When my husband, Dan was 10 years old, he was in New Mexico for the first time, spending a week at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian camp and conference center for families. One evening, he was babysitting a few small kids so the parents could visit with friends after dinner. There is not much electricity at the ranch—we have taken our children there many times—so you always bring your flashlight to guide your way to your room or your campsite after dark.
Ghost Ranch sits at about 6500 feet elevation, but it’s also high red rock desert, so there’s not a lot, other than cloud cover, to block your view of the night sky. The parents came back from their evening of socializing, so Dan pocketed his two bucks for babysitting and walked out onto the dirt path, flashlight in hand, to head back to his family’s lodging. He paused to look up at the cloudless sky and for the first time in his life, he saw billions of stars like a white band painted across the distant, black velvet canvass. Dan was filled with awe, his first awareness of a spiritual experience, and he whispered to himself, “that’s why they call it the Milky Way!”
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?... O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-4,9)
Connie had a hard life. She was a member of St. Mark’s, the church I served in Kansas City, Missouri in the 90’s. Her husband, Robert had a massive stroke in his late 40’s, just a couple of years after they had adopted a child. Right before Christmas, Connie had to make the painful decision to take him off life support. Her mother had died a few years earlier, and this grief was also intensified. Connie did not know how she would go on and raise a child alone.
But something happened the following Easter. St. Mark’s was an old gothic style church that would seat six hundred, although we were an inner-city church of about fifty. In the chancel, there were choir pews facing each other and a big, ornate wooden altar was built against the back wall that reached up at least two stories. The chancel was so covered with the Easter lilies, you could smell their fragrance down in the congregation. During the Easter Communion service Connie had her eyes on the altar, praying with the liturgy, grieving her losses, holding her child, and the Spirit gave her vision of her mother among the lilies. Connie told me after the service, “she was there, clear as day, as if to say, it will be alright; Easter is real, Robert is with her, and then she was gone. The Spirit sent her to comfort and strengthen me.”
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Joe Yannnessa of Solutions Automotive is our amazing car mechanic in Frisco. His Christian faith means so much to him that the sign above his business has a big cross in the center of it. His father taught him the importance of paying forward the blessings of his life, and having survived a heart attack, this is one of the highest values Joe lives by with “pay-it-forward Friday.” Joe finds a way to help somebody every single Friday. Sometimes it’s a free repair at the car shop. Sometimes he picks up the tab for a single mom at a restaurant. Joe keeps his eyes open, listening to people and to God to discover where he can help someone in need.
Joe has another company called Cannons for a Cause. He supplies compressed air cannons that shoot golf balls 300 yards which companies use at fund-raisers. Joe donates all the money he raises with Cannons for Cause to Folds of Honor, providing college scholarships for the children of fallen or wounded soldiers. This past Friday (two days before Father's Day), Joe went to the shop where he always goes to get oxygen tanks for the canons. The man who exchanges the bottles has an intellectual disability; when they were done, he smiled at Joe and wished him a Happy Father’s Day. Joe had forgotten it was Father’s Day this weekend and his heart clutched. His father-in-law, with whom he was very close, died just last month; his own father, also one of Joe’s heroes, is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Joe wished the employee a nice Father’s Day, too, and the man said, “I am not a father; I never got married because of my disability.”
Joe got into his truck, and surprised by grief, and the prospect of Father’s Day, sat and cried his heart out. Then he looked at the bottle exchange man working away, and it was “Pay-it-forward-Friday,” and he thought: “He has been here for at least 16 years--rain or shine, boiling hot or freezing cold--he is always at work. Joe took all the cash he had out of his wallet, walked back over and handed it to him and said, “I would like you to take whoever you want, out to dinner on Sunday on us.” The man responded, “We are not allowed to take money.”Joe said, “I am going to leave this cash in the wedge of the fence over there, and you can walk away and come back and say that you found it. That way you can take whomever you want out to lunch or dinner on Sunday and know that we consider you a Dad. You are always here, working tirelessly, taking care of us, and I want to thank you.” The man started to cry.
Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice? On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand; The Lord created me at the beginning of his work….I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race. (Proverbs 8:1-2, 22, 30b-31)
Maybe you hear a little piece of your own experience in these stories. Or maybe these stories prompt your mind to wander and remember all of the awe-filled moments you have had in nature. Or perhaps you recall a time when something unexpected happen at a moment when you felt so lost, discouraged, or racked with grief, you thought you could not go one more day–maybe not a vision, but you heard a piece of music, you saw someone who gave you new perspective, a bird landed on your window sill, you heard a baby cry, something shifted your attention toward life. Maybe these stories call to mind the moments you felt loved and encouraged by another person, had someone notice you, offered you a shoulder to cry on, given a hug or pat on the back at just the right moment, or had someone text you when you were feeling down.
Why does God come to us as the Creator of a incredible expanding universe and this earth that sustains us? Why does this vast God compress down into human DNA, confined in flesh and bone in Jesus the Christ, who lives and weeps, suffers and dies as we do, and then comes back to prove that not even death is our enemy? Why does God come as Wisdom, as Holy Spirit that dwells within, and around and through all of us and all of creation? Why does this one-in-three and three-in-one “doctrine” of God matter at all?
It matters because this God will use any means necessary to reach your heart with love. It matters because this God will use any means necessary to reach the hearts of all people to have a relationship rooted and grounded in love!
- Because only a God of love using any means necessary can create billions of galaxies and with trillions of stars only one of which is The Milky Way!
- Because only a God of love using any means necessary can find a way for Spirit to dwell in every creature of every time and space, knock on the door of your soul, and wait patiently for an opening to give a new vision, to warm the heart, to give strength and peace beyond your capacity.
- Because only a God of love using any means necessary, can use even a stranger to be Jesus for you, and show that we are Christ to each other, always reminding us that the marginalized, the unnoticed, and the beggar at the corner are also and always, Christ to us.
- Because only a God of love using any means necessary can be so concerned about the minute details of the number of hairs on your head, and that bread broken and wine poured means forgiveness and freedom over and over and over again, every week of your life, and beyond your dying breath.
God has already used whatever means necessary to touch your heart, to bring you here, to this moment, and to invite you into love not just today, but forever and ever, amen.
And the real miracle is that when you leave here, YOU are one of the “any means necessary” God is using to reach someone else’s heart tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, and the week after that, and so on for the rest of your earthly life.
You may not even know when it happens and sometimes, like Joe, you will do on purpose out of gratitude and because you, too, have chosen to live out “pay-it-forward Friday.” Sometimes you will be Christ to your own family members, and sometimes you will be Christ to a stranger without knowing it.
Sometimes it will be obvious like a prayer or a gift, and sometimes you will have no idea how God has used you, but every day, remember that this Triune God—who comes as Creator, Christ and Spirit has made you, claims you, and flows through you in every second of the day, and calls you to help reach into the hearts of those who need a loving God, by any means necessary!