Rustlings (February 19, 2018)

Very little surprises me anymore. I’ve heard enough confessions, attended enough youth camps, facilitated enough counseling sessions, sat through enough children’s sermons and visited enough cities that very little surprises me anymore. I’ve come to expect the unexpected…and often there’s a lot of joy in the unexpected.

Some of you have told me you are continually surprised during worship at First Baptist. Sermons often offer an unexpected twist. Our music – while typically traditional and classical in tone – sometimes segues into the sound of Broadway, pop, country or R&B. New friends and faces have been known to appear on the platform: Livingston Taylor, Morten Lauridsen and Victor Wooten. The creative beauty of a novel prayer, litany or blessing delights the ear and heart. We have come to expect the unexpected when we enter the presence of God.

I’m not sure any of us were prepared for the challenge of Ash Wednesday. It’s true. Most expect me to encourage our members to monetarily support the ministries of the church and the needs of the community. Most are not surprised when I discuss the importance of making generosity a pillar of faith and regular spiritual practice. Most are accustomed to giving money when they enter the church building, so no one expected to be given money during our Ash Wednesday service!

This past Wednesday, families attending our Ash Wednesday service received the imposition of ashes…and then received $100. Because of the generosity and missional passion of a donor, we gave 100 families/persons $100 this past Wednesday. We gave away $10,000! Rather than ‘giving up something’ this Lenten season, each recipient was challenged to take the $100 and ‘add something’ to someone else’s life in need. Index cards were provided, so recipients can write their stories and share them on the bulletin board outside my office. What did God tell Isaiah? “This is the fast I desire, that you loose the chains of injustice, relieve the burdens of the needy, and bring freedom to those who are oppressed…share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless into your home, clothe the naked…” We are fasting by adding…not by giving up. What a great Lenten season this will be…

— Jim