Everyone’s Name Is On Our Gift Tag

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord … the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good … All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.”
— 1 Corinthians, chapter 12
Each of us has a gift that we share with others, our own families and the world beyond our own four walls—a service we provide through the willing exercise of our God-given gift. None of these gifts is more, or less, important than another.
Even the seemingly simplest act of service—which might involve nothing that outwardly shines as a “gift”—is motivated by a keen willingness to serve. That openness of the heart is, in itself, a powerful gift.
A clear example of how every gift of ourselves given to others is important—and not more or less so than another’s—is seen through recalling the old-fashioned wagon wheels of the 18th and 19th centuries. Each of our gifts is like a spoke on one of those wheels. And each spoke is connected to the same wheel hub, just as our gifts come from the same Holy Spirit. Remove even a single spoke and the wheel is weakened and then one day breaks and the journey is delayed or jeopardized entirely. So every spoke matters equally. Just as every gift that God and Christ have given us to share is precious, a blessing to others, and to ourselves.
Our gifts, to look at them another way, are notes that together create melody and song, notes that have all been arranged by the same Composer and without which—even one missing note—the song would not be the same.
Look at our own hands. One of our fingers cannot pick even a penny up off the sidewalk. But when our fingers work together we can take a sword and pound it into a plowshare.
God gives each of us our own unique gifts so that we will work together for the greater good. The more we work together, the greater the good.

Nobody has all the gifts they will need to live a full and truly happy life. And if we did, how terrible to be alone with so many gifts and nobody with whom to share them.

I Cannot Explain What Is Happening, And I Am Glad

Imagine being one of the apostles near the Mount of Olivet during the scene described in verses six through 14 in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. There we are, with the risen Jesus, who is giving us our marching orders: to be his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth.
If being with the resurrected Jesus isn’t mind-blowing enough, we then watch as he is lifted up and taken out of our sight in a cloud. As we’re gazing up toward heaven, two men in white robes suddenly appear at our side and ask why we’re looking up into the sky. Jesus, they tell us, has been taken away from us into heaven but will come back in the same way.
What a conversation we would have had during the day-long walk back to Jerusalem after this experience. Dumbfounded silence would have been interspersed with gushing voices falling over each other recounting what had just happened.
But, what had just happened?
In all likelihood, I suppose, the two men were angels. They match the description of the two who appeared to Mary Magdalene when she went to Jesus’ tomb on Easter morning.
The one thing I know better than anything else … the one thing I know best of all—is that there is a ton of stuff that I don’t know. This passage from the Book of Acts is among the many things I cannot explain.
And that makes me very happy.
You and I—all of us—need far more than what the human mind could possibly conceive. The transformation of humanity into a world of love and compassion requires far more than anything I could dissect and explain. Knowing that God is in the process of lifting us all toward one another—if we allow it to happen by not misusing our free will—is incredibly reassuring.
We can feel ripples of God’s movement, like a breeze against our skin or a river’s current and the pulling of a tide along the shore as we wade out together. But I cannot take the wind in my hands and hold it tightly, even for a second. Rivers and tides flow right through my fingers. I cannot begin to grasp the awesome fullness of what is happening and how it is happening.
There are clues all around but I cannot pretend to be Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot and solve the mystery before your very eyes.
God is on the case and I thank God for that.
All I know is what I have faith in: there is an awesome transformation underway and taking shape. It is, indeed, happening. The love and grace of God will eventually prevail in the world because it will some day prevail in our hearts. Prevailing in the human heart, one human being at a time, is how that love and grace shine like beams of light into the dark corners of the world, such as the Manchester, England music hall where 22 people died, some of them children, and 59 were injured in a suicide bomb attack Monday night.
The alternative, so often clearly illustrated, is darkness spreading one human heart at a time.
So, here we are. Gathered with Peter and John. Gathered with James and Andrew, with Phillip and Thomas. Here we are, gathered with the mother and brothers of Jesus.
Gathered with each other.
Something wondrous has happened on our journey to Jerusalem, and is unstoppably underway, that we cannot fully explain.
Or stop.
And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

God’s Daily Blue-plate Special

Think back, for a moment, to the best meal you’ve ever had in your life. Whether at a fine restaurant or cooked at home, with family at Christmas or over a campfire in the woods by a lake.
A meal that lives long in memory.
Okay, hold that thought as we listen to what Jesus has to say about the Holy Spirit in the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
Of the three figures of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the most difficult for many people to fully grasp. God we understand. Jesus we comprehend. But the Holy Spirit? The Holy Ghost? Ghosts aren’t part of our everyday lives. Except this one.
One can think of the Holy Spirit as a “feeling” that comes upon us when we are deep in prayer or, as can happen, when our mind is on something else entirely. A feeling that reminds us of God and Jesus, gives us a feeling of their presence and what it means in our lives, a feeling of inspiration, a feeling of insight, a feeling of hearing, seeing and understanding the spiritual more clearly, suddenly and sometimes only for an instant. An instant, however, that lingers in memory—like the best meal you’ve ever had.
Think of God as the Master Chef. Master Chefs express themselves through their culinary masterpieces. God’s back in a kitchen that is literally out of this world and God is cooking up the best meal we could ever possibly be served—an expression, or articulation, of God’s life-transforming love and grace. That’s what God, the Master Chef, prepared for us: love and grace that change our lives.
Now, think of Jesus as the meal, itself, as the way God’s love and grace were expressed and articulated into the world. God served love and grace to us through Jesus and the meaning and ministry of his life, death and resurrection.
But how does the Holy Spirit fit into all of this? Think of the Holy Spirit as the aroma of that meal that God prepared for us and then served to us through Jesus. Though the Master Chef, the meal and its aroma are three distinct and different things, they are also, somehow, part of the same thing.
Think about aromas. We can’t see them. We can’t touch them. But they sure are real. They are like spirits of what has been prepared for us and then served as a meal. They are culinary “ghosts” but we know for a fact they exist. We smell them every day.
The aroma of a meal is part of the meal, itself. The aroma comes directly from what has been prepared. The aroma of a steak is literally part of the steak. The Holy Spirit is no different, it just doesn’t have anything to do with a rib-eyes.
And all aromas do something quite special.
Think back to that best-meal-ever in your life. If you could somehow smell the aroma again it would bring that meal back to life for you. The aroma would remind you of every nuance, nook and cranny of that meal: how it looked, the way it felt on your tongue and, especially, its flavors.
That is exactly what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit allows us to feel, to “taste” the expression of God’s love and grace that was prepared and served to us through Jesus.
Jesus promised us the Holy Spirit to ensure we’d never go spiritually hungry. God’s love and grace are being served every day.
Simply enjoying the meal, however, is not God’s dream for us, nor why Jesus lived for us, died for us, and was resurrected for us. Being transformed by God’s expression of love and grace—even just a little bit—is why God brought all the ingredients together and invites us to the feast.
No degree of transformation is insignificant. Consider how one single comma or the tiny dot of a period can change the meaning of a sentence that alters the plot of a chapter that transforms the end of a novel.
So, dig in. And bon appetit.

Jesus Is No Name-Dropper

I don’t know about you, but sometimes my memory for names can’t be called “memory” at all. “Forgetfulness” would be more accurate. On more than one occasion, for example, I’ve come around the corner of an aisle in a grocery store and heard someone call me by name.
I knew that person.
I knew I knew that person.
That person knew I knew them.
But I could not recall their name at that moment to save my life.
The explanation is one I understand: I was totally pre-occupied with my own thoughts, that had nothing to do with shopping, while simultaneously trying to remember all of the things I needed to buy. Had I seen the person from a distance it would have given my brain time to remind me of their name.
Or, that’s my excuse.
But I know it’s not just me. I’ve also been on the receiving end of “name non-memory.” I’ve said hello to someone and the look on their face tells me all I need to know. They can’t remember my name to save their life. I understand. Been there and not remembered that.
So how amazing is it that Jesus knows all of his sheep by name?
Totally astonishing.
Just think how many sheep Jesus actually has throughout the whole wide world, and has had across 2,000 years. Look at how many sheep he has a St. Anne’s. Yet, Jesus knows us all by name.
But he also knows more than that. Jesus is aware of all that we have been, all that we are, and all that we can be—if we follow our Good Shepherd.
Jesus knows when we need to lie down in green pastures. And when we feel, in our soul, the holy spirit of Jesus guiding us to a restfulness that feels like a green pasture it is more than okay for us to do just that—to stop being so busy, physically and mentally, and chill out in the abundance of the green pasture he has led us to.
Likewise, when we feel Jesus lead us beside still waters there is a reason for it. Pause. Refresh. Rest. Drink in the feeling of peacefulness reflected toward our soul by those still waters.
We mustn’t feel like we have to keep pushing ourselves and going and going and going. If we do, we run the risk of pushing ourselves beyond Jesus. We keep going and going and going past Jesus, like a sheep going beyond its shepherd.
Then we get lost and, let me tell you, life’s “wolves” love it when that happens.
Whenever Jesus seeks to revive our soul, there is a very good reason and we should let him do it.
Don’t feel guilty about it. Let it happen. Jesus knows better than ourselves what we truly need. We can see up to the bend in the road. Only Jesus can see around the bend.
So don’t worry about what’s around the bend, either.
The rod and staff of Jesus will comfort us and when we need it most we will feel our head anointed with oil and our cup running over. That is: we shall feel the certain peace inside us that passes all understanding.
Goodness, love and mercy will have followed us no matter where we went—even when we wandered off—and we will know deep down inside that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We may forget someone’s name in the grocery store next week and someone might forget our name tomorrow.
But Jesus never will.
Ever.

Faith

FAITH
Deep in the longest drought on record

one man stood

believing in rain

and splashing

—so skeptics declared—

in his own precipitation

that had nothing

at all

to do with the sky

and the clouds,

or other things

the man could not prove.

The sky is dead, the skeptics sang in unison,

and there are no more clouds, they added in refrain.

There is nothing up there at all, they swore on oath.

But still the man in the rain

kept splashing.

And his garden grew.

Enough to feed them all.
—By Ken Woodley