Thursday, May 30, 2019

Getting The Lead Out

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;

Cultivate Your Garden

There’s an old classic preacher’s story that goes something like this:  A new pastor was visiting one of his members, who had a reputation for maintaining a beautiful garden.  The reputation, it turned out, was entirely deserved.  The gardener proudly showed the pastor around showcasing the flowers and vegetables that sprang from the ground. 

Finally the pastor remarked:  “God has truly blessed you with a beautiful and productive garden.”  The gardener nodded, and then added, “But you should have seen the place when God took care of it by himself!”

Gardening is one of the most ancient activities.  When God created the world in Genesis, he started by planting a garden.  And then God created people to be the gardeners of this garden.  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15 NRSV).  Gardening is also the image the Apostle Paul draws on when he describes his ministry.  “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6 NRSV).  It seems that God didn’t create gardens so they could tend themselves.  He created us to tend gardens for him.

We till.  We plant.  We water.  But God gives the growth.

If you have a garden, good for you!  If you don’t have a garden I’m here to remind you that you really do.  Our neighborhood and world is a garden that you’ve been created by God to cultivate.  And for me, and many of you reading this, Maple Avenue United Methodist Church is the specifically local community garden we’re called to tend. 

This is both a blessing and a challenge.  Our congregation is a garden unlike any other.  We have a ministry that is unlike any other ministry in town.  We have a family of faith unlike any other membership roll in town.  And we have the potential to make a significant and positive difference in the 12 Points Neighborhood, and the world – a potential that only we can fulfill.  Just as God calls each individual to a unique ministry, Maple Avenue United Methodist Church has its own special calling to serve God’s Kingdom in ways we are specifically qualified to do.  Maple Avenue is a beautiful and unusual garden, and you’re significant part of it.

Since May is the month many people start focusing on their gardens, let’s focus on this one.  We have a free community meal coming up on Wednesday, May 15th, from 5-7 p.m.  The whole point of this gathering is for people of the congregation and people of the neighborhood to meet each other and make new friends.  Be part of this event.  And on Sunday, May 19th, we will have a pot-luck dinner immediately after our second service (11:30 a.m.).  Bring a dish to share (it could be your favorite recipe, or simply a bag of potato chips) and enjoy the food and fellowship.

Invite your friends and neighbors to join you for worship.  At all of our events make visitors and guests feel welcome.  And lift up our congregation daily in prayer.  It’s the right time of year for gardeners to spring into action, so let’s cultivate our garden together.

In Christ;