Warm-up Question: Where would you look for signs of God’s presence?
Paul Grayhek, a resident of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, decided that a giant rock he discovered in his backyard after a small landslide looked like the hand of God. Grayhek, age 52, had lost his previous job and was praying for a sense of direction in his life when discovered the rock on March 8, 2009. Grayhek determined that the rock’s appearance and proximity to his house was a direct sign from God that he should follow his dream of becoming a counselor for troubled youth. “I prayed between licking my wounds and looking for a job,” he reported. “We rarely get rockfalls and this formation is twenty feet from my house. It’s definitely a symbol of the hand of God in my life.”
Grayhek recently put the rock formation on eBay, intending to auction it off and use the money to help pay for his education. His idea was that the massive nine foot by four foot “hand of God” rock formation would actually remain in his yard, and that the buyer would be purchasing the “complete and exclusive rights” (including literary and movie rights) to the rock.
Grayhek’s rock formation did garner a lot of attention, and at one point, his eBay listing had over 5,000 “hits” in an hour. Grayhek was pleased by all the publicity “his hand of God” rock received. He was interviewed by multiple radio and newspaper reporters from around the world and received over 800 e-mails. He attributed the interest in his “hand of God” rock to a deep spiritual hunger in people’s lives. “There were days when I didn’t get a lot of sleep,” Grayhek said. “I answered 95 percent of all those messages. I think it touched a lot of people.”
Grayhek’s rock attracted a high bid of more than $16,800. But as all three of the top bidders backed out, Grayhek realized that he was being “played.” Grayhek noted that he wasn’t very sophisticated when it comes to on-line auctions, and admitted that he had “muddled” the auction. Still, he was unfazed.
Although nobody actually ended up buying the rights to his rock, Grayhek did grant free permission for a picture of it to appear in a book that Harry Charon is writing. Charon’s book will also feature a grilled cheese sandwich bearing a possible image of the Virgin Mary, a tree trunk that might have an imprint of Jesus, and a picture from the Hubble Space Telescope that some people believe shows an image of Christ. “I don’t know if it (the rock formation) would mean anything to me, but that’s not the issue,” explained Choron. “The issue is what it means to the person who discovered it. I think in general people just want to feel they’re connected somehow, that miracles do occur, and it’s something that supports their faith.”
As for Grayhek, he has decided that the purpose of his rock was to help him spread the word of God. “I’m convinced now that’s why the hand showed up in my backyard” he explained. “It wasn’t just a symbol for me to strengthen my faith; I was supposed to share it.” He still intends to finish his master’s degree in social work and become a counselor for troubled youth, but hasn’t yet figured out where he will get the $10,000 he needs to pay for his schooling next year. “I have no idea,” he said. “It’s just called faith and trust. I’m surprisingly calm about it.”
For more information and to see a picture of the rock, check out: www.2news.tv/news/43640977.html
- What thoughts and emotions do you have in reaction to Paul Grayhek’s ideas about his rock? (For instance, are you sympathetic toward him? Cynical? Skeptical? Amused?)
- Do you think that God communicates with people through personal, private signs? Why or why not? Is it possible for something to be an answer to prayer without being a direct sign from God? Why or why not?
- How would you determine whether or not something is a sign from God? What criteria would you use? What might happen if someone falsely concluded that a particular event or object was a sign from God?
- Do you think that living with an expectation that one might find signs of God in ordinary objects is supportive of faith in God? Or is it a hindrance to genuine faith?
- Think about a time in your life when you have had an important decision to make (or imagine a time when you may have to make such a decision in the future). Do you tend to make those kinds of decisions on your own or in consultation with others? Where do you turn for guidance? What role does prayer play for you in this? How might you seek to discern God’s will for you at such a time? Where do you see the “hand of God” at work in your life?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, June 7, 2009.
(Text links are to
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
The readings for today (Holy Trinity Sunday) invite us to consider how God chooses to become known to us. In the Gospel, we hear the story of Nicodemus who comes to Jesus at night to ask him questions about God and faith. Nicodemus approaches Jesus with a mixture of curiosity and skepticism. On the one hand, Nicodemus recognizes that the “signs” that Jesus has been performing are an indicator that Jesus is a “teacher who has come from God” (verse 2), but on the other hand, he struggles with what Jesus has been teaching because it does not fit in with his existing understanding of God and salvation. Nicodemus’ conversation with Jesus is filled with misunderstanding and ambiguity. The confusion arises because the Greek word “anothen” (verse 3 — pronounced aah-no-thin) means both “from above” and “again.” Nicodemus wonders how it is possible for a person to be literally born “again” (anothen) while Jesus describes how one must be born “from above” (anothen) (verse 7).
Nicodemus seeks signs of God’s hand in the world, but he has difficulty recognizing that the sign of God’s presence is fully embodied in Jesus, “the Word made flesh and living among us” (see John 1:14). As his conversation with Jesus unfolds, he becomes increasingly confused (compare verse 2 with verse 9). By the end of this passage, Nicodemus has disappeared quietly back into the night. However, Nicodemus does appear at two other points in John’s gospel. He challenges the other Pharisees who want to judge Jesus without giving him a fair hearing (John 7:50-51). He also accompanies Joseph of Arimathea to seek Pilate’s permission to remove Jesus’ body from the cross, brings the spices to prepare his body for a proper burial (John 19:38-42). Nicodemus is on a journey that finally leads him toward faith.
Like Nicodemus, we also seek signs of God’s hands, and like him, we may struggle with confusion and misunderstanding and look for those signs in the wrong places. The conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus reminds us that signs of God’s work don’t come to us as private messages or hidden in ordinary objects. God’s love is for the whole world, shown through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus names the cross as the sign of God’s love for the world. In John’s Gospel, the cross is portrayed as the instrument of God’s redeeming love. Jesus is the one who demonstrates the greatest love by laying down his life for his friends (see John 15:13). By being lifted up on the cross, Jesus draws all people to himself. This sign of death becomes a symbol of life and salvation. The hand of God is at work in the cross of Jesus to bring redemption and life for all.
- Compare and contrast the experiences of Nicodemus in the Gospel with the experience of Paul Grayhek (from the “hand of God” rock news story). What was each of them seeking? In what ways were each of them disappointed? In what ways were each of them transformed?
- Imagine that Jesus, Nicodemus, and Paul Grayhek from the news story were in a conversation together. What do you think they would say to each other? What questions would they ask one another? Where would each of them see the hands of God? Invite three persons from your group to “role-play” that conversation.
- What do you think about when you look at a cross? How, where, and when do you (and/or your congregation) use the sign of the cross (either as a physical object or as a gesture)? What meaning does that carry for you?
- In what ways is Jesus a sign of God’s love for the world? Where might you look for signs of that love today? In what ways do you experience God’s presence through worship? In what ways does God’s love for you shape how you live your life?
Signs of God; Signs of faith
Name as many signs and symbols of faith as you can that are in your church, or that you are familiar with.
- What are they and what do they represent?
- Do you know the history of some of them? (cross, water, sea shell, fish, candles and light, liturgical colors, loaf of bread, etc.)
- Considering today’s world and your generation, what new symbols of faith and God can you imagine or create that would communicate our Christian faith with others? God’s love for all people everywhere? If you have a special youth meeting space or room, use some of the new symbols of faith to “decorate” your space and as springboards to discussion. (Keep any existing or traditional symbols or signs up as well.)
Dear God, we give you thanks that your love and forgiveness is for all people everywhere. Help us to never forget your presence in our lives and that you call us to do your good work – to be your hands – in the world. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.