There was once a little stone that lived on the bottom of a crystal clear river that ran through a green valley sprinkled with trees and shrubs. Day after day the stone watched the sun and the moon play with their reflections in the water and the fish whirl and jump in the dancing light.
While it was fun to watch, life in the river was quite boring for the stone. The stone always thought there must be more to the world than the river and wondered if someday it would have the chance to escape from the seemingly eternal routine of bubbles and water, day and night. Unbeknownst to the stone, with the passing of the water, day after day, it was being shaped and transformed.
Then, one day, without warning, the stone suddenly felt itself being lifted out of the river. For just an instant it was able to see the valley and the mountains, how glorious. But in the very next instant it felt itself stuffed into a dark bag full of other stones.
The bag was a very uncomfortable place for the stone smashed against the other stones as the bag bounced up and down. It missed the tranquility of the river. Little did the stone know, as it bounced and smashed into the other stones, it was again being shaped and transformed.
Some time passed and finally the bag was opened and light poured in. The little stone rolled out along with the other stones felt itself turned over and over, and then set apart. For just another moment, the stone looked out on the world to see the beauty of the green valley and the blue sky bathed in the sun’s glare, but it was for just a moment because now it was placed all alone in a rough piece of leather.
Suddenly the stone was filled with panic for the leather began twirling rapidly in the air and the stone became dizzy and scared. Just when it thought it would faint with pressure and fright, it was flung into the air.
Whoosh! It was flying, and what joy it was! Now it could see everything! It could see the river, the grass, the trees, the mountains in the distance… and hundreds, maybe thousands of men dressed in armor and helmets and holding swords.
Then, just as suddenly as the flight began, it ended when the stone crashed into something hard, and then falling to the ground.
A few seconds later the stone felt the earth shake and something large and heavy landed beside it. Then something picked the stone up again and a voice said, “Just the little stone I needed and at the moment I needed it.” And with that said, the stone was returned to the bag where it continued with the other stones until it was again needed.
You of course know this is again the story of David and the giant Goliath, but from the perspective of the little stone.
Sometimes we sit in the river of life waiting for something exciting to happen, but don’t realize God is shaping us, transforming us, and preparing us.
Sometimes we end up in the dimness of a confined chaotic space where we clash with others and complain of the disagreeable and painful situations we are in. But God uses the bumping and the dim chaotic times to shape, transform, and ready us.
Sometimes we feel dizzy, in a whirling sling of activities, running crazy with thousands of things to do and hardly a moment to catch our breath.
Sometimes we feel that the pressure exerted upon us will cause us to faint, and render us useless and lifeless, unable to do anything.
Sometimes we have the opportunity to fly through the air, and with clarity of vision, we feel the ecstasy of our goals in sight. And sometimes, we end up smashing against giants; hoping against hope the aim and thrust have been enough to bring down that giant.
I heard this story from my missionary friend Elena Huegel who told it at the end of each Ohio Delegation to Chile.
It has been a story that has helped me look back at what God had done in me, and it has been a story that has helped me look forward to what God was calling me to do.
And that is what I want all of us to do today—a very special and important day in the life of this church…and this preacher.
Today we remember and honor the saints of our church and our lives, giving thanks to God for blessing us with each of them.
Today we will make a consecrated pledge to God as to how we aim to support the church and its ministries in the coming year.
And today, for me, I look back over the last ten years as your pastor.
All of it is our opportunity to see how we are all God’s little stones.
A greater awareness of God shaping me into God’s little stone began on a warm July Saturday morning in 1989, when a group of youth and adults formed a circle at Camp Christian that would serve to conclude the camp consecration service.
After a prayer, the singing of a song, and words about what God had done in us during our week at CYF Conference, the director gave an invitation to anyone feeling God calling them toward a career in full time Christian ministry to step into the center of the circle.
In that moment God made what I think was a surprising move. In that moment God moved me to do something I had never thought about doing. In that moment God said “I want you to do something. And trust me…I do mean you.”
Thirty years later, that boy, now a grown man, stands before you as your senior pastor. Throughout those thirty years I have been shaped and transformed over and over again by instances and institutions, by books and sermons, by events and activities, by travel and discovery.
But throughout those thirty years I have been shaped and transformed mostly by the people God had me cross paths with. Some I remember well and some not so well, and some are among the saints we remember today.
But all…all of them a blessing in some way or another, shaping me into God’s little stone that I am. Looking back over those decades I see this entire story in immense clarity; all the thoughts, emotions, hopes, dreams—all the euphoric excitement and fear. Parts are a blur. Parts are a whirlwind. All of it shaping me. And hopefully, some of it shaping you too.
Ten years ago when I preached my first sermon here, I shared Elena’s story of God’s little stone. It was during that sermon when I told you we as a church would strive to be God’s little stones who took aim to bring down the giants of today.
It was at the end of that sermon, and that time of worship, when I handed out to everyone a small stone to serve as a reminder that we are all God’s little stones meant to bring down the giants of today. I gave them out hoping it would remind each person that we are just like David.
When we remember David, and his unlikely selection to fight Goliath, and even more unlikely selection to be God’s chosen king of Israel, we see how God didn’t look at David’s size, strength, or outward appearance to determine if David would be the one to do this critical work for God.
Rather God looked at David’s heart, and found a person with deep faith and unwavering trust in God. And it was just what God was looking for to bring down the giant.
I told the story ten years ago as a metaphor for life, goals, dreams, ministry and new beginnings.
I told it as a vision of what we as a church would strive to do in our ministry.
I told it as a reminder, and encouragement, that each one of—no matter our size, age or stature; no matter how long we have been a Christian—each one of us is God’s little stone.
God never looks at our size, our strength, our outward appearance, but rather God looks at our hearts.
We are in God’s hands, and with God’s perfect power and God’s perfect aim, we can be, just as we have been, and we will continue to be, the little stones used by God to bring down the giants of today.
Since that day this jar of stones has sat in my office, reminding me each time I looked at it, each time my children got into it and tipped it over, that we are all God’s little stones, and we can, with God’s perfect aim and God’s perfect power, bring down the giants of today.
And over the past ten years we have, like David, faced the giants of today with faith and trust in God, allowing God to use us to bring down the giants of…people going hungry, people being homeless, people being forgotten, lost, alone and scared.
We as a church have made a difference in the lives of others.
And it is my aim…and I hope it is your aim too…for us to continue to shape one another, be shaped by one another, and most of all by God, so that we continue to be used as God’s little stones to bring down even more giants of today.
Ten years ago Julie and I were excited to come here, and we were looking forward to working with you, serving you, and serving with you for years to come.
We still hold that same excitement and that same hope filled vision for the years to come.
So thank you for all your love and support—to me and to my family and to our shared ministry. It has all been filled with blessings upon blessings.
Thank you for loving us. Thank you for accepting us. Thank you for shaping and transforming us. And thank you for letting us shape and transform you. May God continue to bless our ministry together for years and years to come. Amen.
Pastoral Prayer, November 3, 2019
God of history and hope, on this All Saints Sunday, we look back and recall with grateful hearts all those who have made this church what it has been throughout its history.
It is easy to see how good you have been to the church throughout its history, and how generous to generations yet unborn you aim to be.
In every time and place, you have raised up men and women whose devotion and integrity inspired others to follow you.
Thank you for the witness of Peter, upon whom you founded your church; for Mary, the first to proclaim the Good News of your resurrection; for Priscilla and Aquila, who opened their home as a center of mission and ministry.
Thank you for the courageous reformers of the church, for Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and Campbell.
We praise you for the acts of grace and mercy you accomplished through people like Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross; Albert Schweitzer, doctor and missionary; and Mother Teresa, whose order still cares for the lost, the forgotten, the dying.
We thank you for the millions of disciples whose names are known only to you, who led their children, their neighbors and their friends to follow you in faith.
And throughout the decades—for almost two centuries— we praise you for your use of this church, and its saints, who rose up in faith like David, to stare down giants.
So on this All Saints Sunday, and on this critically important Consecration Sunday, we pray you give us the desire, and the steadfast faith, to be your willing witnesses, your helping hands, your little stones who will trust that with your perfect power, and your perfect aim, together we too can continue the saintly work of bringing down the giants of today.
We ask for you to hear now the prayers we have to share in this time of holy silence.
All this we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”