Who are you? Whose are you?

by Demi Prentiss

How do sacraments make sense in a 21st century context?  What are Christians proclaiming when they list two – or seven – “means of grace”? What’s the point, enacting such ancient “outward and visible sign[s] of inward and spiritual grace”? Are we stuck with “It’s tradition” as the best explanation we have?

Still walking what has been, so far, a 70-year-long journey in faith, I understand baptism as the foundational sacrament of Christian life. When we are embraced by baptismal waters, when we are the subject of the words “You are my beloved,” we are assured that the Creator of the universe acknowledges us as lambs of God’s own flock. We are, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, “marked as Christ’s own forever.”  Those words are written on our hearts, even if our brains don’t always remember them.

Baptism is, above all, a sacrament of identity. Our identity rooted in God, acknowledged and affirmed in and through community. What we do in our lives is shaped by innumerable variables; who we are – and whose we are – is brought to life by the God who made us and loves us, everlastingly. Our identity is defined by the God whose name is love, and whose love is unconditional.

Identity, however, is not enough. After all, the God who loves us just exactly the way we are is never content to leave us unchanged. Setting out on a journey with God always involves growth, metanoia, transformation.   Appropriately, the second major sacrament – communion, eucharist, the Lord’s Supper – is the sacrament of growth.  Celebrations of communion involve confession, forgiveness, being inspired and encouraged, claiming our role in community, being fed, and being sent out into the world to carry God’s good news to others. Each of those elements call on us to grow, and to participate in our own development.

Each time we remember our baptism or celebrate eucharist, we are reminded that God is at work in both our identity and our growth. The church’s other sacraments give further evidence of God’s tender concern for us, shaping our identity and growth in aspects of a healthy spiritual life.

    • Confirmation – a sacrament of identity and growth through participation in community
    • Reconciliation – a sacrament of identity and growth in forgiveness
    • Marriage – a sacrament of identity and growth through relationship
    • Unction – a sacrament of identity and growth in and through healing
    • Ordination – a sacrament of identity and growth through developing a community

And it all arises from our baptism, that affirmation of our identity, our belovedness, and our being called into lifelong relationship with the God who made us. That calling summons us to fullness of life.

Be salty, Christians!

by Fletcher Lowe

I am a salt guy.  I like to salt my food, sometimes even before I taste it, much to the chagrin of my wife.  But I simply tell her, I’m just following doctor’s orders – after all on more than one occasion, as recently as a year ago, a doctor has said I’m salt deficient. I just need more salt!!

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount has something to say about salt. “You are the salt of the earth.” Notice first of all it is not “of the church” or “of the faith community,” but “of the earth” that we are called to be salt.  We cannot retreat from the world or be neutral; our calling is to be proactive.

That is why, for me, the Dismissal is the most important part of the Liturgy – for of what value are the music or the readings or the prayers or the sermon or the bread and wine if they don’t propel us out from the church to be the church in our “earths,” our daily lives of home and community and work?  Go – that is our calling – and, like the salt, to “salt’ that part of the earth that each of us inhabits. We are called to be salty Christians.

Notice too that salt makes a difference in whatever it touches, be it food or the ocean or as a preservative.  But to make a difference, it must be in touch, in relationship – it has no value standing alone.  So, too, for us as salty Christians.  Our faith must be put into practice – in our earths.  Otherwise, it is of no value. Jesus’ message is clear to his followers – you and me.  As disciples we are called to make a difference, to join with Jesus in our calling expressed in the Lord’ Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

So, salty Christians, as we put our faith into action, let us Go forth and be the salt of our earths.

How does your church ‘equip the saints’?

by Demi Prentiss

In Ephesians 4, Paul declares that the work of church leadership is to “equip the saints for the work of ministry,” which he describes is “building up the body of Christ.”  Observing the emphasis that many Christian communities place on gathering for worship, formation, and fellowship, it might be hard to discern how that “building up” process might be occurring for anyone except “insiders,” people who find their way inside the walls of the church building.

Those of us who understand “ministry” as a daily, whole-life endeavor for all God’s people long for the day that faith communities claim their calling to truly equip their members: to give them tools to leave the church grounds and become intentional, functional ambassadors for the reign of God wherever they find themselves. Such folks can transform organizations, neighborhoods, even cities as they work to do God’s work in the world.

Our friends at the Theology of Work website offer strategies for helping a congregation practice that sort of equipping. Their web page on The Equipping Church poses four key questions for churches that aim to equip their people for mission in daily work:

      • What is God’s Mission in the World?
      • How does human work connect to God’s work?
      • What does this mean for people in their daily work?
      • How can we equip our people for God’s work in the world?

Faith communities that want to “equip” their people tend to shift focus, prioritizing “beyond the church walls” work over “inside the church” work. That last question can help faith communities shape their lives together in ways that build up the body of Christ, both those inside the church walls as well as among all the people they encounter.

What does it look like in practice for a church to operate in a way that reflects these changed perspectives and priorities? Churches that have embarked on this journey demonstrate a number of common characteristics.

Equipping churches:

      • have a vision of God at work where their people work
      • actively hunt for examples and resources
      • connect daily work to worship
      • address the opportunities and challenges their people face at work
      • invest resources in equipping people for daily work
      • create structures to sustain this ministry
      • empower and collaborate with people in the congregation to lead the ministry
      • release and support their people for work outside the church
      • encourage everyone to take responsibility
      • include daily work as part of youth ministry and compassion/outreach/service ministries

What items on that list are characteristic of your own congregation? Which of those practices might you want to undertake during the coming year?

A touch of hope

by Pam Tinsley

Earlier this month, my hairstylist Ron and I were talking about our respective Thanksgiving Days. I spoke about being together with family, and Ron said that he had decided to help serve meals at the Rescue Mission. That’s where he happened to run into a homeless man who sometimes works with Ron to transform a local high school gym into the church where Ron and about 600 others worship each Sunday.

After most of the meals were served, Ron joined some of the men at a table and talked with them. As people were leaving, Ron asked his friend if he would help him put up the Christmas tree in his salon. Ron said his eyes lit up. Ron appreciated both the help and the company, and his homeless friend appreciated being valued.

They speak honestly – including about how the man became homeless – and Ron is clear about boundaries when the man works in his yard or at church. The man has asked Ron to help him learn to hold on to some of the money he earns from odd jobs, and Ron has found a “money counseling” class they’ll attend together in the hope that his friend might live into his dream of steady work and having a roof over his head.

Yet, more importantly, Ron offers respect and community. Because Ron listens and sees him for who he is, a beloved child of God, this man experiences a bit of love in the midst of a cold world that would prefer that he “simply went away.” And, while not all of us can offer someone occasional work or can volunteer at a homeless shelter, we can pay attention and listen to everyone we meet and treat them with dignity and respect. We can treat them as God’s beloved children and perhaps bless them with a touch of hope, if only for a brief moment.

What’s your superpower?

by Demi Prentiss

Recently Michael Piazza offered a “Liberating Word” post on “Discovering Your Superpower.” He shared this powerful thought: “…the first step to becoming a superhero is to believe you are gifted, that you are uniquely empowered by the spirit. Missing or neglecting that gift will diminish your life, weaken the Body of Christ, and leave the world a dimmer and more divided place.”

Too often laity – who comprise 99 percent of the church, consistently across denominations – assume that our superpowers are the abilities that will enable us to “make it,” or “get rich,” or “become famous.” Truly, gifts of the Spirit may have that effect on our lives. More importantly, Piazza specifies that whenever our superpowers show up, it’s because we are “uniquely empowered by the Spirit [capital “S” mine].” While those gifts may not make us rich and famous, they definitely make our lives worth living. And they are put to work in big and small ways, most effectively in the actions of our ordinary, everyday lives.

Gifts / superpowers are typically those attributes that are so deeply rooted in our identity that we’re almost unaware of them, or where they came from. They’re just “how we are,” without thinking about it. They usually don’t get us recognized as “superheroes.” And because each of us is a precious, unique, beloved Child of God, our superpowers assume a unique shape or manifestation – just because we are who we are. It’s essential – and definitely not egotistical – that we offer them. That offering is not only the expression of our whole self – it also makes the Body of Christ more whole, more brilliant, and more unified.

Where the laity are empowered to “be all that you can be,” God’s reign is more fully realized. Where those superpowers are unleashed, the people of God experience and offer more love, and the world becomes more whole. The effect is transformative, of people and situations, and often practically unnoticed.

For Piazza, there’s a sure way to understand what your superpower is. “If you really want to know what your superpower is, honestly answer this question: ‘For what do you want to be remembered?’ In other words, what do you want your unique legacy to be?”

What daily life superpower will you be remembered for?

We are the church; we are sacraments

by Fletcher Lowe

You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,

in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,

for the saints of God are just folks like me, and I mean to be one, too.

We sang those words on All Saints’ Sunday.  Notice where you meet the saints. In church, yes, but how many other places?

I remember years ago, being stopped by a driver in the small town I was serving as vicar of the Episcopal Church.  He asked, “Where is the Episcopal Church?”  I was ready with the location, but then I decided to witness to my passion:  Well, I said, the church is  at this bank across the street and down the street in that hardware store and out on the highway at the Jansen plant and three blocks over in the doctor’s office.  I then saw the befuddled look on the driver’s face, so I said, “That’s where the church really is.  If you want to know where the church building is, take a left at the light and it is two blocks over on the left.”

Richard Halverson, US Senate Chaplin (1981-94), expressed the same thought this way:

Christ’s strategy is to scatter his people throughout the world between Sundays, penetrating society’s structures from within. They are the true ministers of Jesus Christ in the world.  Rightly understood, every believer is in full-time service for Jesus Christ….and the church’s impact is the aggregate of the laity’s impact as they carry out their common tasks between Sundays.  Whether you are a pilot, plumber, pastor, physician, or working to meet innumerable legitimate human needs at an office, construction site, or home, you are working for God.

Add here are that English priest Percy Dearmer’s (1867-1936) words:

 All our meals and all our living make as sacraments of thee,

 that by caring, helping, giving, we may true disciples be. 

          We will serve thee faithfully.

 I love Dearmer’s image of you and me being sacraments. The baptized are the “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace,” as the Episcopal prayer book defines a sacrament.  That is our calling, our ministry, our vocation as the scattered people throughout the world between Sundays!

 

Won’t you be God’s neighbor?

by Demi Prentiss

It’s all too easy to get sucked into the notion of the need for a heroic response to God’s call.  Once you’ve figured out where God is asking you to go, isn’t it up to the individual to get themselves there – climb any mountain, swim any river, suffer weariness and pain, all for the sake of responding to God’s call with immediate, decisive action?

Lawn chairs as tools of mission

There are actually times when that kind of response is called for. Usually, however, ending up in tune with what God has in mind has more to do with careful discernment, fueled by watching and listening and waiting before we set a plan in motion. Remembering that God has been there, in action, long before we even entered the picture. Being clear that the people around you are players in God’s plan as much as you are.

Faith+Lead offers access to a learning lab supported by Luther Seminary. Focused on exploring ways to cultivate Christian faith in the twenty-first century, Faith+Lead serves as a connector to resources, experiments, and communities that see the Holy Spirit moving in the midst of change.  Members of such communities recognize that God is at work everywhere in the world – wherever we go, God is already in action. One of the keys to acting on our faith is learning to perceive where God is operating, in order to join in the work that’s already in progress.

A recent blog post invited readers to start with paying attention to what God might be up to in their neighborhood, turning a lawn chair into a tool of mission.  The blog claims, “This breakthrough practice helps you discern where the Holy Spirit is at work in your neighborhood–simply by making time regularly to pay attention to your neighbors.”

The instructions boil down to

      1.  Set up a lawn chair. Sit in it.
      2.  Pay attention. What’s going on around you?
      3.  Ask questions. Notice God’s activity.
      4.  Try variations. Get out and observe where God might be showing up.

Responding to God’s call to make a difference may depend on our ability to discern what God is up to, right in front of us.

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Have you discovered the “Making It Work” podcast? Launched on October 21, “Making It Work” is a new podcast produced by a partnership between The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project. Join hosts Leah Archibald and Mark Roberts as they talk with guests about inviting God into the challenges that come across your desk and into your inbox on a day to day basis. Listen in and see what God might be saying to you. Don’t miss it! Follow on Instagram @theologyofwork for updates.

Every worker deserves respect

by Pam Tinsley

An October 13, 2019 New York Times review of Steven Greenhouse’s Beaten Down, Worked Up, The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor included Greenhouse’s conviction that “all labor that helps humanity has dignity and every worker, no matter how low paid or humble, deserves respect.” I was reminded of two examples of how I’ve seen this lived out within the Church.

The first was when I first began attending our annual Diocesan Convention many years ago, and retired Bishop Sandy Hampton always urged us to tip the hotel employees generously. He reminded us that these employees often had to commute long distances due to the high cost of living in the area where the convention took place, yet they were paid but a paltry minimum wage. They worked hard to ensure that our stay was comfortable and our needs addressed, and their presence often went unnoticed and underappreciated. When Bishop Hampton moved from our diocese, our own Bishop Greg Rickel continued the call for generous giving to thank hotel employees. Both bishops taught me a lot about the importance of generous gratuities – signs of gratitude – for the work others perform for us.

Then last year I attended a conference that took recognition of hotel employees a step further. At the end of the conference, the emcee invited to the platform all of the staff who had served us in the conference room. He reminded us that these individuals had cared for us throughout the conference. They had served our meals, removed our empty plates, noticed when our water pitchers needed to be refilled. And they did so without drawing attention to themselves. It was easy for us to miss their actions. It was easy for us to not see them at all. For that reason, the emcee felt that it was all the more necessary that we see their faces and collectively honor them for their hard work.

Both of these are examples of ways we respect the personal dignity of others and the dignity of their work. After all, not only does our work matter to God, but so, too, does how we treat one another.

Contracts as God’s work

Even writing contracts can be doing God’s work.

by Fletcher Lowe

As a priest, one of my prime commitments has been to encourage, support, and confirm parishioners in their daily ministries.  One way I have done that over the years is by visiting them where they work, and while I’m there we discuss what they do and what the Sunday-Monday, faith-work connection is.  For most it is the first time that the connection issue has been raised.  Further conversation often leads to an “aha” moment.  Let me share one of those conversations as how one lawyer had such an “aha.”

Lisa: 

Until I recently retired, I was a corporate “transactional” attorney for a large international freight company. I negotiated and wrote all kinds of contracts – contracts to buy software, to lease trucks, to acquire janitorial services, to hire guards at our terminals. If it involves a contract of any type, I was usually involved in it.

 

When Fletcher Lowe originally asked if he could visit me at work to discuss the “faith connection,” that is the connection between what I do to make a living and my faith, I agreed reluctantly. I mean, after all, how could working as an attorney for a trucking company tie in to God’s work?

 

In our discussion, he challenged me to see how the gifts I have and the work I do is in fact God’s work. That drafting up a contract fairly, is applying my faith and the values rooted in my faith. That treating my fellow employees with respect, behaving in an ethical manner, and being able to help two parties work through issues and come up with a problem solving approach, rather than a conflict based disagreement, is doing God’s work. That, in fact, doing what I have the skills to do, using whatever talents I may have, is God’s work.

 

It was a revelation to me! I tended to view “God’s work” as what the priests and choir directors and youth ministers and Mother Teresas do. I viewed the “work world” as separate from the “faith world.” It turned that assumption on its ear to see that maybe simply applying the talents God gave me is, in fact, also doing “God’s work.” As dry and un-faith-like as writing up a contract sounds – it did seem possible that somehow that type of work might also serve God’s purpose. And, in that setting, my church community isn’t separate, but is a foundation, a “base camp,” for the rest of the week – a place to focus, resupply, and prepare to go back out and do whatever work is set out before me.

 

What a concept. God is truly amazing!

Be particular: Consider your own call

www,freepik.com

by Demi Prentiss

The call that God places on each person’s life sometimes shows up as their ministry. But more often, when we look more closely, our call is bigger than our ministry.  Our call could be described as the melody of God’s song in our life. Our ministry could be understood as the lyrics – changing, most likely, as the time and season change. Often, the chorus will come back again and again, with verses speaking to specifics along the way.

When we listen well, we can hear God’s song wherever we find ourselves – at home, at work, in the community, engaging with the wider world, in our leisure time, in church, and in the quiet place deep in our souls. When we attune ourselves – every fiber of our being – to God’s song, we participate in God’s reigning among us, here and now.

Jonathan Maury, a brother in the Society of St. John the Evangelist, speaks to the many expressions of God’s call that show up among us. He points to Paul’s reminder to the new Christians in Corinth:

“Consider your own call,” the Apostle Paul writes to the fledgling disciples of the Church in Corinth. Now of course Paul knows that every disciple’s call comes from Christ alone, that they are each and all chosen to serve and to be glorified in the one Lord. Yet Paul says, “Consider your own call.” From his own transformative encounter with the risen Christ, Paul also knows that each disciple’s vocation is unique. For just as each person is an image and likeness of the one God unlike any other, so too the circumstances, gifts, and mission of each disciple called into Christ’s mystical Body have a personally peculiar manifestation in each one. Paul says, “Consider your own call,” reminding us that each woman or man’s call will be transformed by God into a strikingly particular life of love and self-offering in Christ.

Each of us, in our daily lives that shape our unique story, has an opportunity to answer God’s tuneful call on our lives, in our own “personally peculiar” way, in practically every decision we make. Be particular!