Wednesday, January 16, 2013

On Ministry

"Can I play?"

It's the way every good game begins.  Someone has some idea against idleness and sets about playing, and the simple pleasure of the act attracts an audience.  Inevitably, someone asks to join and a game is born.

And this is the way our greatest ministries begin.

I'm not talking about formalized ministries.  Not named missions.  I'm not talking about the foundations of the Fourteenth Church of the Christ's Chosen People or anything like that.  I'm talking about the movements among us that are our real ministries; our everyday passions that are our given missions.

They all start with one among us - is it you? - coming up with some idea against idleness.  It starts with one of us deciding to play a little bit.  And the simple pleasure of our act draws a crowd.

This is not the idleness of not having enough to do.  Lord knows most of our days seem filled to the brim already.  This is the idleness of sitting on the sidelines, of watching the world unfold before our eyes and seeing the need that is enveloping our communities....and doing nothing.  This is the idleness that eats away at us as we discover and know that we have something to offer here, if we were just a people who would do something.

At first, it doesn't seem like anything.  Maybe we give it a go and start something up, and it doesn't look like anything.  You know, when James Naismith started tossing peaches in a bucket, people probably didn't think that was much of anything.  After enough people watched what seemed like not really anything, someone asked, "Can I play?", and the whole peach bucket timekiller was formalized into basketball - a grand communal timekiller (and I say that with all due respect to March Madness coming up) but that somehow draws us together and we feel like we're a part of something.

We are a part of something.

Imagine if Mr. Naismith had sat on his stump, looked at his peach bucket, twiddled his thumbs, and concluded not to waste his time on something that was really nothing.  What on earth would we do with our March?

Now imagine all of the people - all of God's people - who are sitting on their stump (or preaching from it, as is the case with so many who dare not actually act), looking at their peach baskets overflowing with both the gift and the inspiration of God to do something, and concluding that they can't waste their time on something that seems like really nothing.

It's easy to do.  The problems of this world are a whole lot bigger than one little me.  Or one little you. Whatever we come up with, whatever it seems like we can do when we're itching to break our idleness, when we're motivated to get off the stump, doesn't seem to be a whole lot of anything.  Maybe you clothe a homeless family...but there are millions more you cannot even see, let alone reach. Maybe you feed a hungry child.  You can hear the growling of millions more little bellies.  Maybe you hold the hand of a cancer patient during one more round of chemo.  You can't help but notice the patient in the next bed whose loneliness speaks through the tears in her eyes.

We, alone, cannot help everyone.  So it's easy to conclude that we can't, or that we shouldn't, help anyone.  We sit on our stumps and content ourselves in idleness because whatever we've come up with is barely more.  It's silliness, at best.  It's some game.  It's like we'd be playing with the problems of this world rather than solving them.

It's a drop in the proverbial bucket.

But that's how they all start.  That's how every good thing gets going.  It starts with one person taking a stand against their idleness and doing something - even something silly.  It takes them delighting in one little act of mercy or grace or love or whatever greater thing it happens to be.  We call this ministry.  And the truth is, if it didn't seem silly and if you weren't throwing yourself into the pleasure of it, hardly anyone would bother to look.

It's the novelty of the idea, the silliness, the energy of the game that makes a person stop.  They look incredulously at you and ask, "What are you doing?"

And you answer.  And maybe your answer doesn't seem like anything, either.  Maybe you can't really articulate why you're doing what you're doing.  Maybe you can talk about the problem a little bit, about what you've seen in the world and how you've chosen to respond.  Maybe you can talk about the greater issue.  But maybe you can't.  That would be ok, too.

Because once you start doing something, it's not about how good a game you talk.  It's about how good a game you're playing.  How well you're going after something.  How well you're hitting the point.  Keep after it.  Go in your gift and do what is something, even when it seems like nothing.

Inevitably, the day will come when someone - Lord knows who - will step up in their own restless idleness, will watch what you are doing, will realize it doesn't seem like anything but that they want in anyway.  And someone will ask you,

Can I play?

That's where ministry is born.  Then everybody's doing it.  And big things start to happen.

We are in a time in our nation, in our society, in our communities, when a whole lot of people seem content to stand on their stumps and talk about what our problems are.  Stand on the stump and declare that somebody has to do something.  I'm weary of the talking.  I'm somebody.  So are you.

Do something today to break your idleness.  Do something to stand against the brokenness you can't help but notice in the world.  Do something more than talk.  Do something that begs the world's question: "Can I play?"

Make a drop in the bucket.

Two points.

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