Signs of life on mission

by Wayne Schwab

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.

 

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The point of worship is “GO”

By Fletcher Lowe

First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, NE

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.

Pass it on: Toby’s legacy

Toby and team

by Pam Tinsley

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.

Stevie

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.

Growing baptismal awareness

by Fletcher Lowe

Men's field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke
Men’s field lacrosse game between UNC and Duke

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.

The Way of Love – Practices for a Jesus-centered life

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.

Re-brand us

PRAYERS FOR THE BAPTISMAL JOURNEY . . . .

 

 

 

Re-brand us

You mark us with your water,

You scar us with your name,

You brand us with your vision,

and we ponder our baptism,     your water,

your name,

your vision.

 

While we ponder, we are otherwise branded.

Our imagination is consumed by other brands,

— winning with Nike,

— pausing with Coca-Cola,

— knowing and controlling with Microsoft.

 

Re-brand us,

transform our minds,

renew our imagination,

that we may be more fully who we are marked

and hoped to be,

we pray with candor and courage.  Amen.

 

 

Yes

You are the God who is simple, direct, clear with us and for us.

You have committed yourself to us.

You have said yes to us in creation,

yes to us in our birth,

yes to us in our baptism,

yes to us in our awakening this day.

 

But we are of another kind,

more accustomed to “perhaps, maybe, we’ll see,”

left in wonderment and ambiguity.

 

We live our lives not back to your yes,

but out of our endless “perhaps.”

 

So we pray for your mercy this day that we may live yes back to you,

yes with our time,

yes with our money,

yes with our sexuality,

yes with our strength and with our weakness,

yes to our neighbor,

yes and no longer “perhaps.”

 

In the name of your enfleshed yes to us,

even Jesus who is our yes into your future.  Amen.

 

…. from  Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth — Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press/Minneapolis, 2003

(submitted by Edward L. Lee, Jr.)

It’s never too early for God’s love

By Pam Tinsley

Medical staff members attend a newborn in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. Photo by Phillip A. Jones

A reflection on Sacredspace.ie recently reminded me that God is present in all that I do, in the people I meet, and in the midst of each situation I’m in. Over the past several weeks, this has been particularly driven home for me.

Our family received the gift of God’s ongoing love during an extended hospitalization – though at the other end of the age spectrum from what fellow Living God’s Mission blogger Fletcher Lowe described several weeks ago. Serious pregnancy complications resulted in our daughter-in-law’s month-long hospitalization. In the midst of a record-breaking snowstorm and freeze, our granddaughter, Sienna, made her appearance – nine weeks early!

Parenting a newborn isn’t easy, and parenting a preemie calls for the support of community, not the least of which are the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) healthcare providers. I marveled at their love and commitment as they braved severe weather conditions to care for Sienna and the other preemies. I also marvel at their choice of vocation to tenderly care for these tiny, delicate infants with equally tiny PICC lines, feeding tubes, and blood pressure cuffs. The devotion of Sienna’s nurses has transformed her room into a physically and spiritually nurturing sacred space. And several have shared that they pray for their little charges, as well as how their faith shapes their vocation, in other words, their baptismal ministry.

Strengthened by prayer in the midst of so many joys and fears, hopes and tears, we watch our son and daughter-in-law being transformed by God’s love and grace into loving parents. And they bear witness to Christ’s love in all that they do and say. Sienna and her parents are part of yet another family – the NICU family – and when she eventually graduates from the NICU, she and her parents will not only continue to have the support of those who’ve journeyed with them, but they will also support other preemie families – and share how Jesus was present in all that they experienced as they walked through this storm of uncertainty and danger to mother and daughter.

Missional spirituality – finding God in the busy-ness of life

By Wayne Schwab

Photo by Shadowmeld Photography

God is on mission. God is at work in the world everywhere, every moment, to overcome evil – whatever blocks love and justice – and to bring and to increase love and justice. Love is valuing the other person and helping that person to live life as fully as possible. Justice is the public face of love. Justice is how we love in a “crowd” when we cannot see those we affect face-to-face.  When you cannot have face-to-face relationships, you work for everyone to have equal access to the good things in life. Our world today is in desperate need of Christians seeking to be loving and just wherever they are, all the time – in both public and private life.

Wherever you find love and justice, or the need for them, you find God at work.

Jesus Christ is the center of God’s mission for Christians. God’s power over evil, sin, and death has come among us in Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus is one of power over sickness, evil, sin, and death. Jesus is the victor – the victor over sickness, evil, sin, and death!

Jesus comes proclaiming the kingdom of God: the rule of God in human life, the power of God at work among us now.  His words and actions demonstrate this proclamation:

  • “If it is by the Spirit of God I cast out demons, then the kingdom – the power – of God has come upon you.” [Matt 12:28]
  • “Who is this that the winds and the waves obey him?” (Mark 4:41)
  • “He gave them authority over the unclean spirits” (Mark 6:7) so that his disciples might preach and heal.

Each of us can choose to walk a spiritual path. That journey inward / journey outward must, each day, unite prayer and action. Life is indeed hectic and overly busy. The Christian needs to learn to discern what God is doing in the midst of a busy moment and join what God is doing there now. That is the journey outward. The journey inward, then, is learning to discern God at work within us in the busy moments of daily life. So that is our focus for a missionary spirituality – learning to discern what God is doing and joining God in that work.

Where do you see God at work?

Catholic Health Initiatives by Jordan Gruener

by Demi Prentiss

Where do you see God at work? In the magnificence of Sunday worship, or the embrace of group prayer, or the quiet of devotional times?  In the sky, or the mountainscapes, or the crashing ocean?  In the play of children or the intimacy of family life or the hospital room?

For many of us who practice the weekly discipline of naming our “moment closest to Christ,” those are places that we often expect God to show up. But seriously, how often do you see God at work – meaning, in your workplace? Whether that’s the place you receive a paycheck or the place where you volunteer or the place you labor to serve those you love – that’s not usually the place we perceive God at work.

What’s up with that? We know God is all, and in all. God is high above the heavens and nearer than hands and feet. God is at work in all things, including us and the people we interact with. So why can’t we see God at work in our workplaces?

In a recent blog, the Theology of Work Project posed the question and offered an answer, via a blog from The High Calling: Why Is It So Hard to Connect Spiritual Value to Our Work?

Fundamentally, the problem is this: our culture has no framework for approaching work from a spiritual point of view. There is no context, no point of reference. It simply does not exist….

 

And since there is no cultural context, then guess what? You must create your own context. You must face that blank slate and make it up as you go, even if it doesn’t fit what you’ve been told all your life. You might have to use your spiritual imagination to see God’s hand at work in that next presentation, to pray for your boss under pressure, to grasp the infinite potential for goodness and mercy and righteousness that is literally at your fingertips.

Training our eyes to see God in the workplace can be a challenge. Are we willing to stop leaving Jesus in the car once we’ve parked in our assigned parking place? Are we humble enough to see the Holy Spirit at work in that troublesome co-worker? Are we perceptive enough to locate God at work even in our failures? Are we ready to recognize Jesus next to us in the board room or the production line?

God is ready to help us do that. So are, possibly, some of our co-workers. Or someone outside of our work context.  Many congregations have faith in the workplace groups that meet regularly. They provide a place to discuss how to sharpen our ability to notice God at work and how to be pro-active in partnering with what God is up to. Imagine what might happen if every Christian became intentional about bringing God to work.

With respect to words . . .

by Pam Tinsley

#Tagxedo Wordcloud: Pope Francis’s address to a joint meeting of Congress, September 24, 2015

“Will you respect the dignity of every human being?” was one of the questions we were asked as we renewed our baptismal promises on the First Sunday after the Epiphany (Book of Common Prayer, p. 305). This question was especially poignant in the face of the vitriol spewed by the administration’s leaders which resulted in an impasse that requires hundreds of thousands of government employees to work without pay. The longest government shutdown in our nation’s history is having a rippling effect on some people and a tsunami effect on others, such as those who rely on the government for essential services like food inspection, airport security, food for children and their families, and loans for already financially strapped farmers, not to mention paychecks for contract workers required to work and who will not receive back pay.

Will you respect the dignity of every human being?

As we wait for our elected officials to lead, I’m reminded that each one of us is a leader within our own sphere of influence. The words we proclaim on Sunday mornings when we renew our baptismal promises are not meant to be for Sunday only, or for only within the walls of the church. They are words meant for every day. They are words meant for each situation we encounter when we relate to others, regardless of whether they look like us, where they are from, or whether they hold the same opinions or beliefs as we do. Merely words? No! Words that shape how we live.

Living by the words of our baptismal covenant, including “will you respect the dignity of every human being,” requires us to hold our leaders accountable. This includes speaking up when the dignity of others is violated, because silence, after all, is consent. Our baptismal promises also call us to respect the dignity of those with whom we disagree. And therein lies the challenge.

Good News wins!

by Wayne Schwab

The Gospel is Jesus’ victory in all of our life.

To talk only of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love as the Gospel can tempt us to a childish pattern of seeking only to be cared for, rather than seeking to be God’s coworkers. There is so much more power in the Gospel as the Good News of God’s victory in Jesus Christ. Forgiveness of sin and God’s unconditional love are still there as part of the Good News. But, the even greater Good News is that the risen Jesus shares his power over evil with us! “As the Father has sent me, so I send you … receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21-22). Through his gift of the Holy Spirit, we receive the power to cope with sin not only in ourselves but in the whole world out there.

Through baptism, we join God’s ongoing work in Jesus Christ to overcome evil, sin, and death – to overcome all that is against love and justice. Christian living becomes working with Jesus Christ in each of our daily arenas from Monday to Monday – in our homes, at work, in our local communities, in the wider world, when we’re at our leisure, in our spiritual health, and in our church life. In each of our daily arenas, we join Jesus in his ongoing work to make life more loving and more just.

Making life more loving and more just is a call to action! Christians can be invisible and silent no longer. We are on mission with Jesus Christ wherever we are. His Spirit – the Holy Spirit – is at work in us all the time as well. Not only are we forgiven, we have the power to cope with our own sin and to take on transforming life in our work – yea, in all of our own daily arenas.