Piece of the Puzzle

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Category: Spiritual Page 2 of 13

Shouting Stones

If you see an interesting stone on a beach, what would you do with it? Would you put it in your pocket? Or leave it alone? Would you take it home and put it on your dresser or maybe tuck it away in a drawer? Everything and everybody has a story to tell, even that small rock we find on the beach. Where and how was it first created? Does it speak of earthquakes and volcanoes? Or perhaps it tells a story of life, such as a fossilized Petoskey Stone.

When Jesus paraded into Jerusalem to the shouted praise of the crowds on what we now call Palm Sunday, certain leaders asked him to tell his followers to be quiet lest they attract the unwanted attention of their Roman occupiers. Jesus responded that if his disciples were quiet, the very stones of the road would shout out instead! Some stories just have to be told. Indeed, the stones of the earth shout out to us even today. The earth shouts for healing and liberation through forest fires, earthquakes due to fracking, extreme flooding and drought, animal species dying and threatened with extinction, etc. The earth shouts for help, for justice. But I think creation also shouts out of the glory of God in the sunset, in the beauty of mountains, in the peace we feel when we walk barefoot in grass or on the beach, when we touch a tree or smell a flower…

To me, the stones of Palm Sunday shout of Jesus’ entrance to the halls of power, telling us that God is the real power at the foundation of life, not human empire. The stones shout of healing, love, and the sacredness of life and ask us to take notice and join the chorus, to join the procession and lift our voices in speaking truth to power.

We too have our stories, important stories. What do we do with them? Do we hold them up for others to hear? Or do we tuck them away someplace private? What story do you have to tell? What are the truths within you demanding to be told? As the stones might have sung out, let us also sing out and tell the story of God’s glory, the story of the power of God’s healing love in our lives, that in the darkness of the world, we might be God’s light.

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This reflection was inspired by the sermon, “Shouting Stones,” from April 14, 2019, and originally published in my church’s newsletter on May 3, 2019. Recordings of most sermons can be found on the church website: http://www.phoenixchurch.org.

Each of us is a miracle

The story of Jesus turning water into wine is known as his first miracle. But what is a miracle? Sometimes we dismiss miracles by equating them with magic but we might think of a miracle as simply a welcomed event that is unexpected, improbable and not easy to explain. Perhaps we’ve experienced a miracle in our lives. We might know someone that was unexpectedly healed of an illness or maybe something surprising occurred at a time in our lives when we had lost hope and it turned life around for us. There is another way we might define a miracle: a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. I think a miracle is Spirit revealing itself in an unexpected, improbable, unexplainable, or amazing way that results in something good and desirable. It’s God showing up to renew our hope when we’ve lost our way. It’s God taking what we were expecting and turning it upside down.

Of course, miracles don’t always happen when we want them to. Not everyone is healed, for example, and I have no satisfactory answer for why. Sometimes people are tempted to blame the person who is sick by saying “they didn’t have enough faith” or “they just didn’t pray hard enough,” which is, of course, ridiculous. When we hope for a miracle and don’t see one, it can be disappointing. It might try our faith, our trust in God. We might find ourselves wondering where the Spirit was when we were asking for Divine intervention. But, at the same time, I wonder if miracles happen more than we realize. Maybe we just don’t see them or recognize them as miracles. If a miracle is an unexpected manifestation of the Spirit and the Spirit is with us all the time, it just seems like the odds are that more miracles are happening than we think. Maybe when we lose a job the miracle that we might want – finding a new, better job the very next day – isn’t what happens. Maybe the miracle is that we grow from the experience and eventually end up being led in some completely unexpected direction that uses our gifts and talents in new, surprising ways.

We too, as human beings, are manifestations of Spirit. Spirit dwells within us and that is a miracle in my book – unexpected, improbable, unexplainable, and amazing. But we need to open our selves to this miracle that it might act in and through us. Jesus trusted that God would work through him to perform miracles. To open ourselves to the work of the Spirit, we need to trust God. Even when things don’t seem to go as expected, we’re asked to put our trust in the working of the Spirit.

Opening up to the Spirit also means opening up in relationship to each other as the Spirit within us interacts with the Spirit within others. We are meant to act together. We are meant to be in loving, supporting community. The gifts of the Spirit that act in and through us aren’t meant for our personal glory. They are meant to be used in conjunction with the gifts of others for the common good of the community and for the common good of all of God’s creation. The miracle of wine into water required both Mary and Jesus. Jesus seemingly had no intention of saving the party (a communal event) until his mother egged him on. He even objected, “It’s not yet my time.” An objection which his mother simply ignored, instead inventing the phrase made famous by Nike: “Just do it.” Without Jesus, nothing happens. But without Mary, nothing happens either.

But here’s the caution: if we open to the Spirit, our lives are going to change. That’s both good news and a little scary. When Jesus objected he didn’t seem sure about what his mother was asking him to do. He knew it would change his life. It would set his mission and ministry in motion. Never again would he get to be the wallflower at a wedding reception.

Each of us, our bodies, our souls, our gifts and talents, is a manifestation of the Spirit. Each of us is a miracle. Let us not be afraid of taking risks and even failing. Let us look for the miracles in our lives, whether they be big miracles or little miracles. God is always turning our expectations upside down and showing up in amazing and improbable ways. Let us trust and reside in the Holy Spirit, following where the Spirit leads.


This reflection first appeared in my church’s newsletter on February 1, 2019. You can visit the church web site here.

A Guiding Star

Who were the people that the Gospel of Matthew tells us came from far away lands seeking a new ruler? Christian tradition calls them kings or wise men but the Greek word magi implies they were most likely Zoroastrian priests. They were not people seeking worldly power. They weren’t kings seeking a rival, but priests seeking something of divine and cosmic importance. They were seeking truth and meaning. And, as the story goes, they were led by a guiding star which appeared to light their way to the child Jesus. That mysterious star was an epiphany, a light in the darkness that revealed something important. It showed that God’s love is born into this world in unexpected places (a small out of the way town) for all people (not just God’s “chosen”).

God also gives us guiding stars to light our way to Christ, to show us that we might find meaning in God’s love manifested in the vulnerable flesh of a small child named Jesus. So powerful is God’s love that even this small vulnerable child, unable to defend himself, is seen as a threat to the powerful and wealthy of the world – hence the warning to that magi-priests that they should avoid Herod. But what is so threatening about love, mercy, and grace? We’re still threatened by these things today. We see it when we talk about universal health care, about livable minimum wages, and about social security. These attempts to help people in need, which God through Jesus commands us to do, are seen as threats to the powerful and wealthy. But into the darkness of a culture which treats wealth as its god, shines a guiding star and a child is born, God’s love manifested in human form. And it shows us the meaning underlying life: to love one another.

The good news is that God’s light and love continues to shine among us today. We can look around us and see all the problems but we can also look around us and see our own guiding stars, those lights that reveal the presence of the Divine: the people that work to feed the homeless, those that help protect victims of violence, those that advocate for programs that help the needy, those that might simply offer an encouraging word when we most need it, or the stranger who gives us a genuine smile to lift our spirits. We can look into our world and see these guiding stars among us, little lights of hope that tell us that God is here now and God cares.

God is not only still at work in the world, but is at work in us, offering to transform each one of us to be a light in the darkness: to take a stand for justice and against fear, to live with love and compassion in our hearts and in everything we say and do, to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to resist oppression and violence… to love one another.

Let us come to the Holy One in worship and prayer, opening our hearts to the light and love of God that we too may become bearers of the light, an Epiphany people who know that the joy and grace of Christ’s birth is not just a gift to be admired and praised but a gift to be shared and put to work for the sake of the world that Gods loves so much. Let us open our hearts and become beacons of compassion and justice, that we may let God’s love shine into the darkness through us.

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This reflection first appeared in my church’s newsletter on January 18, 2019 and is inspired by the sermon, “A Guiding Star,” from January 6, 2019. The audio of the sermon can be found at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.

Look, Then Leap

Everyone loves a show! The bigger and more outrageous the spectacle, the more we stop what we’re doing and pay attention. In the 12th chapter of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warns us against people who go out of their way to put on a show just to impress others, to puff up their importance by wearing fancy clothes, who insist others defer to them and serve them, and who always have to be in a place of honor. These are the ones, we’re told, who are hiding something, the ones who behind the facade are taking advantage of the poor, the widow, and the immigrant.

Jesus goes on to notice a widow who gives her last pennies to the Temple treasury. This widow is one of the very people who are being oppressed by those who try to look so important but Jesus takes his time to notice her and the situation she is in. Noticing what is happening around us is an important first step in correcting the injustices of the world. Too often we don’t notice those in need. We legislate the homeless to corners of our cities where we won’t see them or we hear about a caravan of people fleeing the violence of their homes and we demonize them, creating the fear that helping them would somehow ruin our own lives. We fail to notice their humanity, the fact that they are parents and brothers and sisters, that they love and are loved just as we are. We fail to notice that that poor person is a human being in need who likes ice cream and romance novels and not someone to be objectified.

We fail to notice because it absolves us of the responsibility to respond. We might think we can’t respond because we don’t have enough ourselves – so how can we help anyone else? But scripture is full of stories of people who thought they weren’t good enough or didn’t have enough and yet God used them to change the world. What if we truly made an effort to notice what happens around us? Who or what do we ignore and overlook as we go about our daily business? What would happen if we started to notice – and then, putting our trust in God, started to respond? What a difference we could make!

May God bless you and the work you do to notice and respond to the injustices around you.

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This reflection first appeared in my church’s newsletter on November 16, 2018 and is inspired by the sermon, “Look, Then Leap,” from November 11, 2018. The audio of the sermon can be found at https://phoenixchurch.org/home/phx-sermons/.

Do We Know What We Want?

Have you ever struggled with a difficult decision, perhaps a major change in life such as whether to move or quit a job? We’re faced with decisions all the time and sometimes we’re not sure what would be best. When we make difficult life changing choices, we often look for meaning and a sense of inner peace. But, if we ask for meaning and peace of heart, do we know what we are asking for? Do we seek meaning in the accumulation of things as in the story of the rich person who wasn’t able to give up their wealth to follow Jesus? Do we believe that winning a huge lotto jackpot will bring us peace? Or maybe we seek meaning in status, having people look up to us and think we’re important. Or maybe we seek peace in power, thinking, “if only I had more control…” Even in the church we look to the world’s definitions of success, thinking to follow Jesus “successfully” means bigger churches and bigger offerings. We think that is what measures how meaningful we are, whether our efforts are “worth it” or not.

When James and John came to Jesus in Mark 10, asking to sit beside in him glory, maybe they were wondering if following Jesus, with all his talk of death and persecution, was really worth it. Maybe they were seeking a sense of meaning. But like many of us they thought meaning was found in glory, power, and wealth. But Jesus responds that in God’s eyes to be great is to serve. This is where we find the natural harmonies and rhythms of life that bring peace. God created us as interdependent beings, not to be competitors for empty glory but to be companions meant for relationship and community. To be great, to find meaning and peace, to find what makes it all worth it, is to serve, to help each other, to support each other, and to love each other.

Jesus asks if we can follow in his footsteps and give up our pursuits of wealth, power, and glory to serve? Can we help each other, support each other, and love each other even if the world around us is threatened by it and despises us for it? That isn’t an empty threat either. Right now in our own times, journalists who are seen as threatening the power of so-called leaders are being denigrated and even killed. If we as Christians do as Jesus did and stand up to oppressive power, we too may put ourselves at risk. There can be a cost to following Jesus. We often think James and John didn’t realize this, that they wanted glory with no effort. But, I wonder if they just wanted to be reassured it was worth it. I believe it is. We will get resistance when we live for justice. We will get pushback. But we were created by God to be companions, not competitors.

I also believe in resurrection, in God’s promise of new life. In every discouraging lie told, for every degradation of the poor, of women, of immigrants, of LGBTQ people, I see more and more people standing up and saying this is not acceptable. In standing up for each other we plant the seeds of hope. We begin to nurture new life – a life that acknowledges that to serve and support each other, to love, is the order and motion of God’s Creation. This is where we find true, lasting meaning and peace in life: in God’s unconditional, everlasting love flowing through us and into the world.

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This reflection is inspired by the sermon, “Do we know what we are asking for?,” from October 21, 2018. The audio of the sermon can be found on the Phoenix Community Church web site.

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