Sunday, July 17, 2016

Firestarting


Wedding of Abel & Huimin

Readings: Song of Songs 2:8-10,14, 16, 8:6-7; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8; John 15:9-12
Picture: cc premasagar

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

Abel and Huimin, my dear friends, are you familiar with these words? Perhaps some of us may recognise them as the opening lines to a hymn, entitled 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 that you are a teenager 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 drive the mosquitoes away. The reason for this is that, contrary to what the song may tell us, starting a fire actually requires more than just a spark. You also need flammable. Material that can catch fire easily. 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, Huimin and Abel, 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.

As I listen to this reading, I cannot help but be reminded of something that you, Abel shared with me about how you courted Huimin. I hope you don’t mind if I share this with the rest. I had met Huimin at a friend's birthday party. It was in late 2006, when I was still in my second year of university. I was from Singapore Management University in Orchard Road and she was from Nanyang Technological University in Jurong East…. We continued to date whilst she was staying in the hall at Jurong. The commute to Jurong weekly was a killer but it was worth it. Although Abel did not leap over mountains like that lover in the first reading, he did make an arduous weekly pilgrimage from Orchard to Jurong. And even found it worthwhile. A sure sign of love, don’t you think?

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. How a wonderful power love is! What a fantastic fire! Able to accomplish such incredible things!

This time, I’m reminded about something that you, Huimin shared with me. I hope I won’t embarrass you by sharing it. Abel has always been a strong pillar of support in my life as he supports me in whatever I do. Although he is not one who openly shows his care and love for me, but he does show it through little actions of love such as by cooking dinners for me and being very accommodating to me. Isn’t this a good example of love being ready to excuse, to trust, to hope, and to endure whatever comes.

And yet, as those here who are already married will be able to tell us, the power of love does not come about without continual effort. Easy enough perhaps, in the dizzy days of courtship, to leap on the mountains (or into your car, or onto the train) 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 or text 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 endured at home, comforting a crying child. Not so easy, at those times, to even think about getting off the couch. Or out of bed. Let alone leaping on mountains, or lifting 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 celebrate is no ordinary fire. We do not produce it 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 celebrate, this love that has brought the two of you together, Huimin and Abel, is not something that you accomplish yourselves. No. It is first of all a gift. Generously and mercifully bestowed on you, on all of us, by God.

It is God who is the First Lover. It is God who, in the Dying and Rising of Christ, 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 loving embrace. This, my dear friends, is the fire that we are celebrating. A fire that is first of all the precious gift of 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 keep making ourselves ready 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 on fire. So that we can, in turn, set fire to the rest of our world. How do we do this, my dear friends? We find the answer in the gospel reading that you have chosen. Where Jesus says, As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. To remain faithful in keeping the commandments of God. Especially to try our best to put God at the centre of our hearts and of our lives. For without God, the fire of love will very quickly go out.

So, my dear friends, perhaps this is also what we are here to do today. We remind ourselves. And we 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, Abel and Huimin, will only be able to survive and to thrive, to the extent that we continue to keep nourishing within us the fire of God's love.

Abel and Huimin, my dear friends, it actually takes more than a spark to get a fire going. What more must we do to make ourselves catch fire more easily today?

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