Bryan Jaster, Winchester, VA


Warm-up Question

What’s the largest fire you’ve ever seen?  Did anything bad or good result?

Fire the Seeds to Bear Fruit

By now most of us get it, or have at least heard it: fires are good for the forest. But what does that mean? University of Minnesota forest ecologist Lee Frelich can help. He explains what the Boundary Waters Canoe Area would look like if fire were somehow completely controlled for the last century. The short answer: a sea of half-dead Christmas trees.


“You would get essentially a sea of Balsam Fir, then the budworm would come, and it goes out and kind of kills half the trees,” Frelich explains. “So you’d have this kind of crappy, half-dead forest which is full of brush and branches and which is not very attractive for people or wildlife.”

But that is really just explaining why an absence of fire can be bad. One fascinating and little known piece of the fire ecology puzzle are the species of trees that actually fire dependent. The Jack Pine has closed cones that only open to release their seeds when waxes on the cone melt in the heat of a fire.

“Camping in the Boundary Waters,” Frelich says, “I’ve taken twigs with cones on them from the forest floor and put them next to the campfire. They are exposed to the heat and they wait 10 or 20 minutes, then they pop open. The next morning you can shake that twig and the seeds will fall out. They are kind of programmed to wait a little bit, you know, because if the seeds fall directly into the fire, they’ll be consumed.

“The seeds fall over the next few days, so they’re likely to land on a forest floor that is no longer on fire. In the case of the jack pine, the seeds germinate much better if the leaf litter has been burned away. Jack Pine, in fact, has drier foliage than other species of trees which makes it easier for a fire to run through Jack Pine. It is almost as if they purposely promote fire.”

There is a whole system in the BWCA, Frelich says, that is adapted to fire. Another wonder of fire ecology: Bicknell’s Geranium. Its seeds will only germinate in sunlight. Buried under leaf litter, the seeds just wait for it to be burned away. After the 2006 Cavity Lake Fire in the BWCA, which burned 32,000 acres, the wild geraniums were everywhere. “That site had last burned in 1801,” Frelich says. “Those were 200-year-old seeds germinating.”

For full article: 

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever thought of a forest fire as being a force for good?  Why?  Have you seen a forest fire?  If so, where?
  • What would happen if all forest fires were extinguished as quickly as possible?
  • Should we intentionally start fires in forests or allow forest fires to come naturally?  Why?

Third Sunday of Advent

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Ok John the Baptist – is this really good news?

People come to John to be baptized, which sounds like a pretty normal thing to do, and John calls them a “brood of vipers (snakes)”.  Imagine if you or someone else asked to be baptized and your pastor said “You are a bunch of snakes!”   Crazy talk.

In this story the crowds – aka the outsiders – are attracted to something John is saying. Rather than bolt when John describes the need to bear fruit worthy of repentance and warns that trees not bearing good fruit will be thrown into the fire, they stay and ask an important question: “What should we do?”

When forests get overgrown and stagnant they need fire for seeds to sprout and new trees to grow   People need God’s judgement to burn and turn us away from self-centered lives into lives that bear fruit and love like Jesus in the world.

So, John’s response after pronouncing Fire is to call the crowds to go and bear Fruit.

To the crowds – Share a coat and food.
To the tax collectors – Collect no more than you need.
To the soldiers – Don’t extort, be fair.

Do these things because Jesus is coming and he is even more powerful than I am, John says.  He is able after the fire has done its work to remove the chaff – the leftover yuck – and gather the wheat, the new fruit.  This is good news.

Discussion Questions

  • Would you have stayed to continue to listen to John if you were part of the crowd he called “brood of vipers?”  Is there someone in your life you would rather not listen to?
  • Is it difficult to think of God’s judgment as something “good”?  Doesn’t Jesus say “don’t judge”? When have you or someone you know had something bad or a bit of judgment come that ultimately was good?
  • What is something in your life that needs to be removed or “burned” away?    What is something in our world that needs to be judged by God?

Activity Suggestions

Grab markers, paint, crayons and big poster sheets.

Make a big poster Advent wish list.  Draw or make lists of as many items you could give away or share like food, clothes, time with someone, possessions and anything you can think of.

Each person pick one item they will do this week. Next week come back and tell the story of what you did to respond.

Closing Prayer

God Fire and Fruit, Help us to listen to you when you have words that seem harsh to us.  Give us the gift of judgment and the call to respond as we prepare for Jesus to come.  Thank you for people like John who tell and show good news in the world.  Give us courage to do the things we have promised this week and to bear fruit today.  Amen!