The Opportunity of the Fire
Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. – 1 Kings 19:11b-12 (NRSV)
The day our church building was targeted by an arsonist was a hazy blur of tears and smoke and meetings and phone calls and anger and interviews and asking how and asking why and more tears.
Then, in the late afternoon, a guy drove into the lot. He was the cool kind of pastor I’m automatically suspicious of, with hipster glasses and really fantastic shoes. Later, I found out that he is one of more than forty staff at a megachurch nearby, a church that had put considerable time and money into funding opposition to marriage equality.
And yet, he got out of his car and looked around at the devastation left by the fire and asked simply, “Can I pray with you?” Then he put his arms around me and asked God to uphold the congregation and me, their pastor. In the wind and quake and fire, here was a still small moment of peace and comfort – two formerly warring siblings in Christ, hugging and weeping and praying together.
The Great Mystery, our then-conference minister Walter John Boris reminded us that day, does not cause terrible things to happen to punish us, or teach us a lesson, or make us stronger, or prepare us for a greater challenge. Instead, the Holy Spirit helps us to make the best of any tragedy.
Did God make a fire so I could pray with a so-called enemy in the parking lot? Absolutely not. But did God use the opportunity of the fire to create a little pocket of understanding and common ground where before there had been only mistrust? Oh, yes. God did that.
Oh yes, God. You did that. Amen.
Jennifer Garrison Brownell is pastor of Vancouver United Church of Christ. Her writing appears in the collection, The Words of Her Mouth: Psalms For the Struggle, available from The Pilgrim Press.