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"The Stone in the Center of the Pond and the Healthy Carp"
Sandy Reimer
February 27, 2000
Scripture: Genesis 28: 16-19 and Luke 15:20

I have two short vignettes** to share with you this morning. The first is told by an Eastern master: "Watch what happens when the gamekeeper puts one carp into a pond that has a stone in the center of the pond – and then puts a second carp of equal size into a pond that has no stone in the center. In the pond where the stone is, the carp swims around this marker repeatedly in even circles. This carp grows fat and healthy. The carp in the other pond has no central point around which to swim, so it goes in erratic circles, becoming emaciated in the process. In the pond where the carp swims around and around the stone, the carp’s movement has a pattern and a purpose and therefore the fish grows. In the pond without the stone, the fish has nothing to swim around, and therefore the fish shrinks."

The second story is told by Veronica Goines, an African-American Presbyterian Pastor. Veronica remembers that when she was about 7 years old, her best friend got lost one day. The little girl ran up and down the streets of the big town where they lived, but she couldn’t find a single landmark. She was very frightened. Finally a policeman stopped to help her. He put her in the passenger seat of his car, and they drove around until she finally saw her church. She pointed it out to the policeman, and then she told him firmly, "You can let me out now. This is my church, and I can always find my way home from here."

These two stories illuminate my belief about this church. I was just appointed to a Task Force of the Florida Conference on Church Renewal and Growth. There are 15 folks from different UCC churches in the state in this group; we are to serve as consultants for churches who seek help with revitalization. Our Task Force met for the first time on Tuesday in Orlando. As people spoke of ways to revitalize churches, such as contemporary worship, bands and drums, video screens, and computers in the foyer that instantly generate nametags, I thought too about the stone in the center of the pond. And that center for me is this: we have, each of us, a hunger for meaning, a spiritual hunger, which we either ignore or which we allow to lead us on our spiritual journey. If we choose to take the journey, following our hunger, then we put a stone in the middle of our pond and that stone, which for me is the church, becomes our pivot point and gives us both a rhythm and a direction for our life. In my own daily life, I am thrown off balance more than I want to admit. My focus, my priorities, often spin off in erratic circles of busy-ness or tiredness or frustration. My connections in this church – in worship, in conversations, in exposure to new insights, in quiet minutes in the chapel, in times like the small group Communion service on Retreat – all of those connections help me recapture my focus and my true direction. I simply cannot imagine my life without a church as the touchstone in the midst of my pond.

Likewise, when I get lost – and we all get lost from time to time in any number of ways – when I get lost, the church is always the place from which I can find my way home. I think of this particularly in times of grief and suffering. I remember talking with a woman who had suffered a devastating loss and who had no spiritual community. She said "don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine, I have a strong family, and we will take care of ourselves and pull ourselves through this just as we have in the past." I admire her spirit and her courage. Yet I picture her, and her small family, standing in silhouette on a hill, holding hands, and to my eyes, looking very isolated and fragile. I see the winds blowing over them, bending them, and I imagine how a church could help filter the wind for them, help them find their way home. I cannot say to you that in times of sorrow and tragedy I can take care of myself, or that my family can take care of itself. Instead, I trust that, in those times, I will be supported by this church community and, in that process, find my way back to a sense of home.

Both in times of loss and struggle, as well as in times of celebration and passage, this church brings meaning to the hard times and enriches the good times beyond measure. That is a promise that I can make to you. And I remind us all, continuing members and new members alike, to treasure what we easily take for granted here - and to remember that we have to swim regularly in this pond for the stone to truly be our center and the touchstone from which we can find our way home. Amen.

**The first story is from The Journey Homeward by Susan Muto; the second story is from Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamotte.

So we have three kinds of call, the younger son’s turning around, the father’s willingness to welcome, and the older son’s call to understand he indeed has always been treasured and may join in this welcome. These three calls all work more powerfully if we remember the words of the Call to Worship, to think of the barricades of our lives not as sins but as wounds. Sophie Burnham says that we are not called to impale our sins on a pike and mount them on a tower wall to be reviled and cursed. Our wounds are signs of our holiness. Awakening to tenderness heals them. "We are to embrace the wounds, wash them bandage them with loving care." As Flora Wuellner points out, life in faith is not so much about forgiving sins as healing wounds.

I know I am stubborn. I know I talk too much. And when I realize I should be listening, I talk more. I get stuck in my own positions. I get angry with others who seem to have it easier than I do. If God is anywhere in my life, God is in the voices that call me away from my stubbornness, allowing me to embrace these wounds that block my life. Then I can trust, that in returning to a self that is truer than the one I began with, I may receive a warm and loving welcome home. Or conversely, if I welcome those who have wounded me, I will witness and be part of a rising from death to life as rich as any Easter.