Erma was one of those very stately and proper older women. After retirement, she returned to her home in rural Minnesota, where she cared for her ailing parents. I came to know her well in my many visits to her home. I knew that Erma loved God and she loved the church.
Gambling had recently become a significant force in the area. New laws allowed casinos to be built on nearby Tribal Land. The community itself was changing and certainly the way of life. One day I read a tongue-in-cheek article in The Christian Century magazine about a way churches could compete on Sundays with the Casinos. They suggested we use a lottery system for the offering. Each Sunday, one envelope would be drawn from the morning offering. That person would receive 10 times the amount of money they had donated. The article went on to explain that if anyone wanted more chances, church members could buy additional sets of envelopes so they could increase the odds that their envelop would be drawn.
I thought my congregation would enjoy the wit behind the story so, I wrote a newsletter article about it. At the end of the article I indicated, that it might be a great idea, but we would not be doing it. I don’t think that Erma ever got to the end of the article. Erma read as far as the lottery idea, and she was furious. Within minutes of reading her newsletter, she was on the phone to her best friend in the church office. She announced that if we were going to be running a lottery with the morning offering, she was leaving the church.
All of this tells me a couple of things. First it is a reminder that even with the best of intentions what we do can be received in ways we do not expect. We can hurt people we would never intentionally harm. Our words can be misunderstood. Our friends can and do have a radically different sense of humor.
It also tells me that before I get upset, it would be wise to hang in till I get to the last paragraph. Much of life is like this. We get upset. We misjudge a situation or an event. We think that our friends have failed us or that God has failed us. We allow ourselves to become discouraged. We give up right when we most need to persist, not yet seeing the future God is planning. Trusting God with the future can be challenging. I find comfort in the knowledge that God is already at work in my life, and all I have to do is follow. David, the psalmist knew and lived this truth. His words continue to resonate through the centuries, reminding us of our Shepherd God, who leads us through rough days, dark valleys, confusion and weariness. Some days, we just need to be reminded to let our Shepherd lead.
God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
Psalm 23 MSG