PITCHING IN

When the pastor became ill, the small rural community gathered to pray for his recovery and ask for God’s guidance during his lengthy absence. Having first looked at all their pastor’s many responsibilities, those present took an inventory of their skills and talents. “I could take over the capital campaign for the new educational center,” offered an accountant.

“I’d be willing to lead bible study,” said a retired librarian. “I could train lectors and help the kids with the Christmas pageant,” volunteered an amateur actor. “We’d like to visit the home-bound and help with social care,” stated a middle-aged couple, recent empty-nesters. “And I’ll get an email list together and give everyone updates about what’s happening at the parish,” said a young computer programmer.

Source: Elizabeth-Anne Stewart

CONSIDER THIS

To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. 1 Corinthians 12:7

Building the church, is a collective, collaborative effort. Our unique gifts, skills and talents are not just for our own benefit but for the sake of all God’s people (and that’s everybody)!

What are your gifts? What are your skills?
How can you use them to pitch in, and help build the church and the kin-dom?

How can you invest them even further and be an instrument that with others can help heal the world and the planet?

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THE GIFTS

The high school students were putting on a Christmas play which they themselves had written. In the afternoon before they play’s performance, the students suddenly realized that they had forgotten all about the three kings in the story. The director of the play hit upon the following solution: he would phone three people at random and ask them if they would stand in for the three kings. All they had to do was this: bring along some gift which was especially meaningful to them and then explain in their own words why they had chosen that gift.

The first of the three kings was a fifty-year-old father of five. He worked for the town council. He brought along a pair of crutches and explained: “Some years ago I was in a head-on collision on the highway. I spent many months in the hospital with broken bones. No one was sure that I would ever walk again. But I tried and tried and used these crutches for weeks. During that time my whole attitude changed: I became happy and grateful for every little daily success. I learned to take nothing for granted. I bring these crutches as a symbol of my personal thanks to God.”

The second of the three kings was really a queen, a mother of two children. She brought along a bundle of diapers and baby clothes. She explained, “I was very happy and successful as a graphic artist. Then I got married and the bottom fell out of my life. My husband did not want me to work anymore. All he wanted me to do was stay at home and take care of the house. Then along came the babies, and they needed me. But after they grew up, I was again lost…. until I began to put talents to work in creative art classes for children. I bring along this bundle of baby things to show that it was the little ones, the babies, who brought a new meaning into my life. I feel that by working and helping in their little world I am bettering the whole family of mankind.”

The third king was a young teenager. All he brought along was a blank piece of paper. He laid it before the Infant Jesus in the crib and explained: “I was not even sure whether I should come here or not… My hands are empty; I have nothing to give. In my heart I long for success and a meaning for my life. I am filled with doubts and questions and unrest. My future looks foggy and unclear to me. I lay this empty sheet of paper before you, Child in the crib, and ask you to bring me an answer to some of my problems. I feel empty on the inside, but my heart is open and receptive.” 

Source : As told by Willi Hoffsuemmer

CONSIDER THIS

Imagine yourself standing before the crib of Life. What are you ready and willing to offer if you were asked to stand in for one of the “three kings”?

THE LITTLE NEW YEAR

One cold morning Maurice awoke from his dreams and sat up in bed and listened. He thought he heard a knock at his window; but though the moon was shining brightly, Jack Frost had been so busily at work that Maurice could not see through the thickly painted panes. So he crept sleepily out of bed, and opened the window, and whispered: “Who is there?”

“I am,” replied a tinkling voice. “I am the little New Year, ho! ho! And I’ve promised to bring a blessing to everyone. But I am such a little fellow I need somebody to help me distribute them. Won’t you please come out and help?”

“Oh, it’s so cold!” said Maurice; “I’d rather go back to my warm bed;”  and he shivered as Jack Frost, who was passing, tickled him under the chin with one of the frosty paint brushes.

“Never mind the cold,” urged the New Year; “please help me.”

So Maurice hurried into his clothes, and was soon out in the yard. There he found a rosy-cheeked boy a little smaller than himself, pulling a large cart which seemed to be loaded with good things. On one side of this cart was painted the word “Love,” and on the other “Kindness.” As soon as the New Year saw Maurice he said, “Now please take hold and help me pull;” and down the driveway and up the hill they traveled until they came to an old shanty.

“Here is where I make my first call,” said the New Year. Maurice looked wonderingly at him. “Why, nobody lives here but an old colored man who works for us; and he hasn’t any children!” “He needs my help,” said the New Year; “for grown people like to be thought of just as much as children do. You shovel out a path to his door, while I unload some of my blessings; and the little hands went busily at work, piling up warm clothing, wood, and a new year’s dinner, the New Year singing as he worked:—

“Oh, I am the little New Year; ho! ho!
Here I come tripping it over the snow,
Shaking my bells with a merry din;
So open your door and let me in.”

Old Joe, hearing some noise outside, came to the door, and when he saw all the nice gifts the tears ran down his cheeks for gladness; and as he carried them into the house, he whispered: “The dear Lord has been here to-night.”

“Where am we going now?” asked Maurice, as they ran down the hill. “To take some flowers to a poor sick girl,” answered the New Year.

Soon they came to a small white house, where the New Year stopped. “Why, Bessie, our sewing girl lives, here,” said Maurice. “I didn’t know she was sick.” “See,” said the New Year, “this window is open a little; let us throw this bunch of pinks into the room. They will please her when she wakes, and will make her happy for several days.”

Then they hurried to other places, leaving some blessing behind them.

“What a wonderful cart you have,” said Maurice; “though you have taken so much out, it never seems to get empty.” “You are right, Maurice, there is never any end to love and kindness. As long as I find people to love and be kind to, my cart is full of blessings for them; and it will never grow empty until I can no longer find people to help. If you will go with me every day and help me scatter my blessings, you will see how happy you will be all the long year.”

“A happy New Year!” called someone; and Maurice found himself in bed, and his sister standing in the doorway smiling at him. “Have you had a pleasant dream, dear?” she asked.

“Why, where is the little New Year?” said Maurice; “he was just here with me.”

“Come into Mamma’s room and see what he has brought you,” answered his sister. There in a snowy white cradle he found a tiny baby brother, the gift of the New Year. How happy Maurice was then! But he did not forget his dream. Old Joe and Bessie had their gifts, too, and Maurice tried so hard to be helpful that he made all his friends glad because the happy New Year had come.

Source | Ellen Robena Field,
Buttercup Gold and Other Stories (1894)

CONSIDER THIS

You are the Maurice in the story: how do you imagine yourself conspiring with each new dawn to make sure you will have something to give to those who cross your path today?

L’ENCHANTÉ

A beautiful story recounted every Christmas in the forest of Provence in southern France.  It’s about the four shepherds who came to Bethlehem to see the child.  One brought eggs, another brought bread and cheese, the third brought wine.  And the fourth brought nothing at all. People called him L’Enchanté.  

The first three shepherds chatted with Mary and Joseph, commenting on how well Mary Looked, how cozy was the cave and how handsomely Joseph had appointed it, what a beautiful starlit night it was!  They congratulated the proud parents, presented them with their gifts and assured them that if they needed anything else, they had only to ask.

Finally someone asked, “Where is L’Enchanté?”  They searched high and low, up and down, inside and out.  Finally, someone peeked through the blanket hung against the draft, into the crèche. There, kneeling at the crib, was L’Enchanté. – the Enchanted one. Like a flag or a flame taking the direction of the wind, he had taken the direction of love. Through the entire night, he stayed in adoration, whispering, “Jesu, Jesu, Jesu – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Source | Brennan ManningThe Relentless Tenderness of Jesus
(Revell, 2004) page 209

CONSIDER THIS

Another response, beyond silence and action, to the call from the wild is enchantment. Simple enchantment.  It is what we can see in just one candle, if we really look! Let us allow ourselves to be enchanted, enthralled, amazed.

THE FOURTH WISE MAN

In the mountains of ancient Persia, lived Artaban, whose study of the planets and the stars led him to predict the birth of the King of Kings. He sold his house and every possession and purchased a large sapphire blue as a fragment of the night sky, a flawless ruby redder than a ray of sunrise, and a lustrous pearl as pure as the peak of a snow mountain at twilight – which he intended to carry as tribute to the King. He then set out for Jerusalem where he had arranged to meet up with three other wise men, or Magi, to find the newborn.

After many weeks of difficult travel and frustrating delays, one night, he saw a man lying on the road. His haggard face, pallid skin and laboured breathing, bore the mark of the deadly fever. But, as he turned to leave, the man begged for help.

Artaban hesitated. If he lingered to minister to a dying stranger even for an hour, he could miss his three friends. But if he left now, the man would surely die. He turned to the sick man and carefully attended to him, leaving with him all that he had left of bread and wine, and his store of healing herbs.

“I have nothing to give you in return,” said the grateful man, “…only this: our prophets have decreed that the Messiah will be born in Bethlehem, not in Jerusalem. May the Lord bring you in safety to that place, because you had pity upon the sick.”

When he reached the meeting place, he received only this message: “We can delay no longer. Follow us across the desert.” Artaban backtracked to Babylon, sold the sapphire, and bought a train of camels, and provisions for the journey. He arrived at Bethlehem with his remaining ruby and pearl offerings, but it was three whole days after the three other wise men had found Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and had laid gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh at the baby’s feet.

In a little cottage, he met a woman with her son, who told him Joseph had taken his wife and child and fled secretly that very night; Herod was slaying all male children, afraid the promised ‘King’ would claim his throne. As she spoke, there was uproar in the streets as Herod’s soldiers searched each home to kill any male children they found. The terrified young mother clasped her child to her. But Artaban rushed to the doorway and held out the ruby to the soldier, who snatched it eagerly. “March on!” he commanded his men, “there is no child here.”

Artaban sighed: “Now two of my gifts are gone. I have spent for man that which was meant for God. Shall I ever be worthy to see the face of the King?”

But the woman, weeping for joy, said gently: “Because you have saved the life of my little one, may the Lord bless you and keep you and give you peace.”

Arbatan wandered for 33 years in search of the little family from Bethlehem. Worn and weary, ill now, and ready to die, but still looking for the King, he had come for the last time to Jerusalem. Hearing of a great person who was to be put to death that very day, and hearing of his life and teachings, Artaban realised this was indeed his ‘King’, but as he made his way to Golgotha, hoping his priceless pearl could buy the great one’s release, he saw a troop of soldiers marching down the street, dragging a young girl in chains. “Have pity on me; save me! I am to be sold as a slave.”

The fourth wise man knew what he must do. He took the pearl from his bosom. Never had it seemed so luminous and radiant as it was now. He exchanged the girl’s freedom for the pearl. His grief at not being able to see the ‘King’ caused him to collapse, but in his half-conscious state he heard a gentle yet compelling voice: “Verily I say unto thee, inasmuch as thou hast done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto me.” His journey had ended. His treasures were accepted. The fourth Wise Man had indeed found the King.

Source | Marguerite Theophil, There Was a Fourth Wise Man
adapted from the original story by Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man

PONDER AND CONSIDER

  • ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:37-40 (The Message)
  • ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ | Matthew 25:40 (NRSV)
  • On his journey Artaban wrestles with what The Story of the Other Wise Man calls “the conflict between the expectation of faith and the impulse of love.”  Ought there be a conflict between the two?

STONE SOUP

Once upon a time a monk wandered into a poverty stricken village and asked for shelter for the night. “There’s nothing to eat here,” the villagers told him, “you’d better move on!”

“I have enough here to make soup for all of us,”  the holy monk replied, “if I could just borrow a large pot.” Curious, the villagers produced a pot and stood around watching as the monk filled it with water and built a small fire underneath. He then took three round stones from a small bag he carried on his shoulder  and dropped them into the water.

As the water came to the boil the monk sniffed it hungrily saying, “I do love stone soup, but if I just had a little cabbage it would taste even better!” At this, one of the villagers disappeared returning a few minutes later with a cabbage he has been hiding and put it into the pot.

A while later the monk tasted the soup and said “Hmm, this is good, but a couple of carrots would make better still.” Again a villager produced a bunch of carrots and so it went on as potatoes, onions, mushrooms and a bit of salt beef were all added to the pot until there was indeed a delicious meal for all.

For more information on this story go to Stone Soup

PONDER

There are many versions of this old story, but the message is the same. We all have a contribution to make and by sharing our gifts and resources our own lives are enriched.

  • What are your gifts and your talents?
  • What is your contribution that can make a difference?

ELBOW AGILITY

Giovanna, a delightful Italian grandmother is giving directions to her grown grandson, Antonio, who is coming to visit with his wife, Maria.

“You come to the front door of the apartment. I’m in apartment 301. There is a big panel at the front door. With your elbow, push button 301. I will buzz you in. Come inside, the elevator is on the right. Get in, and with your elbow, push 3. When you get out, I’m on the left. With your elbow, hit my doorbell.”

“Grandma, that sounds easy, but, why am I hitting all these buttons with my elbow?”

“What … are you coming empty handed?”

PONDER

  • Are you blessed with elbow agility? Or put in slightly different words: where do you stand when it comes to gift giving?
  • What is that little thing that you can bring along to enhance the feast of life wherever you go?