Be a Blessing: Encourage Others

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I’ve said this before. I’m probably going to say it again. But the last year-and-a-half or so has been hard. It’s been hard for teachers and for parents, for healthcare workers and for people with chronic conditions, for kids and for seniors. It’s been hard for everyone. For a bunch of reasons.

And I’m not afraid to admit that it’s been hard for me…

…in the last year-and-a-half or so, I’ve been a one person production team; and I’ve tried to follow the science and advise committees on how we should be the church in the midst of a pandemic, even when there are no good choices in front of us; and I’ve pivoted and adjusted and reinvented over and over again…

…and I’ve tried to keep people happy enough even though I know that there are so many things to be unhappy about…

…and now, as we’re emerging from this pandemic—fingers crossed, knock on wood, God willing—I’m working with our boards and committees to move us more toward normal and toward something that is better than the normal that we left a year-and-a-half or so ago.

And it’s just a lot, y’know? Being a pastor is a lot in normal times; it’s been a lot more during the last year-and-a-half or so as all of the normal pressures of pastoral ministry have been compounded by a pandemic, and a contentious presidential election, and the aftermath of a contentious presidential election, and… y’know… everything else.

A survey a few months ago revealed that almost thirty percent of pastors had seriously considered leaving the ministry altogether; throwing in the towel; saying, “I’m out.”

And I’m not one of them. But I’m also not afraid to admit that I get it. I get it for pastors.

I get it for teachers and for parents. I get it for healthcare workers and for people with chronic conditions. I get it for kids and for seniors. I get it for everyone.

Because the truth is that being a person is a lot in normal times. And it’s been a lot more during the last year-and-a-half.

Today, we’re finishing our summer sermon series about being a blessing.

We have talked about leading with love and practicing peace; about praying often and giving thanks; about doing good and having courage; about working for justice and being the light.

We have talked about how these are all ways of being blessed and of being a blessing. We have talked about how Christ calls us to be blessed and to be blessings to this world and everyone in it.

And I don’t think that I’ve been shy in telling you that this is a hard call to follow. It is a call down a path that leads to rejection and persecution… a path that leads to crosses and tombs.

It is hard to lead with love and practice peace. It is hard to pray often and give thanks. It is hard to do good and have courage. It is hard—it is so hard—to work for justice and be the light.

It’s hard to do those things for an hour on Sunday morning; and it is hard to do those things everywhere and all the time. Being a Christian—following Christ—is a lot.

So we are ending our summer sermon series on this: encourage others; encourage each other.

And our reading is from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. It’s a paragraph of Paul’s writing, and a poem that Paul is quoting.

Help each other. Serve each other. Encourage each other. 

Don’t put yourself first, or seek after your own interests, or look out for number one. Instead, put your friend first, seek after your neighbors’ interests, and look out for each other. After all, that’s what Christ did for us.

He put glory aside. He emptied himself out. He became one of us, and humbled himself, and went to the cross. And because he went to the cross, he rose from the tomb; because he was humble, he was exalted. And now, he has the name that is above every name, that every knee should bend before him and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Have the mind that Christ has. Have the love that Christ has. Help each other. Serve each other. Encourage each other. Because being a Christian—following Christ; living lives worthy of the gospel—is a lot.

I’ve said this before. I’m probably going to say it again. I have this rule that I stole from somebody—I don’t remember who—that I call the eighty-twenty rule.

It goes like this:

We should all be okay with our church experience about eighty percent of the time. And that eighty percent should include things that thrill us, and things that inspire us, and things that we’re just… okay with.

But there should also be about twenty percent of our church experience that stretches us, or confronts us, or convicts us; that makes us uncomfortable, or that makes us nervous, or that we just plain hate.

And we should have the grace to say, “I know that the things that are in my twenty percent are in someone else’s eighty percent. And I am willing to do the stuff that I don’t like so that my friends and neighbors have the things that they like.”

And that goes for me, too. I will do the things in my twenty percent, so that you can have the things in your eighty percent. And if you find that you’re missing too much of your eighty percent, talk to me, and work with me, and we’ll figure it out together.

And it’s not just church. The eighty-twenty rule works in the rest of life, too. We all do some things that we don’t like so that our friends and neighbors… our spouses and children and parents… our fellow citizens in this country and humans around this world… can have the things that they like… the things that they need.

But here’s the thing. For the last year-and-a-half or so, for a lot of us, that eighty-twenty has been out of balance. We’ve been living in a world of sixty-forty. Or fifty-fifty. Or forty-sixty. Or twenty-eighty.

For pastors, certainly. For teachers and for parents. For healthcare workers and for people with chronic conditions. For kids and for seniors. Maybe even for everyone.

And as much as I wish it were otherwise, sometimes, that’s just how it is. Sometimes, being a person is a lot. Sometimes, being a person is a lot a lot. Even as the world rights itself—fingers crossed, knock on wood, God willing—being a person can be a lot a lot.

But there is this… beauty… in that. Because you have a superpower. And, together, we have a superpower.

We can help each other. And serve each other. And encourage other. We can put our friends first, and seek after our neighbors’ interests, and look out for each other. And if we all do that, then we will also have friends putting us first, and neighbors seeking after our interests, and looking out for us, too.

And that call that we follow—that path that looked like it led to rejection and persecution; to crosses and tombs—will turn out to lead past all of those things to resurrections… to new and abundant lives. We’ll get through the hard parts together, and be together in the kingdom of God.

So, as we end this sermon series… as we return to the Narrative Lectionary… as we restart familiar ministries and create new ones…

…I am asking you to help each other, and serve each other, and encourage each other…

…to lead with love and practice peace; to pray often and give thanks; to do good and have courage; to work for justice and be the light; to hold onto your eighty percent and live into the twenty percent for the sake of someone else’s eighty percent…

…to be blessed and to be a blessing.

Because if we do that, then maybe—fingers crossed, knock on wood, God willing—we will thrive as a church, as a little consulate of the kingdom of God, and we will come to see that kingdom grow and blossom all around us.

Hallelujah. Amen.

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