If I Were Preaching, Matthew 5:1-12, Micah 6:1-8, Reflectionary

What’s Good?

My family has been watching a TV show, The Good Place, avidly for the past several years. Without spoiling the plot arc of the series, it begins with Eleanor (played by Kristen Bell) opening her eyes and learning she has died and is in The Good Place, but we quickly learn that she is pretty sure she doesn’t belong there. This week the final episode will air. The show has explored questions of moral philosophy concerning life and death and afterlife in many ways over four seasons. From the get-go they sidestep specific religions by saying no religion got it all right, but “every religion guessed about 5%.” Instead the show wonders, “What does it actually mean to live a good life?” (I wrote about the point system imagined by show creator Michael Schur here.)

On each episode of the The Good Place’s related podcast, host Marc Evan Jackson asks his guests, “What’s good?” Some mention a place or a person they love, but many take that opportunity to promote a charitable organization, a group of people working to make things better for children or animals or immigrants. Jackson’s own charitable venture is The Detroit Creativity Project, a program that offers improv classes to students living in poverty, because improv helps “students gain confidence, build valuable social skills, and overcome social anxiety.” Participants “attend school more regularly, participate in class, and are making academic progress.”

This week’s scriptures all ask and answer the same question – what’s good? 

  • Clarity about how we want to be in relationship with God – Micah 6:1-8
  • Being sure to think of how a situation or action might harm others instead of prioritizing what benefits you – Psalm 15
  • Differentiating between what the world thinks is wise and what is wise according to our faith – 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
  • Trusting that the earthly kingdom definition of success and victory is not the divine story, in which the meek, the grieving, the peacemakers, and even the persecuted are blessed – Matthew 5:1-12

Sometimes the particularly familiar texts, like Micah and the Beatitudes, are hard to hear deeply because we know them inside out already and assume we know what to say about them. I find I need to slow myself down and listen differently, and that brings me back to improv. Jackson says, “Improv is a really good communication pathway because it makes you listen and react; it makes you honor other people’s ideas; and it makes you realize that your voice is important and is in fact is necessary for these scenes to succeed.” 

I’ll be honest. I find improv terrifying.* I like more control over what’s happening around me, and maybe that’s why I like non-interactive manuscript preaching. But for these texts we know so well, one way in is to use the “Yes and” that is foundational to improv. Yes, I believe this, and … how do I react to it in the light of where I am today, who is around me, and what is happening in the world?

Open yourself to listen and react to these scriptures, and I know you’ll find what’s good. 

*My friend, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, wrote a great book about improv, God, Improv, and the Art of Living. Her interview with Faith and Leadership, Improvisation is theological, is a great resource.

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