Becoming Fire

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                                               Nov. 19, 2017

Matthew 25:14-30

Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves and gravity, we shall harness for God energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world we will have discovered fire.”

There is an ancient story that comes from the Desert Fathers in the third century: Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: “Why not become fire?”

Becoming fire, for Christine Valters Paintner, means to let our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world.[1] We each contain a divine spark, which we can fan into flame when we put our talents and abilities into service. This gives us an interpretive key into understanding this parable of the talents.

The master gave each of his three slaves talents. A talent was the equivalent of 15 years of wages, so this was no small sum of money. He gave to each of them according to what he thought they could manage—10 talents, 5 talents, or 1 talent. The two with more talents were able to double their amounts, while the slave who only received one talent simply buried it to protect it and return it with no loss to his master. Upon return from a long journey, the master was pleased with the investment savvy of the first two, but disgusted with the fear-based protective strategy of the third.

But is this parable about high-risk investment of money? Most commentators read it within the context of the rest of the chapter, where Jesus has arrived in Jerusalem to confront the abuses of power as he celebrates the Passover. He has entered what we now know as Holy Week. His teachings in this chapter talk about preparation for the end times, when he calls the people to look beyond their every-day fears and dare to risk love. In this context, the parable of the talents urges us to risk using all of the talents and abilities that God has given us—to fan our inner divine sparks into flame; to let our lights shine and not bury them

“It’s not that I don’t take risks. I risked my heart once, back when I was foolish and care-free. I don’t regret it, but I lost a piece of my heart that I have never retrieved. And I just can’t bear the thought of losing any more pieces. If you play with fire, you will get burned. I value my friendships and don’t want anything more than that. It just gets too complicated. At times, it seems as if I don’t even have enough energy for my friends these days. Oh—I’ll make sure that we get together off and on, but I can only do so much. I’ve got to preserve my own health now. It is a balancing act but I seem to be retreating more and more into myself.

I guess I’ve learned to be careful and cautious. It’s just my nature. Why take risks when you don’t have to? Of course, I’ve been very protective of my children and that hasn’t always gone over so well. At some point, you do have to let them go and they need to make their own decisions. But I worry so much about them—especially Robert. He seems to take more risks than he should. He can’t seem to look ahead and plan for the future. I wish he would save more of the little he does have. Goodness knows, we need to protect every penny we have because we clearly can’t trust our pension boards anymore.

I do give. Our church desperately needs help, although sometimes I question where it decides to put some of its money. We’ve got to plan very carefully for our future or we won’t have one. So—I guess I have a lot of fears. Sometimes those smouldering fears flame up into a choking, black cloud billowing its poison. I then try to breathe deeply and slowly, asking God to ease that ever-lurking anxiety. After a few minutes, if I can stay at it, the cloud begins to dissipate and I can see the sun again. I’m grateful for God’s rays of grace that insist on shining through those ominous clouds. Kindle a flame within me, Lord Jesus, that you might lighten the dark and take all fear away.”

(choir softly chants VU 19, 3 times while sitting)

 

“I have taken many risks and I haven’t always won. We have taken many children into our lives. We’ve given them a safe place, support and loved them to bits and pieces. Some of them are still in our lives, but we’ve lost others—some to drugs, some to their own lives that just don’t need us anymore. The losses have been painful. Each time we open up our hearts, we risk more scars. But we have learned that risking love is worth every tear. I don’t want to live with regrets. If there’s something more I can do for our kids, for our friends, for our community, for our church I’ll do everything I can to contribute. It may be selfish of me, but if I can do all I can, then I’ll never have to wonder what would have happened if I had given just a little bit more. How does that quote go? Ah—here it is: Hunter Thompson wrote, “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow what a ride!” I wonder if I could have that as my epitaph?

 

I certainly don’t want to be held back fear—fear of the future, fear of the familiar changing all around me. It does seem as if our world is beyond redemption. Even here, in our own city, there are deep pockets of violence and despair. Some days, I just want to pull the cover over my head. But it’s rather suffocating under those protective covers. The world keeps wooing me back like a siren song, calling me to open my heart yet one more time.

 

I’m not a saint—I’ve probably caused as much hurt and pain as I’ve soothed. But isn’t that what God’s grace is all about? Jesus forgave the disciples for their selfish, fearful, arrogant mistakes over and over, telling them to get back up on their feet and keep risking love. And they did, even risking their own lives. It was almost as if they could do no other. Jesus kindled a fire within their breasts that refused to be extinguished. Kindle a flame within me, Lord Jesus, that you might lighten the dark and take all fear away.”

(choir softly chants VU 19, 3 times while sitting)

 

[1] http://abbeyofthearts.com/blog/2006/07/31/becoming-fire/