Known By Our Love

Meditation for Maundy Thursday

First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

April 6, 2023

Audio of Pastor Karen’s message:

Cheryl Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, March 2023,

No one loves puffins more than the people who live on Heimaey (Hay MAH’ ee), a volcanic island off the southern coast of Iceland.

Cheryl Katz writes of their loving care of baby puffins or pufflings in her story, “Make Way for Pufflings,” in Smithsonian magazine last month.

 The 5-square-mile island “is the largest and the only inhabited one of the Westman archipelago,” she writes. About 4,400 people live on Haimaey in a town called Vestmannaeyjabaer (Vest MAN ah jar). The puffin population, for a few months out of the year, will exceed the human one. The cluster of volcanic isles are home to the largest colony of Atlantic puffins on earth. The seabirds spend most of their lives far off-shore in the cold waters of the North Atlantic. They come on land to breed. [1]

In March, as the days lengthen, folks begin looking forward to their return. More than a million puffins will arrive in the Westman islands to reunite with their life partners after being separated at sea. They “lay their single egg in an underground burrow dug out of the grassy cliffs. The July sea and sky will churn with birds ferrying food to their hungry chicks. The pufflings emerge at night from their underground digs in late August and September, when most of the adults have already departed for winter on the open ocean… heading to a seabird hot spot southeast of Greenland, along with jaunts from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. Now, it’s time for the chicks to follow the moon lighting their path to the water. For the next few years, the chicks will roam the North Atlantic on their own, possibly crossing the ocean before returning to their birth colony to breed.” [2]

Then the terrible thing happens. Some of the baby birds, on their first flight “leaving the burrow, will get confused by the lights of the town.” [3] They go the wrong way and head inland, instead of out to sea! While they are strong swimmers, the puffins’ dense bones make it more difficult for them to take flight. When they are at sea, they use the water as a long runway. But if they land on the town’s streets, their “new wings are too weak to get them aloft from the flat ground, leaving them vulnerable to cars, predators, and starvation.” [4]

But then the miracle happens—and this is how this island town of 4,400 people is known for its love for the puffins. Every year, the children of the community stay up late and on their own and with their parents, “they roam the town, peeking under parked vehicles, behind stacks of bins at the fish-processing plants, inside equipment at the harbor,” looking for “stranded young birds… in tight spots. Flushing them out and catching them is the perfect job for nimble young humans. But the whole town joins in, even the police.” [5]

The community has been saving stranded, confused puffins for more than a century—probably since electric lights came to the town in the early 1900’s. The puffin population has continued to decline since then. An older man remembers rescuing 100 pufflings in one night when he was a boy. His daughter and all the other children out looking for puffins won’t see that many in one night or the whole season, anymore. That’s why the children are so intent on rescuing one caught under a truck bed, even if it takes all night. That’s love.

“Tonight, it will sleep on a bed of grass in a cardboard box. Tomorrow, (a) little girl in (a) bright orange jacket will stand on a cliff on the west side of the island. She’ll toss the puffling into the air and watch it sail off to sea.” [6]

Here, in John 13, we hear the promise that Christians will be known to the world, but by only one way will we be identified as belonging to Christ. “I give you a new commandment,” he says, “that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’

Our witness to a hurting world depends on one thing and one thing alone. Love. This is the kind of love that demonstrates kindness, goodness, hard work, determination, and sacrifice. It is not a passive, sit back and watch terrible things happen and do nothing love.

Love your neighbor as yourself is NOT a new commandment for the disciples; this is from Leviticus 19:17-18. What’s new in this commandment is that Christ’s disciples will be known by their love for their sisters and brothers in the faith.

     With this new commandment, you might think that the disciples always get along and are never jealous or competitive. Let me remind you of Mark 10:35-45 and Matthew 20:20-21, when the mother of James and John comes to ask Jesus “a favor.” “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit,” she says, “one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” She wants them to have special status and authority over the others. Jesus replies, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” meaning, are they prepared to suffer and die with him? For Jesus will pray in the Garden of Gethsemane in Luke 22:42, on the night he is betrayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”

 James and John foolishly answer, “We are able.” Jesus says, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”

The other 10 disciples will be angry with James and John when they find out. All of them want to have favored status! But Jesus will set them all straight, calling them together for a teaching moment. “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant,” he says, “and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave;  just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

The annual rescue operation on a volcanic island off the southern coast of Iceland is a shared mission that brings people together and closer to one another. It brings out the best in them as they work to save the pufflings.

 On a cold Nordic night, two sisters drive up and down quiet streets, shining flashlights out of car windows looking for confused and frightened pufflings who have gone the wrong way and are trapped in the wrong place. As the night goes on, the two women “talk about everything under the sun…. (One) is a mother of three girls who works as an aide for people with disabilities. She and her sister, “an EMT and mother of four, have been rescuing baby puffins since they were practically babies themselves, and they began teaching their own children before they were old enough to walk.”

   Like the puffin rescue mission, our calling to bring back people who have taken the wrong path, are confused, frightened, and trapped by the distractions of this world, brings us closer together—and stirs us to love each other more. May we become known as a congregation who loves one another as we seek to help and serve our neighbors everywhere and through our loving work, make the world a better place.

   Christ demonstrates the kind of love that is willing to suffer.

    “No one has greater love than this,” Jesus will say in John 15:13, “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Let us pray.

We want to know you, God, more and more, and become like your Son, who gave himself for our sakes, so that we might be reconciled with you. Thank you for your love shown through Christ’s suffering on a cross. We praise you for sending Jesus to be our Savior, Teacher, and Friend, who not only commands us to love and provides the perfect example; he enables us to love by the power of His Spirit that lives in our hearts. Bind us together in the unity of Spirit, in shared mission, dear God, so that we may have a strong witness to our communities, becoming known as Christ’s disciples by our love for one another. In His name we pray. Amen.

      [1] Cheryl Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, March 2023, 28.

      [2] Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, 30.

      [3] Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, 31.

     [4] Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, 31.

     [5] Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, 31.

     [6] Katz, “Make Way for Pufflings,” Smithsonian, 34.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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