Monday, February 26, 2007

All Y'all

Earlier this week, one of our Bible group members, LM, sent me an email with this story:

"There was a group of women in a Bible study on the book of Malachi. As they were studying chapter three they came across verse three which says, "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver." This verse puzzled the women and they wondered what this statement meant about the character and nature of God.

One of the women offered to find out about the process of refining silver and get back to the group at their next Bible study. That week the woman called up a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn't mention anything about the reason for her interest in silver beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver. As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that, in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest so as to burn away all the impurities.

The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot - then she thought again about the verse, that He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. For if the silver was left even a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed.

The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, "How do you know when the silver is fully refined?" He smiled at her and answered, "Oh, that's the easy part -- when I see my image reflected in it."

I thought this was very cool, as I hold fast to a creation theology. In other words, the starting point for me in my understanding of God is to realize that God is the one who created us, male and female, in God's own image. And I believe that stamp of God that has been imprinted on each one of us is the maker's mark of generosity, love, and commitment. That said, I'm always skeptical about emailly stuff like this. So, I went websurfing to see if I could verify the process of silver purifying. Sure enough, I found a silversmith online who had obviously been asked this question before and confirmed the process.

Next step was to find the passage in my Bible to read it in context. Interestingly, I had circled it at some earlier point in time, probably in preparation for a paper I wrote a few years back in seminary. Next to the circle I had annotated the verses (Malachi 3:2b-4) with "judgment and accountability for priests." Yikes! Priests? I am one of them. Sure enough, there it was in the middle of this section, "he will purify the sons of Levi." The "sons of Levi" aka the "Levites" are the priestly clan of Israel. Clearly this is directed at priests. OK, and yes, certainly there is a particular responsibility that goes along with being a priest - a servant-leader in a religious community. But was this really aimed just at the priests? I was beginning to get a little paranoid. I mean, was LM trying to tell me something? I scanned her initial message in the email - no, didn't sound accusatory, she simply said said she thought I'd appreciate it. And I know that's all she meant - it's a great story after all, and she's a good friend. So what am I to make of this?

Clearly this is aimed at the priests. But... (as PeeWee Herman said, "everybody has a big but") ...there's one very important point to remember here, that I was overlooking in my initial surprise and haste: in the Christian understanding all the followers of Jesus, the Christ, are priests. "What?" you say. Yes, dearies, you see, we are all part of the "priesthood of all believers." (see 1 Peter, chapter 2). So, you are a priest, too.

Which means this parable is for you, too...or as we said in the deep south where I grew up, "It's for all y'all." And, that's really good news, don't you think? The implication of this story is that God judges us and holds us accountable out his love and commitment to us and to us becoming the best versions of ourselves that we can possibly be.
God sits patiently enduring the heat right along with each and every one of us, handling us carefully, always intently watching the progress of being refined, of getting closer and closer to the point where, eventually, in looking at us, God clearly sees the reflection of God's own image in us.

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