Gifts Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Psalm 139; Acts 17:22-31
Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
May 14, 2017
We heard two very different Scripture readings this morning:
One is poetry; the other is prose
One is a prayer; the other is a proof
One is a psalm; the other is a speech
One is for God’s chosen ones the Israelites, to encourage the faith of the ones who believe in and gather to worship the one true God.
The other is for the Gentiles, those outside the faith, the Greek philosophers who worship many gods and need proof that there is only one true God.
These two readings couldn’t be more different, and yet they say the same thing: God gives gifts—of all shapes and sizes—that remind us of God’s presence among us.
In Acts, Paul preaches to the Gentiles: “God made the world and everything in it.
God is the Lord of heaven and earth. God does not live in shrines of gold or silver or stone, but God made all nations to inhabit the earth.” Paul reminds the skeptics—then and now: God can be found all over the world, in the beauty of the earth. All we have to do is to open our eyes and receive the gift.
I was away last week on Study Leave. I gathered together with colleagues in ministry, fellow pastors with whom I graduated from Princeton Seminary 20 years ago. We met in a cabin in Cook Forest, near the Clarion River in northwest central Pennsylvania. Once called the “Black Forest,” the area is famous for its towering white pines and hemlocks.
At the turn of the century, much of Pennsylvania’s forests were being cut down for lumber. The lumber industry was booming. But, lumber baron Anthony Cook thought that some of the beautiful forest should be preserved. The idea to make Cook Forest a public park originated with Major Israel McCreight on his first visit to what lumber baron Anthony Cook called the “Forest Cathedral” “It was a beautiful day, August 21, 1910, as Cook led the way into the silent ‘temple of the gods’, and then listened to the exclamations of astonishment that were sure to come from those who followed along the fern-bound path in this fairyland. Often there was heard no comment, for in this silent cathedral of the Almighty, it was unuttered. Frequently it was observed that sturdy men could not restrain their tears, at the solemnity of their environment. It was during this walk that Cook and McCreight sat down on a log to talk about the future fate of the magnificent panorama they saw and felt all about them, They agreed that no greater crime could be committed than to destroy this; it must be saved for humanity’s sake.” And so it was: Cook Forest became the first Pennsylvania State Park acquired to preserve a natural landmark.
One day we went for a walk through the Forest Cathedral. The sign at the start of the trail read: “This is a place made sacred by the centuries. Here in the Forest Cathedral, you walk in the presence of giants. Reflect. Relax. Enjoy this precious resource.” Immediately, I was struck by the immensity of the trees—some over 400 feet tall and 400 years old. As I walked among these gentle giants, I was in awe of this silent cathedral of the Almighty. As I opened my eyes to wonders of this ancient forest, I was aware of God’s power and presence among us. I experienced the ancient words of Scripture anew: God gives gifts—of all shapes and sizes—that remind us of God’s presence among us. All we have to do is open our eyes and receive the gift.
In the other reading, the Psalmist presents a very different image of God:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
“For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.”
The Psalmist reminds the people—then and now: God created each one of us, knows us intimately, and is with us always. All we have to do is to open our eyes and receive the gift.
Outside the cabin, we learned about the gift of creation. Inside the cabin, we learned about church and culture and the gift of community. We shared stories of our lives as ministers and mothers. One woman shared stories of her daughters Joanna and Lydia living in Cape Cod; Joanna is now driving. Another woman showed pictures of her children Abby and Nate; Abby is graduating and starting college in Chicago. One woman shared stories of her grandchildren Nadia and Brandon, Calvin and Malcom, and their adventures on the sailboat in Florida. Another woman showed pictures of her grandchildren LuLu and Paxson, and her new grandbaby Elizabeth. As I looked at this beautiful precious baby, I thought to myself, “Wow! God makes beautiful things!”
As I looked at these pictures of children, all fearfully and wonderfully made by God, I was in awe of the creative power of the Almighty. As I heard stories of children growing up and some venturing out on their own paths—some not good or healthy paths—I was thankful of God’s strong yet gentle guiding hand. God’s love is like a mother’s love—it is always there.
In this presence of these long-time colleagues and friends, I experienced the ancient words of Scripture anew: God gives gifts—of all shapes and sizes—that remind us of God’s presence among us. All we have to do is open our eyes and receive the gift.
On study leave, away from the hustle and the bustle, I was reminded that God made the whole world—from the giant trees of the forest to the tiny baby in the womb…and in all things is God. And yet, despite God’s mark on all things in the world, there will be days when we cannot see evidence of God, when we cannot hear God’s truth, when we cannot feel God’s comfort. The Psalmist knew there would be days like these, and that we would need to be reminded of God’s most precious gift of all—the promise to be with us always:
Where can I go from your spirit? Or when can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there you hand shall lead me and your right hand hold me fast.
God’s gifts come in all shapes and sizes and reminds us of God’s presence among us.
A God who is powerful enough to grow a 400 ft tree is powerful enough to help us stand strong through the storms of life.
A God who is creative enough to knit a baby together in the womb is creative enough to help us find our way out of the darkness into the light of a new day.
A God who is present enough in heaven, in Sheol, and even the farthest limits of the sea is present enough to be with you and me wherever we go.
A drop of water from the baptismal font. A piece of bread from the Lord’s Table.
These two sacraments couldn’t be more different, and yet they say the same thing: God gives gifts—of all shapes and sizes—that remind us of God’s presence among us.
Friends, Let’s open our eyes and see; let’s open our hearts and receive the gifts of God for us, the people of God.
Thanks be to God. Amen.