Last Friday the president and CEO of the Tennessee Lottery presented a ceremonial check to John, Lisa and daughter Tiffany Robinson after John’s winning Powerball ticket was authenticated. They have decided to take a lump sum of $328 million. John said in an earlier Friday appearance on NBC’s Today show that he and Lisa plan to help out certain friends, give to the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and donate to their church. “I’m a firm believer in tithing to my church,” Robinson said. The Robinsons plan to return to work today because “that’s what we’ve done all our lives,” John said. It’s funny, but I swear I see Jesus standing in the background of the Today show set.
At Christmas one of our children gave Gary a 2016 calendar called Finding Jesus. The challenge each month is to locate Jesus, who is cleverly hidden in various settings, such as a crowded subway station, carnival, rock concert, movie theater, airport terminal, park and traffic jam. The only clue you get is that Jesus is wearing a bushy beard.
Finding Jesus is the calendar edition of Winston Rowntree’s 2014 interactive children’s book for adults of the same name. It reminds me of the “Where’s Waldo?” books that our children loved so much growing up. I decide that my New Year’s resolution is to look for Jesus every day in unexpected places. Well, except for January 1.
- 1: How can I not see the baby Jesus in faces of my grandsons, signs of hope for the future?
- 2: I see Jesus in the room of a parishioner who has been in the hospital far longer than anticipated. Jesus is always there, disguised at various times as the person cleaning her room, the nurse or the specialist. Sally, too, senses his presence.
- 3: I look into the eyes of a young man whom I do not know who comes forward to receive communion. I see Jesus in him, a yearning for God’s presence and to be used to make a difference in the world. Stripped away of all pretense, he and the congregation recite John Wesley’s covenant prayer for the new year, “Let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing.”
- 4: Kelly Blue Kinkel posts on Facebook today that as soon as she received her new Zulily coat in the mail, she realized it wasn’t going to work for her. When Kinkel called Zulily to return the coat, she was told that she would not only receive a refund but that it wasn’t necessary to return the coat. The customer service rep said, “Please don’t send it back. If you know someone who needs a winter coat or if you would like to donate it to a charity, that would make us very happy.” Who says you can’t find Jesus in businesses and organizations that practice ethical integrity and generosity?
- 5: I’m sitting beside a rock star at a hymn sing. My 89-year-old father is adored by everyone in his assisted living facility because of his singing ability. I realize that he can no longer read the words to the hymns, but he has most of them memorized, anyway. We sing a duet for the crowd, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” and I spot Jesus in the back row harmonizing.
- 6: Street musicians are playing gospel music in the bowels of the New York City subway. I experience the fullness of God’s love in the diversity of people streaming around me: the body of Christ. Jesus is playing the violin.
- 7: A person stumbles and falls in Central Park while exercising. Fellow runners immediately come to her assistance and make sure she is not hurt. I’m certain one of them is Jesus.
- Jan 8: Gary and are eating lunch in the tiny restaurant attached to the world-famous Zabar’s delicatessen. Most everyone squeezes together on high chairs around one long table: various ages, ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic status. A man in a snappy beret walks in the door, kisses the woman across from us on the cheek, asks to sit next to her and then stands in line for coffee. Meanwhile, an elderly man shuffles in and sits in the same seat. When he sees the man in the beret return, he says, “I’m sorry. I’ll leave.” “No, please stay. I’ll sit over here.” “Are you sure?” “Yes. Of course.” Smiles all around. One of them was Jesus. Could have been either one. I’m not sure which.
- 9: I see Jesus in our local grocery store, hidden in the person at the deli counter. After a long day, she still has a bounce in her voice as she smiles and asks how she can help me
- 10: We meet with three young couples for baptism orientation. As they share their deep desire to nurture their children in the Christian faith, I have a vision of Jesus sitting in the corner of the room with one baby in each arm and another in his lap, trying to get them to smile.
- 11: Do you ever wonder if Jesus knew how to cook? It’s on my mind because a parishioner gives us a big pot of soup today. Whenever I observe people cooking and baking for those in need, Jesus always seems to be nearby.
- 12: I chat with a friend about the conversations she is having with her brother, who is dying. “My brother did some bad things to me when I was young.” “Did he ever ask for forgiveness?” I ask. “He did for just one thing. But I’ve forgotten about the rest. I can’t live chained to the past. Besides, the person my brother enjoys most seeing in his last days is me.” I find Jesus in my friend’s compassion and depth of faith.
- 13: I am at a gathering of women who are committed to the spiritual journey, to love God and one another by integrating mind, body and spirit. Deep conversations take place as Jesus walks among us, encouraging, loving and reminding us that by caring for ourselves, we are better able to share the love of Jesus wherever we are.
- 14: When word spreads that one of three winning tickets in the $1.6 billion Powerball was sold at a 7-Eleven in Chino Hills, California, hundreds of people who won’t get a dime gather outside the store, just because. Owner Balbir Atwal calls his store the “luckiest place in all the planet,” and says, “My community has helped me so much… I don’t know how much I’m getting, but I’ll be helping my employees and my family and community.” I see Jesus in Balbir Atwal’s generous response. Of course, I’m sure Jesus doesn’t gamble: except on every person in this world, that our hearts will always reflect God’s grace and generosity.
- Jan 15: The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, weighs heavily on many of our hearts. We offer our congregation the opportunity to help financially, knowing that Jesus is walking the streets of Flint in the form of a coordinated response that includes the Michigan National Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and numerous United Methodist churches in the area.
- 16: I thank God that even when people stray from the church, the Holy Spirit prompts them to come back home when they are in need. Today Jesus nudges two different individuals to gather up the courage to seek help in their personal, family and spiritual lives.
- 17: At each worship service, two youth eloquently recite this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Courage is an inner resolution to go forward despite obstacles. Cowardice is submissive surrender to circumstances. Courage breeds creativity. Cowardice represses fear and is mastered by it. Cowardice asks the question, is it safe? Expediency asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? But conscience asks the question, is it right? And there comes a time when we must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but one must take it because it is right.” In these words, I find the heart of Jesus as well as the heart of Dr. King.
I still haven’t found Jesus in each of the twelve months of the Finding Jesus calendar. Sometimes I think I find him, but I’m not sure if it’s the Jesus Rowntree intended. In the end, it doesn’t matter. According to the press release of the book, “Finding Jesus challenges readers to spot the Son of God among his people. On each page, he is hidden in a crowded scene, from a grocery store to a wedding to a shopping mall… Being conspicuous didn’t work out so well last time, so now he’s blending in with the crowd. Bearded hipster or God’s right-hand man? Robe-wearing hippie or the risen Lord? Your guess is as good as anyone’s. But as J.C. himself said, “Seek and ye shall find.”
It’s never been easy to track Jesus down. But if you’re willing to seek him in unexpected places, you just might find the grace, hope and courage for which you’ve been looking.