Putting the World Back Together

Once a father was wanting to entertain his little girl on a rainy afternoon so he pulled a magazine out of a basket and flipped to a page with a giant map of the world. He carefully cut the map into tiny little squares. Then he gave his daughter the pieces and said, “I’ve made you a puzzle of the world. See if you can put it back together again.”

The father smiled and left the room figuring this would keep the little girl entertained for a good long while. So imagine his shock when he came back in the room a couple minutes later to find the puzzle assembled perfectly on the table.

“How on earth did you do that so quickly?” the father asked, amazed.

“Oh it was easy,” the girl said, smiling. “on the tip side was a picture of a man. If you put the man back together then the world is put back with him.”

“If you put the man back together then the world is put back with him…” Great words of wisdom from a little girl. Wisdom that can be found in all the great faiths. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself and radically insisted that any person you encounter in need is your neighbor. Rabbis through the ages have affirmed this basic truth in the Jewish faith. Rabbi Hillel famously insisted that the entire Torah is summed up in the phrase, “Whatever you would not like done to you, do not do to your neighbor.” There is a verse in the Quran that says, “Whoever saves one man’s life, it is as if he has saved the entire world.” As universal as this wisdom is; it is also universally ignored. There are zealots in every major religion who would seek to fix the world by tearing apart the man in front of them. But that is always the opposite of God’s plan. Those who follow in the way of Jesus should recognize the supreme irony that rather than tear down others, God himself in Jesus Christ, consented to let himself be torn apart so the world may be healed. In light of such grace, the disciples of the crucified ought to be the first in line to help a neighbor in need.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

What is a Saint?

A father and his 5 year old daughter showed up early for mass one morning and spent some time quietly in the sanctuary. There were three beautiful stained glass windows in the chapel: one of St. Peter, one of St. Francis, and one of St. Andrew. The little girl was fascinated by the windows. “Who are these people?” She asked.

The father smiled and answered, “Those are the saints.” Not wanting to miss an opportunity to teach her about their faith he asked, “Do you know what a saint is?”

She looked up at one of the windows and saw the sunlight beaming through it, casting colorful shadows on the floor. “I think I do,” she answered, “a saint is someone the light shines through.”

So often we think of saints as being a super-class of spiritual individuals who have achieved levels of holiness we ordinary mortals could never hope to attain to. This parable reminds us that what makes one a saint is not who they are but whose they are. The test of a saint is how brightly the light of Christ shines through them. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his followers, “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” These instructions are for all disciples walking in the way of Jesus. We are all called to be people the light shines through!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Squirrel

A pastor called the children of the church down to the front to join him for a special Children’s Sermon. In his hand, he held a photograph of a squirrel he had printed off of the computer. He had in mind to teach a lesson on “responsibility” using the furry rodent who stows away nuts as an example. When the kids were all seated in front of him, he held the photo close to his chest and said, “I have a picture here and I want you to guess what it is before I show it to you. I’ll give you some clues and see if you can figure out what it is.”

The kids all smiled and the pastor continued:

“The thing I have is gray and it has a big bushy tail…”

The pastor was just sure he’d see some hands shoot up immediately but the kids were all silent. So he kept going:

“This thing has little buck teeth and really likes to eat acorns…”

Still no hands were raised. In fact, most of the kids looked confused.

“It’s small and loves to climb trees…”

Nothing. Just blank stares and heads turned sideways.

“Does nobody want to guess?” the Pastor asked. “I think I gave you all the hints you need…”

Finally a little girl in the back raised her hand tentatively. Relieved, the pastor immediately called on her. The girl looked down at her lap as she spoke.

“Pastor, I know the answer is supposed to be Jesus but it sounds an awful lot like a squirrel to me.”

There is actually a profound challenge hidden in this humorous little story. How many times do people come to our churches expecting to hear about Jesus and leave confused that we seemed to be talking about everything but? I’m always struck by the polls conducted every four years around election time. While pastors on the left and the right clamor for the right to endorse candidates from the pulpit, polls overwhelmingly and consistently show that’s not what the people in the pews want. If I had to guess, they’d rather hear about Jesus. We who communicate love to chase squirrels, sharing our opinions on the great issues of the day, but we serve people who are hungry for the timeless truth of the Gospel. Disciples walking in the way of Jesus are called to fix their eyes upon him and not look back. We are called to preach Christ and Christ crucified. We are called to seek first the Kingdom of God. Everything else is… well… you can guess.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Transfusion

Once there was an eight year old boy whose younger sister was dying of leukemia. She was desperately in need of a blood transfusion. They tested all of the immediate family but the boy’s blood was by far the best match. The parents were reluctant to have him donate his blood because they were afraid the experience would be too traumatic.  But, at the doctor’s urging, they sat down with him and explained to him that his sister was dying and that, of all of them, his blood was the best match. They needed to know if he’d be willing to give her a pint of his blood. They told him he didn’t have to if he was too scared. They could look for another donor, perhaps a relative. But they also explained she would need this transfusion soon or she would die.

“Can I have the night to think it over?” the child asked.

The parents agreed but, worried they had spooked the boy, began calling relatives. In the morning, though, the boy announced that he wanted to give his sister his blood. So they took the boy to the hospital where he laid on a bed next to his sister. They hooked the boy up to an IV and began to take his blood. The blood spiraled through tubes, painting them red as they went, making a trail from the little boy’s veins to his dying sister’s IV. 

The boy lay in silence as his blood began to drip into his sister. A nurse noticed the boy looked pale and frightened so she went to check on him.

“How are you feeling?” she asked the boy.

The boy lifted his head, looked her in the eyes, and asked, “How soon until I start to die?”

I first read this story in Anne LaMott’s wonderful book on writing, “Bird by Bird.” She describes it as “the best true story I ever heard…” and I must agree it is up there. What a wonderful parable of love and sacrifice! Not understanding the process of transfusion, the boy in the story thought he was going to die in the process of giving his blood to his sister and was willing to do it anyway. 1 John 3:16 tells us, “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” This kind of self sacrificial love is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple walking in the way of Jesus.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Starfish Thrower

A man was walking along the beach one morning after a big storm had been through the night before. All up and down the shore, as far as the eye could see, there were starfish drying out in the sand. As the man walked further, he noticed a little girl, several yards away, stooping down, picking up starfish, and throwing them back into the ocean. Just as soon as one starfish landed in the water with a plop and a splash, the girl would stoop, pick up another starfish, and toss it back out into the water. The man continued to walk in that direction, watching, amused, as the girl did this over and over. When he finally reached the girl, he chuckled. The girl had picked up another starfish and when she heard him, she looked up.

“Why are  you wasting your time?”, the man asked with a grin. “There are starfish along this beach as far as you can see. Thousands of them! Here you are tossing them one by one into the ocean. How can you possibly make a difference?”

The little girl quietly stood up and flung the starfish in her hand as far as she could. At the end of a smooth silent arc, the starfish landed with plop and a splash out in the ocean. She turned around and smiled.

“I made a difference to that one.”

The man stood silently for a moment, pondering this response, then he stooped beside the girl, picked up a starfish and flung it into the ocean. The two continued silently together throwing starfish into the ocean where they landed, one by one,  with a plop and a splash.

This parable, first told by writer Loren Eiseley, in his 1969 book, “The Universe”, has been told and retold many times in the decades since. It is a beautiful illustration of making a difference in your own corner of the world. It is easy to be discouraged by the enormity of a problem and use that as an excuse for inaction. As disciples, we are called to be ever faithful to the task before us. One person may not be able to solve poverty or world hunger, but one person can help someone in need. The beauty is that by acting, we inspire others to action. They in turn inspire others. One person really can make a difference, but it is always one starfish at a time.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Child’s Drawing

There was a kindergarten teacher who made a habit of giving her class free time to draw. She felt this encouraged her students to use their imaginations. She made a practice of going around the room and asking the kids about what they were working on. On this particular day, one of her students had a very serious expression on her face as she drew. The teacher could tell she was drawing something that meant a lot to her. When she came around to the little girl’s table, she asked her what she was drawing.

The little girl looked up, smiling, and said, “I’m drawing God!”

The teacher was a little surprised. “No one knows what God looks like…,”she reminded the little girl.

The girl, not looking up from her intense art session, replied, “That’s because I’m not finished yet.”

Of course God is unseen. He is bigger than our human categories. How do we present a picture of this God to others? For Jesus, the answer had to do with the way we live our lives. Christ lived his life in such a way that the character and nature of God was unmistakable and he challenged his disciples to do the same. “Be therefore perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect…” Being made in God’s image gives us the responsibility of bearing that image to others. As disciples, we are called to live in such a way that people come to see God in us that through the power of the Spirit we are conformed more and more into the likeness of Christ each day. Being perfect as God is perfect- a tall order to say the least! You may think it impossible but I, for one, am not finished yet.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…