I just noticed that yesterday’s post was my 666 post. That’s a little weird.
Our congregation leases some of our property to a Christian grade school that has been in town for half a century. Each week they have chapel in our sanctuary, and roughly once a month, I’m up to give the message for the morning. I enjoy these times with the kids, and it’s always a challenge to think how to best convey the point to them in a way they can relate to and remember.
The theme of the chapels for this year is “The Miracles of Jesus”, so each week a teacher, visiting youth leader or pastor, or myself deliver a chapel message on one of the miracles of Jesus. I was up to bat this morning to teach on Matthew 17:24-27. It’s a short passage where Jesus provides a very short teaching. Sometimes, regardless of what is our right, we do things so as not to cause offense to others. Our rights, in other words, are not to be the dictating issue in the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather, our love for neighbor expresses itself in a willing suspension of our rights at times.
I tried to figure out how to present this. The miracle in this short passage involves Jesus’ instruction to Peter to go catch a fish, and in the mouth of the fish Peter will find a coin needed to pay the temple tax. Since I hadn’t planned ahead, I swung by the Santa Barbara harbor this morning, hoping that one of the seafood markets would be open already and that I could buy a whole fish as part of the object lesson. After all, if there’s something that is likely to remain in kids’ heads, it’s a slimy, stinky whole dead fish. But alas, I was too early. The supermarket didn’t have one either. I was going to have to come up with an alternate way of presenting.
I arrived early to the office, still trying to figure out what to do. Without any other brilliant ideas, I wheeled a white board down into the sanctuary and turned on the lights. I could at least do something visual.
Close to 8 am I went over to the sanctuary, but nobody was in there. I heard piano music down at the other end of our building in the fellowship hall. Exploration revealed that something major was afoot. Seating was set up for about 50 people. There were kids in various stages of costumes running around. Apparently there was a Major Event planned for the morning. I wasn’t going to be giving the chapel talk after all.
I was a little frustrated.
This is the second time since the first of the year that I’ve planned a chapel message (well, sort of planned), only to find out that because the schedule had been reworked without telling me, I wasn’t going to be needed. This time, it was clear that nobody even realized that their schedule changes had left me out of the loop again. I should have been grateful, since I was going to be scrambling for a second-rate chapel message as it was. But I was irritated. Part of me is ashamed to admit I still am.
The kids were adorable. Parents were thrilled. Cameras clicked and flashed and whirred throughout the short play the kindergarten children performed. A warm and fuzzy contrast to the steady drizzle of rain outside. But I was annoyed. The school had asked me six months ago to choose the one week each month I would do chapel for them. They’d goofed that up once already, and here they had done it again. Would they mess it up again next month?
I’m a busy guy. I have a lot of responsibilities in a lot of different arenas. The least they could do would be to keep me in the loop rather than having me waste my time preparing for something that I was no longer needed for. I told them that I would be flexible and that I would roll with the punches, and I’m willing to do that. But it’s not right to rearrange your calendar of events without telling the people affected. I have a right to at least that much respect.
It took me a few minutes, for the realization to penetrate my petulance. I had given the chapel message after all, or rather I had received a chapel message, and not the one that was occurring on stage. I needed to get past the issue of being right, in order to not cause offense. In order to be loving. It’s not an easy lesson.
We all enjoy the slight thrill we get from being right. From being vindicated. From another person giving way before us in some manner. It’s not a perverse thing necessarily, it’s just how we react at a gut level. Being right is important – and rightly so. But insisting on our rights at all times creates an environment where ultimately nobody is happy, and rights are effectively suppressed. Whatever my rights might be in the moment, I have to consider what the impact of me asserting them are. And if that impact is simply my own self-satisfaction at someone else’s expense – no matter how justified I am, perhaps I need to rethink whether or not I insist on my rights. Maybe the most loving thing to do is to ignore them and just move on.
Moving on is hard as well. I left the hall after the performance, feeling annoyed still but also somewhat smug and self-righteous that I had resisted the almost overwhelming temptation to make a comment to the music director, or to ask if I was still on as scheduled for next month – which of course might lead her to realize that I was supposed to be on for today. I suppressed that urge though. I’ll just send an e-mail.
And when I got to my office, that’s exactly what I started to do. A very glowing, complimentary e-mail. But just inquiring as to whether or not I was still on for next month. Very innocuous. Except it wasn’t. Even if she didn’t realize what I was doing, I did. What did it matter if next month got mixed up, too? I might have to spend a few extra minutes studying the Bible for no reason? Wow. What a risk.
I scrapped the e-mail. I wrote this instead. And even this is cheating. But I know it is, and I repent of it, and maybe it will be helpful to someone else. Maybe I’m not the only person benefiting from the unexpected chapel lesson this morning. If that’s the case, I empathize with you