Starfish Jesus

Starfish Jesus

Sunday, July 7, 2024
| Mark 6:1-13

How many disciples does Jesus have? Marine biologists can help us find the answer.

Picture a starfish by the ocean. How many arms does it have?

One, two, three, four, five. Five arms.

Obvious, right? Anyone who has walked the beach or visited an aquarium and seen one knows this. Even a child, playing in the sand over the Fourth of July, knows that a starfish has five arms.

But guess what? You’re wrong.

“The answer,” writes Dino Grandoni in The Washington Post, “is stranger than anything most scientists expected. Simply put, the sea star, also known as starfish, appears to be mostly just a head.”

So, the correct answer is … zero arms. Starfish are just heads that crawl along the seafloor.

If that is not surprising enough, Grandoni reports that starfish, “despite their strange appearance, aren’t that distantly related to humans, sharing an ancestor 600 million years ago.”

You may think that you have some odd-looking relatives. Most of us do. But none quite as strange as a starfish.


Following Ezekiel

When Jesus arrived at his hometown of Nazareth, people were stunned by his wisdom and his deeds of power. “Where did this man get all this?” they asked, after hearing him teach in the synagogue. “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (Mark 6:2-3).

The people of Nazareth knew where Jesus came from, and they were familiar with his family. They never expected him to speak with tremendous wisdom and perform deeds such as stilling a storm, casting out a demon, healing a woman and restoring a little girl to life.

Like a starfish, Jesus was stranger than they expected. He did not seem to be connected to the people of their town. Mark tells us that they “took offense at him” (v. 3). The Greek word is eskandalizonto, the root of our English word “scandalized.” The words and actions of Jesus were shocking to the people of Nazareth.

Jesus knew that this was coming, so he said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown and among their own kin and in their own house” (v. 4). He knew the long tradition of prophets not being respected in their own communities. Jesus was following in the footsteps of Ezekiel, who was sent by God to the people of Israel, “a nation of rebels.” God said to Ezekiel: “You shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 2:3, 7).

The challenge of a true prophet is to speak God’s words, whether people are scandalized or not. Ezekiel was such a prophet, as was Jesus. The result of Nazareth’s rejection was that Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them” (Mark 6:5).

If Jesus had been a starfish, the people of Nazareth would have tossed him back into the ocean.


How Many Arms Does Jesus Have?

Jesus left his hometown and went among the villages teaching. Mark tells us that he “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (v. 7). Jesus told them not to worry about rejection, just as he had not agonized over his treatment by the people of Nazareth. Instead, he said, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them” (v. 11).

As Taylor Swift knows so well, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” When this happens, what do you do? [The pastor might pause at this point to see if any teenagers in the congregation are ready with the answer.]

“Shake it off.”

The 12 disciples did this. They “went out and proclaimed that all should repent” (v. 12). And they were successful in their mission. Mark tells us that they “cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them,” just as Jesus had done (v. 13).

This brings us to the question: How many arms does Jesus have?

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12. You might think so because he called 12 disciples.

But the answer is zero arms. Like the starfish, Jesus is mostly just a head.


You Can Call Me Ray

If we want to be disciples, we need to stay connected to Jesus, the head of the church. And to learn exactly how we are attached to the head, we can follow the lead of starfish scientists. They have a unique name for starfish appendages to avoid confusion about whether the extensions are arms or legs. They call the appendages “rays,” because they are extensions of the head. Most starfish have five rays, but some have six or seven, and others between 10 and 15. The Antarctic sun starfish starts off with five rays. As it grows, it adds to this number and can reach a total of more than 50.

Jesus started with 12 rays; then the rays doubled and tripled in number. Today, Jesus has 2.38 billion rays around the world. And, like the starfish, if one ray is cut off, another grows to replace it.

Any disciple of Starfish Jesus can be called “Ray.” Women and men can be named Ray. Children can be named Ray. Every follower of Jesus is a Ray. We can be a ray of light, a ray of hope, a ray of optimism … even a cosmic ray. (Just don’t be a death ray.)

The apostle Paul probably did not know much about starfish, but he saw clearly that Jesus is “the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). He understood us to be extensions of Jesus, the head, and he said, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues” (1 Corinthians 12:27-28).

What an amazing collection of rays: Apostles, prophets, teachers, and people who can perform acts of power, healing, assistance, leadership, and language. Like starfish appendages, we are a versatile group, and every single ray is an extension of Jesus as the head. “In him all things hold together,” says Paul (Colossians 1:17).


The Body of Christ in the World

If we are going to be a ray of Jesus, we need to have the mind of Christ. This means that we take his Sermon on the Mount every bit as seriously as we take the Ten Commandments. The mind of Christ is fixed on turning the other cheek instead of getting even. It is not satisfied with a walk of 1 mile with a neighbor; it insists on going the second mile. It gives to anyone who begs and offers love and prayer to both enemies and persecutors.

“What we dwell on in our minds will shape the way we live our lives,” said Presbyterian pastor Tim Keller. “What you set your mind on shapes your character and behavior.” Dwelling on “turning the other cheek” will shape your ability to forgive. Focusing your thoughts on giving will enable you to be generous to others. Opening your mind to the mind of Christ will give you the ability to love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

As rays, our minds can be connected to Christ’s mind. And when we make this connection, then we can be the body of Christ in the world. Saint Teresa of Ávila, the great 16th-century mystic, said,

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world.

Teresa knew that followers of Christ are the physical presence of Jesus in the world today. As rays of Jesus, we are the ones who cook hot meals for low-income neighbors. We are the ones who build affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity. We are the ones who sit with a grieving neighbor, care for a vulnerable child, mentor a struggling teenager, or teach English to a group of immigrants. Christ has no body but ours.

And finally, if we are going to be rays of Jesus, we need to maintain our connection with Christ. Remember that starfish aren’t that distantly related to humans, sharing an ancestor 600 million years ago. In the same way, we aren’t that distantly related to Jesus, the only Son of God. We maintain our connection with him through small group Bible study, times of silence and daily prayer, and regular worship — even in the summer.

Independence Day is the summer holiday commemorating the birth of our nation and the ideas on which it was founded. When our country was just a newborn in 1776, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were appointed to a committee tasked with designing the Great Seal of the United States. Nearly 6 years passed, with two more committees chiming in and multiple design concepts. When the final design was adopted in 1782, one element from the founding fathers remained: the words E pluribus unum — Latin for “Out of many, one.” The phrase works well for our country, and the reverse could work well for the church: “Out of one, many.”

We have one Lord, the head of the church. And out of this one head are many rays, doing the work of Christ in the world. It all starts with Starfish Jesus.

—Henry Brinton and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.



Grandoni, Dino. “How many arms do starfish have? If you said ‘five,’ you’re wrong.” The Washington Post, November 14, 2023,

Engelhard, Michael. “Do starfish have arms or legs, and how many do they have?” DiscoverWildlife, August 3, 2020,

Keller, Timothy. “Renew: Romans 8 with Timothy Keller.” YouVersion,

Saint Teresa of Avila, “Christ Has No Body But Yours.”

The Other Texts

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Becoming Great. The text is verse 10: “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” How does one become “greater and greater”? You might recall that Muhammad Ali used to declare, “I am the greatest!” Jim Collins wrote a book about business strategies that help them get from “good to great.” Isn’t it a little off-putting to desire to become great? But why should it be? Certainly, we would not want to confess to being mediocre, right? The key for David was that he was assisted in the process of maturing from good to great. He had help. He had the best, most awesome help available: “the Lord, the God of hosts.” And not only that, this same “God of hosts” was “with him.” Review David’s life to find secrets to his greatness. Possibilities: a soul that was sensitive to the Spirit, a teachable spirit, and the willingness to confess and repent.

What Does the Text Say?

This text is the third and last announcement of David’s anointing as king. It is the last of a three-stage realization of power. The first came with Samuel’s anointing of David, prior to the lad’s victory over Goliath (1 Samuel 16:13). But Saul was still alive, so David was a king-in-waiting, a role he would play for some time, and with considerable patience. The second “announcement” (2:4) comes following the anointing by the leaders of the “house of Judah.” Here, in today’s text, we have the final announcement: David is anointed king by the “elders of Israel” representing all the tribes of the nation. He had been king of Judah for seven years; he would continue as king of the combined kingdoms for another 33 years. “And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him” (v. 10, NIV).

Psalm 48

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

Independence! Freedom! Tell the next generation! This psalm sounds a lot like the exuberant language we hear around the Fourth of July — Independence Day — about declaring our independence from the British. In schools, stories are told about the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Minutemen, the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor, the speeches of Patrick Henry, and the writing of the Declaration of Independence. All these things preserve for the “next generation” (v. 14) the glory, bravery and mighty exploits of those early colonists who fought — and in many cases died — to establish “liberty and justice for all.” That’s what this psalm is doing: celebrating God’s mighty exploits. And it is also a recommitment of the people to acknowledge God as “our guide forever” (v. 14). One reason the local church exists is to “tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever” (vv. 13-14). As Americans, we must be reminded of the mighty deeds and acts of our forefathers and foremothers who secured our liberty. In the same way, we must continue to remind ourselves that God, who has been our guide in the past, will be our guide in the future. Many musical/choral versions of this psalm exist, especially verses 1 and 2, and a setting of Psalm 48 could be sung by a group or even the congregation.

What Does the Text Say?

This psalm is the third of three (46-48) psalms that appear to be a hymnic response to deliverance from an enemy. Many scholars believe that the writer may be Isaiah and the historical reference may be the failed assault of Sennacherib of Assyria (see Isaiah 37) in which 185,000 Assyrians were struck down, apparently by the hand of the Lord. In any case, the psalm exults in the salvation and preservation of Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, and the writer goes to great lengths to exaggerate its strength, its beauty, its size and more. Such rhetorical excess is forgivable when rendered in the afterglow of a miraculous deliverance, and it speaks to the joy one has when victory has been plucked from the jaws of defeat.

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?

The Backward or Upside-down Christian. Verses 9 and 10 of this text are two of the most well-known verses of the NT. They are memorable because of the upside-down, or backward, logic found in them. Most people would gladly boast about their strengths, assets, and what makes them beautiful, attractive, highly valued employees and skilled workers. In another letter, the apostle calls all this stuff so much rubbish (see Philippians 3:8). Here, he twice proclaims his weaknesses as qualities about which he boasts and with which he is utterly content. How many of us are content with our weaknesses? Should we be? How many of us like to “boast” about our shortcomings? How many psychological or self-help “weakness” tests are floating around out there in cyberspace? Not hard to find strength-assessment tools. But what if you said: “Hey, I’d love to get my hands on a weakness-assessment tool, you know, so I could have something to shout about and boast”? Crazy, huh? What does the apostle Paul mean by “weakness”? Why does he say something which is apparently so ridiculous?

What Does the Text Say?

Paul seems so embarrassed about having allowed himself to get dragged into a boasting match (see 11:16-12:1) that he adopts the rhetorical device of speaking about himself in the third person (“I know a person …,” v. 2). The experience is remarkable in two respects: first, because it brought him into the direct, heavenly presence of God (“third heaven,” v. 2; “paradise,” v. 3); and second, because it was so real and tangible that Paul was unable to distinguish between whether it had been a spiritual vision or an actual transport of his body into this other realm. So why hadn’t Paul mentioned this experience before? In part because he had a constant “thorn … in the flesh … to keep [him] from being too elated” (v. 7). What Paul does make clear is that whatever the “thorn” was, it had not been placed in him by God. It had originated as “a messenger of Satan to torment me” (v. 7). It was neither a divinely imposed punishment for some failing, nor a burden placed upon him by God to teach him some lesson. That may explain why Paul had so diligently — at least for a time — asked God to remove it from him. But if God had not been the instigator of this infirmity, God did nevertheless choose to turn it to a more beneficial purpose (cf. Romans 8:28) than an apparently miraculous healing would have provided. That it was only a “thorn … in the flesh,” certainly painful and possibly even somewhat debilitating, but not life-threatening or capable of curtailing his ministry, was clear proof that God’s “grace is sufficient,” and that indeed whatever power was manifested in this ministry of weakness was of divine origin (v. 9). The proof of God’s activity in Paul’s life, and in the lives of the Corinthians and all Christians, is ultimately not magnificent spiritual visions or miraculous physical healings. The proof of God’s activity is the grace that sustains us even in our weakness, for it is in those moments that we recognize that power is not our own, but must come from God. Boasting in our own power is foolishness and accomplishes nothing; boasting in our weakness may just remind us that “the power of Christ” also resides within us.

Worship Resources
Calls to Worship General

Leader: We have been called together as the body of Christ.

People: We are one body, though we have many members.

Leader: Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, and not the other way around.

People: But not all members have the same function; we have different gifts.

Leader: God calls us to use these gifts generously, maturely and cheerfully to build up the body of Christ.

People: Together we present ourselves in service to God and each other.

Leader: Let us worship God!

Benedictions General

To God, our Father, who chose us and predestined us, to the praise of his glory.

To Jesus, the Son, who is the head of all things in heaven and on earth, to the praise of his glory.

To the Spirit, who seals and guarantees our redemption, to the praise of his glory.

To our great God be praise and honor for God’s glorious grace. Amen.

Prayers General

Holy Spirit, what beautiful gifts you have given us! We are a diverse, but unified, body of believers. We are unique yet, even in our differences, we are one. Let us celebrate the gifts you have given each brother and sister here. We need each other, and so we ask you to help us love and support one another. Use each person here to further your kingdom and the gospel. We are your hands, feet, head, heart and more. Let us serve, walk, guide, love and follow. Amen.

Music Resources

Lord of All Hopefulness
Teach Me, O Lord, Thy Holy Way
Forth in Thy Name, O Lord

Worship and Praise*
Do Justly (Fitts)
Consider the Stars (Getty, de Barra)
I Belong to You (Gaskell, Moore)

*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.


on Mark 6:1-13

After spending an extended period in and around the Sea of Galilee (see 4:1–5:43), Mark reports that Jesus “left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him” (v. 1). While the author doesn’t call attention to any overt reason for Jesus’ return to Nazareth, the narrative structure suggests that 6:1-13 is the concluding passage for this portion of the gospel (i.e., 3:13; 6:13). (Arguably, this narrative block may begin somewhat earlier in chapter 3, or perhaps even 2:23, when Jesus first clashes with the Pharisees because of their divergent views regarding the Sabbath.)

Mark’s ensuing description — “On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded [exeplhssonto]” (v. 2a) — sounds promising, or, at the very least, presents those who heard him as open-minded, especially when read against his previous visit home. At that time, Jesus’ family tried to corral him, the scribes accused him of being demon-possessed, and people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind” (3:19b-22). Yet, even here, a favorable portrayal of those in the synagogue is premature, which will soon be evident.

Notwithstanding whatever bias or suspicion Jesus’ neighbors may have harbored toward him, their questions have some legitimacy. They ask, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” (v. 2b). Even Jesus’ disciples had previously asked: “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41). Indeed, it would be extremely unnatural not to have a boatload of questions having witnessed Jesus calm a storm.

Although the initial questions voiced by Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes are valid, given what they had seen and heard about Jesus, their follow-up queries disclose a deep-rooted mistrust they have for this native son. They ask, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” (v. 3a). On Jesus’ previous visit, the citizens of Nazareth accused Jesus of being out of his mind. This time, however, their impromptu inquisition sounds more like jealously, perhaps thinking privately, “Who does he think he is?” For they not only know him — after all, he had grown up in Nazareth — they also know his family and his rank in life. In their eyes, Jesus could not possibly have such profound wisdom or be so powerful. To put it differently, he was no better than them. For that reason, “they took offense at him” (v. 3b).

Having noted their resentment, Jesus puts forward a proverb to his detractors: “Prophets are not without honor except in their own hometown, and among their own kin, and their own house” (v. 4). On one level, Jesus’ invocation of this adage makes no sense, since it implies that he was honored as a prophet elsewhere, which isn’t entirely accurate. For instance, after Jesus healed the Gerasene demoniac, the villagers begged him to leave (5:17). In addition, a number of individuals laughed at Jesus when he asserted that Jairus’ daughter wasn’t dead, but merely sleeping (5:39-40).

On another level, though, the proverb does ring true when viewed on a comparative scale. Certainly, after Jesus returns to Nazareth, his neighbors, and perhaps even some family members, accost him with doubt and derision. (John explicitly states that his brothers did not believe in him. See John 7:5.) Yet, despite being frequently questioned outside of his hometown, the expressions of disbelief that many hold are offset by the crowds who gather around Jesus to listen to him, and by others who believe in and follow him (cf. 4:1; 5:21-24, 34). But not so in Nazareth, for in Jesus’ hometown the critical mass tipped toward unbelief, which is reflected in Mark’s tragic commentary: “And [Jesus] could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed [eqaumazen] at their unbelief” (vv. 5-6a).

The parallels with Jesus’ earlier visit to Nazareth continue in the next scene. After being rejected by many in his hometown, Jesus departs and begins to teach (cf. 6b; 4:1). Previously, he taught by the sea, but this time “he went about among the villages teaching.” At some point during this interval, Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (v. 7). His charge to the Twelve is a realization of another aspect of their initial calling, which happened just before Jesus’ prior return to his hometown (see 3:13, 15).

One customary way to view Jesus’ instructions — “He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics” (vv. 8-9) — is, that by following his orders, they will know, firsthand, what it means to depend on God for their provisions (i.e., daily bread) rather than on themselves. Another benefit of Jesus’ direction is that it enables the Twelve to travel swiftly from village to village since they aren’t burdened with excessive possessions. Moreover, the lack of provisions provides an opportunity for villagers who take note of the ill-equipped travelers to extend hospitality and welcome them into their homes.

Jesus also instructs his disciples to be gracious guests. They are not to move from house to house, perhaps being tempted to seek better accommodations. Instead, Jesus directs them after entering a house, to “stay there until you leave the place” (v. 10). Simply put, they are to accept whoever extends the first invitation. Not only is it a sign of God’s provision, but also an indicator that whoever has welcomed them is providing both shelter and a safe haven. In other words, their hosts will not quickly turn against them despite the opposition the Twelve may encounter in that place.

Even though some villagers will be hospitable, if “any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them,” advises Jesus (v. 11). To be clear, this metaphor is not an absolute condemnation of every person in a particular place. (Even in Sodom, Lot remained righteous.) Instead, it is a general judgment of the hearts and minds of the majority. Places that refuse the Twelve and the good news they proclaim are like Nazareth, which rejected its hometown boy.

After the Twelve received their directions from Jesus, “they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them” (vv. 12-13; cf. 1:15). In sum, the Twelve proclaimed a message and performed good deeds that would prompt many to ask, “Where did they get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to them?” and to declare, “What deeds of power are being done by their hands!”


We have one Lord, the head of the church. And from this one head shine many rays, doing the work of Christ, acting as his body in the world, and remaining connected to him.



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Many Christians believe God expects us to pretend to live a perfect life in front of our nonbelieving neighbors. Hide our problems. Mask our pain. Cover up our sins. The result is that Christians are labeled hypocrites and phonies. … What if instead we did the exact opposite? What if we Christians were vulnerable, upfront, and honest about our mistakes, problems, and fears? That would be refreshing, authentic, and attractive. … We think people are impressed by our prosperity. But actually, they’re more impressed with how we handle adversity. It’s not our success but how we handle suffering that gives our witness credibility.

The apostle Paul knew this well. Writing to the church in Philippi about all the pain he’d experienced as a prisoner in Rome, he says, “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News” (Philippians 1:12). …

Many Christians think they only have one testimony: the story of how they came to faith in Christ. But your experience of pain is a potential testimony you can share. If you’ve ever lost a job, a home, a loved one, or a reputation and God helped you through, that’s a testimony.

The greatest witness of God’s love in all of history was not Jesus’ perfect life. It was not his teaching. It was not his miracles. The greatest witness of God’s love was Christ’s suffering on the cross.

None of us can control what happens to us in life. But we do get to choose our response. We can choose whether we will waste our pain or learn from it and use it to help others. Instead of asking yourself, “Why is this happening to me?” start asking God two other questions: “What do you want me to learn?” and “Whom do you want me to help?”

—Rick Warren, “God’s Purpose in Your Pain,”, March 2, 2023.

Retrieved February 12, 2024.

Starfish appendages are among the most versatile in the animal kingdom, so to call them either arms or legs is a disservice. …

The underside of each limb is studded with hydraulically operated tube “feet,” tipped with suction cups for feeding and locomotion. The suckers, up to 15,000 per animal, pry open bivalve prey, such as clams. Suction also enables sea stars to “Velcro” themselves to surf-pounded rocks.

Flipped upside-down, the animals right themselves with a slow-motion, “tripod” breakdancing move. Eyespots at the limbs’ tips respond to light, while nearby suckers sense chemicals that betray a food source by its odor. Other receptors register touch, temperature, body orientation or seawater composition.

Yet another function is worth mentioning: sexual organs in each limb release eggs or sperm into the water.

—Michael Engelhard, “Do starfish have arms or legs, and how many do they have?” DiscoverWildlife, August 3, 2020,

Disciple: I have come to offer you my service.

Master: If you dropped the “I” service would certainly follow. You could give all your goods to feed the poor and your body to be burnt and not have love at all.

Keep your goods and drop the “I.” Don’t burn your body; burn the ego. Love will instantly arise.

—Anthony de Mello, The Song of the Bird (Image, 1984).

Years ago, I talked to a minister in Texas who was trying to get a new church off the ground, and things were not going well. They would start a new program, and it would fail. They designed a strategy to increase attendance at worship; it didn’t work. They began several new ministry initiatives; they all fizzled. “We couldn’t figure it out,” he told me. “The church leaders and I were praying like mad for our church to succeed, but nothing was working. Finally, in a prayer meeting with the officers of the church, one of our officers said, ‘Maybe we ought to ask God what God wants us to do.’”

“Suddenly,” the minister said, “it hit us, hit us hard. We had been planning church programs that we wanted to do and then praying, ‘God, please come join us in what we want to do.’ From that moment on, our prayers changed. Now we pray, ‘God, what are you doing in Houston and how can we be a part of it?’” …

Now let’s admit, it’s not always easy to know what God is doing, because what God is doing in the world always comes as a surprise. …

In the little town in Maryland where I live, there are two parallel main streets. One main street runs through the mostly African American part of town, and the other main street runs through the largely white business district. In years past, African Americans walked down one main street, and whites walked down the other. Two separate worlds, only a block apart. A few weeks ago, however, with the unanimous approval of the City Council, a group of artists and other concerned citizens arrived with cans of paint, rollers, and brushes on the main street that used to be the domain of whites and painted on the street in large letters the words BLACK LIVES MATTER.

To see those words on the white main street was a surprise. It is also controversial. Some people don’t like it at all. …

People who look with eyes of faith see yet another sign of what our surprising Jesus, the Son of the living God, is doing in the world, calling us to justice in our broken land, teaching us the truth that lives our society has not always valued do indeed matter, and we want to get behind Jesus and follow.

—Thomas G. Long, “Between a Rock and a Stumbling Block,”, August 23, 2020.

Retrieved February 9, 2024.

A Zen monk in Japan wanted to publish the holy books, which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking.

The monk began by traveling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. After ten years, the monk had enough money to begin his task.

But then there was a terrible flood in the area and famine followed. So the monk took the funds he had collected for the books and spent them to save others from starving. Then he began his work of collecting again.

Fifteen years later an epidemic spread over the country. To help his people, the monk again gave away what he had collected.

For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled — the books were printed. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of the holy books can be seen today in a monastery in Kyoto.

The Japanese, however, tell their children that the monk really made three sets of holy books. And, they explain with great pride, the first two invisible sets surpass even the third.

—Joan Chittister, Songs of the Heart: Reflections on the Psalms (Twenty-Third Publications, 2019), 97.

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Ask for four volunteers and have them stand in front of the group. Tell them they are going to compete in a bedsheet-folding contest, so that they will develop some skills to be put to good use at home! Hand out three large sheets — one to the first child, one to the second child, and one to the third and fourth together, who will act as a team. Explain that they will race to see who can fold their sheet the fastest and the neatest. Give them a countdown and let them go at it. Chances are the team of two children will do the best job. Have them sit down and talk about the experience and find out whether it was easier to fold a sheet as a team than as an individual. Point out that Jesus did not ask his disciples to do their work as individuals: “He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two” (Mark 6:7). Invite the children to tell you what would be good about going out in teams, two by two, to do healing and teaching. Close by suggesting that Jesus wants us to follow him in groups, so that we can give each other support and help and encouragement in the work of discipleship.

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