Something From Nothing

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I’m reading the book Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber. (It’s excellent — highly recommend!) One chapter is called “Cotton Candy” and had some aspects that resonated with me. Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor, wrote about a special service called “Rally Day” that she planned to try to encourage greater attendance. She writes about the additional work she did, and expenses paid, in preparation for the day — making sure the word got out, a special trip to Costco for the food, a cotton candy machine, and so on.

On the special day, she writes:

I walked into the sunlit space and took in the sight of stained glass gleaming off the twenty-six people who were here for church. Twenty-six. Twenty-[bleeping]-six. After all my emails promoting Rally Day and the pain in my back and the time at Costco. After the great idea and the bag of Doritos and the three hundred dollars. After all that, there were fewer people than we’d had all summer. And the whole point of my awesome Rally Day idea was to get more than just forty people at church for once. Twenty-six. (Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, p. 100)

Can you relate? I could! Bolz-Weber goes on to describe the joy the other participants had in the service and the “rally” afterward. Throughout it all, she could not get past her disappointment in the small turnout. That night, she was awakened in the middle of the night with the realization (attributed to the Holy Spirit) that she had been “so wrapped up in myself and my feelings and unmet expectations” to notice the joy the others had in being together and serving her, each other and their neighborhood.

She was reminded of the story of the loaves and fishes. When Jesus and the disciples realized it was late and they were talking about feeding all the people, Jesus asked what they had for feeding the multitude and the disciples said, “Nothing.” (Matthew 14:13-21)

“What do we have?” they asked. “We have nothing. Nothing but a few loaves and a couple of fish.” And they said this as though it were a bad thing.

The disciples’ mistake was also my mistake: They forgot that they have a God who created the universe out of “nothing.” I mean, let’s face it, “nothing” is God’s favorite material to work with. Perhaps God looks upon that which we dismiss as nothing, insignificant, and worthless, and says, “Ha! Now that I can do something with.”

I had looked at the twenty-six people at Rally Day, and when Jesus asked, “What do you have?” I said, “Nothing.”

And I had missed it all. (Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, p. 105)

This story reminded me that I am surrounded by richness and abundance, even when to my eyes it may look like “nothing.” And not only that, there are endless possibilities around me because, “I mean, let’s face it, ‘nothing’ is God’s favorite material to work with.” (Pastrix, by Nadia Bolz-Weber, p. 105)

I have to admit, sometimes I look around at our small congregation and see only the gaps in the pews instead of the blessed people sitting between those gaps. Have you ever thought of the hours you spent preparing for worship and wondered, “Why did I bother?” Do you ever focus only on the things you wish were there, instead of the wonderful things that actually are?

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