Column by Mary Lee Talbot
The Rev. Zina Jacque was sitting at the 10:45 a.m. Thursday morning lecture in the Amphitheater as the speaker, Joseph R. Cyrulik, began speaking about intelligence analysis.
He called it as “simple” as doing a 2,000-piece jigsaw puzzle with no picture on the box, while not all of the pieces are yours and someone keeps dumping 100 more pieces on it that may or may not fit.
Jacque turned to a Chautauqua Choir member and said, “That’s my sermon.”
She preached at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. The title of her sermon was “The Gospel According to a Jigsaw Puzzle,” and the scripture lesson was Genesis 12:1-4.
She asked the audience to do some “prep work” for later in the sermon. “Recall a lesson you learned before you were 30 that is still standing you in good stead.”
Jacque described a genre of jigsaw puzzles that have no picture on the box to follow. There is no clue of the puzzle’s shape, what kind of edges it has, no guide to help. “All you can do is dive in and hope for the best,” she said.
She continued, “That is how I believe Abram felt. He was fat and happy and living in Haran when God told him to ‘go to a land I will show you.’ ”
Reading Genesis chapters 12 to 25, things did not go well for Abram. He lied to Pharaoh and told him Sarai was his sister, not his wife. Lot and Abram went their separate ways “because they had too much stuff,” Jacque said. “Then there was the ‘big mama’ drama between Sarai and Hagar. Sarai put Hagar in Abram’s bed, but he was not exactly displeased.”
She said when “Ishmael was born, God told Abram to circumcise his whole household, then God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s to Sarah. Where is the picture on the box? When they were 100 and 90 years old, respectively, Isaac was born. Isaac married Rebekah. In chapter 23, Sarah died and Abraham married Keturah and had more children, but only Isaac was the son of the promise, and Sarah was the mother of many nations, and Abraham died in chapter 25.”
God told Abraham that he would bless him but God did not say how; God did not show Abraham a plan or a map. On his deathbed, Abraham might have been asking, “Where is my box top? What was God up to? This is not what I had bargained for.”
Jacque noted that Abraham is the only person in the Bible called God’s friend. “God never gave him the box top. Why did God treat his friend this way?” she asked. “Could it be that God knew Abraham would be so overwhelmed that he would not have started? If Abraham had been given the picture, might he have decided that was not what he imagined for his life?”
She continued, “Abraham might have simply rejected the plan because he was a perfectionist and there was more to do than he could finish. Do you have a full picture of your life? Maybe you have some pieces that don’t even belong to you.”
God knew that Abraham could not handle seeing the whole plan at once. It is easy to be overwhelmed when there are more trials than hallelujahs. Abraham could have told God he had made a mistake, that he was too overwhelmed to hold onto God’s word for himself and the world.
Jacque asked the congregation to think about a lesson they had learned that stood them in good stead. “How many of you learned that lesson in a time of ease?” she asked. Two people in the whole congregation raised their hands. She said, “It is the crucible moments that raise up our understanding.”
She told the congregation that “we can see ourselves in Abraham’s story. Sometimes the things you are going through are not about you, but for someone else to see God working through you.”
There is power in not being told the whole story. Injustice, racism, uneven healthcare, the penal system are too much, too heavy to finish in one lifetime. “God wants Abraham and us to move forward,” she said.
Jacque shared “Prophets of a Future Not Our Own,” a prayer presented by John Cardinal Dearden in 1979, written by Father (later Bishop) Ken Untener. It was quoted by Pope Francis to the Roman curia in 2015.
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. / The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. / We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. / Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us. / No statement says all that could be said. / No prayer fully expresses our faith. / No confession brings perfection. / No pastoral visit brings wholeness. / No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. / No set of goals and objectives includes everything. / This is what we are about. / We plant the seeds that one day will grow. / We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. / We lay foundations that will need further development. / We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. / We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. / This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. / It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest. / We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master / builder and the worker. / We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. / We are prophets of a future not our own.”
Just like Abraham, we can only do our part, but Isaac could not do his part if Abraham had not done his. If Isaac had not done his part, Jacob could not have done his.
“As the First Corinthians tells us, we are one body, and God honors the part of the body that no one sees. If we had been given the whole story at once, we might have backed away. The gift of the jigsaw is we only get one part. You only get your part to put in place,” Jacque said to the congregation.
She continued, “All that is needed is on the table, and we all come in to fulfill our part. Then someone dumps another puzzle into the mix. Your puzzle is not complete on its own; it is connected to another puzzle, and another and another.”
The vision of this puzzle is the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah 65 where “they shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” In this scripture, she said, we are told what the puzzle must look like. All that is needed to succeed has been provided.
The puzzle pieces are not made out of cardboard. “The puzzle pieces look back at you in the mirror. You and I are called to create this picture. You don’t need to do it all, just do your part,” Jacque said. “Let us bring our whole selves to the work God has given into our hands. God has given you one thing to do, tell God: ‘Here I am, send me.’ ”
The Rev. John Morgan, pastor of the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church, presided. The Rev. Susan Cartmell, interim senior pastor of the First Congregational Church of Appleton, Wisconsin, read the scripture. The prelude, played by Nicholas Stigall, organ scholar, was “Allegretto,” from Sonata No. 4, by Felix Mendelssohn. The Motet Choir sang “The Chautauqua Anthem,” with music by Paul Moravec and words from Micah 6:8. Joshua Stafford, director of sacred music and Jared Jacobsen Chair for the Organist, directed the choir and Stigall accompanied them on the Massey Memorial Organ. The postlude was “Toccata,” from Symphony No. 5 by Charles-Marie Widor, played by Stafford. Support for this week’s chaplaincy and preaching was provided by the Harold F. Reed, Sr. Chaplaincy and the John William Tyrrell Endowment for Religion.