My 8th grade science teacher required a weekly task. Copy a science article. That’s right, copy it. I’m not sure if he thought we’d actually read it as we copied it, or even hoped we might learn something as we copied. Dutifully, every week, I found a science article in a newspaper or magazine and copied. This was WAY before one could “Google” a topic. The only one I remember was one about a lunar landing. I remember it primarily because I stayed up until 1 o’clock in the morning to finish it.
There was a competition in the class to get the highest grade for this assignment. Most everyone got an A. But Mr. Spiros started giving out A pluses. There was one student who consistently received 5-8 extra pluses. The record was 10 pluses: A ++++++++++! The rest of us were convinced her mother typed them, did the artwork and more.
I was determined to get more than a mere A or A+. I cut out the pictures and wrote out the article. I made it look especially good. At about 11 pm, my dad wandered into the dining room wondering what I was doing. He simply turned in disbelief and went back to bed. No offer of help, no “way to go; atta girl”. I was on my own. When the assignment was returned to us, I got A+++. I determined to never do that again.
We define success in many ways, but it usually involves doing better than someone else. It’s competition. We are taught that from the time we are quite young. Our education system continues to encourage that; winning is more important than learning. It’s the non-curriculum we teach.
What makes a congregation successful? Is it the congregation with “a great youth program”? Is it the congregation that goes out to the parks and feed people who have no shelter? Is it the congregation that builds affordable housing? Is it the congregation with the most trendy worship? Very often, success is seen in numbers: how many in worship, how many dollars to benevolence, how many programs for people to attend.
What makes a congregation successful? A community of faith that follows Jesus has a barometer of a very different sort. It is not about being successful; it is about being blessed. The community of the blessed looks nothing like what our society deems successful: those who mourn, the poor, the peacemakers, the meek, the pure of heart, the gentle, the merciful, those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And what about you? What makes you a success? Frankly, you already are. You are God’s beloved already. There is nothing we have to DO to win God’s favor. You are already in God’s favor; you never left it. Success as a category for understanding our life is inadequate. For Christians, the categories are instead beloved and blessed.
Life is NOT a competition between winners and losers. Jesus invites us in to a deeper experience of Reality. Jesus invites us to hear and know that we are beloved and blessed.