Essential Work

Fourth Sunday of Easter

 

 

Psalm 23

John 10:1-11

Every year, employment agencies and worker advocacy groups publish lists of the most dangerous jobs in America. Usually, there is little variation among these lists. At the top are occupations in which people are exposed to some of the harsher, untamed elements of the natural world, like commercial fishermen and loggers, or those who labor in precarious worksites, like roofers and steel-beam construction workers. Using our imaginations, we could probably come up with some other vocations that carry with them the likelihood or inevitability of danger—firefighters, police officers, members of the military. Few people would argue that these are dangerous jobs.

Lately, though, as the COVID-19 crisis has caused us to think about a lot of things differently, I can’t help but be struck by just how dangerous some other jobs have become, jobs that we normally wouldn’t think of as particularly hazardous but which have come to carry an inescapable element of very real danger. Health-care workers, from doctors and nurses to respiratory therapists, pharmacists, chaplains, and various other hospital support staff, have been on the front-lines of this situation. Each day, so many of these brave workers don their masks and gloves and take their health into their own hands, caring for those who are suffering greatly.

But beyond these heroes in the medical profession, we can look to others whose work we so often have taken for granted—grocery store workers dedicated to providing people with the food they need, deliverymen and women who make it possible for people to stay at home and still receive essential items, janitors and custodial staffs committed to keeping environments clean and safe for others. We don’t often think of these jobs as dangerous, but in these times, when we need them most, they certainly can be. We don’t often think of these people as heroic, but our current situation has driven home the point that so often, it’s those we’re most prone to overlook who are the truly essential members of our communities. Read more

No Weapon But Grace

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:5-12
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

One morning, when my daughter was about four years old and deep in another “Daddy is Doo-Doo” phase during which my wife’s presence was infinitely preferable to mine, she called for her mother from the comfort of her own bed. My wife was in the shower and unable to answer, and the tone of my daughter’s voice quickly escalated from polite request to imperious demand. Even today, when I think of my now nineteen year-old daughter, I hear Helena, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, saying, “though she be but little, she is fierce.”

I stepped to the threshold of her room and peeked in to reassure myself that my daughter wasn’t in distress, but that was too much for her. She sat bolt upright from her pillow, glared at me with what I recognized as her “evil stare of death,” and bellowed, “Not you again!”

I took it on the chin that morning – at least verbally – but my daughter and I laugh about that encounter now. She’s an accomplished young woman with astonishing emotional intelligence, and if she hasn’t lost her knack for tactical ferocity, she knows I’m on her side and rarely, if ever, bares her teeth in my presence.

I thought of that morning as I read this week’s readings and said, less emphatically than my daughter, “Not sheep again!” I’ve shared my feelings about sheep here before, drawing on memories of my days on the Navajo Nation. I don’t begrudge the little critters their place on earth, though they’d likely vanish as a species without humans forever saving them from peril. For this week’s readings, however, I attended less to the dumbness of the lambs than the witness of the shepherd. Read more

Coming In, Going Out

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:36-47
1 Peter 2:19-25
John 10:1-10

Theologian David McCarthy, in a recent book on the Communion of Saints, puts forward the notion of “social desire.” “Our social desire,” he writes, “is our desire for shared life. It is a desire for a meaningful life. It is a desire and hope that my everyday endeavors do not stop with me, that who I am as son, brother, friend, father, theologian, neighbor and coach does not end with how it makes me feel…” Rather, he avers, social desire seeks connection with others in a metaphysical framework that orients us socially, makes us whole in community.

The Communion of Saints, he claims, embodies the kinship, with others and God, that grounds us cosmically. McCarthy’s words seem to me an explication of these terse few lines from Acts 2, which describe the openness and sharing of the post-Pentecost church. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all each according to each one’s need.”

If social desire is so basic, and Luke’s church embodies it so well, why do I find it so difficult, sitting or kneeling or standing in church of a Sunday, to open myself to God and fellow members? Read more

Amazing Grace

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 15: 1-10

About a year ago I buried one of our church’s founding members. Back in 1968, Archie McDonald and a handful of others started our congregation, in order to have a local church with membership policies that were not segregated. Archie was a professor and historian, ornery and rough-hewn, but he had a profound sense that it was only due to the grace of a loving God that he existed at all and only by God’s grace did our church exist. He knew what the dying priest knew in Bernanos’ Diary of a Country Priest, “It’s all grace.”

The very meaning of the word “grace” is “undeserved favor.” We do not deserve it. If it is deserved, then it is not grace and it is certainly not amazing.

Which is why Archie’s favorite hymn was “Amazing Grace.” As he said, “it is the one hymn most about me, especially the part about saving wretches and being found.” And he liked to call our congregation, the “Amazing Grace Baptist Church” because there was and continues to be a sense that we’re all lost yet we’ve been found by the loving Good Shepherd. Read more

Signs, Sheep, and Shepherds

Luke 15:1-10

Our church’s logo is a shepherd’s staff, based upon the parable of the lost sheep, along with Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd of John 10. We’ve had this shepherd’s staff with our congregation’s name written beside it out front on our sign since 1979 and it is on our letterhead, Sunday order of worship, and website. This shepherd’s staff is a constant reminder to us and to others of our vocation – who we hope to be and are called to be. More than that, it always reminds us who God is.

Our congregation began in 1968 as a gathering for lost sheep, black sheep, burned-out and beaten-up sheep, with a few old goats thrown in, as well. A lot of us were lost, but here, by the grace of the Loving Shepherd, we’ve been found. Furthermore, because of our own experiences, we have sought to make this congregation a body, or flock, where other lost sheep can find a home. Read more