Thursday, February 09, 2017

Reflections on the Sixth Sunday After the Epiphany, Year A: I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain

If you choose, you can keep the commandments,
and to act faithfully is a matter of your own choice.
He has placed before you fire and water;
stretch out your hand for whichever you choose.
Before each person are life and death,
and whichever one chooses will be given.
For great is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power and sees everything;
his eyes are on those who fear him,
and he knows every human action.
He has not commanded anyone to be wicked,
and he has not given anyone permission to sin.
Sirach 15:15-20
We struggle with dualism in the West. Either "x" or "y" precludes assumption of any other options. It is either up or down, near or far....good, or bad. That last one gets us. It's right up there with right or wrong. We like things to be revealed in stark contrasts, and limiting the options tends to lower our stress. Remember the anxiety over those multiple choice quizzes back in school? The logic problems? Trying to keep an eye on all those variables gave me nightmares. What did they do to you? Some folks can dwell in those fluid, changing realms...but for the most part our comfort rests in dualities. You see, if the odds are 50/50, and we can maximize the chance to choosing the "right" option; then we stand the chance of making the "right" choice and are thus able to avoid the "wrong" choice.

In the reading above, and in the other reading from Deuteronomy offered for Sunday, It is a seductive temptation to assume that God is offering a clear, value-apparent choice between life (obedience to God's Will/Law) and death (disobedience and thus, sin). God sets a choice before us, in Jesus ben Sirach's writings it is likened to fire and water being placed before us, this life or death choice. Simple, yes? Choose life. LIFE!

But, which choice represents life? Fire, which gives warmth and drives away danger, that illumines and cooks food? Water, which is the very essence of our being, necessary to keep our salts balanced in our bodies, to offer hydration and irrigation? Fire, which burns and destroys? Water, which erodes, washes away, drowns?

This dualism is not so dualistic anymore, is it?

The image above shows two hands, one fire and one water. In their proximity, the flame extinguishes while water vaporizes. With them is an observation from the old sage Aesop: "It is with our passions as it is with fire and water; they are good servants but poor masters." The wisdom writer might have been cribbing from Aesop's notes: Fire and water ARE good servants when we they are tools in our hands that are guided with mindful care. They are also destructive masters, threatening conflagration and flood when they are out of control.

God sets before us....choice. Simple enough. The Law, God's will for us made manifest in the Hebrew scriptures, gives us an effective tool, a lens through which to see the world and to qualify our relationships with each other and in obedience to God. The letter of the Law guides the human heart. Still, salvation history tells us that guidance was not enough when set against our latent inconstancy. In Christ's teachings, as He strives to fulfill the Law in our hearing, the tension between the letter of the Law and God's intent for us is made more apparent. We have been given the great gift of freedom: freedom to make choices. What we choose....and how we choose....really matters.

Fire and water are good servants, but poor masters.

Jesus teaches to heart of the wisdom noted above....know that you are free to choose. Learn and grow in wisdom enough to choose that which takes us deeper into God and into more godly relationships with each other. Once learned, put those teachings into practice. Then, be wise enough to recognize that choice is not just "one and done," but an ongoing, life-long journey. Fire and water dance around us constantly in their eternal reel. Life and death continually wrestle in our consciences, in our hearts.

Choose life; then choose it again....and then again. When you stumble...and you will...choose to rise repentant and start the choosing over again; and while that happens, remember that you are beloved of God. Remember that God is the one who loved us so much as to give us freedom, is the one who loves us enough to hold us accountable for those choices, and is the one who loves us enough to forgive us and receive us when we stumble, over and over again.

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