Sunday, March 27, 2011
The Chirp of the Alarm
Isaiah 55: 1-3
It was about 3 in the morning. I don’t know what it is about that time of night, but that’s the hour of wakefulness for me most of the time. I was probably sleeping lightly, and it was the only sound in the quiet. A single chirp. Not from outside, not from a bird. The fire/carbon monoxide alarm. It woke me right up, and I lay there listening for another one, listening for the alarm to fully engage, and sniffed for smoke.
None of it happened, nothing smelled weird, and with electric heat, we don’t have to worry too much about carbon monoxide. But it didn’t chirp again, so it wasn’t the battery. I don’t know now whether I imagined it. But I did start to imagine, as I lay there in bed, what the plan was to get Mom and Joe out of the house. Mom’s dog Lily would stay with her anywhere, so I didn’t need to transport her. Rocket the cat would just have to find his way out, because in a situation like that, who knows where he’d go.
I began to think about what I should grab on my way out. I remember a former preacher telling us that he’d grab his Bible and his wedding ring. Would I grab any of my Bibles? No, they’re all replaceable-God’s word is as eternal as the next purchase at Amazon. Maybe the plaster casts we made of Donna and Joe’s hands? Probably. The pictures of her we made for the memorial services? Perhaps, but all three were also available in various forms of electronic media.
In my fevered 3 AM thinking, where all perspective is lost, distortions become reality, and all the little things that worry us become as large as last week’s moon, I began to worry about all of the things I’d have to replace in a house fire. Of course, all of the humans and the other living things in my household would be out, but after that, it would be a significant loss. It’s easy enough to read in Matthew that “we should not store up for ourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal (and where hard drives break down and destroy precious photos and music files, we could add today), but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.” Theoretically, we understand that. But house fires do have a way of affecting our spirits, nonetheless.
Possessions are important. Cars are tools, musical instruments feed our souls, a thirty year old jacket still helps us remember who we were and are. Photographs are the last link to loved ones who have died. I get Jesus’ point, that true permanence is to be found in God’s promises and glory, that there will come a time when we will not worry about anything, and we will be focused only on, surrounded only by love. And I’ll say amen to that. But he’s right-Where my treasure is, there my heart will be, also. And sorry, I confess that my heart is in the memories that some material possessions represent. My heart is not in material wealth; my heart is in memory. And these things are rather harder to replace than a car or a guitar, or a television-those other things can be replaced by money from insurance policies. However, I would miss the art that Josiah has created and that we framed and hung on the wall. I would miss those hand casts that we made. Unfortunately, these things can’t be protected or replaced. You can’t build bigger barns and moats around mementoes. You could put them all in safe deposit boxes, fireproof bags, and such, but then they’d be locked away, and not with you, and what’s the point of that?
The book of Isaiah was probably written, scholars tell us, in two or three parts, over the course of 50-70 years. So it is probably true that there were at least two different authors. The first part was written as the Israelites were being taken away in what we refer to as the Babylonian Captivity; Babylon forcibly relocated the cream of the Israelite society back to their capital. The second part was written as they were allowed to return home by the conqueror of the Babylonians, Cyrus the Great of Persia. By the 55th chapter of the book of Isaiah, the audience had become the people returning to the land of Israel, the sons and daughters of the people taken away. They are now returning to a land that has been changed, and for some, those changes ruined the great golden Israel of their parents and grandparents. The land in the stories they’d been told for their whole lives was now shown to be lost forever.
But they have a chance to make a new Israel, to not follow in the mistakes of their parents, and to follow God in a way that their ancestors had lost sight of. “incline your ear, and come to me”, God says in Isaiah’s voice; “listen, so that you may live. . .”
Sometimes it takes something as drastic as an invasion, or a house fire, or the death of a loved one to refocus out hearts and minds on what is important.
Mementoes remind us of love, of joy, of pleasure. The emotions that they draw from us are reflections of the love, the joy, the pleasure we will feel at the moment we can take a drink of that milk, that wine we can buy without price; the moment we feel true satisfaction in the labor we have performed. There are moments on earth we can feel these things, and they are but glimpses of the way heaven is going to work.
Living in God, it seems, is an exercise in delayed gratification. It is a hundred percent certain that, by living in God, loving as God loves, living with the integrity and truthfulness of Jesus, that the fleeting moments of satisfaction of a job well done, or the flashes of feeling in romantic love, or the temporary contentment of a warm blanket or a song that just pierces your heart will be our permanent state.
We are invited into an abundant life. We just have our own definition of abundant; one that is rich in love, value, and spiritual satisfaction. It is an abundance that makes material possessions, even ones of singular sentimental value, irrelevant.
It is a comfort that I find is worth having at three in the morning, when the fire alarm chirps. Yes, in a house fire, the hand casts would be destroyed. But there will come a time, I believe, when the spirit of the hands that made those casts will again hold my hands, and every love that I have ever loved will one day surround me.
This is the promise of Isaiah, this is the promise of heaven; this is the promise of life in God.