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Putting It Together
February 26, 1978

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


There's something fascinating about a puzzle, something intriguing, challenging, hypnotizing. At Family Camp, whether we're there for a week or whether we're there overnight, someone always brings a puzzle, dumps it out on the table, and the addicts go at it. They only break for meals. They stay up to the wee hours of the morning. The rest of us walk by, put a piece in, look it over and check it out. The children come and put pieces in. Children enjoy puzzles. They'll take a piece, study it, turn it, try to fit it into that particular spot. There's something intriguing and fascinating about puzzles. 

Life is like a puzzle. Your life is like a puzzle, a puzzle that takes your whole life putting it together. The pieces are given to us. The pieces of our lives are first of all given to us by God. Look at the pieces God has given—your body, your looks, not much we can do about it. You are given your mind, your talents, all those innate hidden potentialities within you just waiting to break free. God gave you your color, your nationality, your place of birth, your time of birth. God gave you your parents, your family. Many of your pieces have come from your parents. Parents have given us rules, teachings, a value system. Parents have given us an attitude towards life. Sometimes we rebel against them, and sometimes we accept them as our own pieces. We also make our own pieces—all the experiences that we've had, all the choices that we have made including the choice of friends. That's a major choice. For the kind of friends we pick have much to say about the kind of people we're going to become, by the kind of lives we are going to live—our value system, our standards. We choose a spouse. We choose a job. We make a lot of the pieces of our puzzle. 

And then life hands out a lot of pieces. Live hands out some happy pieces and life hands out some sad pieces. Life gives us some crises—bad health, tragedy, the death of loved ones, financial calamities. Life dishes out. Life gives us pieces to our puzzle. From many various, sundry places come pieces to our puzzle. Our challenge is to put them together to make a picture. It's a fascinating task. It's an intriguing task. It's fun. It’s adventuresome. It's a lifetime process. It takes our whole life to put the puzzle together. It takes our whole life because there's no border on our pictures.  As we grow through the years, we just add more and more pieces to the puzzle and the picture grows. The picture can be as big as we want it to be. The picture can be as large and as expansive as we want it to be. There’s no border. There’s no frame. There's no containment. No one says, “Here’s your narrow little space and you have to fit your life into that narrow little space.” Of course, I think a lot of people give up somewhere along the way and make their puzzle narrow. 

But I also know a lot of people, a lot of people right in this church that are 90 years old and over and are still putting their picture together. They are growing and having new experiences. Their picture grows, and becomes more and more beautiful. Death doesn't even break up the puzzle. They don’t even put a frame around it because even death is only one of the pieces of the puzzle, just one of the pieces like other crises, other struggles, other experiences we would rather not have—if anybody gave us a choice. Death is like that. It's another piece, and the picture continues to grow, continues to expand. 

Putting our puzzle together is a life time process. Sometimes it's a difficult process. Sometimes it's hard to make the pieces fit. We turn them every direction, they just don't want to go in there. They are too big or too small, we try to stretch them. Or sometimes we can't find a piece and there's a gaping hole right in the middle of the picture.  You search through all the other pieces. It's good to have other people help. Sometimes other people can come along and say, “Hey, that piece goes right there.” And you were looking at it the whole time. Or they reach out to the edge of the table and say, “There that piece looks like it'll fit.” It's more joyful to have someone help you put the puzzle together. A few years ago, I was in a home and the 10 year old boy was playing on the piano. He hadn’t had any lessons. He was picking out melodies, playing by ear. And I said to the mother. “He has musical talent.” His mother said, “He does?” I said, “He surely does.” The boy said, “I do?” “Sure you do.” They started giving him lessons and now today he is 16 years old and has his own rock band. He got into guitars. Just the other day the mother said a lot of his success is due to me because I came along and said he's got musical talent. 

Other people help us find our pieces. Other people encourage us. Of course, I suppose one option is when other people are doing so good at putting our puzzle together, we sit back, drink a coke, put our feet up on a chair and let them do it. “Go ahead, put my puzzle together.” That's alright if you can get somebody to do it. And that's alright, if you're happy with the picture they put together. Our parents are the first people who begin putting our picture together. They begin by fitting the pieces together and a semblance of a design begins to come when parents do it for us. Sometimes we're happy with the picture they're putting together. Sometimes we rebel. We don't like any piece my mother puts in that picture! We'll take it out and twist it around. 

Or we'll tear the whole picture apart, do it our way which is another option. Sometimes we don't like the picture we're putting together. Sometimes it just doesn't seem to be taking shape. Well, we have the option of just ripping it all apart, maybe not completely, but we have the option of taking the puzzle, ripping it apart and starting over again. Remember, though, that the pieces are still the same. We still have the same parents, we still have the same marriage, we still have the same experiences, we still have the same crises, we still have the same heritage from the past, we still have the same pieces. 

But we can put them together a different way. The Bible says, and in theology talk, we call it being born again—our conversion when God gives us a second chance, when God will assist us. When asked, God will assist us with the Holy Spirit to put our puzzle together again and make a picture that is more appropriate, a picture with which we are happy. 

Then there's the option of not putting the puzzle together at all, just sitting and looking at it. There's a glob here, there's a glob over there and there's a few pieces together here. There's one over there with big gaping holes in the middle. Week after week goes by and the pieces are just laying there. A lot of people live disoriented, lacking goals, a frenzy. They don't know who they are. They don't know what they're about. They don't know what they're here for. They don't know where they're going. They don't know why they're doing it—just a jumble of pieces. Well, that's the task, putting it together and making a picture. 

What is your picture? Coley Jay shared his picture with me. Coley gave me the idea for this sermon. He said, “Why don't you talk about jigsaw puzzles?” I commend that request to the rest of you. If you don't like the sermons, come and give me one. I'll take all your ideas, put them together and average them out. Coley Jay’s picture is a lake—a beautiful, calm, serene lake with some trees. The background is a sunset and the sunset is getting more and more beautiful as the years go by. The piece that's missing is death. That's a beautiful picture. 

What's your picture? My picture has an ocean in it and it's a turbulent ocean. The waves are breaking on the shore because I'm not a very serene person. If you know me, I'm not very calm and I'm not very quiet. I'm not serene so there's a lot of hustle and bustle in my picture. There’s a lot of water flying, there's a lot of energy, and there's a lot of noise at the ocean. There are people in my picture, a lot of people. They’re playing games on the beach. There’s a lot going on, because I like a lot going on. They're playing ball, they're playing badminton, football, they're swimming, they're running in and out of the ocean. There's a lot of cars in my picture. We have more cars than Turner's Used Car lot. It isn't that I like cars, it's just that I want to keep moving and going somewhere and I don't want any of them breaking down. If one breaks down, I want to be able to get another one. There’s a lot of movement in my picture. There's a lot of color. I don't like black and gray, I want a lot of color. There are butterflies in my picture, in my ocean there are butterflies symbolizing growth. It's a nice picture. It's a beautiful picture. 

And your picture is a beautiful picture. In a very real sense, it’s a beautiful picture because God gives you the picture. God gives us the pieces and God gives us the picture. And we see the beautiful picture taking shape, even though there are a lot of pieces missing. There's a lot of pieces missing in mine yet. There are a lot of pieces that don't fit yet. There are a lot of holes, but I can see the basic picture. And it's good because God gave it. Your life is a gift from God to the world. 

Our scripture lesson was about God's plan, God's plan to unite everyone and everything together through Jesus Christ and God's plan to create his people, God's plan to call you and me to be his people. There is great hope and there is great comfort to know that God has a plan, God has a picture. It's a beautiful picture. You and I have a reason for living. We have a purpose for being and we have something to do. God gives it to us and God gets the glory for our beautiful pictures. God gets our gratitude for God gives you your picture for the world. 

What do you do with your picture? Some people rip it up and throw it in the wastebasket, discard it, destroy it. Some people get all embarrassed about their picture and cover it up with a tablecloth. Other people spray glue, hang it on the wall, exhibit it. Some people hide their picture behind the pillar. They don't quite want to put it out where people can see it so they hide it behind the pillar and people have to ask, “Where are you? Where's your picture? I can't quite see it because you've got it hidden.” Or, have you displayed it, exhibited it prominently for everyone to enjoy, for everyone to see, for everyone to gain pleasure from it, to benefit, to get help from us, because our lives, our gifts are given to the world from God. 

There are the pieces. Put your picture together with courage. Put it together with confidence and with joy, for it's good to be alive.

© 1978 Douglas I. Norris