Today I'm tempted to begin with one of those messages:
"If you're sitting at your computer reading this blog - turn it off right now and GO OUTSIDE!"
Finally it is beautiful here in Chicago. Sky is blue. No wind (miraculously). And temperatures right around 45 degrees, which is surprisingly balmy after the winter we've had. Californians and Floridians and Vegans (the city not the diet), I can hear you snickering.
It's the kind of day that makes me want to breathe as deep as I can and run around outside in the woods, like we used to in Minnesota on that first 40-degree day in March.
I kind you not - when it was time for basketball practice we'd beg our coach to run outside as a warm-up, and we'd go out there behind the school, down next to the creek, in our basketball SHORTS and shoes, and run around faster than we'd ever run for practice before. Finally it's warm. Finally the ice is breaking up and the icicles are gone and spring potentially is here.
Ignore that snow in the forecast for next week. Live in the moment.
There's a message God has been giving me this week that connects with the recent warming weather patterns. He asked it to me yesterday evening, as I ran upstairs to finish last-minute preparations before leaving for our Wednesday night Lenten worship service.
I was in a hurry because we were running late to soup supper, I hadn't been there to pray because Jake and I were waiting for Ben to get home from the doctor, where he had an errant plastic piece of earphone removed from his ear, which is every bit as strange as it sounds. Finally he had some relief from the ear pain that had been bugging him for weeks.
So finally Ben got home, with the sauerkraut I'd forgotten to buy for the Reuben sandwiches we were making two days after St. Patrick's Day, and I threw it on the sandwiches I'd already made and we ate and then I ran upstairs for shoes and then it was off to church.
I remember looking in the mirror - my purple sweater for Lent - my hair that was not having a "good" day - and feeling this question in my mind.
"Are you ready?"
And no I wasn't ready. I'd already missed doing the soup supper prayer. A dear member was in the hospital, one of those folks who always makes sure everything is done at church, a saint of the congregation, and inevitably there'd be something undone before the service because it was something he'd always do without us even knowing it.
Another couple was mourning the sudden death of a dear friend and cousin.
Another woman had brought in dessert for soup supper that morning because that evening she'd be helping her husband prepare for yet another surgery.
The Body of Christ was sustaining wounds and I had been praying and sensing those wounds all day.
The question came again.
"Are you ready?"
This time I realized God wasn't asking it in the way I thought.
So often we - not just pastors I think but all of us - maybe we approach religion and church thinking about it as "Are you ready -- to give, to serve, to do, to change, to lead?"
Maybe some of you wake up Sunday morning and the question comes: "Are you ready for church?"
And the answer is No. I'm tired. I'm not ready to give. I'm not ready to serve, to sing, to listen, to change. I'm not ready.
Wednesday night I wasn't ready in that sense so God reminded me that worship is not just about what we do.
"Are you ready to receive?"
Was I ready to receive? Ready to listen to our song leader's clear, confident voice - carrying the congregation through the evening prayer service - lifting us up and letting us down slowly, faithfully, peacefully ...
Was I ready to receive? Ready to meet near the door a woman who found herself at church even though her husband was still in the hospital. She came for dinner but in her presence she shared with us all the chance to hug her, to ask her how things were going, to come close to her church family and let us embrace her.
Was I ready to receive? Ready to hear a wise, courageous, faithful woman tell the congregation about two difficult, broken relationships by drugs and alcohol and even abuse and the way God had followed her through all of it - bringing her new life and new love, and never leaving her side even in the darkest valley of the shadow of death ...
She told these stories with humor, with courage, with heart - and she spoke about how one day in the midst of it all she said to God, while walking through the grocery store, God I just really need a hug right now.
And sure enough, a few minutes later, someone from the church saw her and came over. They weren't really close, but there was that closeness that comes with sharing faith and sharing church.
The church acquaintance looked toward our speaker that day and said: "I just want to give you a hug."
And our speaker was ready to receive.
And we - and I - were ready to receive her story Wednesday night. To hear it and let it illumine not only her but ourselves as a church and the dead and risen God in Christ whom we worship.
Tomorrow morning. Sunday morning. Tonight when you go to bed.
Ask yourself this question: "Am I ready to receive? Am I ready to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit that comes to me through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Am I ready to be loved?"
Sometimes yes you'll come to church and come to do to give and to serve.
And sometimes God calls us too to be ready merely to receive.
Grace is not grace unless it is received.
May we all - may I - be receivers today, especially as this glorious weather bursts in our hearts.