No magic pebbles

Pastoral Messages | August 15, 2019

One of my children’s favorite books is called Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. It tells of Sylvester, a donkey, who finds a red magic pebble that makes wishes come true. It’s all fun and games until Sylvester wishes himself to be a rock, in order to escape a lion. He turns into a rock and the magic pebble just inches away. With little chance anyone would ever find that pebble and then wish a boulder to be a donkey, Sylvester despairs. And so, “he was scared and worried. Being helpless, he felt hopeless.”

“Being helpless, he felt hopeless.” There is such truth to this simple and heartbreaking sentence. None of us has been turned into rock, but most of us know the kind of despair that grows when we feel helpless.

It might be the helplessness that comes when you can’t fix the pain of your loved one’s broken heart, or chronic disease, or persistent mental illness. Maybe you feel powerless against the tide of xenophobia that has spread across our beloved country, or unable to do anything to stop the all-too-frequent acts of gun violence. There are so many situations that bring about this helpless, hopeless feeling.

In these moments, I’m convinced that doing even one small act of goodness can revive our hope. We can act our way out of despair, one small work of love at a time. You might not be able to change a diagnosis, but you can show up with cookies and company during chemo. You might not eliminate all hate, but you can live with courageous kindness. These acts are transformative, not just because they do something for others, but in the doing itself, we are reminded of own capacity.

After all, we are not motionless rocks. We are human beings with strong hearts, with many gifts and a whole lot of power, especially when we work together. And there are no magic pebbles, no quick fixes and easy answers. Instead, because of Jesus, we have hope. We can trust that today is not the end of the story. Our future is full of all kinds of unknown possibilities. As Paul wrote, “For hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24).

Sylvester eventually became a donkey again, in part because of the love of his parents, who didn’t give up on him. Even in the hardest of moments, we can decide not to quit on each other. As people of faith, we must choose not to be defeated by despair. Instead we doggedly hope for, and act to create, a future that is full of abundant life for everyone.

-Pastor Sara Olson-Smith

4 Comments on “No magic pebbles”

  • Jeanne Withycombe

    August 17, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Having so recently been through these feelings , I really appreciated this writing. You are very wise. Thank you. ????

  • Joan Moroney

    August 16, 2019 at 5:15 pm

    Thank you Sara. It is very powerful being “reminded of one’s capacity”

  • Carol Seitz

    August 15, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    Sarah I can remember your father preaching deep, meaningful sermons based on children’s literature. Your message of hope based on acts of love, kindness, sincere caring which we all are capable of is so encouraging in these times. Blessings to you as you have blessed me.

  • Kristi Masterson

    August 15, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks for holding out hope! Perfect timing for me to hear these words.

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Malachi 3:1-4

The Coming Messenger 3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness.[a] 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Hebrews 2:14-18

14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters[a] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Luke 2:22-40

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple 22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. The Return to Nazareth 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.