This holiday season was the year of the puzzle with our family. It started in mid-November when my mother was in town and brought a 550 piece puzzle for us all to work on while she visited. It continued over the week of Thanksgiving when my brother- and sister-in-law helped us complete one with one thousand pieces. On a roll, we brought another brand new one down to Nebraska, and worked on it over the Christmas break. It was just that kind of year, I guess.
I love working on a puzzle. Well, maybe I love SOME of working on a puzzle. I love the beginning, when you’re sorting out the edge pieces from the middle pieces. Then I love getting that frame complete. And I love working on a distinctive segment. Our Christmas puzzle was a hot air balloon scene. I liked picking one balloon to work on or even just the line of the horizon across the middle of the picture. Those sections are fun; success and satisfaction are easy to come by. It’s fascinating to me to hold one piece of the puzzle in my hand, to look at it and have no clue what the mix of color has to do with the final picture, only to finally figure out where it goes, how it fits in.
Ahhh…but if only it were that easy. In reality much of the time spent putting a puzzle together involves scrutinizing a single piece. Is is blue or grey? Is is a real balloon or the reflection of the balloon? Is the green grass or trees?
Sometimes it’s hard to see how one little piece fits into the bigger picture.
How does one little part of anything make a difference in the grand scheme of things? How does serving one meal at Grace Place satiate a belly that has been growling for a life time? How does teaching one week of Sunday School grow faith in a child? How does one check in the offering plate carry the ministry of a church? How does giving from one person’s abundance begin to reverse worldwide scarcity? How does filling one backpack with Cheerios and Hamburger Helper fight hunger? It can all be so overwhelming. One little action can barely seem like a drop in the bucket in the face of the needs of the community, the church, and the world. How will filling a stone jar with water make any difference at all to the wine supply at the wedding?
Mary, this guest at the party, not the host, not their master, noticed the wine was leaning toward scarce; it was running out. The party was going strong, the celebration was rich and filled with joy, but hospitality was about to be at its limit. Resources were about to run out, as we know from personal experience and what we hear in the news that resources sometimes do - - money for an energy bill is dwindling, decisions have to be made, priorities checked at the grocery store checkout line to make sure there’s enough cash to cover the bill, choices have to be made between adequate health care and the mortgage bill. Every day we experience or we hear about these places where scarcity seems to be winning, but it’s hard to know where to start. It’s hard to figure out a way in. It’s overwhelming and sometimes even paralyzing. We want to make it right. We want it to be better. We want someone who can do something to do something. Like Mary we call out to Jesus, “There’s nothing! Do something!”
The wine was just about at the last drop, and Mary, this guest, this woman, starts ordering t peopels around, first sort of just hinting to Jesus, “They have no wine,” then with orders to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
“Sure. Whatever he says,” we can imagine them thinking. Jesus isn’t anyone in particular to them. He’s a guest from the next town over at the wedding celebration of their master’s family. He and his mom and a few of their friends showed up like everyone else, but he isn’t any different than anyone else as far as they can see. Why should they “do whatever he tells you” especially when he starts talking about filling stone jars with water.
These aren’t just pint or quart-sized jars. These are HUMONGOUS stone jars that would hold the water needed for daily purification rituals, like washing hands as a blessing at meal times and upon waking up. Each stone jar would hold about 30 gallons of water. The servants are being told to go down to the village well or a spring of water nearby and carry 180 gallons of water just because this nobody from Nazareth told them to, just because his mother thought maybe he should do something about the scarcity at the party. Just imagine the questions they must be asking themselves. What is water in this jar going to do for the bigger problem? What is the point of this exercise anyway? How in the world is this going to help ANYthing?
Who knows, but they did it. The task seemed ridiculous. It seemed unrelated. It felt like a futile effort in the face of a bigger issue, but they did. They did their part. They participated in a miracle. Just imagining the servants lugging jars back and forth from the well is like looking at one single puzzle piece out of a thousand that make a picture. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It doesn’t always look like fits anywhere. On its own it’s completely useless. But when you put it in place with all of the other pieces - -
When the vision and passion of Mary to end the scarcity are added to the jars of the party host and the physical labor of the servants and the natural resources given by God and the power of Jesus transformation happens. The whole picture becomes clear. A miracle occurs.
Why wouldn’t it be any different today? When the vision and passion to tackle hunger is given by the Holy Spirit to one person, the resources of another are added, the physical labor still more get to work with the natural resources given by God, and the power of Jesus’s abundant love tie it all together transformation can happen. A miracle can occur. The picture will be clear when all the pieces of the puzzle are put together.
· When one Sunday School teacher is added to a mentor in confirmation class, talks about prayer and practice at home, the experience of worship and hearing the Word of God, the miracle of faith formation in a younger generation is within reach.
· When you fill one backpack with food, and add it to WIC benefit checks that facilitate the most comfortable in the community in helping the ones who struggle the most, job skills training, and affordable childcare options, and emergency benevolence assistance from the churches sharing Christ’s love, alert and compassionate school counselors, the lives of struggling families are transformed. A miracle.
· When you share even just 5% of your income with the church, and add to it the 10% someone else can share and the 2% of another, now we have resources to provide opportunities to explore faith, share God’s love, and grow disciples of Jesus among our church family and throughout the community. Transformation. Miracles.
We all have the opportunity to be a piece of the puzzle. We all have the opportunity to be a part of transformation in the name of Jesus. We all have the opportunity to be a part of miracles. Last year our congregation committed itself to three ministry areas where we saw a need, a scarcity you might say, in our life together and in the world around us. We committed ourselves to be a part of transformation in our ministries with children and youth, spiritual growth among friends and strangers, and meeting the basic needs of those who are lacking in our community. We are still working on our transformation goals. We are still looking to be a part of miracles, but they don’t happen magically. They don’t happen without people who have vision, those who will sharing of resources, workers who carry them out, and a strong connection to the power of Christ. They won’t happen until all the pieces of the puzzle are in place.