Today’s sermon. If you don’t normally, I would encourage you to listen to the audio. You can hear the laughter and the spirit in the sanctuary – it had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the 12 confirmands running the worship service. Come, Holy Spirit, Come!
Our Piece Of The Puzzle
Yesterday morning Bruce and I attended the Old Colony Association Annual Spring Meeting at the North Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Middleboro, Massachusetts. I had been asked to plan worship, so around 9:30, Patty Kogut, the pastor of North Congregational, and I called everyone into the sanctuary. Some of you may remember Patty; she acted as the association representative at my installation back in October. She is a woman of beautiful faith with a wonderful sense of humor. Patty welcomed everyone not only to the service, but also to the meeting. Because her church was hosting she said, “If anyone needs anything around the church, just let me know.” Then she looked and me and smirked and continued on to say, “And if you want to know the meaning of life, you can talk to Sarah Weaver.”
What is the meaning of life? I suppose that is something I should know. My college diploma hangs on the wall in my office downstairs with a degree conferred in Philosophy & Religion (which, by the way, was named to The Daily Beast’s list of ’13 Most Useless Majors’ last month – I was so proud). Shouldn’t I have all of the answers on life and on faith? I am sure that is, after all, why you hired me last year.
Well, I have a little bit of bad news. I do not have all of the answers. Not even close. I cannot tell you the hours upon hours that I have wasted contemplating the meaning of life, what existed before the world existed, what will exist after, what exists beyond the universe, what ‘nothing’ looks like and whether or not ‘nothing’ ever ends (because if ‘nothing’ ends, then is ‘nothing’ really ‘something’? And if ‘nothing’ is really ‘something’ then when does it end?). It’s a finicky cycle.
Have you ever wondered this kind of stuff? It is mind boggling, really. On both a scientific and philosophical level, there is so much about this world that we just do not understand. We probably never will. We are such a small piece of this big puzzle of life. And the pieces that we see are not much bigger.
This year’s Confirmation Class has engaged in a nine-month curriculum called “Celebrating Questions”. We threw away traditional curriculums that require lectures and rote memorization and made way for round table discussions, small groups, alternative worship, questions, questions and more questions. I will talk more about the journey that we have all taken together over the past nine months in two weeks on Confirmation Sunday (save the date – May 20th!), but for now I will say this: If I were a betting woman, I would bet my entire shoe collection that our twelve Confirmands came out of this year with less answers than they thought they would – and even more questions than they started with.
Life is really complicated. I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, I am really not that old, but my goodness. The older I get, the less I understand. The more I dig around for answers the more questions I seem to uncover.
If you think about it, we are such a small piece of the puzzle of life. We will never see it all. We will never understand it all. We will never be able to put all of the pieces together in their right places. We can only do the best that we can. The world … the universe … our faith … God’s creation is just too great for us to be able to understand in a way that we probably want to. Sometimes – okay, most of the time – that is frustrating. We are human beings. We want to understand things; we want to explain things; we want to fix things.
A few months ago I read a very insightful book written by Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of (forgive me for saying this in the land of Dunkin Donuts) Starbucks. The book is called “Onward: How Starbucks Fought For Its Life Without Losing Its Soul”. In it Schultz talks about how Starbucks worked its way through this economic recession we are in without compromising the core values of the organization – reasonable wages, healthcare for all of their employees, fair treatment of and payment to the coffee farmers and good coffee. In many ways this book has been extremely helpful to me in my ministry. So many of the issues that Starbucks dealt with – and to some extent are still dealing with – are issues that the church faces today. How can we survive in a changing world without losing the core sense of who we are and who we want to be?
About halfway through the book Schultz talked about how he felt when he and his partners realized that they would have to close 600 U.S. Starbucks stores. Schultz says:
One particular statistic, however, raised my ire: 70 percent of all stores slated for closure had been opened in the past three years, during the aggressive growth period when we opened 2,300 locations. It was staggering. We were closing almost 20 percent of our newest stores! We thought all we had to do was show up to be successful, I thought to myself. As I stared at the list of 600, a lesson resonated: Success is not sustainable if it’s defined by how big you become. Large numbers that once captivated me … are not what matter. The only number that matters is “one.” One cup. One customer. One partner. We had to get back to what mattered most.
I burst into tears when I read this. At the time I was newly ordained and called here, trying to learn and get to know this church and community. There was so much to do and when I looked at the big picture I just found myself overwhelmed. But Schultz reminded me that I did not need to look at the big picture. I needed to remember the number one. One church. One community. One worship service. One Confirmation Class. One committee meeting. One home visit. One budget. One Sunday School class. One trip to the hospital. One family. One new member. One sermon. One youth group event. One.
As it turns out when you break the big picture down into smaller pieces, ministry is much more manageable. And when I tried to apply this theory into my own life, I realized that when you break the big picture down into smaller pieces, life is much more manageable as well.
So maybe we don’t need to focus on the whole puzzle. Maybe we just need to focus on our piece.
God sees everything – we do not have to. God has a hand in everything – we do not have to. God knows how to put all of the pieces together – we do not have to. God understands the meaning of life – we do not have to. God sees the entire story – we only just see a passing glimpse as it is coming together.
I think it is time to start to focus on one. Our one. Our piece of the puzzle. We need to nurture and care for our piece of the puzzle. We need to take care of ourselves and our families and our friends. We need to find things that make us happy in life, find ways to engage in ministries that affirm our calls from God and we need to foster a healthy community that will help us to thrive. We need to stop trying to figure out the bigger picture and start focusing on the piece that is right in front of us.
So here is a question to take with you and ponder for the rest of the day – what does your piece of the puzzle look like?
May God bless you both in your discernment and in the magnificent creation of your piece of the puzzle.