"O, that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence-- as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil-- to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people." - Isaiah 64:1-9
Karen Blixen wrote of a time in Kenya:
“’Msabu,’he said again, ‘I think you had better get up. I think that God is coming.’ When I heard this I did get up, and asked him why he though so. He gravely led me into the dining-room which looked West, towards the hills. From the door-windows I now saw a strange phenomenon. There was a big grass-fire going on, out in the hills, and the grass was burning all the way from hill-top to the plains; when seen from the house it was a near vertical line. It did indeed look as if some gigantic figure was moving and coming towards us. I stood for some time and looked at it, with Kamante watching by my side, then I began to explain the thing to him. I meant to quiet him, for I thought he had been terribly frightened. But the explanation did not seem to make much impression on him one way or the other; he clearly took his mission to have been fulfilled when he called to me. ‘Well yes,’ he said, ‘It may be so. But I thought that you had better get up in case it was God coming.’ (Out of Africa, Modern Library, p. 41)
I also lived in Kenya for a few years, some sixty years after the event in Blixen’s vignette. I was sent by Baptists as a missionary, one to carry the Gospel. I taught some English, and I experienced many things I will always treasure. But I wonder now how much more I had missed by making my explanations to a people who were still shocked by several generations of a white-skinned arrogance, a brutality that had too often carefully cloaked itself in Christian religion? How often had I dismissed God’s messenger?
God, keep us aware that when you come on us as Fire on the Mountain, you are always saving us from ourselves, that salvation is never safe, and You are never safely explained away. Amen.