Saturday, December 28, 2013

More Than A Spark

Wedding Mass of Jevon & Ashley

Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-10,14, 16, 8:6-7; Psalm127:1-5; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; Matthew 5:1-12
Picture: cc Chris Waits

It only takes a spark to get a fire going.
And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing…

Jevon and Ashley, sisters and brothers, are you familiar with these words? I think at least some, if not all, of us will recognise them as the opening lines to the hymn Pass It On. When I was growing up, this hymn was also a very popular campfire song. And it’s not difficult to understand why. Imagine for a moment, sisters and brothers, that you are a teenager or a young adult sitting in front of a huge campfire late into the night. Feeling the crackling heat of the flames in front of you. Enjoying the warm companionship of all your friends around you. At that moment, the song really seems to get it just right. It only takes a spark to get a fire going. And soon all those around can warm up in its glowing...

It sounds so nice, doesn’t it, sisters and brothers? Even romantic, if the setting is right. But is it true? Does it really take only a spark to get a fire going? I suspect that those of us who have ever tried to start a fire from scratch will probably disagree. Especially if the wood we were using was damp. In such a situation, you can quite easily use up a whole box of matches–many many sparks!–and still not succeed in getting the fire started. All you’d get is a lot smoke to keep the mosquitoes at bay. The reason for this is that, contrary to what the song may tell us, starting a fire actually requires more than a spark. You also need flammable material. Material that can catch fire easily. Stuff like dried leaves. Or paper. Or kerosene. And, once the fire is started, you also need to keep feeding it. Otherwise it will quickly die out.

It actually takes more than a spark to get, and to keep, a fire going. Isn’t this also the message that we find in these Mass readings that you, Jevon and Ashley, have so wisely chosen for our celebration this afternoon? As is fitting for a wedding, the readings you have chosen speak to us about love. About the unmistakable signs and the powerful effects of love. What does love look like? How do we know when love is present? The first reading, from the Song of Songs, tells us that love is like a fire. A fire burning within a lover’s heart. Powerfully moving him into action. Energising him to leap on the mountains, in search of his beloved. And, having found his beloved, this fire also inspires him to lift up his voice to call her out from wherever she may be hiding.

And that’s not all. The second reading goes on to tell us even more about the powerful effects of this fire. Love, we’re told, is patient and kind; it is never jealous… never boastful or conceited… never rude or selfish... it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes. What a wondrous thing love is! What a fantastic fire! Able to accomplish such incredible things!

And yet, as those here who are already married will be able to tell us, such power does not show itself all that easily. It does not come about without effort. Easy enough perhaps, in the dizzy days of courtship, to leap on the mountains (or into your car) and to rush off in search of your beloved. Easy enough perhaps, when your love is still young, to repeatedly lift up your voice (or your handphone) to call your beloved out of hiding. But not so easy to continue doing all this, after a long day has been spent at work, satisfying a demanding boss. Or a tiring night has been spent at home, pacifying a troubled child. Not so easy, at those times, to even think about getting off the couch. Or out of bed. Let alone leap on mountains, or lift up your voice. Not so easy to continue being patient and kind. To remain ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

Which is why it’s so very important to recognise something else that we find in our readings today. This fire of love that we are celebrating here is no ordinary fire. It is not something that we produce for ourselves. The way we may manufacture a box of matches, for example. The first reading tells us that this fire is nothing less than a flame of the Lord himself. Which means that this love that we are celebrating today, this love that has brought the two of you together, Jevon and Ashley, is not really something that you accomplish for yourselves. No. It is first of all a gift. Generously and mercifully bestowed upon you, upon all of us, by God.

It is God who is the First Lover. It is God who, in the birth of Christ at Christmas, has energetically leapt over the mountains of his own divinity, into the depths of our humanity, in search of us. It is God who, through the Dying and Rising of Jesus, which we celebrate at this Mass, continues tirelessly to demonstrate his infinite patience and kindness, his endless gentleness and compassion, toward us. Persistently calling us out of the many hiding places of our selfishness and sin into the warmth of his embrace. This, my dear friends, is the fire that we are celebrating. A fire that is first of all the precious gift from God. A fire that truly no flood can quench, no torrents drown. A fire that does not come to an end.

And if it is true that this fire is a nothing less than a gift from God, then our part is to continually dispose ourselves to receive this gift. To somehow ensure that we are always flammable enough to be set alight by the spark of God’s love. Set aflame, so that we can, in turn, ignite the rest of our world. How do we do this, sisters and brothers? We find the answer in the gospel reading. Why are the poor in spirit called happy? And the gentle? And those who mourn? And the rest of those mentioned in the Beatitudes? Why are all these people called happy? Is it because God chooses to bless only them and not anyone else? Or is it not because they are the ones who are most ready to receive God’s blessing? They are the ones who are the most highly flammable. They most easily catch fire when they come in contact with the spark of God’s love. And they become this way by being constantly in touch with their own vulnerability. Their own weakness. Their own need for God. They never forget that without God they can do nothing. Without God they cannot even live the life of a married couple the way it is meant to be lived.

So, my dear friends, perhaps this is also what we are here to do today. To remind ourselves. And to commit ourselves to continue reminding one another in the days ahead. To remind ourselves that we can do nothing without God. To remind ourselves that this love among us, this love between you, Jevon and Ashley, will only be able to survive and to thrive, to the extent that we continue to keep kindling within us the fire of God's love for us.

Jevon and Ashley, sisters and brothers, it really takes more than a spark to get a fire going. What more must we do, for ourselves and for one another, to remain as flammable as we can today?

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