Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




 “Faith and Fire”

Sunday, May 25, 2008



I Peter 1: 3-9


Rev. Dean Snyder


Between now and the end of June we are focusing on the theme of “Jetsam and Flotsam on the Sea of Life.” It is an image borrowed from James Tinnemeyer.[i] Jetsam is the stuff that, when a storm is coming, you throw from your ship so that it will float higher in the sea and, thus, be less likely to capsize and sink. Flotsam is the stuff that is left floating after a shipwreck that you can hold on to and cling to in order to stay afloat until you can make your way to shore.


The question is: In my life and in yours, what is jetsam and what is flotsam? In our faith heritage, what is jetsam and what is flotsam? In our life together as a congregation what is jetsam and what is flotsam? In our life as a nation, what is jetsam and what is flotsam?


It is very difficult to tell during ordinary days, isn’t it? When life is going well, and when our health is good enough, and when we are managing to get along with one another well enough in our households and in our neighborhoods, and at work and at church, and when enough money is coming in to pay the bills more or less, when life is going okay, it is very hard to discern the difference between jetsam and flotsam.


It usually takes a storm to really be able to begin to tell the difference. But when a storm is rising, and our ships begin to be tossed about, and we are in danger of drowning, for those who are wise, it becomes easier to tell what is jetsam and what is flotsam.


I want to talk a bit this morning g about the importance of storms in life. I do this hesitantly and hopefully modestly, because it is a dangerous topic. We have just witnessed several devastating storms and natural disasters in the world in which people have lost their lives. They have lost loved ones, homes and livelihood. We have not yet recovered from Katrina, and there are those persons and families who never will recover from Katrina in this generation or the next. These storms are tragic.


There are those who have suggested that natural disasters – storms or hurricanes or diseases – are acts of God…punishments from God. No! Jesus himself eschewed this kind of thinking. Jesus said that the sun shines on the evil and the good and that rain falls on the just and the unjust – nature is impartial. (Matthew 43: 45)  Storms and plagues and luck are part of the impartial natural order. They shine on us independent of our worthiness or unworthiness. They fall on us regardless of our deserving or not deserving them.


Storms are just a part of the natural order of things. Disease is part of the natural order of life. Jesus himself said this when people asked him who had sinned to cause someone to be born blind, and he said that blindness was not a consequence of sin but an opportunity for God’s people to manifest God’s love and power. (John 9:3) Disease is not personal but part of the natural order of life.


Conflict is part of the natural order of community. Conflict is not personal. It is the result of diverse interests and commitments and values which occur naturally in the life of communities. War is an intentional decision. War is avoidable. But conflict is natural and unavoidable. War is conflict mismanaged. But the conflicts in our relationships and neighborhoods and workplaces and congregations and nations and world are natural occurrences, like storms and diseases. They just are.


The question “Why me?” which all of us ask when we face a storm or a physical challenge or conflict in our lives can only be answered by the question: “Why not me?”


If storms are normal and inevitable, why would I expect never to find myself in the midst of a storm? If illness and disease is part of the natural occurrence of life, why would I expect never to find myself or those I love struggling with illness? If conflict is part of the natural order of community, if I am in community, why would I expect never to have to face conflict?


Our new grandson has spent most of his young life in the hospital. We are very fortunate because he has access to the best medical care in the world, and he has loving parents and no corners have to be cut. In 9/10th of the world, he probably would not have survived. So we are very fortunate, yet, in our humanity, we are sometimes tempted to ask, “Why me?” But after sitting with countless families throughout the years whose beloved babies have suffered illness, the only answer is “Why not me?”


Storms are part of the natural order. They may be heightened by global warning and other manifestations of human irresponsibility, or they may be tempered by human compassion and caring, but fundamentally they are part of the natural order of things – impartial, shining on the evil and good, falling on the just and the unjust equally.  


Yet, First Peter believes that, while they may be impartial and while they may not be personal, storms serve a higher purpose. While they are not acts of God, yet still they serve a higher metaphysical purpose. They refine our faith, First Peter says, the way fire refines gold.  


First Peter says that in each of us there is something – these are his words – there is something “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”  There is something of heaven in each of us…some share of eternity. We each have received an inheritance from God, which is the imperishable, undefiled and unfading in us.


We will not know this fully, however, First Peter says, except as we are refined by fire – by the storms and ordeals of life – the way gold is refines by fire.


The storms are not acts of God, they are not personal, but they are occasions for rejoicing in a strange way, First Peter says, because they purify our faith.


First Peter says: “In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith – being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is refined by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”


We learn who we really are when we are in the midst of the storm…when we are in the fire. First Peter says that we should remember to rejoice when we are in the storm because it is here we find a faith that is genuine…it is here that we find in ourselves that which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.”


It is in the storm that we discover what is jetsam and what is flotsam.


Some of us are just back from the annual conference of the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church. I want to say a word of appreciation for our delegation from Foundry and its faithfulness. And I want to say a word of appreciation to all of you for our witness in this conference. One of the themes of the conference was the ministry being done in our conference with day laborers and other Hispanic immigrants. There was video footage of our ministry, interviews with Jana Meyers and Janis Bowdler. I was very proud of Foundry’s witness.


In the discussion about continuing conference-wide dialogue teams concerning the full inclusion of GLBTQ people in the United Methodist Church, the most compelling speech was made by our delegate Ralph Williams. Ralph is a large part of the reason the legislation to continue the dialogue passed.


It has been a couple of stormy years at annual conference. It is fascinating to me that several times during the conference, Bishop Schol retold the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. It is a story from the Book of Daniel in which the King throws three young faithful Israelites into a fiery furnace to execute them, but they do not burn, and when the King looks into the furnace he sees a fourth person in the fire.


The bishop said that the meaning of the story is that we have a God who is with us in the fire, and he has reason to know this, our bishop does.


First Peter says we discover God in the fire, in the storms of life, but more importantly we discover that which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading in us in the fire…in the storm. We discover what is genuine in us.


This is true for you and me. It is true for us as a congregation. It is true for us as a city and as a region. It is true for us as a nation. It is in the storms of life that we discover the genuineness of our faith – that in us which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.


We are all human. We wish life did not have its storms. We wish there was no disease. We wish there was no conflict. We envision the day when there will be perfect peace and no more tears.


But in the meantime, the storms help us discover what is jetsam and what is flotsam…what really matters…what is really important.


The storms give us courage. Without the storms, we would not know whether we are brave or not.


Yesterday we ordained a new class of ministers at the Baltimore-Washington Conference. I participated with very mixed feelings. I had the great joy of sponsoring two candidates being ordained – Alex and Vicky Karakcheyev. But I also experienced the sadness of knowing there are those called by God to ministry who were not part of that class of ordinands because our denomination discriminates based on sexual orientation.


The reason we are in the situation we are in is less because we have people in our churches who don’t understand sexual orientation than because we have so many people who do understand but who tolerate what they know to be wrong because they do not want to alienate others. They don’t want to face the storm. They don’t want to face the fire.


Bishop Tom Bickerton was the preacher for ordination and he was, I think, trying to tell the ordinands to have courage, to be brave.


He told about one of his district superintendents who had a stroke and then an operation. After the operation there was a time of waiting to see how much he would recover of his abilities and skills. In the beginning he could not speak or respond.


He said he and the man’s wife were sitting with him in the hospital one day when the man began to shudder and shake, and they tried to comfort him and quiet him down. As they were trying to comfort him the doctor walked in and said, “How’s our patient today?”


The bishop said in a quiet voice, “He is having some kind of convulsion.”


The doctor said, “Well, let’s see how he’s doing.” He went to the man and thumped him on the chest, and then called him by name and said, “Wake up! Wake up!” He spoke to the man in a loud and demanding voice.


The doctor took the man’s hand and said, “I want you to squeeze my hand. Squeeze my hand.” …And finally the man squeezed his hand.


The doctor told the family not to be afraid to talk loudly to him, not to be afraid to expect him to regain his capacities, not to be afraid to expect him to live.


Bishop Bickerton was suggesting, I think, that we need clergy and leaders who are not so intimidated by the shakes and distress and convulsions of the church that they will not call it back to life.


Rejoice, First Peter says, even if for a little while there are storms in your life, because the storms refine your faith like fire refines gold. Rejoice, First Peter says, because the storms help us discover what to let go of and what to cling to. Rejoice, First Peter says, because in the midst of the storm we will discover that which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading.