and everyone is judged is in and through the lens of Love. All life is judged worthy of Love, to be Loved as Love.
For those who are lost, could this judgement of Love feel like an unpleasant scorching sensation in their souls … much like my cold hands under the hot water?
One evening I was in Dollar Tree looking for shelf milk for my father. Since I was having difficulty locating it, I asked a clerk. A tall young man with multiple tattoos and piercings, ear lobe plugs, long dreadlocks and a pleasant countenance gave me detailed directions to my item in the next aisle over. He was so present and loving I almost hugged him.
When I found the milk, I playfully said loud enough for him to hear me “I found it. Thank you.” And he responded in kind, “Your welcome.”
A couple of days later, I had a similar experience at Xfinity where I was taking care of some business with my internet/TV account. This time the sales representative was a stunning slim-built person, again with tattoos, piercings, ear lobe plugs, and red-dyed hair swept up in curls. I told them what I needed and they amended my account quickly and efficiently. I thanked them profusely.
I have no tattoos, two pierced ear lobes for earrings I rarely wear, and long, straight brunette hair with a gray streak. On the outside, I seem to have little in common with these human beings. On the inside, both encounters, and other similar ones, have left my heart smiling. I hope their hearts were smiling too.
Twenty years have passed since the movie ‘Love Actually’ premiered; it is one of my favorites. Diane Sawyer interviewed some of the actors from the film in a recent television special. The last question she asked each of them was to fill in the blank, “love actually is ___________.”
What would you say?
United Methodist congregations all across the United States are making decisions to disaffiliate with regard to openly LGBTQ+ clergy and the denomination’s stance on same-sex marriage.
Should a congregation decide to disaffiliate, stiff financial penalties will be enacted upon them by the larger Methodist governing body. Because of this, some churches are pursuing legal recourse to protect their assets from what they deem as punitive and unfair actions in the hopes that, should they win the lawsuit, the lack of penalties will make the vote to disaffiliate appear ‘fair.’
Other congregations—those choosing to remain affiliated with the historical UMC denomination–are listening to the often, painful stories of LGBTQ+ congregants and deciding to “err on the side of love.” By choosing to embrace the disenfranchised, they are bringing healing into this hurting world.
How would you vote?
The fog was as thick as pea soup when I was coming home after dark from a Holden prayer service at church. Even though I knew turning on the high beams would not help me see better, I still tried it a few times opting to continue with low beams. I kept looking for familiar landmarks, but everything looked different. Even a large four-way stop light on a dual highway, was engulfed in misty eeriness.
Ordinarily, I would have become frightened in this type of situation … but I didn’t. As I watched the light play out on the murky gloom, I thought about the seasons of Advent and Lent. Two seasons in the Christian year where light and the absence of light have significant allegorical meaning in preparing one for the holy days of Christmas and Easter.
My views about the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus have changed dramatically over the years. By asking questions, my spiritual growth has moved from a “private notion of salvation” to my “communion with everybody else”—as Richard Rohr says—from an ‘escape plan’ to a universal Christ awareness where Christ is in everyone and everything thus making all things Holy–as characterized by Brian McLaren.
Christmas … not a birthday celebration, but God reconciling the world to Gods-self by becoming one of us. Easter … not the punishment for our sin, but Jesus demonstrating that NOTHING—not even death–can separate us from the Love of God.
In God we live and move and have our being.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Love actually is … ALL that matters.
… maybe these weren’t random thoughts after all.
*My dog Polly Ann loves everybody, which is why I am using her image for this post.
**Dedicated to KEV and JN.