Text and tune: Twila Paris (b. 1958)
He is exalted, the King is exalted
For lyrics click this link
REFLECTION Fire upon the earth! Jesus speaks of his mission in apocalyptic terms. Fire. Fire destroys. It also purifies. If you have seen gold being purified by fire it is a beautiful but terrifying thing. The fire makes the gold liquid and burns off the dross, purifying it just as Jesus says he is separating those on earth, parents from children, siblings from siblings, purifying it. It is a fearful thing to contemplate. Like the end times when the sheep will be separated from the goats, the redeemed from the unredeemed. The only thing that will save us is Christ who lives in us.
T. S. Eliot in his great poem, The Four Quartets, has a wonderful phrase: the fire is Love, God’s Love. And we experience that fire as either a purifier, or as a destruction. It depends on whether we live by faith or do not. In both cases there is a great deal of suffering.
When Dante passed through the fires of Purgatory on his way to Paradise, he had to go through a fire so hot he wished he could jump into a vat of molten glass to cool off. But it was necessary for him if he wanted to be purified of sin and enter Paradise.
We talk about the fire of persecution or suffering in our own lives. Although they are not actual flames, it sometimes feels like it. There is no escaping the fire, we have to pass through it. The faithful will speak of the suffering as being a cleansing or purifying. They have learned in their trials that some things in their lives are necessary, and some are not—the dross gets burned away. And in a way that frees one. You don’t have to drag that old dross around anymore. It is not necessary to your life or faith.
Jesus observes that his audience could look at the sky and predict whether it will rain, or there will be scorching heat. All the instruments we have, certainly superior, simply have made our seeing of these things more clearly, but not really better—we have always known what these signs mean. But what do we see in the present?
A great uncle of mine, an old seasoned pastor, once observed that despite the improving technologies, he had some old ladies in his congregation who could tell him what the weather would be like, long before the weatherman could simply by noticing whether their rheumatism was aggravated.
A parable, maybe. Can the faithful, old seasoned ones around us see the present time better than we can? What does all the unrest and strife around us mean? There are those I listen to who seem to see clearly and are able to interpret what is going on in the world better than I. Many of the best I have observed are seeing a fire upon the earth, a kind of sifting, and purification for the church and the faithful. Because the main line churches seem to lack purifying fire, some think the church is dying, but if you listen carefully, and look around, you might see old main line churches being repurposed by what pollsters call the “nones”--those with no connection to the main line congregations and thus not observable by the pollsters. They are planting seeds everywhere. New, small communities of the faithful, young and old, are sprouting. There may be a greening going on, but not that everyone can see.
Anyone who has visited the scene of a terrible forest fire several years afterwards is always astonished by the young green carpets of flowers and young trees abounding across the fields. Is that what Jesus means? Maybe. He says he is under stress until it is completed. It is his work, he says, to cleanse the earth. Maybe we are seeing that now. Meanwhile we sing his praise! He is exalted, the King is exalted, I will praise him!
HYMN INFO Twila Park’s song "He is exalted," is one of the great hits of the contemporary worship movement in the 1970s and onwards. She was a child prodigy, releasing her first album Little Twila Paris when she was seven. Since then, she had gone on to produce countless albums of worship songs. She came from a family of traveling evangelists. Some in her family built the Youth with a Mission (YWAM) in Elm Spring, Arkansas. She married her manager, Jack Wright, in 1985 and continues to write music, both new and revising older hymns such as this one, which has become standard fare in current hymnals today around the world. It is filled with Scriptural phrases, such as Exodus 15:2 and Psalm 96. The tune is a fascinating fit with the text that is easily learned: a fine piece of composing.
For those planning for Bible study through the next year, you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references on each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.