“Our brother was washed in Baptism and anointed with the Holy Spirit; give him fellowship with all your saints….”
Recently a very close friend of mine died after a difficult illness, spread over a number of years. Throughout it all he maintained his optimism about life — and his own life. His smile could always light up a room. At Charlie’s Episcopal Prayer Book memorial service, I was struck as to how Baptism was integrated into it. The quote above comes from the Prayers of the People, with the concluding prayer including these words: “…. who was reborn by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism….” The service uses the Baptismal (Apostles) Creed (rather than the Nicene) and that creed is introduced with these words: “In the assurance of eternal life given at Baptism, let us proclaim our faith and say…” Yet another way Charlie’s Baptism was celebrated. Nowhere, except in the homily, was it noted that he was a priest.
When our 1979 Prayer Book revision took place, there was a concerted effort to reclaim the centrality of Baptism in our liturgical life. That the Baptismal liturgy is the first of the sacraments in the BCP (rather than buried toward the back as in earlier prayer books) set a tone. Central to the baptismal liturgy is the “new” (as of 1979) Baptismal Covenant that has become a regular part of our Episcopal language these days. But, aside from the Burial liturgy, not much Baptismal language is used elsewhere in the book.
Most significant for me is the absence of baptismal language in the Ordination services. Ordination is a minor sacrament, yet nowhere in those liturgies — for Deacon, Priest or Bishop or in the Ordination Litany — is the word Baptism even mentioned. Yet Baptism is the major sacrament that undergirds each of them. Nowhere in the Marriage ceremony, another minor sacrament, is Baptism mentioned. And I could recount the other liturgies as well. The absence of even the mention of Baptism, in sacraments meant for the Christian, is striking.
For me, how Baptism is integrated into the Burial Office serves as a model for all those other Prayer Book liturgies. So my hope — and prayer — is that any future Prayer Book revision will take good note of that model. After all, Baptism is not only our major sacrament; it is our commissioning to baptismal living in our daily lives of home and job and community.
I had a conversation recently with a woman who was interested in serving on the team for an upcoming Come and See, Go and Tell weekend. Because Come and See is the Diocese of Olympia’s expression of the Cursillo Ministry, I was explaining the changes our diocese had made to the weekend to emphasize living out our baptismal promises in daily life. As I described the new focus, her eyes lit up!
You see, Kathleen is a retired middle school teacher, one of those teachers for whom I have a great deal of respect, given the complexity of teaching adolescents. She shared with me several stories of how she strived to be Christ-centered in her public school classrooms – without intentionally mentioning religion. Often she would seek a moment of peace from God by closing her eyes and praying. If a student asked what she was doing, she was open and honest: “I’m praying,” she would say. Sometimes, a student might respond by asking her to pray for them or for a something that was weighing on their heart. If a student used Jesus’ name as an exclamation, she would ask, “What about Jesus?” Her intent was to model Christlike behavior and to share a bit of Christ’s peace in a secular environment.
Kathleen called the heart of her baptismal ministry FROG. “Frog?” I asked. “Yes, FROG: Fully Rely On God.” She graced her home and classroom with images and figurines of frogs. Whenever anyone asked about her frogs, she said that they reminded her to fully rely on God – always. FROG Power carries her through life!
Ramona, having passed her three-quarter century mark, continues to work half time as an Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselor. She sees her work as a mission.
“What led you to desire to continue?” “I don’t know what I’d do if I did retire. And we need the income. And God didn’t want me to sit around and clean house and travel.”
“What is mission-like about it for you?”
“It started years ago when I was thinking what I can do to work for God. As part of our church’s Women of Vision, I had discovered listening, encouragement, and teaching as spiritual gifts. I decided to use them in developing counseling skills.”
“How do you see God working in what you do?” “Just that I am able to get up and go to work on any day. When I see the clients understanding what I am teaching, then I am able to incorporate faith along with helping them grow spiritually, as well as begin to make significant changes in their lives.”
“How do you see God helping you to do that?” “I wouldn’t be able to do it if I didn’t let God work through me.”
On May 9 I observed the 60th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate of The Episcopal Church. The same for the priesthood will be observed on November 14. As for the episcopate, it will be my 30th anniversary on October 7. Collectively they represent a full lifetime of ordained ministry and leadership in the church. In memory and experience they are richly indelible.
However, one other tally is missing in the above years of service. It’s the one that undergirds the others. The Prayer Book’s Catechism on page 855 informs us that the sequence of ministers and ministry in the church, not its hierarchy of clergy, are “lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.” This means my life in ministry in the church began when I was baptized not ordained. So on June 23 I will remember and celebrate the 84th anniversary of my baptism. Truth be told, it’s taken me quite awhile to make that observance as indelible as the others: baptism as the first order of ministry in the church, not bishops nor priests nor deacons.
Over the years this recognition of sequence and not hierarchy of ministers has shaped my understanding of the church as a community of fully graced baptized equals and not a top down organization of spiritual and sacramental unequals.
For me the realization of this pattern of community occurred when I was chairing one of those annual organizational planning meetings that parishes and dioceses, and their vestries and councils, regularly conduct to envision and carry out their common life and mission. It entailed the usual brainstorming and posting of ideas and comments on newsprint.
In this case it was the diocese of my episcopacy and there were pages upon pages of newsprint taped on the walls throughout the meeting room. “How do we see ourselves as the church?” was the question to explore. And the image that was most common to much of the thinking was the triangle, and on the newsprint pages it was always visually vertical. At the peak point of the triangle was, of course, the bishop. Below that ministry came a middle rank of ordained clergy. And below them came the laity. This image of church was invariably three-tiered with me at the top, the other clergy next in line, and the laity at the bottom. Very hierarchical. Very authoritarian. Very Episcopalian. Just the opposite of the Prayer Book’s sequence of ministers.
It was at one such meeting that I had my newsprint epiphany. Rather than looking at the triangle vertically why not view it horizontally. To demonstrate this, I took down one of the newsprint pages and laid it flat on the table in front of us. From that vantage point all of the church’s ministers were now on a common playing field, all baptismally equal, a community of shared authority and accountability, of collaboration and consensus, of mutual responsibility and interdependence. In short, an authentic movement and community as revealed and mandated by Christ.
Here then is another image for ministers and ministry in daily life, gathered as a base camp and encircled and embraced by the triangular arms of the Trinity in “whom we live and move and have our being,” and sent forth to love and serve the world as Christ has loved and served us.
Christians all over the world say the Lord’s Prayer often, in worship and in private prayer, and typically know the “prayer that Jesus taught us” by heart. Like many of the things we do almost without having to think about it, we can come to say the words thoughtlessly. Sometimes the words lose their meaning for us.
“Your kingdom come” is one of those phrases that slips by, almost without our noticing – without our noticing that what we are praying for is the reign of God, on earth, right here, right now. And by offering that prayer, we’re acknowledging the part we have been created to play in the coming of that reign. We’re the children of God – whose kingdom we pray for – and “heirs through hope of [God’s] everlasting kingdom.” (BCP p. 339)
Learning to perceive God in action everywhere we find ourselves is one way we can begin to realize the in-breaking of the reign of God, sometimes in the most unexpected places. On occasion, we are allowed to see that our own actions might be aligned with living in the kingdom, in present time, in our daily lives.
This past weekend, the angels ushered Rachel Held Evans into the nearer presence of God, weeks after a reaction to antibiotics caused doctors to place her in a medically-induced coma. At age 37, she leaves a husband and two young children mourning her death, as well as a host of readers who found her a refreshing and liberating voice among writers who blog about religion. Evans was an Episcopalian and attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee. Her books have been much-discussed and debated. As reported in the Washington Post, “Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all, and her work will long survive her,” her husband Dan Evans wrote on Saturday.
Rachel’s writing helped many people perceive the reign of God in a more-accessible, practical way. She spoke of God’s reign as allowing each person to be the beloved creation God envisioned. In honor of her life and her witness – her “baptismal mission,” her “ministry in daily life” – here are some of her words:
This is what God’s kingdom is like: a bunch of outcasts and oddballs gathered at a table, not because they are rich or worthy or good, but because they are hungry, because they said yes. And there’s always room for more.
We might say the kingdom is like St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn where strangers come together and remember Jesus when they eat. The kingdom is like the Refuge in Denver, where addicts and academics, single moms and suburban housewives come together to tell each other the truth. The kingdom is like Thistle Farms where women heal from abuse by helping to heal others. The kingdom is like the church that would rather die than cast two of its own out the doors because they are gay. The kingdom is like St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland, Tennessee, where you are loved just for showing up. And even still, the kingdom remains a mystery just beyond our grasp. It is here, and not yet, present and still to come. Consummation, whatever that means, awaits us. Until then, all we have are metaphors. All we have are almosts and not quites and wayside shrines. All we have are imperfect people in an imperfect world doing their best to produce outward signs of inward grace and stumbling all along the way. All we have is this church—this lousy, screwed-up, glorious church—which, by God’s grace, is enough.
“God’s kingdom in the preaching of Jesus,” explained [N.T.] Wright, “refers not to postmortem destiny, not to our escape from this world into another one, but God’s sovereign rule coming ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’ . . . Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden dimension of ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.”
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
Marriage is not an inherently holy institution. And it cannot magically be made so by the government, by a priest, or even by the church. Rather, marriage is a relationship that is made holy, or sacramental, when it reflects the life-giving, self-sacrificing love of Jesus. All relationships and vocations—marriage, friendship, singleness, parenthood, partnership, ministry, monastic vows, adoption, neighborhoods, families, churches—give Christians the opportunity to reflect the grace and peace of the kingdom of God, however clumsily, however imperfectly. For two people to commit themselves not simply to marriage, but to a lifetime of mutual love and submission in imitation of Christ is so astounding, so mysterious, it comes close to looking like Jesus’ stubborn love for the church.
― Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Jesus made it clear that he did not come to abolish the laws of the Torah, “but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17). The life and teachings of Jesus, then, embody all that these laws were intended to be. Jesus is what the living, breathing will of God looks like. This includes compassion for the poor, esteem for women, healing for the sick, and solidarity with the suffering. It means breaking bread with outcasts and embracing little children. It means choosing forgiveness over retribution, the cross over revenge, and cooking breakfast for the friend who betrayed you. As Elton Trueblood put it, “The historic Christian doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means that God is like Jesus.
― Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again
Rest in peace, Rachel Held Evans. Your words will continue to enlighten and disturb us.
“As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you,” Jesus says to his disciples in the upper room on the evening of his resurrection (John 20:21). We hear this verse every year on the second Sunday of Easter as part of Jesus’ greeting to his startled disciples, who are gathered fearfully behind locked doors. Note that after offering his peace, Jesus’ first message to his disciples is to go back into the world to continue Jesus’ ministry.
This serves as a good reminder that Jesus consistently meets people where they are, physically and spiritually. During his earthly ministry he healed, taught, forgave sins, reconciled people to God and to one another, and gave hope to the poor and marginalized. Jesus called his first disciples while they were in the midst of their daily lives, working as fishermen, as tax collectors. And Jesus also calls us to follow and serve him in the midst of our daily lives.
Jesus reminds both his first disciples – and us – that we are to continue his ministry out in the world and not within our church walls. The Episcopal Collect for the second Sunday of Easter also emphasizes this message: “Grant that all who have been reborn into the fellowship of Christ’s Body may show forth in their lives what they profess in their faith.” At a time when we are still savoring the joy of the resurrection, Jesus sends us out of the comfort of our rooms and churches to continue his ministry by helping to heal a hurting world with our love for one another, wherever we might be.
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Day all offer signs of life on mission.
Maundy Thursday (“maundy” from “This is my commandment that you love one another as I have loved you” John 15:12) recalls the Lord’s Supper where we are fed and strengthened by the nourishing power of bread; and refreshed by enjoying wine. In truth, God feeds and refreshes us in every moment.
Good Friday is “good” because Jesus does not run out on his mission to confront the wrongdoing of his day. The wrongdoers of his day, Pilate, the crowd – and all of us, now – indirectly if not directly are all wrongdoers, unable to stop wrongdoing on our own. We, as well as they, need help to avoid wrongdoing.
Jesus, risen and with us on Easter Day, is the decisive sign and helper that all of us need. Jesus gives us the power we need to resist wrongdoing when he gives us his Spirit, the Holy Spirit. “‘As the Father has sent me I send you’ . . . he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:21-22).
The Gospel: In Jesus, God tells us to live lovingly and justly and helps us to do it by God’s Spirit at work with and in us.
Go, my children, with my blessing, Never alone.
Waking, sleeping, I am with you; You are my own.
In my love’s baptismal river
I have made you mine forever.
Go, my children, with my blessing – You are my own.
Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.
Here you learned how much I love you, What I can cure.
Here you heard my dear Son’s story;
Here you touched him, saw his glory.
Go, my children, sins forgiven, At peace and pure.
Go, my children, fed and nourished, Closer to me;
Grow in love and love by serving, Joyful and free.
Here my Spirit’s power filled you;
Here his tender comfort stilled you.
Go, my children, fed and nourished, Joyful and free. *
This has become for me one of my favorite hymns. The text moves through the worship experience, and then says GO. The point of all that worship offers is focused on the GO. That makes the Dismissal the most important part of the Liturgy. Everything points to the GO: What is the value of the hymns and prayers and music and sermon and silence and the bread and wine, but to prepare us to GO into our worlds of home and work and community as the Baptized to live into our discipleship.
The Episcopal Church’s Baptismal Covenant (Book of Common Prayer, p. 304-5) underscores this: After the Baptismal Creed is recited, the Covenant moves from the first two vows focused on the Baptized congregational experience to the last three (proclaim, seek and serve, strive) that say the point of the first two is to GO. Each person goes to church to GO to be the church in his/her world of daily life.
Think of a base camp for the hiker: It is there to prepare and support the hiker. It is not the destination. It is there for the hiker, not the hiker for the base camp. Translate that to a congregation. It is there to equip and support its Baptized members for their ministry/calling/vocation in their daily life. It is there to say “GO, your destination is not here but rather your daily life. GO and be the church!”
* Hear this Jaroslav Vajda hymn beautifully sung, at this site.
A year ago I blogged about the ministry of Toby the Therapy Dog. For years, Toby, a gentle giant of a St. Bernard, and his person Stan have brought joy and comfort to nursing facility residents and have helped reduce anxiety in waiting rooms of emergency rooms. Toby warmed the hearts of parents and children alike in our regional children’s hospital as young patients nuzzled their faces in his fur, crawled over him, or simply snuggled with him. Stan combined his love for dogs, his love for Christ, and his passion for caring to offer peace and healing to others.
I was sad to learn that Toby suffered a stroke and passed away during emergency surgery early this month. The outpouring of love from the communities Toby served is a testimony to the impact his and Stan’s ministry has had on others.
The exciting news is that Toby’s legacy lives on! A week after Toby’s stroke, I met Stevie, a friendly golden retriever, as I left the hospital after a visit. Stan had founded Toby’s Therapy Dogs to train a team of therapy dogs, and Toby had mentored Stevie. Stevie has achieved Novice Therapy Dog status after having completed ten visits to nursing homes! And although the initial plan was to build a local therapy dog team, it has quickly expanded to include a chapter in Wisconsin and beyond. All to continue to honor Toby and to carry on his ministry!
When I think of how quickly Toby’s legacy is spreading, I’m reminded of Kurt Kaiser’s hymn, Pass it On:
“It only takes a spark
To get a fire going,
And soon all those around
Can warm up in its glowing.
That’s how it is with God’s love,
Once you’ve experienced it,
You spread His love to ev’ryone,
You want to pass it on.”
Stan’s ministry with Toby started small – just a spark in a seemingly dark world – and is expanding day-by-day thanks to Stan’s faith and his commitment. To learn more about Stan and Toby’s ministry, visit his Facebook page: Toby the Therapy Dog.
For those of you who may not be aware, this is the beginning of the college/high school lacrosse season. I grew up in Baltimore, MD, that, along with Long Island and part of New England, were the hubs of the sport. Outside of those places, nobody had much knowledge/interest/awareness of it – until the last 20 years. Now there are over 3400 high school boys’ teams and over 2700 girls’! My granddaughter in California plays as do my grandsons in western North Carolina!
Reclaiming the centrality of baptism may be in the “three Lacrosse hub” stage within much of the Christian church including the Episcopal. Our seminaries are mostly about training seminarians how to run parishes rather than empower lay people for their ministries in their day-to-day lives. In congregations we are good at asking the first question: What is your name? And we gather relevant information so we can be in touch. But what about the question that usually follows: What do you do? Congregations are more interested in what you can do to help the parish and its programs than in how the parish can support, encourage, equip the baptized in their baptismal living.
There are signs that this is beginning to change. A professor at one seminary has empowering the laity as a part of two of the courses she teaches. The academic dean of another is exploring how to make it part of the core curriculum. The Episcopal Church’s General Convention in July formed a task force focused on how parishes, dioceses, and seminaries can develop ways and means for equipping the laity for their daily lives. The Presiding Bishop’s signature program, The Way of Love, has as its last phase the thrust to GO which incorporates much about baptismal living, engaging our faith in our everyday lives. The national organization, Episcopalians on Baptismal Mission (EBM), continues to be an advocate for the calling of all the baptized in their daily lives.
In that advocacy, EBM’s main metaphor is a base camp. The base camp is not the hikers’ destination. It exists of the good of the hikers, not vice versa, and is, therefore. there to support the needs of the hikers for their journey. Translate that to a congregation and you get a sense of what this movement is all about. Let’s keep working and praying that the Spirit will continue to move the Church to see as its primary mission to enhance the mission of all the baptized in their daily lives.