Eighteen days.

Over in the sidebar of my blog is a countdown clock for Easter. As of March 29, there are 18 days.

I used to know exactly how much time there was until Easter without having to look at a countdown. My stomach would tell me as I worked on the details of Easter services and Easter dramas and Good Friday services. My relationships would tell me as I ignored them and worried about the deadlines and about what people would think of me.

I understand the irony. Now, anyway. To sacrifice relationship on the altar of Easter pageantry misses the point of the celebration. Jesus the Christ came and lived and died and rose to offer freedom from having to measure up. From measuring up to human standards of proving something to God.  From measuring up to God’s standards for perfect attitude and behavior.

That’s not to say that there isn’t an invitation to do things well. There is an invitation to write with clarity (I wrote that sentence four times). There is an invitation to learn to sing well, to learn to love well. There is an invitation to learn how to care for others in a way that will help them, not just help me.

But I’m thinking that the worry I created for myself was created by myself. And was fostered in cultures that put perfection ahead of excellence and drama ahead of the trauma it caused.

It’s possible that this is one of those posts that will resonate only with a couple of people. But I’m pretty sure that those couple people need to know the message of freedom at Easter.

Plan your services with all your skills. But not because a big crowd or a big event makes God (or your boss or board) happy. “Love one another” is what Jesus said near the end. And I’m sorry if that’s not the measure for your other bosses.

Touching less-than-normal people.

Yesterday I gave you a short sermon, with links to a couple of stories from the Bible. Today I’ll point out a few things from those stories.

I said that God reaches out to us, as we are going about our lives, and touches us.

1108041102.jpgIn the stories of Samuel anointing David, andJesus healing a man born blind, we have examples of very ordinary people going about their daily lives.

Samuel was an old man by this time, in the waning years of his career. He had been the priest and prophet for Israel. Then he anointed Saul as king, a political event that had not turned out well for Israel or Samuel. And now he’s living in isolation from Saul, hesitant to obey God because of the violent and random temper of Saul.

David is the youngest of his brothers, working as a shepherd. He would have had few career options, few wealth options.

And the man born blind was a beggar, the object of pity and of judgment, as evidenced by the comment of the disciples: “Who sinned, this man or his parents?”

They weren’t in positions of power. They weren’t particularly deserving of attention from God, at least from our perspective.

On the day we meet them, they are going about their lives. Samuel may have been praying. Or thinking about the past. David was shepherding. The man was begging.

And the way God reached out differed. For Samuel, there was a voice. But that’s how God always interacted with Samuel, from his childhood. He heard an audible voice. David didn’t hear at all from God. His touch was the touch of Samuel as he poured oil on David’s head. And the man felt mud in his eye. It may have been good that he didn’t know how the mud had been made.

We often associate God’s touch with our deserving. When we obey enough or work hard enough or worship enough. But for these three men, it wasn’t about their deserving, it was about God’s outreach.

And for people who are has-beens, not yets, and beggars, like us, that’s good news.

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A short sermon.

For our hospital Sunday services, we use the Revised Common Lectionary. From it, we have readings from the Old Testament, the Letters, and the Gospels.

IMG_1588.JPGThe texts for Sunday included two stories familiar to me, and perhaps to you. The Old Testament story was from I Samuel 16, about Samuel’s trip, at God’s direction, to anoint David as the second king of Isreal. The Gospel reading was all of John 9, about a man who was born blind and what happened after Jesus made mud with dirt and spit and rubbed it on his eyes.

As I read the two passages, I tried to understand how to summarize them, or teach them, or something. What I finally did was to write a very short sermon which I gave three times. Once as it is, the second time with illustrations from the texts, and the third time as it is again.

Rather than unpack it all for you, I’ll simply let you read it, and read the texts. Although it is possible that I may unpack a couple parts that intrigued me as I was reading and reflecting.

For today, it is enough to offer you the message:

God reaches out to us, as we are going about our lives, and touches us. And then waits for our response. We can choose to respond or not. If we do, we’ll be different. Other people won’t understand. We won’t understand all the reasons and implications. But we know that God touched us, and we bear witness to that touch. And as we live in obedience to that touch, our understanding and relationship with God will deepen.

Peace be with you.

Scaling

I read a lot about more. More readers. More emails. More sales. More pages. I sometimes try little things to get more readers, more emails, more sales.

It’s a thing called scaling. We want to scale up production, impact, significance, outreach. We want to have all of whatever that we can possibly have.

And sometimes I feel a little bit of failure when I don’t get more.

I think you might, too. Actually, I know you do, because I’ve talked with you.

But here’s a lesson I’m learning in one part of my life that I think has application to many parts of my life: Chaplaincy doesn’t scale.

The other day, I had a conversation with a couple. It was very sweet, very tear-provoking. All three of us knew that some day, inevitably, something is going to take over a brain. And when it does, there is nothing that can be done.

The conversation took time. And energy.

I imagine trying to scale that conversation, to bring three or four other people from the same hallway facing some of the same things. I imagine going on Facebook live with the conversation, I imagine a webinar with this couple.

But I’m crying as I type those words. Because the intimacy of that moment would be completely destroyed, devastated, by anyone else in the space. There is a holy space created when we realize that we traveled, we were carried, we were called for years and miles to be with this person now.

generationsMy friends, a viral audience may be two people, if they are the ones who need your words and silence and presence. Sometimes the biggest impact we can have is by being as faithful as we can and as present as we can be with the smallest audience there is: the person in front of us.

Amazing things are happening.

“Name one amazing thing that has happened recently in your congregation.”

That was the assignment the facilitator gave to the gathering of people from congregations across the region. The day-long workshop had just started. She gave people just three or four minutes to think. And then she invited people to speak.

In a room of 150, you wonder whether people will speak. Some of the people were pastors. Many were not. Several denominations were represented. Churches were big and mostly smaller. Few people knew other people when the event started.

“We just paid off our mortgage.”

“One of our people gave a kidney to another.”

“This young leader has started a new study and kids are coming.”

With each message, people smiled and nodded. The room relaxed a little, and then got excited. People were leaning forward, anxious to report on amazing things.

I have been in similar rooms that weren’t so engaged, and least not in the same way. The workshops have started off talking about what isn’t working. And there are many examples, much frowning and nodding.

Paul may have been talking about conversations like this when he wrote to one of the churches he helped start. “Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong,” he said,  “but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

IMG_2898.JPGI don’t often think about conversation threads being part of doing good for each other. But when I watched the people in the room find courage and hope, I realized that they are. The feeling of the whole day built on that encouragement, that sense of extending what is working rather than dwelling on what isn’t.

It may be a good idea for the rest of us, too.

“What’s one amazing thing that’s happened around you recently?”