-- Need a couple volunteers:
(puzzle pieces face down - have 2 minutes to see how many pieces you can put together without turning the pieces face up)
Get the volunteers to share:
- What was that experience like? [get responses]
Do you ever feel like life is a little bit like that? That there are all these pieces and sometimes they fit together and sometimes they don’t and sometimes you think they *should* fit together…
...and sometimes maybe you feel like you are connected and the trajectory of your life makes sense it’s all hanging together in the right way
...and sometimes maybe you feel like that one puzzle piece that’s out of place...you’re not sure of where you fit, not sure what the picture even looks like and how you are a part of it all.
I want to offer these words from Scripture to help guide our reflection today - they come from the book of Romans, chapter 12, verses 3 - 13. This comes from The Message.
Scripture: Romans 12:3-13 (The Message)
3I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
4-6In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we're talking about is Christ's body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn't amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ's body, let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't.
6-8If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
9-10Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
The Word of Life. Thanks be to God.
I love jigsaw puzzles. I don’t have the opportunity to do them much nowadays for obvious reasons - but growing up there would always be at least a thousand piece puzzle on our dining room table that we’d pick at from time to time as a family - putting the edge pieces together first -- because we’d want to create a frame for how everything fit together -- and then filling in the middle bits...maybe by color...maybe by random luck...and we’d use the picture on the box as a reference point for how everything was supposed to fit together.
If you take a look at a puzzle piece - one single piece - it’s not that much to look at, is it? Bits of color...funny edges...you can’t really tell what it is supposed to do or how it is supposed to function. It’s just one piece in a box of many other pieces….disconnected and separate.
But what happens when you put it in the right place?
[put two or three pieces together]
The picture becomes clearer. The piece makes more sense. The piece no longer becomes one bit with funny edges...but part of a whole. It needs to be connected to other pieces to give a clearer picture of how it fits in the larger picture...what it is supposed to be doing...what it’s purpose is.
I think we’re a bit like that, too. Each of us is unique (funny edges, bits of color) - and we have gifts and talents -- but it’s only in connection with other people that those gifts and talents make sense. It’s only when we’re working together with others that our gifts and talents can make a difference. Paul in this passage we heard from Romans talks about it as parts of the body functioning together to create the body of Christ -- which isn’t just a metaphor. It’s an image of people working together to show a living, breathing, Christ to the world. There’s a part in God’s kingdom we play that no one else can play, and it’s only when we are in community when we get to play that part to its fullest potential and that our lives have God-filled meaning and purpose.
What would happen if this piece decided it wanted to be another part of the picture?
[get responses...there’d be something missing, things wouldn’t work correctly, picture isn’t complete, etc]
God needs each of us as we are -- each of us is important to the building of God’s kingdom. We don’t have to worry about being something we’re not, we don’t have to worry about doing someone else’s job, we don’t have to try and fill someone else’s role -- which is such good news...if you’re good at hospitality, live fully into that...if you are good at teaching, you don’t have to play host...if you are someone who is naturally generous, you can give to your hearts’ content -- all we have to do is live out our part, trusting that others are doing the same, and that God is the one who is bringing all of it together into something beautiful so that our world is more filled with love, more filled with hope, more filled with peace. And we do this together -- as a community, working with one another, to make God’s kingdom more real here on the island.
So I want us to think about these pieces and the parts that we play in making God’s kingdom here on earth.
What part do you see yourself playing? It can be something specific - like being kind to the people you meet on the ferry, or bringing different people together around the table for a meal, or caring for people when they’ve had a tough day. It can be more general - like being a cheerful giver, or volunteering. It can be something related to what you do for work, or your own personal sense of calling.
Whatever it is, take a moment, and jot it down on the back of the puzzle piece that [someone] is handing you. Put your name on it too.
What we’re going to do is going to get a little bit better picture of the ways that we as a community are building this kingdom, piece by piece, playing the parts that we are gifted and called to play. So when you have your piece ready, come on up to the front, and put your piece on the board here, and if you’d like to share a bit about what you wrote down, that’s great -- if not, don’t feel like you have to.
The image that God is making is God’s kingdom - and each of us is part of the puzzle. Every time we use our gifts, every time we love from the center of who we are, every time we trust that everyone has a part to play no matter who they are or where they come from -- every time we recognize our interdependence upon one another -- we are growing deeper into the community that God has for us - and deeper into a kingdom life together.
As we read the scriptures and hear stories of the early church, this was what really excited the people who watched those first Christians -- the way that they loved one another and worked together, shared food and homes together -- and shared this common mission to their surrounding communities. In this, priority was given to the community over the individual because it is only in community that the gifts of the individual make sense. It’s only by seeing the greater picture that any one piece can carry out its function.
Each of us is a piece of God’s puzzle. Will you connect with others to use your gifts and to help complete the picture that God is making? Will you allow God to place you in situations to make God’s kingdom more real? I pray that as we go forth this morning, that it may be so for us - that we may use our gifts to be Christ’s body in this world. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son and 6 month old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.