Earlier this week I arrived home after a week’s vacation, and I want to say a word of thanks to those people who filled in for me when I was away. Thanks to Dr. Tom Johnson for filling the pulpit, Virgel Rodriguez for taking care of the Children’s Sermon, and Dan, Cliff, Tom, Michael and Bert, for your help and flexibility
Part of my vacation was spent in the town of Galena, a tourist attraction in upper Illinois. The town is located in Jo Daviess County, which at one time provided 80% of the lead used in the United States. During the Civil War there was great demand for lead, but after the war this demand dried up and the town’s fortunes fell, until it could be reborn as a historic tourist site. The towns name appropriately comes from the mineral Galena which is the lead ore that was mined there.
There is a long history of lead production in this area. Long ago Native Americans discovered that if they burned the mineral Galena in a fire, and got it hot enough, the result would be ash and lead. The ash they threw away, and the lead they could use in various ways. This process of heating an ore and separating the metal is called smelting, and it’s the process used to produce not just lead, but tin, copper, silver, and gold. When it comes to ores, fire separates what’s valuable from what’s useless. Fire is an instrument of purification. Fire tests an ore’s metal, revealing what it’s really made of.
This is true in Biblical imagery as well. In the Bible, fire is often a metaphor for the trials that cleanse us. Jesus said he came to baptize with the Holy Spirit and Fire and he went on to say that the wheat will be gathered in the granary while the chaff will be burnt away (Luke 3: 16-17). The Apostle Paul writes:
Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. (1 Corinthians 3:12-13 NRSV)
I think Thomas Edison knew something about this. Over one hundred years ago the great Edison industries of West Orange, New Jersey were wiped out by a fire. Thomas Edison, who was 67 years old at the time, lost two million dollars in one fell swoop. Suddenly much of his life’s work was gone. The next morning he walked about the burnt ruins of his life, and said these profound words: “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” And with those words the metal of Edison’s life became visible. Edison got the lead out, started to rebuild, and three weeks after the fire his firm delivered the first phonograph.
We all face trials and hardships in life, and those fires – great and small – reveal a lot about us. As they burn away the unnecessary things we get to see what’s left. For some people fires reveal only ash. For others lead. For some, silver and gold.
This summer, as we face the heat of the sun along with the heat of life’s disappointments, we mustn’t forget to fill our lives with things that are fire proof, things that will last, things that really matter in the end. No one is immune to trouble, and just as fire brings lead out of Galena, may our hardship bring the light and grace of God out of us.
Yours in Christ;