Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Ministry Lessons from Hang-gliding

First of all, I don't really hang-glide.  In fact, I've never been hang-gliding at all.  Last spring, when I fell in a parking lot and fractured my elbow, I tried to blame my injury on hang-gliding, because it seemed like a much more interesting story.  So, I don't really have any ministry lessons from hang-gliding, although I wish I did.  A few years back, one of my colleagues wrote about her ministry lessons from mountain biking.  Just recently, another colleague waxed poetic about her experiences kayaking, and what she has learned about God's mission as a result.

This caused me to reflect on the lack of risk-taking (or even athletic) activities in my life.  I don't mountain bike, and I don't kayak.  I used to swim for exercise, and I have been known to go on long, brisk walks.  I also am not known for taking big risks (i.e. sky-diving, hang-gliding, etc.)  I wonder whether this defect in my character is also a defect in terms of pastoral ministry and calling out congregational mission.  God's mission is big, and risky, and one thing pastors need to do is encourage their congregation to take risks for the sake of the gospel.  Missional hang-gliding.

In fact, the riskiest thing I have done in the last five years was to adopt a puppy.  This may not seem all that risky to you, but neither my husband or myself had much experience with dog ownership or training.  I remembered that our family had a dog when I was an adolescent, but he was a small dog, about 10-12 pounds, and my mother trained him.  The puppy we got was a Golden Retriever and Husky mix, and was going to grow up to be a Big Dog.

In fact, the whole endeavor turned out to be riskier than we even thought it would be.  For some reason or another, our puppy turned out to have Behavior Problems.  From a very young age, she would growl at us when we tried to take away Certain Items (stray socks, paper towels, also food).  It was a little scary, as we were novice dog-owners.  I was sure we were doing something wrong.  We read many books about what to do about aggressive behavior.  I took her to the Humane Society, where they tested her, and told us we should take her to a Behavioral Vet.  (They also told us that, at 10 weeks, if she was given up for adoption, they would not "put her on the floor", which is code for saying that they would have euthanized her.)  We took her to a behavior vet, who gave us hope.  We took her to dog training classes.  I took her to individual classes with a trainer who specialized in aggressive behavior.  Sometimes the things we did worked.

Once, my puppy (almost a year then) bit me.  Hard.  She drew blood.  I was tempted to give up on her.  But I didn't.

Lately, my husband reflected on that time, "Why did we do it anyway?  Sometimes it seemed so hard."

Here's the secret:  for some reason or another, I loved that dog.  So I did not give up on her.  I kept trying different methods to train her, to make her into the kind of animal we could have as our companion.

Five years later, Scout is not a perfect dog, but she is a delightful dog.  My husband attributes a lot of it to the hard work I did when she was a puppy, all the different methods I tried, all of the treats and the behavior modification and trainers.

So, do I have any ministry lessons from dog-training?  Really, there are only two simple lessons right now, although I'm sure if I thought about it harder, I could make it a lot more complicated.

1.  Never give up.  Sometimes it seems as if all of the rules have changed, with regard to congregational mission and ministry in the 21st century. Who knows what works?   Somehow, though, I do love this Church.  I don't always know why.

2.  Loving is still the riskiest thing you can do.  That's true for pastors, but it's also true for congregations trying to figure out how to love the world.  It's missional hang-gliding.

"For God so loved the world that He gave his only son...." John 3:16

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Highlights of my Weekend

  • training for house meetings in many congregations this fall.  We modeled telling on another stories of faith and opportunity, stories about our faith values and the inclusion and exclusion of people of color from opportunity.  There was some deep sharing and  there were even tears.  Holy moments.
  • Baptism on Saturday.  It was the little girls' first birthday and her baptism birthday.  As her mother leaned her over the font, and I started to pour water over her head, she started to cry AND she grabbed and pulled on my stole so hard!  Such strength.  I already like this little girl.
  • we did a little antique shopping in the afternoon; I discovered a book by a fantastic but little-known illustrator named Helene Carter.  She mostly illustrated non-fiction books for children.  The book I saw was called The Book of Living Reptiles.  It had the most fantistic illustrations .
  • The interim Senior's first Sunday preaching; he told us, quite simply, that his priority would be to help us to See Jesus during this time.  Yes, and more: (my addition)  to see Jesus in the Sacrament, to see Jesus in one another, to see Jesus in the poor and the dispossessed, to see Jesus in the stranger.  Yes. And then to live lives that shows other that we know that this is true.
  • He told me he had visited with a couple from our congregation this weekend who share that they are "fans" of mine.  That was certainly a high point of my Sunday morning.
  • We sang some of my favorite hymns today:  Lord, Whose Love in Humble Service, God of Grace and God of Glory, Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.  The choir sang "Blessed are They"; several choir members sang solos. At 10:00, we sang "The Church Song", and "Give Thanks" (among others), and the children sang. 
  • and oh yes, I screwed up the Psalm and had to start over.  but it turned out all right, in the end.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I met a friend for lunch today, a woman who serves at a church part-time, but also works full-time downtown in an office.  We talked about teaching liturgy to children, and to adults.  We talked about the importance of worship, the difference between private devotional time, and public worship, the need to gather.

We met downtown, near where she works, in a little sandwich shop right next to a financial services office.  There was an entrance to the bookstore of a Catholic church just across from where were eating avocado veggie wraps.

I don't get downtown much anymore.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've been downtown in the last year.  But I used to go downtown every day.  I used to take the bus to my office, where I worked in insurance, first as a clerk, later as an underwriter.  Even earlier, I worked as a secretary for a large investment firm. 

I was an earnest young laywoman in those days.  I taught Sunday School.  I sang in the choir.  I organized adult forums.  I served on the church board for awhile.  I love the liturgy, singing, teaching children -- but I wondered what my faith had to do with downtown, where I worked in an office, answered phones, gave out insurance quotes.

I knew that my faith had to do with giving money to my church, so, even though I didn't make a lot of money, I tithed.  I read books called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and wondered about living in a way that served the poor.  I gave up things for Lent.

But I didn't know what my faith had to do with what I did all day, five days a week, downtown.

Eventually, I realized that I was called to public ministry, to speak aloud the gospel, to teach, to lead.  It came in fits and starts, this realization.  Part of my struggle with downtown was a struggle about my calling, I think.  But the other struggle was a struggle that still continues in the church.

What does my faith have to do with downtown?

Most people get the idea, I think, that their faithfulness is measured in the especially religious things they do:  teaching Sunday School, taking communion to shut-ins, singing in the choir, sitting on the church board.  But what about downtown?   How can we be faithful downtown?  I think some pastors, by their silence or their attitudes, give the impression that, actually, we can't.    Don't even think of trying to be faithful downtown, working at your office, writing insurance quotes, gathered at the water cooler or the coffee pot. 

Maybe it's that pastors just don't get downtown enough.  When I look back, I am startled to think how I lived my faith in my nine-to-five job, downtown.  I think about conversations with coworkers,  the people I knew who were in no way church-goers.  I thought about the young woman who came to me for advice, the woman who called me her "Lutheran friend".  I thought about how just doing the best work I could was faithfulness.  But I wouldn't have thought that, then.

It's more than a little ironic, I think:  Luther's reformation was, at least in part, about breaking down the hierarchy of vocations.  Luther didn't believe that religious callings were any holier than anything else God could call us to do.  Luther believed that a shoemaker or a teacher or a streetcleaner was called by God, doing God's work in the world.

Downtown.   The church isn't just in the church on Sunday.  The church is also downtown.  But wouldn't it be so much more powerful if we knew it?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Visiting My Dad

One of the things I regretted in my busy solo summer was that I did not visit my dad in the nursing home as much as I would have liked.  My mom had him home for a couple of afternoons, and we had a big bash for Father's Day, but I just didn't get up to see him that often.  I was busy holding down the fort at the church, writing sermons and funeral sermons (we had twelve funerals this summer), and checking up on people, and trying to get ready for the fall.

But last week our interim Senior Pastor arrived, and he is encouraging me to take some comp time, to do things like clean my house and make doctors appointments, and just rest a little.  So this afternoon, before starting on the dirty dishes, and wiping out that cupboard or sweeping the closet that has accumulated dog hair, I went up to see my dad.

He was sitting in the common area, paging through a magazine.  He seemed happy to see me, although I wasn't sure at first he knew who I was.  I asked him several times, and he seemed puzzled, but it turns out that he has lost his hearing aid again.  Finally, he said my name, ("of course!"), and told the old knock-knock joke associated with me. It seems that I was helping with the dishes once when I was very small.  I turned to my parents and said, "Knock knock."  They answered, "Who's there?"  "Dishes," I said, thinking about the dishes in the sink.  "Dishes who?"  "Dishes Diane."  My father has told that joke ever since.

So today he called me, "Dishes Diane," and continued to page through the magazine.  It seemed that he was looking for something, but I don't know what.  When he finished that magazine, I found him another.  He seemed to enjoy just paging through the pages.

I told him a few riddles.  He knew the answers to some, but not to all of them.  He couldn't remember what he had for lunch, so he said, "Filet Mignon."  

Someone came by with chocolate chip cookies and coffee for break.  We each munched one cookie.

I couldn't think of what to say, so I asked if we could say the Lord's Prayer together.  I know, it seems like a pastor thing to do, but he used to say it with me before I went to bed, when I was a little girl.  So we said the Lord,'s prayer, the old version, and then I said I would have to go. 

He said something about saying the Lord's Prayer when he went to bed.  I asked him if he still did that.  "Not any more," he said.  "I used to."

"You said it now," I told him.  "Was that good?"

Sometimes I think I ought to bring something every time I visit my dad.  Once I brought him an old riddle book, another time I knitted a shawl.  I think it would have been nice to get him something, a stuffed animal, one of those funny ones that sings when you push on the tummy or the ears.  You know what I mean.

But in the end, I just came with my empty hands, and the Lord's Prayer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Going to School

There are a few small children on our block. I see then down at the corner, waiting for the bus.  They are new students, so they all seem to have adults with them, and one even has a dog who waits with him for the bus to come. 

Just a couple of years ago, it seemed that there were no children on our block.  Our block was single people and empty nesters, a young couple without children.  Now my next-door neighbors have two pre-schoolers, and there is that small cadre of students waiting for the bus.

I watch one little boy ride his block down the street.  He is wearing a bike helmet.  He has a backpack.  I think he is six years old.  He appears earnest and independent as he weaves his way down our quiet block.  He is only riding for a block, but he is riding his bike.

Then I widen my perspective, and I see something else.  I see a young man, walking just a little behind the boy.  He walks behind the little boy, and if he gets too far behind, he sprints a little, to keep up.  There is an invisible thread, I think, connecting the boy and the man.  The little boy seems independent, going to school on his own.  But the father is not far behind, keeping his son in his sight, making sure no harm comes to him.  If his son falls, he will pick him up.  He will take the bike home with him after the bus comes.  And he will bring the bike back to the corner in the afternoon, so that his son can ride again, practicing independence.

This is the time of year for going to school, which means different things to different people.  Frankly, to some it means nothing at all.  September is just another month in an endless parade of months.  But to others this is the time of year for going to school, which means getting on our bikes and going just a little farther this year, or pushing our brains just a little farther.  It means stretching and getting tired and hitting the wall.  It means asking questions, some of which have no answers. 

This is the time of year for going to school, which is both exciting and painful.  In life, as in school, we learn things that amaze us and things that disappoint us.  

This is life, I think, going back to school, riding our bikes down the street, becoming more independent.  That's what I see. 

Then I change my perspective, and I see something else.  I see someone walking, or sprinting, behind us.  There is an invisible thread connecting us. 

You can look at life as a series of close-up shots, or you can widen your perpsective and see something more, the invisible thread that connects us, parents and children, teachers and students, friends and strangers.  We are not so independent as we seem.

On 9/11 we caught a glimpse of a horror.  We also saw the invisible thread.  We heard the voices of people calling one another, saying, over and over "I love you."  We saw people running into burning buildings to rescue people they didn't even know.  We saw people holding hands in the darkness. 

It was just at the time of going back to school.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sunday Sermon: Joy in Heaven

Luke 15:1-10
16 Pentecost Year C
‘Joy in Heaven, Joy on Earth’

How do you know when you’re lost?
Our gospel reading today has got me pondering this question. ‘How do you know if you’re lost?

Perhaps the first picture I get in my mind now whenever I read these parables
– about lost sheep and lost coins – is from my first church.
The picture is a small flock of sheep — in the church parking lot of one of my churches.
And it wasn’t one of the country churches, but the ‘town’ church.
I remember that it was a Friday morning, which was not a very busy morning at the church.
I had been in the office for about an hour, and was getting ready to leave to go to a Pastor’s Bible study.
As soon as I stepped out the door, I saw them, standing in the parking lot, looking bewildered.
Or maybe they didn’t look bewildered.
Maybe that expression is just the way sheep ALWAYS look.
And looking back after all these years, I wonder if they really even knew that they were lost.

So, the question again: how do you know if you’re lost?
The parables we have before us today are about lost sheep and lost coins
– how do you know if you’re lost?

Sometimes I think it’s fear that clues us in: we’re driving down the highway and we take a turn
– and suddenly we do not recognize the landscape.
 And a feeling of fear grips us.
Or you are in a department store with your mom and you’re looking at toys very very intently, and when you look up, your mom is gone.
Or, you watch two planes slam into the tallest buildings in New York City. Fear.
What’s going on? What’s going to become of us? Are we lost?
Sometimes, not always, a feeling of fear can be a big clue that we are lost.
And that fear can lead us down some dark pathways: pathways of hate and intolerance and hard-heartedness.

Sometimes it’s loneliness – a feeling of being alone.
I remember the first time I drove through the badlands – I was driving with my family, and looking around at all of the beautiful scenery,
and I thought that if I was driving through here all alone, without all of the signs of civilization, without all the other people in the car with me,
I would not feel so much like it was beautiful.
There’s something about being alone that can make us feel lost – like the child I mentioned earlier at the department store.
She’s in the same spot, looking at the same toys as a moment ago, but something has changed. Suddenly she is alone.
And lost.

Sometimes it’s hopelessness that makes us feel lost.
There are so many reasons people feel hopeless – by which I mean, that they do not think they have a future
– if you are trapped in poverty, if you can’t get work, if you have a sense that you are not worth anything to anyone.
If you are surrounded by ugliness and not by beauty, it’s easy to feel hopeless about the present and the future.
If you are walled out of opportunity, walled out of prosperity, it’s easy to feel hopeless – and lost.

How do you know if you are lost?

The intriguing, and really amazing thing about the two parables, two very familiar parables we have before us today
is that they invite us to look at the experience of being lost from God’s point of view.
Not from our point of view (how do you know if you’re lost?)
But from God’s point of view.
We don’t know anything about how the sheep feels, right?
And lost coins, as far as I know, don’t have feelings.
But in the parable we get a glimpse of God, a wealthy shepherd with 100 sheep – by the way a huge number, four times larger than a normal flock in those days
– or a poor woman, with just ten coins – a day’s wage – to her name.
We’re invited to see how God the wealthy shepherd leaves the 99 to go in search of just one sheep.
And not only that – look very closely – leaves the 99 sheep not safely in the pen, but out in the wilderness!
Jesus begins the parable by saying, “Which one of you would not....”
but the truth is, no one would be foolhardy enough to leave most of his sheep in danger to go after one stupid sheep who had wandered off!
No one but God, who cares so much about one lost sheep, so foolishly about one sinner.
Or take a look at the poor woman, with ten coins, who loses one.
You can understand, perhaps, if you just have a little, why she would sweep and sweep, and look under the sofa cushion, and not give up until she has ten coins again.
It is her whole living.
She cannot get by without the one.
But then, read on: after she finds her coins, she invites her friends over and has a party!
She blows her whole living celebrating! “Which one of you would not spend all you have...?”
Well, maybe you wouldn’t.
But God would, God would risk everything, would give up everything to find you, and God would risk everything to celebrate your return.
“And there is joy in heaven... there is joy in heaven... whenever one lost sheep is found, whenever one sinner, one sinner is found...”
One sinner – one stupid sheep, one outcast, one hopeless, one despised person... from God’s perspective.... is beloved....

How do you know you are lost?

When I was a little girl, I loved to write: stories, poems, one act plays, everything.
I think I learned to write stories almost as soon as I learned to write.
But here’s another thing I would do periodically, I would re-read what I had written earlier, and I would be so embarrassed, so ashamed, because I would suddenly understand that it wasn’t very good.
And I would throw all of those stories, all of that poetry, all of those plays, into the wastebasket. It would go into the trash.
So periodically I got rid of everything I had written before, everything I now understood to be worthless junk.

Some years ago, I was rooting around in a closet somewhere, and I came across a box, a box I didn’t know about.
It was in my parents’ house, among my mother’s things.
When I opened the box I discovered many of those stories, poems, plays that I had thrown away – that my mother had taken out of the trash and saved them all.
It was a rare occurrence – I was looking at myself from my mother’s perspective – and I realized that she saved those writings not because they were so much better than I thought
– but because she loved me.
I looked at myself from my mother’s perspective – and realized that she loved me more than I imagined, more than I thought.
There was rejoicing, Rejoicing in heaven, rejoicing on earth.
My mother rejoiced in me, her child.

Today we are invited to look at ourselves from God’s perspective rather than our own.
Today we are invited to hear the sounds of rejoicing in heaven, to know a God who saves our trash, who seeks out lost sheep, who sweeps the whole house and spends everything to find us.
Today we are invited to hear the sounds of rejoicing in heaven over us – and over the whole world that God loves.
We’re invited to see that God loves children, adults, the shunned and the self-righteous, the haters and the hated, Lutherans, Muslims  – all this blessed lost world.
And we’re invited to rejoice as well – to sing our hearts out, to open our arms wide, and to look at the world, ourselves, from God’s perspective.

How do you know when you’re lost?
Brothers and sisters – sometimes I think we only really know we’ve been lost when God puts us on his shoulders,
when God lifts us up in her hands,
when God opens his arms to us in love.
We know that we’re lost every time God finds us, every time God finds us, however we are lost -- whether we are lost in our fear, or lost in our hopelessness, or lost in our hate.
Then hate turns into love and fear turns into hope and loneliness is swept up in community.
And there is rejoicing in heaven. And rejoicing on earth


Friday, September 10, 2010

Friday Five: Insomnia Edition

Mompriest over at Revgalblogpals has this Friday Five for us:

Last night was a restless night in my home. We are dog and cat sitting for our daughter, which means we have a combined household of three adult humans, four large dogs, two cats, and one kitten. And for some reason the dogs, cats, and kitten, all wanted to sleep in OUR bed. Did I mention that it's just a double bed? Did I mention that it was warm in our room - too cool to turn the air conditioning on but no breeze to blow the cool night air in....add to that my general age-related tendency toward insomnia, and it was a difficult night for sleeping.

A number of my facebook friends seem to have similar challenges sleeping....

So, on that note our Friday Five today will focus on sleep, or the lack there of.
1. Are you prone to sleep challenges? Insomnia, snoring, allergies? Other sleep challenges?
I usually sleep well, but the last few months, since the Senior Pastor retired, I have had some bouts of insomnia.  I can't seem to turn my brain off some nights, and I just keep thinking...

2. When you can't sleep what do you do? Toss and turn? Get up and read? Play computer games?
I should get up and read, but I do sometimes instead get up and play computer games.  Or knit.

3. When you do sleep do you remember your dreams? Or just snipets of them?
Just snippets.  Once in a while I get a whole dramatic dream.  In the last one that I remember, a young woman close to me died.  I woke up a number of times, and had to keep reminding myself it wasn't true.

4. Can you share a funny or confusing dream you've had? Or a dream you have over and over?
I have had a recurring dream where I am back in college and I keep forgetting to go to the classes, and just keep getting further and further behind.  (wonder what that one is about?)

5. When you don't sleep how do you get through the day? Lots of coffee? or a nap later in the day?
Coffee.  (although often coffee turns out to be a bad idea, later on.)  Usually can't get a nap in.

P.S. I have been having a hard time copying and pasting the Friday Five to my blog lately (mostly copying).  Any ideas?

Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Where Do You Draw the Line?

I've never been known for being hard-nosed. 

I'm not sure if this is a good or a bad thing.

For example, when I got to my first (rural) congregation, I found out that they liked to sit down for the songs before and after the sermon.  I personally think that people sing better when they are standing up; standing for hymns is also a part of my piety.  However, I didn't think it was worth fighting about.  So, we sat.  (Except, on occasion, when I would choose "Stand up, Stand up for Jesus as the Hymn of the Day.")

Though strictly speaking, there should not be any secular songs in a worship service, our contemporary service pianist has been known to play "Lean on Me" once in awhile for the offertory.  And when a woman insisted that the soloist sing the World War II song, "I'll Be Seeing You" for her mother's funeral, I just insisted that we move it from the end of the service (where she wanted it) to right after the Eulogy, before the Scripture readings.  Then in my sermon I could make a connection between the hopes of the people living during the War to our Christian hope for the Kingdom of God, and a place of nor more death and crying, war and separation.

Several years ago, I had a situation where I found that I could not be so accommodating.  I was asked to do a funeral for a woman who was related to our faith community by marriage.  They did not have a shared religious background, so when her husband came in, he mentioned a song that they had heard the Mormon Tabernacle choir sing.  I thought, well, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sings a lot of hymns, so I said I would take a look at it.

The tune was easy enough, but when I saw the words, I got a sort of queasy feeling in my stomach.  If we sang this song, it seemed to me that I would violating my ordination vows.  It is one of the few times that I have thought I understood the term another gospel.  It's been several years now, but I think the song requested was this one.  

I did not look forward to this conversation, but I knew that I couldn't allow those words to be sung in a Christian funeral service.  I discovered that the tune was also set to different, more theologically orthodox set of words, and suggested that we sing the tune with those other words.  Fortunately, the woman's husband understood my concern and agreed. 

I've been thinking about this lately because of the recent popularity of TV commentator Glenn Beck.  Thirty years ago, when I was hanging around with Evangelicals and Charismatics, they would have had Certain Opinions about his religion.  However, lately it seems that we are drawing lines in different places than we have done in the past.   Do we draw lines based on theology (sin and grace, Christian hope, the Trinity, ) or moral and ethical concerns (abortion, homosexuality), or political concerns, whether of the right or of the left?   And what does it matter where we draw our lines?  Does theology really matter much any more?

Let me know.

As for me, I think I draw the line on hope:  where do we find our hope? If I can't tell the truth about that, not much else matters. 

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Creative and Redeeming

(such as it is)
(I want to give credit to David Lose of workingpreacher for some of these ideas.)

I love baptisms. I just want you to know this, and I hope you do too (love baptisms).
I love baptisms, and just the other day I was saying that I felt that a baptism was a visual sermon – why do I even preach when there’s a baptism?
There’s so much truth right there in front of us – first there is the person being baptized, a baby, or a child, or an adolescent, or an adult
– it could be anyone.
But whoever that is, whatever age, whatever we know or don’t know about them – that person is receiving something from God – promises of God’s eternal life, promises of God’s commitment.
I love baptisms! – that sense of receiving a totally free, unearned gift from God that I see whenever I witness or perform a baptism.
(I riff on a few memorable baptisms here.)
Then there is the part where we make the sign of the cross on so many foreheads and say, “You are marked by the cross of Christ forever.”
The person receives a candle and is told to “Let your light so shine....”
And then we welcome the person into our fellowship and say:

“We welcome you into the body of Christ and into the mission we share: join us in giving thanks and praise to God and bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to all the world.”

Creative and redeeming: those two words describe the mission of God.
God has a mission in the world, and everyone whose is baptized receives both a promise and a mission
– to bear God’s creative and redeeming word to the world.
I love baptisms.
So much a visual sign of God’s grace and unearned love.
So much a sign of our mission in the world – sharing the light, bearing the cross.

What? You might say.
What does baptism have to do with bearing the cross?
To be more specific, what does baptism have to do our gospel reading from Luke today?

Today’s gospel seems to be the opposite of unearned love and grace.
These words warn of the cost of discipleship, what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus tells his followers that they must pick up their cross and follow him, which, believe me, is not a walk in the park, not a piece of cake, not like rolling off a log.
Being a follower of Jesus is not easy.
Bearing God’s creative and redeeming word to the world is not easy, or at least – it’s not always easy.

We might even ask that very Lutheran question: “What does this mean?”
Or, what does taking up our cross have to do with me, with my life?
What does taking up the cross having to do with the things I do every day,
like mowing the lawn and going to the state fair and going to work, or looking for work, or taking care of my children or my grandchildren?
What does taking up my cross have to do with that? What does taking up my cross have to do with most of the things that I do in my life?

I’ll be honest, I think we’ve been taught to hear this reading in a particular light.

We’ve been trained to think that when Jesus talks about “taking up the cross”, he’s referring to some major spiritual suffering or endurance test.
We’ve been trained to think of mostly pretty well-known people, who rose to the occasion in a time of crisis:
people like Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Corrie ten Boom, who, in one way or another, went up against the Nazis.
And we’ve been trained, I think, to consider “taking up the cross” as only in explicitly religious terms: what we do on behalf of the faith.
But, what if it’s simpler than that?
What if it’s more ordinary?
As one biblical scholar has put it: “Bearing a cross has nothing to do with chronic illness, painful physical conditions, or trying family relationships.
It is instead what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.”

Think about that: taking up a cross is what we do voluntarily as a consequence of our commitment to Jesus Christ.
And what if that includes – well – everything?
Yes, teaching Sunday School and helping with confirmation and taking communion to shut-ins and counting the offering,

but also – being an accountant, a teacher, a doctor, a machinist, a clerk.
Or changing diapers, mowing the lawn, voting, advocating, supporting international adoptions, volunteering, driving a bus.
Whenever we allow the whole of our lives to be shaped by our commitment to Christ – we are bearing the cross.
Mowing the lawn is God’s work – because it’s God’s lawn, after all.
Caring for your children is God’s work – they are God’s children, entrusted to us for awhile.
Someone I know is donating his kidney to someone else – except that he said, “Well, actually, it’s God’s kidney, I’ve just been using it for awhile.”

I consider all the people I know here, and the different things I know that they do, ordinary, extraordinary things “for the sake of Christ.”
One person I know speaks on behalf of cancer research, particularly childhood cancer; another assists with the youngest children in the Richfield Public School system.
Another person helps people with speech difficulties after a stroke; another delivers packages, and yet another works in public safety.

A young man from this congregation has completed basic training and has become a sort of informal chaplain in his unit.
I have to say that I had no idea when he was in confirmation, but God works in mysterious ways.
Everything we do, even the most difficult – maybe especially the most difficult – work that we do, we are invited to do for the sake of Christ, out of commitment to Christ.
For God cares about our immortal souls, and God cares about our daily lives, and the daily lives of our neighbors.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son.... to die for us...
and for God so loved the world that he wanted some of us to be teachers, and some of us to be machinists, and some of us to be parents, and some of us to be nurses, and some of us to be police officers, and some of us to go into the Peace Corp, all for the sake of Christ.

Knowing this, of course, doesn’t make life easier. When we are baptized, whenever that is, we are marked by the cross of Christ – and that means a least two things.
It means that we receive God’s promise of life, forgiveness, love and care for our whole lives.

We are marked by the cross of Christ, one of God’s beloved children, an heir of all of God’s gifts.
But we are marked by the cross and that means that we are God’s person, God’s representative, doing God’s work where-ever we go
– and some of God’s work is a pleasure to do, and some of God’s work is hard, and sometimes God’s work takes courage.
Just ask Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Or Corrie ten Boom. Or any parent, at one time another.
Or ask a sales clerk, trying to be helpful, after standing for several hours, and dealing with crabby customers.
Or anyone who has offered a gift to someone who doesn’t want it.
In all we do, we bear God’s creative and redeeming word to the world.
In all we do, we share our commitment to the one who came to love, forgive and bless the world.
In all we do we show our commitment to the one who was rejected, but who loved the whole world anyway.

So, “you are sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked by the cross of Christ forever.”
So look at your hands this day. The work of your hands is holy work, the work of loving and blessing the world.
The work of your hands is Holy work.

I want you to put you hands out, palms up like this.
And I want the person sitting next to you to make the sign of cross in the palm of your hand.
And say these words, “You are marked with the cross of Christ. Blessed be the work of your hands.”

(Have them say that.)

“You – today – baptized children of God – you are marked with the cross of Christ. Let the light of God’s love shine in you. And ... blessed be the work of your hands.”


A Prayer for Labor Day

Blessed be the works of our hands, O Holy One.
Blessed be the hands that have touched life.
Blessed be the hands that have nurtured creativity.
Blessed be the hands that have held pain.
Blessed be the hands that have embraced with passion.
Blessed be the hands that have tended gardens.
Blessed be the hands that have closed in anger.
Blessed be the hands that have planted new seeds.
Blessed be the hands that have harvested ripe fields.
Blessed be the hands that have cleaned, washed, mopped, scrubbed.
Blessed be the hands that have wrinkled and scarred from doing justice.
Blessed be the hands that have reached out and been received.
Blessed be the hands that hold the promise of the future.
Blessed be the works of your hands, O Holy One.  Amen.

I found this prayer  here.