Will you take a moment with me to imagine something? To use the imagination of hope that we have been cultivating all week to dream with me for a second?
Perhaps if you feel comfortable, you can even close your eyes for a second to dream a little.
Imagine being at peace. Allow images of peacefulness to flow through your mind. What does peace look like? What does peace feel like? Does peace have a smell? A taste? A sound? Do you have that picture in your mind?
Now imagine for a moment that you are in a blacksmith shop of days of old. There is metal all around being shaped into tools. Fire rages in the center of the room. It feels hot and humid. You can taste a bitterness on your tongue from the smells in the air, from the impurities being burnt from the final product. You hear the sound of the blacksmith working, hammering the metal into shapes. Do you have that picture in your mind?
Okay, open your eyes. So what did you see? What was your picture like when you thought of peace?
open country, flowers & trees, a great feast before you, people around (or not), beach, sun, warm (but not too much), cool breeze
Did anyone picture a blacksmith shop when they thought of peace?
Anyone consider a hot work space with loud noises and funking smells?
Generally speaking, when we think of peace, metal working does not come to mind.
But the Holy Scriptures, as always, challenge us to think deeply. To image more wildly than we ever thought we could. To put on a different pair of lenses and think for a moment the way that God thinks—not that we will ever be able to think like God, but the Scriptures open us up to another world, a place full of imagination that we could never go to if not for God’s Holy Spirit.
And today, our Scripture takes us deep into the world of metallurgy.
Who is God? (VS 3:3). God is like a metal worker.
Now, we hear at Kerr have begun a journey. It started last week. It is a journey through Advent. Through the season of waiting. The season in which we look deeply at our own reality. A season which we say: Yes, the Lord Jesus has come. Yes, Jesus has defeated sin and death. Yes, we are no longer bound by anything in this world because we have been set free by the power of the Holy Spirit who is at work in me and in you. We give praise to God and sing Hallelujah that Christ has come.
And at the very same time, Advent is about recognizing that while Christ has come and changed everything, we still live in a very broken world. We still in a very real way are bound by the limitations of our bodies. We are still bound by the limitations of our minds. We still experience sin and death and suffering. We are still awaiting the day when Christ will come again and will gather us up and create a new heaven and a new earth.
We live in the now and in the not yet. We live in the season of advent. The season of waiting.
And as we wait, we wait actively. We pray and worship and read the Scriptures and we put our trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into the people we are called to be. This year, we are looking particularly at four virtues: four things that God calls us to be and shapes us into becoming more and more. We are looking at: Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.
Today, is the day of peace.
So, it should surprise you that our Scripture is about Fire.
Most of us don’t associate peace with fire.
But God who sees beyond, teaches us to dream differently.
This week I have been thinking a lot about addiction.
The events of this week have broken our hearts yet again as yet another child of our church has been taken from us too young. For many the battle with opioid addiction is one of long suffering. Many are battling this sickness, this demon, this addiction which tries to take over us. No matter how we name it, we see that it is a powerful force which is taking too many lives. One life would be too many. Here in Allegheny County, just in Allegheny County—not in the state of PA or in the nation—but just here in our small county there were 735 deaths last year to opioid overdoses alone. Our community is dying.
All of us are affected by the opioid crisis. All of us know someone who is bound by addiction. Some know people who have lost their lives to overdoses. Some know people who are incarcerated in relation to addiction. Some of us are recovering addicts ourselves. Some of us are still battling our addictions. Too many of us are loosing our lives to this battle. Too many of us are facing irreversible consequences because of this illness. Too many of us are leaving behind our own children as we ourselves die as children. Our hearts are broken.
Peace? You ask? Yeah, right, Pastor, there is no peace here.
And in seeing no peace, we turn our eyes once again to Scripture. To the Lord of all. To the One who is bigger. Who knows more. Who can see beyond.
This is the promise of peace.
Notice it is not all puppies and flowers. It is not warm spring days or even cool evening by a campfire.
It is a hot burning.
For whatever ever reason, I have never been a heroin addict. I’ve never been a pill addict. I’ve never used opioids. I have other battles, but this is not mine. Those of us who do not share in this struggle need to come alongside others who do. Listen to their stories. Love them—sometimes with tough love. Sometimes more softly. And when we do, we find that it truly is a battle. A war raging in each one.
For many of us that have not battled with an addiction, it can be difficult to understand addiction. I’ve heard people say: well, why didn’t they just get clean? There are some in this room who can tell you it’s just not that easy. Even coming through the first steps of withdrawal is a difficult process. The body believes that it needs a drug. It produces a literal fever, producing heat in the body—calling us to take more of the substance. A refinement process happens as we let go of the drug; burning off the thing that was killing us. We get worst before we get better.
I’ve been watching cancer patients go through this as well. There is something inside them that is destructive; their own body, their own cells have suddenly mutated and are working against them. And the only way to get better is to get worse. The treatment can be awful. Many of us have gone through chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Some have lost their hair. Others have had multiple surgeries to remove the cancerous cells.
Heat, shaping, refining.
The way to peace. Full peace. Healing, heath, restored relationships with family members, community, God, with our own bodies. The way to peace is often paved with fire.
If we want to be whole, we have to go through the fire.
God has a plan and purpose for us to mold us into a beautiful tool to be used for God’s glory, but often we have to go through the fire to become as God intends.
And it’s not just with things that many of us consider severe like addiction and cancer.
There are other things in our lives which take hold of us which cause us to be different than God intends. Perhaps we struggle with sugar. We try to give up the sweets, knowing they can cause Type II diabetes and obesity, causing us to be sick and unable to do the things we want to do.
Perhaps it’s not sweets, but salty foods. French Fries have been shown to have a powerful addicting quality. And scientists have just released that a serving of french fries is 6 fries. 6. Did you see that? The internet is going crazy over this. People are like: wait, you mean 6 fries in one bite, right, not six fries total. But no, it means 6 fries is all we get if we want to be healthy.
Perhaps it’s not something we put into our bodies physically, but instead something we turn to to find peace instead of looking towards the only true bringer of peace. Perhaps that is shopping during the holiday, even when we know that we don’t have money to do so and will be paying off those credit card debts long into next year.
Perhaps it is obsessively watching TV or arguing with people on Facebook. Sometimes we choose to seek-out relationships with a box as a substitute for doing the difficult work of building meaningful relationships, which always requires forgiveness.
And it’s not always a turning away from things that have potential to take over our lives, causing us harm. Sometimes it is working towards good things which brings out the refiners fire. Putting up Christmas Trees, for instance.
Yes, there is a peace which comes over us when we consider becoming the people who God wants us to be, but there is also apprehension. We might wonder what is meant by refining? How much will it hurt? What will I have to give up to become refined? What will be taken from me?
The process of becoming is not an easy one. Healing does not happen without medicine. Purification does not happen without heat. Liberation does not come without a battle.
The Good News today, brothers and sisters, is that God is at work. We live in these difficult days of yes, but not yet. Of knowing that Jesus Christ has come and yet waiting for Christ to come again. But God is the great Blacksmith. God is working to refine us day by day. It is not our work to become, but instead as we show up at God’s workshop day by day, allowing God to mold us, God does the work.
And just as one polishes silver until they can see their own face reflecting back, God is polishing us. Making it possible that the image of God becomes a reflection with us. Pulling us back into God’s loving arms that we may have the image of God restored in us.
Let us give thanks to the one who is the true Prince of Peace.