“That’s who I am! That’s what I do!” responded the gas station attendant to our heartfelt “Thank you!” for pumping our gas. Our interaction with him was a cheerful interlude during an otherwise long day of travel. Our previous stops at rest areas had felt a little odd since people still seemed cautious about interacting closely because of the pandemic. Then, in a small eastern Oregon town several miles from the freeway on a 101-degree afternoon, this cheerful guy brightened our day – simply by showing us the joy he took in his job.
That cheerful “That’s who I am, and that’s what I do” stays with me. What if all of us who are baptized repeated these words regularly to remind us of our baptism and baptismal ministry? When we remember to place Christ at the heart of our daily activities, those seemingly routine activities can take on new meaning. They can even become transformational. Maybe if our own attitudes might be transformed so that we feel the same joy as the gas attendant, and we then become leaven for the world around us.
I meet once a month with a small group of friends to discuss their experiences as Christians in their places of work. The discussion-starter is usually an article related to some aspect of the workplace. Recently we talked about an article entitled “5 Ways to Bless Others with Your Words at Work,” published by the Theology of Work. The underlying scripture was Numbers 6:24-26: The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. I added James 3:10: From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
As we discussed each one of the five ways of blessing, we saw how it related not only to the workplace but to all other aspects of daily life. For your own reflection let me share them:
Express Welcome. We felt that being approachable was at the heart of welcome.
Eliminate Blame Shifting. It does involve holding people accountable, but focusing on the fault, not the person; the “sin, not the sinner.” Also acknowledging that risk-taking is an asset that leads to some failures. And that failures often lead to growth, more than successes.
Reconciling Broken Relationship. This we really struggled with, for often people bring outside baggage into the workplace that triggers brokenness. And even within an organization/community/family it can be difficult to resolve, but try we must.
Be Careful Not to Judge. We found this to be connected with Blaming, looking to the fault, not the person.
Show Appreciation: How important is this!! Expressing gratitude – especially to those whose work is less glamorous or visible – is so very valuable and affirming.
The article concludes with these words:
Empowered by Christ
When we use our words to bless others, we do so knowing that we’ve been blessed in the same ways through our relationship with Jesus. Jesus welcomes us just as we are; makes us blameless – and therefore unafraid and unashamed – before himself and God; reconciles us to himself; and even describes us as “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Because we enjoy his kindness and friendship, we are empowered to extend blessing to those around us.
The musical Rent helps us know the math: “Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes…. How do you measure … a year?”
How do you spend your year’s minutes?
Well, there’s work. Fifty weeks x 40 hours a week = 2,000 hours = 120,000 minutes.
Not to mention sleep. Fifty weeks x 7 days x 7.5 hours = 157,500
Just those two commitments eat up 277,500 minutes – more than half our year – leaving slightly more than 248,000 minutes – a bit over 4,100 hours.
And of course, there’s eating, and commuting, and personal time. . . .
Not too long ago, most faithful worship attenders spent an hour a week in worship – 3,000 minutes annually, leaving out two weeks for vacation. Not much time, in the scheme of things. And that’s if you’re attending worship every blessed week.
What if those 3,000 minutes – barely more than one half of one percent of our yearly minutes – expanded to fill much of our waking life? What if all of life was worship? What if worship became, for us, like breathing – something we do all the time, that becomes the very basis of our lives?
Philosopher and theologian James K.A. Smith has said, “If all of life is going to be worship, then the sanctuary [or the nave] is the place we learn how.”
Imagine what life might be if, when we attended worship, the people at the front of the room were not called “worship leaders,” and instead were “worship starters,” as Fuller Theological Seminary professor Matthew Kaemingk calls them.
Kaemingk and scholar Cory B. Willson became “convinced that theologies of work need to be practiced, embedded, and embodied in communities of worship.…The fabric of faith and work needs to be slowly and intentionally woven back together over a lifetime of prayer and worship.”
Their book Work and Worship – Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy was the result. In an interview about their book Willson says, “We hope our book will help pastors and worship leaders see themselves as servants to the priesthood of all believers. Their primary role in worship is to equip and empower believers to live out their priesthood at the front edge of God’s mission in the world: the workplace.”
What if all the minutes of our lives – not just the ones spent inside the church walls – became an expression of our love for God and all that God has made?
A friend has been working in a local hospital’s Covid-19 vaccination clinic since early winter. Although most of those at highest risk of infection in our county have now been immunized and the demand has waned, recent expansion of eligibility to include those as young as twelve has prompted a bit of a surge in appointments.
Catherine had had a pretty routine day, when a grandmother arrived with her twelve-year old granddaughter. The grandmother was rather uneasy, perhaps uncomfortable with the hospital environment and the number of people waiting – masked and socially-distanced – for their shots. The girl, however, was extremely apprehensive about everything, not the least of which was the shot itself. The grandmother exacerbated her granddaughter’s anxiety by berating her and telling her that she was holding up the line.
Catherine paused, ignored the woman, looked into the girl’s eyes, and gently took her hand. She said that she understood the girl’s fear, and then whispered, “We can do hard things,” quoting from Glennon Doyle’s Untamed. The girl smiled shyly and held out her arm.
When Catherine shared this touching experience with me, I noticed that she – an ER nurse who’s seen it all – was choking back tears. I asked her to tell me more about what she experienced. She said that although the clinic was busy, she felt it was important to take the extra time with the girl, not just for her Covid-19 shot, but to help calm fears about future appointments. She said, too, that when she saw Jesus in the girl’s face, she realized that she, in turn, could be Jesus’ caring voice and hands. The girl, who also has Down Syndrome, needed even more respect and dignity shown to her, especially in the face of the overly anxious grandmother. And, Catherine reminded me that we all can do hard things when we remember that we’re walking with Jesus.
There is a significant movement within the English Anglican Church that is creatively focusing on the calling of all the baptized in their daily life and work. Illustrative of that is this article by the Bishop of Leicester:
Moving the dial towards everyday faith, by Martyn Snow, Bishop of Leicester
Inspiring Everyday Faith is a way of highlighting why and what is important in Christian discipleship. In the past 20-30 years, we have not been terribly good at equipping people for living their Christian faith in the whole of their lives. The Church has tended to focus on its own life, or its own outreach projects, and forgotten that for most people the majority of their time is not spent involved in church projects – it’s spent in their workplaces, home, social. Equipping people for faith in those contexts must be core to what the Church is all about. I think there has been a change in that over time, but during this pandemic and lockdown – as in so many other areas – it has brought new questions into focus.
Nick and I have a running joke about who first coined the phrase Everyday Faith. All I can say is it has ‘made in Leicester’ stamped on it, and we use that as our strapline now! Using that language of everyday faith has certainly been very significant. My role as bishop is to hold people to account and for them to hold me to account in what we decide under God we are called to be and do. We use the following questions to help each of us in this discernment:
How are you enabling others to grow in the depth of their discipleship?
How are you growing in numbers of disciples?
How are you growing in loving service, enabling others to grow in loving service?
We have found it important that such questions are adopted across the whole life of the diocese….- Other ways … putting lay ministers’ licensing services and commissionings on the same standing as ordination in the life of the diocese. When I license a new clergy person in a parish, we have a ritual of partnership in ministry, so looking very clearly at joining a team of ministers within that church context –
Recently, we’ve done an exercise of gathering stories about faith during lockdown. We’ve had a particularly prolonged lockdown in Leicester, as you may know. We’ve asked people right across our churches what they have been learning about faith in this particular context. Those stories have been fascinating. There has been a sense in which it has shifted the dial along the scale. People are asking –
+ Is my Christian faith something I do with a particular group of people in a particular building at a particular moment in time? through to
+ Is my Christian faith something I do in the whole of life?
The dial has been shifted during this period to what, actually, faith is about! What I do in my own home, what I do when I’m online, talking with my friends. Increasingly people are realising that we should all take responsibility for this. It’s not something somebody else does for me – I need to be enabling the practices that enable my faith to grow in my own home and in my workplace. I think the dial has been shifted and we’re starting to see more about everyday faith.
Ultimately, the more we’ve talked about everyday faith, the more we’ve started to understand the key role that lay ministers play in enabling the whole people of God to live out their faith in the whole of life.
In my own work, I’ve encountered numerous lay ministers lacking confidence, wondering what their role is and how they can best express their gifts within the body of Christ. As we’ve started to explore everyday faith – especially with the questions that are raised within the workplace, or within social networks – lay ministers have started to see that this is their area of expertise. They’ve struggled with questions about how to live out faith in these contexts themselves, and therefore their ministry can be focused on how they enable others to grow in their faith in those contexts as well. I think there’s been an encouraging shift in that sense and a growth in that understanding of clergy and lay ministers working together to enable the whole people of God in their everyday faith.
This past Sunday was the Feast of Pentecost, and many Christian churches celebrated “the birthday of the church,”reading a passage from Acts 2. That story tells of tongues of fire lighting on the heads of Jesus’ apostles, and amazingly the apostles were understood by a crowd drawn from across the Mediterranean world, as though in their own language. I’m always surprised to be reminded that that story is not Gospel. It’s not part of the four books of the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – that recount the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s told by the Gospel writer Luke, who leads off his Gospel sequel – the Acts of the Apostles – with that amazing tale.
I’m surprised because I think of that story as foundational to God’s dream for us as children of God. Eric Law’s understanding of that story offers a lens that inspires me to see multiple levels in familiar Bible stories and in many moments of life as a Christian. In his book The Wolf Shall Dwell with the Lamb, Law offers the insight that the Pentecost story reveals two miracles, not just one.
Most of us see the “miracle of the tongue” right away, as the text says the apostles “began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:4) And then the text goes on to reveal that the crowd “was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each.” (Acts 2:6) A “miracle of the ear”! Between the apostles speaking and the crowd hearing, who could say which miracle was operating?
Law is clear that for those of us who are often silenced, and whose voices too often go unheard, the miracle that God unleashes is the miracle of the tongue – the gift of strength and courage to speak God’s truth. And for those of us who hold power and are accustomed to exercising it, the miracle of the ear is the true gift – the miracle of truly hearing those who speak, even though they may tremble to say the words out loud. Discerning which miracle we might pray for – or claim – is the work of a lifetime. As we live our lives in response to God’s covenant with us – sealed for us in our baptism – may we seek to discern when God urges us to claim the power of the tongue, and when to exercise the receptivity of the ear. And may our choices be guided by the incarnate God known as the Word.
Blessing the farms and the fields, blessing the boats and the bait…. So in more rural times, congregations gathered as a way of asking God’s blessings. What were our rural friends asking God’s blessings on, but the means of production: farms, fields, boats, bait, for a good harvest and a good catch. The Latin word for ask is rogare, hence Rogation in our Episcopal liturgy.
What about Rogation Days, the three days prior to Ascension Day, when we traditionally ask for God’s blessing on agriculture and industry? Is that an idea whose day is past because we are a more urban, industrial, technological society? I don’t think so. Aren’t our needs still the same – to ask God’s blessings upon our means of production? “Means of production” relates, whether it be rural or urban.
In congregations I have served on Rogation Sunday, the 6th Sunday after Easter, people have been invited to place in a basket small symbols of the means of production in their lives: a screw driver, a computer chip, an appointment book, a prescription pad, a measuring spoon, a cell phone, etc. At the Offertory they were processed up along with the money and the bread and wine with a prayer, asking (rogare) God’s blessings upon those whose labor is represented in those symbols. All of us have our own means of production that enable us to live our daily lives regardless of our situation at home or community or work, whatever occupies our time and energy.
What are your means of production? As you identify them, would you rogare, ask God to bless them, and rogare, ask God to bless you in your daily life?
Eric, a new acquaintance, recently shared his story. He grew up participating in Christmas pageants, going to church every Sunday, singing in the choir, and regularly attending Bible study. He said that for the longest time he was in church, but that the church wasn’t in him.
Although he had a lot of knowledge about Jesus, he realized that he didn’t know Jesus. He felt that he had an association with Jesus, but that he didn’t have a relationship with him. The practices he embraced to get to know Jesus are similar to Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s The Way of Love. He shared that his first step was to meet Jesus and to be open to Jesus’ invitation. He then listened to Jesus, meaning he paid attention to what Jesus was saying – in scripture and prayer, through others, and by listening to things he would rather not hear. And lastly, he approached Jesus; he turned to Jesus. His new experience of the risen Christ transformed him and his relationship with the people in his life.
The distinction between being in church versus having the church in us is essential! When we have the church in us, we carry the church – Jesus – into the world wherever we are.
Shortly after my conversation with Eric, I saw a CartoonChurch.com post on FaceBook: Where the Church Is. In the sketch the church is everywhere except in a church building! The church can be everywhere – and should be everywhere – because the church is in us!
So, I ask, is the church in you? And where will you take the church today?
The Christian year – and, I hope, our daily lives as Christians – revolve around two transformational cycles: incarnation and resurrection. In the Christian kalendar, each of those two cycles begins with gestation, a time of examination, reflection, and growth (Advent and Lent). That season is followed by a time of celebration, begun with a feast day and extending far beyond the holy day itself – Christmastide and Eastertide. And after the rejoicing, we enter the “ordinary time” of integration, as we use the time following Epiphany and Pentecost to incorporate the learnings of the cycle into our daily lives and work.
We are well into Eastertide, and, for me, the lesson of Thomas the Doubter is still looming large. Like many in 2021, I find myself in the midst of a whirlwind of political wrangling, pandemic distrust, and civic tug-of-war that seems not unlike first-century Palestine. I’m seeing the Thomas story not so much as a lesson for unbelievers as a model of what Christ is calling each of us to do.
To affirm his identity, and to restore the trust of his doubting friend, what does the resurrected Jesus do? He shows us his scars. He’s willing to expose his wounds, and to invite his friend to touch them. He allows himself to be shockingly vulnerable. And he claims those scars as the marks of his resurrection.
The Incarnation calls on us to “be green,” to begin a new life, to allow Christ to live inside us and through us. And through the Resurrection, we are called to allow our scars to be far more than signs of our hard-fought battles. In his risen body, Christ declares that our scars are the marks of our resurrection. As we become vulnerable enough to show those scars, we both model and proclaim the work of resurrection in our lives.
Our daily lives often bring scars. Some we are ashamed of, and some are marks of honor. May we have the courage to allow others to see and take strength from our scars. May they be for us and for those we encounter signs of our resurrection.
One of my favorite memories growing up in Baltimore, MD was fishing trips with my dad on Saturdays on the Severn River. On more than one occasion, we would find ourselves in the midst of a school of rockfish. As fast as we could rebait our lines, we pulled in fish after fish.
That experience reminded me of one of those post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. Several of the disciples are at the Sea of Galilee when Peter decides it’s time to get back to work, so he says, “I’m goin’ fishin’.” Now for Peter, it was not a leisure or recreational activity as it was for me. It was his job, his business, his way of making a living. Peter was a fisherman. So off he goes – to work. After a frustrating night of catching nothing, he is joined by Jesus and things change.
This is one of the three times that Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection. Remember the other two? One was with those two discouraged disciples traveling on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Jesus meets them along the way, and things change. The third was in a room where several of the disciples had been meeting, anxious and fearful about their future. Again, Jesus comes into their midst and, with the words, “Peace be with you,” makes a difference.
It’s just like Jesus to be with people on their job or while they’re traveling or when they’re meeting – in short in the midst of the activities of their daily lives. That may seem all too obvious to you, but we don’t always make that connection between Christ and our daily lives. More often than not, there’s a gap, a gulf.
For the Church to see and to live into that connection demands a significant shift in focus. Much of what passes as lay ministry is what lay people can do to help the clergy do their jobs better. In reality, the reverse is the real calling: what clergy can do to enhance the daily ministries of lay folk. For remember, God’s chief arena of activity is not the Church but the world. “God so loved the world… (not the Church) … that he gave his only begotten Son.” An image is the congregation as a base camp – not existing for itself but to support, train, equip, and affirm those climbing the mountain. Our daily life and work are our mountain. Thus Paul in Ephesians points to the baptized community as the place to “equip the saints” – that’s you and me – “for ministry.”
Dorothy Sayers, a great 20th century Christian writer, once wrote, “The first demand on a carpenter’s religion is that he makes good tables. What use is anything else if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry.” That is the connection between Sunday and Monday, between liturgy and life – the connection that each of us as the Baptized is called upon to make in whatever occupies our daily lives: work / family / school / community / volunteer / leisure.
One Sunday after a service, the rector, as usual, was at the rear greeting the people as they were leaving, Suddenly, a man came up from the street and asked, “When does the service begin?” Before the rector could answer, an astute laywoman replied, “The service begins now!” She had made the connection. So, we have those post–resurrection appearances: Peter at work, two disciples traveling, several disciples meeting – examples for us of where Christ meets us in whatever occupies our daily life and work. And that is where each of us is called – to discover in our daily lives our particular calling and ministry. For that is where Sunday connects with Monday and where our liturgy meets our lives.