Paula Northwood May 7, 2017
Scripture Ecclesiastes 3:1–14
Whether a child was baptized here at Plymouth, or in some other faith community, or not at all but started participating here, we make a commitment to walk with that child. Today, I will be speaking mainly to the Confirmation class but invite you to surround them with your support and care.
There is a lyric in the song “Closing Time” by the band Semisonic that says: “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” It’s seems like only yesterday we were beginning Confirmation class, and here we are at the end. It is the end of class but the beginning of something else. We spent almost every Sunday for the last nine months in room 202 reading and examining stories. In many ways Confirmation is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle. Pieces of the puzzle include the story of the origin of the universe, then the stories of religions, then more specifically the stories of Christianity and of Congregationalism. We examined the Plymouth Church puzzle piece and then our own family genealogies and our own unique family spiritual history. This puzzle, if you can imagine, includes the macro to the micro, the universe to our home on Mother Earth, the physical and the spiritual, the communal to the individual. It’s an incredible puzzle with the pieces in a heap waiting to be put together.
I chose the reading from Ecclesiastes this morning because although it is considered one of the “wisdom” books, it’s also like one big question mark. It does not include prophecies, parables or prayers, but rather puts forth all the puzzling aspects of life; the big questions about why we are here and what we are supposed to be and do. It is thought to be written by Solomon, the king of Israel and the son of David, who was gifted with wisdom. I wonder if it wasn’t written by a young person—of course, not a Confirmation student, but someone similar. The writer tries to make sense of God’s actions and the meaning of life and finds progressively that neither riches, nor reputation, nor sex or love, or anything is enough on its own to give life meaning. Yet, like a puzzle, when all the pieces fall into place, it creates a whole picture and the whole picture has the depth, color, texture and the richness of life.
As Emre read from Ecclesiastes, there is a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to search and a time to find. Developmentally, now is the time for you, Confirmands, to examine what you think and believe about aspects of faith and throw away the images that don’t work anymore. For example, at some point the image of God as a white, long-haired man sitting on a cloud running the show on earth simply makes no logical or earthly sense. That image needs to be thrown away, and it takes time and experience to figure out what will take its place. And if we went to each person in the sanctuary and asked them to describe how they understand God, there would be as many descriptions as there are people here. And the beauty of it is, it still would be only a fraction of the mystery and expansiveness of God. It will take a lifetime to experience the mysteries of the divine.
Each piece of the puzzle of life includes beginnings within endings. Today, Confirmands move further down the path of the spiritual journey, graduates (whether from preschool or graduate school) move on to new adventures, schools change, relationships change, jobs change and our bodies change. In your lifetime, you will face the end of many things, but it will always mark the beginning of something new. Today is no exception.
We are still in the season of Easter, and the ultimate beginning within an ending for Christians is when Jesus says farewell to his disciples, his friends. They had followed him for years, devoted their every waking minute to him and to the group he had formed. Jesus had warned them that their time together was coming to an end. I imagine that they had some trouble making sense of what he was talking about, and more than anything it probably just made them sad. In the moment they did not understand the importance of what his life and death would mean. They could not anticipate that his death would be the beginning of a new way of life based on the ethic of love. They likely never imagined that it would start a new religion or influence history in both tremendous and terrible ways. That is a challenge we all have. It’s difficult to see beyond the present into the hope of an as-yet-unknown future. What you understand about spiritualty, religion and God will change as you experience more of life.
When you put together an actual puzzle you can look at the picture on the cover of the box to find clues. But in life we don’t have the picture. We don’t know exactly what the end product will look like, but it is important to think about perspective. Every now and then it is good to look at how far you have come, how loved, forgiven and blessed you are. Notice what pieces are in place.
Sometimes those of us who are parents, mentors or ministers want to help you find those puzzle pieces or, at the very least, hand them to you. We think we are doing this out of love or because we don’t want you to make the same mistakes we have made. We want you to know how incredible it was to hold you as babies and to know the miracle of birth. We want you to stand in reverence and awe on a starry night and behold the immensity of the sky, to feel both unique and small. We want you to have the freedom of a driver’s license but we don’t want you to text or drink while you are driving! We want to protect you from things that can harm you. We want you to experience the complexities of love but not the hurts.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, when asked if he believed in God said, “I don’t need to believe, I know [God].” We wish for you that depth of a spiritual experience. We hope you will be curious about the mysteries of the spiritual life and come to know this ineffable spirit of love we call God.
We want you to know how important it is to have a spiritual community that will be there for you even when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We want so much for you, but we know that the best we can do is offer our prayers and support. We want you to know that we will be there to help pick up the pieces when things fall apart and rejoice when pieces are found. But we cannot and must not try to put your puzzle together for you.
One of the assignments that I gave the Confirmation students was called a creative reflection project. It’s designed so students can share more about themselves, who they are and what nurtures their spirit. In previous years, this has been an individual project, but this class asked if they could do it together as a group. My only qualification was that it somehow had to also show individual work. They came up with creating a large jigsaw puzzle. They each worked on one piece. You will be able to see it in Guild Hall following the service. Together their individual pieces form the whole puzzle. Their creative problem-solving and inclusion of each other and their understanding of their interdependence gives me hope for the future!
Finally, here’s the thing about jigsaw puzzles: You know that if you keep at it, the puzzle will eventually come together. It will all fit together. Our individual puzzles may not look like what we expected, but, if we have the perspective of faith, we will grow in the hope and promise that there is a purpose for each of our lives, and that every piece fits perfectly together. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. Now is the season of new beginnings, turning from winter to spring, turning from darkness toward Easter light. May God bless you with a curious spirit as you piece together the puzzle of your life. May it be so. Amen.