For Proper 4c, May 29, 2016

1 Kings 18:20-21 (22-29) 30-39
Psalm 96
Gal. 1:1-12
Luke 7:1-10

“Am I now seeking human approval, or God’s approval? Or am I trying to please people?” (Gal. 1:10)

It’s important to be able to count. If you can count, you can tell how good you are.

Sales rankings. Bestseller lists.
Nielson ratings. Advertising spots.
Mouse clicks. Site traffic.
Over Six Billion Served.

Don’t like your numbers? Change your approach, refine your message, sharpen your marketing. Then count again:

Polls. Delegates. Votes.

And maybe even:
Visitors. Baptisms. Tithes.

We have all been trained to recognize that what is popular is good—that numbers matter–so it’s only natural that churches may expect to be evaluated by the same standard. Success equals numbers: count the names on the roll, count the pennies in the plate, count the number of fliers hung on neighborhood doorknobs, count the clicks on our website. If people like what we’re doing, they’ll come, they’ll give, they’ll tell their friends (and they’ll come, and they’ll give). Our numbers will improve. We’ll be on the right track. And that’ll be good news!

That’s the way businesses need to count. And candidates, and advertisers, and filmmakers.

But as the people of God, we must learn to count differently, because the numbers that matter to us are not popularity, but belovedness. Not success, but story. Our numbers are moments of life. Our numbers are ways of being known. Our numbers are not just good news; they are Gospel.

Numbers like 40: rainy nights in the ark, years wandering in the wilderness, days in the desert. And numbers like 12: sons of Israel, disciples of Jesus. And 3: visitors to Abraham, days in the tomb, persons of the Trinity. Then there are the numbers only God knows: the moments in the Fullness of Time. The hairs on your head.

We have the difficult task to serve a world that counts differently than we do. We have an even more difficult task, to love and teach and nurture people who desperately need to be set free from the tyranny of counting–and from being counted, as if they were commodities themselves. Like us, they need to be released from the need to number all the ways they are pleasing people and gaining popularity. Because when our faith is in our approval ratings, counting becomes our religion. Then instead of disciples we will have become accountants, with a balance book instead of a testimony. And instead of church we will have become a corporation, answering the whims of the market instead of the call of the grace of Christ.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.