“When The Only Way Out Is Through”

Psalm 66:8-20

The Sixth Sunday of Eastertide

“We went through fire and water; but God brought us out to a spacious place.”

We cannot say with certainty if the one who wrote those words from this morning’s psalm was speaking of the literal fire and water through which Israel had gone in the exodus from Egypt and the exile to Babylon, or, if the psalmist was using “fire and water” as images for some difficult struggle in the psalmist’ own life, or both. But, in either case, when the psalmist said, “We went through fire and water, but God brought us out to a spacious place,” the psalmist captured the way life often is for many of us.

Most of us have found, or, someday, will find, ourselves going through what the psalmist called “fire and water”; struggles which threaten to overwhelm us, sorrows which take from us our energy and delight, changes which leave us exhausted, depleted, empty, angry or afraid; great struggles which come to us, not because they were sent to us from God or aimed at us by God, but, rather, because we live in a world where bad things happen, and if those bad things can happen to anyone, they can happen to everyone.

I understand the need so many truly wonderful people have for everything to be God’s will, to fit into a grand plan or a divine blueprint.  It is a need I once had, myself.  But, I am now content simply to know that we live in a world where beautiful and terrible things happen, and, if the worst of those things can happen to anyone, they can happen to everyone, including me and mine; not because God is that way, but because life is that way.   Some of life is just life; not part of a grand plan or God’s will; just life, in a world which is, to quote the famous 20th century American writer, Thornton Wilder, “awful and wonderful.”

And, when life is awful; when, in the words of today’s psalm, we are going through fire and water, the Spirit of God is with us to help us; giving us new strength for each new day as we go through the disappointment, loss, sorrow, struggle or complexity we did not get to go around; the Spirit of God, with us, and for us; embodied, most often, in the kindness and care of the people of God; the Spirit of God, speaking and working through our sisters and brothers in the family of faith.

When we live into, through and beyond the hardest and worst that life can bring, and emerge from it all deeper, kinder, stronger and better, it is almost always by that mystical alchemy of the Spirit of God, beside us, and the people of God, around us; the Spirit of God flowing through the people of God who, in their calls, cards and casseroles, embody the Spirit of God.

All of which takes me back to that wonderful story Mrs. Inola Hearn told several years ago, one Thursday morning, at the Yellow Church; a small story which I have Mrs. Hearn’s permission to repeat; a story about a Sunday school class which was one day discussing how much we all need one another when we are going through the fire and water of struggle and sorrow.  One of the class members disagreed with that perspective, saying, “I don’t need people, because I’ve got King Jesus in my life.”  To which Mrs. Hearn replied, “I’ve got King Jesus in my life, too.  But, when you get sick, King Jesus  is not going to show up at your door with some chicken soup and a pecan pie.”

But, the people of God will.  And, when they do, their kindness and care, their simple showing up, will embody the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God, embodied in the people of God, will help us to go through the fire and water of pain and struggle, and we will come out on the other side; perhaps even into what the psalmist called “a spacious place”; emerging from the pain with a deeper, kinder, more thoughtful and gentle spirit.

And, not just once, but over and over, again.  As you know, almost no one goes through only one hard thing in life.  Most of us go through fire and water more than once.  And, every time we find ourselves in one of those great struggles, going through what we did not get to go around; living in one of those fire and water moments when the only way out is through, we do go through.

With the help of the Spirit of God, and the people of God, thanks be to God, we can, and do, go through.