Stories, Anecdotes, Sermon Illustrations
The stories, anecdotes, and sermon illustrations are arranged alphabetically and thematically. Readers are welcome to use this material provided they acknowledge the source.
Aging/Preparing for death/Determination
In the movie, The Straight Story, based on the real life story of Alvin Straight; Alvin receives a phone call informing him that his brother Lyle, whom he hadn’t seen in ten years, just had a stroke.
Alvin himself was struggling with health problems and old age. His hips were worn out and he walked with two canes; his eyesight was poor and he lost his driver’s licence on account of his impaired vision; and the doctor suspected that he might be developing a diabetic problem.
Against all the advise of his doctor, that he should attend to his health matters; Alvin stubbornly refuses to follow his doctor’s recommendations. He then proceeds to focus his life on how he might see his brother Lyle again. He builds a trailer, purchases a 1966 John Deere garden and lawn tractor; packs what he needs in the trailer; then sets out for the trip from his home in Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin to visit Lyle.
He realizes that this may be his last chance to see Lyle, so is very determined to complete the journey. After a few heartwarming and humorous adventures along the way, he safely reaches his brother Lyle’s home.
We too are given only a limited amount of time and opportunities in our life. We, like Alvin Straight, need to prepare for our death; to say good-bye to those whom we love; to bring closure to our lives; and to focus our lives on what really matters with great determination. (Dim Lamp)
“As many as are baptized are baptized into Jesus’ death,” and many believe that since Paul spoke of the Church as the corporate, communal body of Christ, even the youngest members of the community should rightly undergo the ritual. Baptism, from this perspective, is perhaps the ideal sacrament of the Gospel because it speaks of God’s grace, God’s choice, and not what we believe. Children are, after all, registered as citizens of a particular country and they acquire privileges of nationality without having any conscious say or choice in the matter. Is baptism into the Christian community like this? From: Paul Trudinger, Mirrors for Identity (Kingston, ON: Ronald P. Frye and Co., 1988), p. 23.
As for the subject of cheating in school, here’s what the “Who’s Who” students had to say:
-40% said cheating is absolutely wrong, although 32% admitted cheating in school in the past but not now.
-26% agreed with the statement: “I don’t like to cheat but sometimes feel it’s necessary to keep my grade point average up.” Only 14% agreed with the statement: “Cheating can be justified by intense competition for high grades needed for college.”
-70% said personal motivation to achieve was the most important element in being a good student. 11% said the most important thing was having parents who care about what you do in school, and the same number cited paying attention in class. Only 4% said that having teachers who care about you was the most important element in being a good student. (Clergy Talk, January, 1985, p. 20).
Death is not our school curriculum.
Except perhaps in a biology course, death and dying are not considered.
Instead of a normal part of life, death is treated as an unexpected emergency, something that happens when the medical community fails. We always die “of something”–as though if it weren’t for that disease or accident, we could have lived on. “Old age” or “worn out” or “life completed” are concepts not found on death certificates or in obituaries.
Death in our time means crisis.
Preparing for (death) is like wearing an existential seat belt.
You should do what’s right for you and your family.
But you should do it.
After they know they are going to die, people often live and die well.
From: Robert Fulghum, From Beginning to End: The Rituals Of Our Lives (New York: Villard Books, 1995), pp. 202, 226-227.
After the revolution in Russia, all the churches were closed in Odessa except for one small church where only a side door was left open so that the old women of the area could go in and pray.
However the people of the area felt it inconceivable that they couldn’t have Holy Communion on Easter. So for eleven years, beginning early in the morning until late that night or early Easter morning, one priest would come out of hiding and serve Holy Communion. After each Easter, the priest would disappear and was never heard of again
But the church was growing underground. Hundreds of thousands of believers in Odessa met in the woods around the city.
Faith-living it/Witnessing/Deeds of Kindness/Business Ethics
Like many other Canadian pioneers, the first Jew to settle permanently in Ottawa was a colourful and exciting personality. Moses Bilsky was born in Russian Poland in 1829, and he reached Ottawa from New York in 1858. He faithfully adhered to the Jewish dietary laws as well as to other traditional religious practices.
Bilsky was one of those unique men for whom Jewish belief and tradition constituted a way of life. As a banker, he was reputed never to have charged interest on loans to poor persons, Jew or Gentile. When he encountered a Jew who showed no interest in the religious community, or who lacked proper conduct, he refused to lend him/her money at all. Reverend Mirsky tells how one night, during a fierce blizzard, Bilsky appeared outside his door covered with snow. He was dragging a sleigh piled high with fruit, loaves of bread, vegetables, milk, butter, cheese, and eggs.
Bilsky took hold of a string tied to the sleigh and pulling it behind him, walked by my side. With the snow beating his face he told me that he had just learned that the family of the rascal whom he had refused a loan was in want. He would not cross the threshold of his house; but he wanted me (Reverend Mirsky) to bring the cargo to the needy folks.
From: Stuart E. Rosenberg, The Jewish Community In Canada: Volume I A History (Toronto/Montreal: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1970), pp. 92-93.
Good Samaritan/Love neighbour/Luke 10:25-37
How does the Samaritan embody being a neighbor? First, he approaches the wounded man. He enters into the wounded man’s situation.
The word “compassion,” helps us understand the quality of the “approach,” for it is important in the biblical text as well. To have compassion, etymologically, means “to suffer with.” It means to suffer alongside, to enter fully into the situation of the other, sharing whatever comes. The initiative is not taken to fulfill some formal religious obligation but to act out of care and concern for the other. The Greek word referring to “compassion” in verse 32, Gutierrez notes, can be translated, “because his heart was melting.”
The second thing Gutierrez highlights is that by approaching the wounded man, the Samaritan made him his neighbor. Being a neighbor makes the one who is approached into a neighbor also. In this sense, Gutierrez can affirm, “The neighbor is not [the one] whom I find in my path but rather [the one] in whose path I place myself, [the one] whom I approach and actively seek” (G. Gutierrez, The Power of the Poor in History, p. 198). Cited in: Robert McAfee Brown, Unexpected News: Reading the Bible with Third World Eyes (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1984), pp. 111-112.
Health, Illness & Medicine
[Martin] Luther himself struggled with illness, and in this struggle he found resources to cope with the issues of sickness and health. Luther suffered personally from physical, psychological and spiritual illness.
His primary response to personal and social suffering was to proclaim God’s forgiveness of sinners. This did not mean either escaping from suffering or trivializing of it, but rather trusting that in some way suffering was linked to God’s choice to redeem persons and the world through Christ’s death on the cross. Although the whys and wherefores of illness and death were frequently not clear to him, he remained confident of never being deserted by Christ.
He succinctly stated that God’s unconditional gift of salvation was not the goal of life, but its presupposition:
The gospel commands us to look, not at our own deeds or perfection but at God himself as he promises, and at Christ himself the Mediator. And this is the reason why our theology is certain: it snatches us away from ourselves and places us outside ourselves, so that we do not depend on our own strength, experience, person, or works but depend on that which is outside ourselves, that is, on the promise and truth of God, which cannot deceive. (Luther’s Works, Vol. 26, p. 387).
The burden of proof for salvation and well-being rests upon God, not upon persons. To the achievement-oriented Middle Ages (as to our own), this was a radical shift of perspective.
But this reorientation did not lead Luther to spiritualize illness and suffering. To the contrary, Luther respected doctors but his faith convinced him that they did not have the last word. Luther expected doctors to seek and treat the natural causes of illness with medical remedies. Yet he also believed that illness was not just an external invasion of the body. He said that when Satan instigates a disease, then a “higher medicine, namely, faith and prayer,” must be applied. From: R.L. Numbers & D.W. Amundsen, editors, Caring and Curing: Health and Medicine in the Western Religious Traditions (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), “Chapter 6: The Lutheran Tradition,” by Carter Lindberg, pp. 176-178.
Influence-Example of a grandmother
My grandmother on my mom’s side who lived with us was filled with nobility and goodness, told me once that happiness isn’t on the road to anything. That happiness is the road. Had also instructed me to be kind because everyone you’ll ever meet is fighting a hard battle. (Bob Dylan speaking about his grandmother). From: Bob Dylan, Bob Dylan Chronicles: Volume One (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), p. 20.
Jesus’ Jewishness & Matthew 5:17-19
In all rabbinic literature I know of no more unequivocal, fiery acknowledgement of Israel’s holy scripture than this opening to the Instruction on the Mount.
Jesus is here more radical even than Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba and Rabbi Johanan, both of whom were prepared to renounce a letter–that is, a written character–of the Torah if doing so would publicly sanctify the name of God (see Yeb 79a).
Here it also becomes celar that Matthew saw his Master not as a new lawgiver but as the legitimate interpreter of God’s will as contained in the Torah. Jesus is no anti-Moses to Matthew, but rather one who carries on from Moses who had begun to expound the teaching of Sinai in his own time: “Moses began to expound this Torah” (Deut. 1:5). The “people of the book,” who celebrated even their greatest kings as interpreters of scripture, would necessarily also expect their Messiah to be a teacher of Torah. In fact, this expectation went so far that in Jesus’ lifetime one spoke of a “Torah of the Messiah”–not a new Torah, but a new explanation of the eternal instruction of Sinai, which would reveal all the riches of that spiritual treasury, disclose its fundamental intention, and solve all the puzzles hidden in it.
Jesus neither destroyed nor misappropriated this Torah. On the contrary, he confirmed and affirmed it. Although he urged its highest fulfillment through the development of its original ethics, he, like many other rabbis, suggested his own exegesis–the radical demand of love, the center of Jesus’ ethic. From: Pinchas Lapide, The Sermon On The Mount: Utopia or Program For Action? (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986), p. 14.
Kingdom of God
There are those who in their very first seeking of it are nearer to the kingdom of heaven than many who have for years believed themselves in it. In the former there is more of the mind of Jesus, and when he calls them, they recognize him at once and go after him. The others examine him from head to foot, and finding him not sufficiently like the Jesus of their conception, turn their backs, and go to church to kneel before a vague form mingled of tradition and imagination. (p. 104)
Later in the novel, the curate, Thomas Wingfold, stops in to visit Mr. Drew who has a linendraper shop. Wingfold reflects upon the deeper meaning of a business transaction between Mr. Drew and a customer.
“I am beginning to suspect,” declared the curate after a pause, “that the common transactions of life are sacred channels for the spread of the heavenly leaven. There was ten times more of the divine in selling her that material in the name of God as you did than there would have been in taking her into your pew and singing out of the same hymnbook with her.” (p. 119) From: George MacDonald, The Curate’s Awakening (Minneapolis: Michael Phillips, Hampshire Books-a trademark of Bethany House Publishers).
Looking Beyond Self
The actress Lillah McCarthy describes how once she went in great great misery to see George Bernard Shaw, just after she had been deserted by her husband:
I was shivering, Shaw sat very still. The fire brought me warmth… How long we sat there I do not know, but presently I found myself walking with dragging steps with Shaw beside me… up and down Adelphi Terrace. The weight upon me grew a little lighter and released the tears which would never come before… He let me cry. Presently I heard a voice in which all the gentleness and tenderness of the world was speaking. It said: ‘Look up dear, look up to the heavens. There is more in life than this. There is much more.’ From: A.K. Ware, The Orthodox Way (London & Oxford: Mowbrays, 19790), p. 54.
A man once asked his friend why he had never married. The friend sighed and said, “Well, I guess I’ve never met the right woman. I guess I’ve been looking for the perfect woman.”
“Oh, come on now,” said his friend, “surely you’ve met at least one woman that you wanted to marry.”
“Yes, there was one–I guess she was the one perfect woman, the only perfect woman I really ever met. She was perfect in every way. I really thought she was the perfect one for me.”
“Well, why didn’t you marry her,” asked the friend.
“She was looking for the perfect man,” he said. Source unknown
Nature/Psalm 19:2-5; Romans 8:19-22; Revelation 21:1; 22:1-2
I was sitting under a tree with a great biologist. Suddenly he exclaimed, “I would like to know something about this tree!” He, of course, knew everything that science had to say about it. I asked him what he meant. And he answered, “I want to know what this tree means for itself. I want to understand the life of this tree. It is so strange, so unapproachable.” He longed for a sympathetic understanding of the life of nature. But such an understanding is possible only by communion between humans and nature. Is such communion possible in our period of history? Many of us have lost the ability to live with nature. We fill it with the noise of empty talk, instead of listening to its many voices, and, through them, to the voiceless music of the universe. Separated from the soil by a machine, we speed through nature, catching glimpses of it, but never comprehending its greatness or feeling its power.
No one who has ever listened to the sounds of nature with sympathy can forget their tragic melodies. The sighing sound of the wind and the ever-restless, futile breaking of the waves may have inspired the poetic, melancholic verse about nature’s subjection to vanity. The melancholy of the leaves falling in autumn, the end of the jubilant life of spring and summer, the quiet death of innumerable beings in the cold air of the approaching winter–all this has grasped and always will grasp the hearts, not only of poets, but of every feeling man and woman.
Sympathy with nature in its tragedy is not a sentimental emotion; it is a true feeling of the reality of nature. We saw innumerable small fish hurrying toward the beach. They were pursued by bigger ones, who, in turn, were chased by still bigger ones. Aggression, flight, and anxiety–a perfect illustration of the old, often used story of the big fish devouring the small ones, in nature as in history. From: Paul Tillich, The Shaking of the Foundations (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948), pp. 79-83.
In the character of (Thomas) Wingfold we see a host of qualities which accompany openness–humility, a willingness to admit oneself ignorant, a lack of airs, an absence of defenses. Thomas had no walls standing between his true self and the outside world, no predisposition to argue or justify or defend or show where another was in the wrong. And intrinsic to the open mind and heart, MacDonald clarifies the vital and necessary role of doubt. The open mind, he insists, has the courage to voice uncertainties and to seek logical, and reasonable and scriptural answers–answers compatible with God’s character. In The Curate’s Awakening we encounter one of MacDonald’s most contemplative, spiritual books which directly confronts the most basic of questions: Is Christianity true? Does it make sense? Are its precepts to be believed? Or is it a hoax?
To MacDonald, the attributes lived out by his title character comprise the essence of spirituality. It is not how much a person knows, but how willing one is to learn; not where one stands, but in which direction (s)he is progressing; not what doubts (s)he harbors, but into what truth such doubts eventually lead; not how spiritual one may appear in (people’s) eyes, but how much truth that one is seeking in the quietness of (her)his own heart. From the Introduction, written by Michael Phillips, to George MacDonald, The Curate’s Awakening (Minneapolis: Hampshire Books is a trademark of Bethany House Publishers, 1985. Originally published as Thomas Wingfold, Curate in 1876 by Hurst & Blackett Publishers, London), p. 9.
Former Israeli fighter pilot Gil Fogiel rarely talked about being a prisoner of war in Syria until he sat across a campfire in the middle of the desert with people he long considered his worst enemies–Iraqis, Iranians and Palestinians.
Breaking down into tears, he recounted being shot down over Syria-controlled Lebanon in 1982, parachuting from 4270 metres up while his co-pilot crashed and spending two years being tortured in a Damascus prison.
Now 49, Fogiel is one of 10 people–including a former body double for Saddam Hussein’s son, Uday; a Palestinian accounting student; and a New York City firefighter who survived the Sept. 11 attacks–trekking from Israel across the Sahara Desert to Libya on a mission to promote Mideast peace.
The expedition is sponsored by Breaking the Ice, a Berlin-based nonprofit conflict resolution group that wants participants to confront divisive religious and political issues in a setting where they depend on each other for survival.
Travelling by camel, foot and in two 1960’s-era German trucks, the group left Jerusalem on March 7 and hopes to reach the Libyan border by tomorrow.
Carrying an olive tree from Jerusalem as a gesture of peace, the travellers hope to plant it in Tripoli at the end of their more than 5,470-km journey.
If the Israelis are denied entry, the group will stay together in Egypt.
“If attitudes change from my actions, I’m honoured,” Fogeil said.
“Somebody’s got to make that first step.”
Daniel Patrick Sheridan, a captain in the New York Fire Department who lost 343 comrades in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, is still looking for answers.
He wants to know what possessed the perpetrators of the attack to fly airplanes into buildings.
“I’d like to not only find out about them, but let them find out about me,” Sheridan said.
“I was hoping there’d be a real bin Laden-type guy here, someone I couldn’t communicate with at all. But all these people are so friendly and nice.” From “Peace of the Sahara: Desert crossers join forces in push for Mideast harmony,” in The Calgary Sun, Monday, March 20, 2006, p. 24.
THE POOR, over 2000 verses in the Bible
I don’t know whether you realize this, but there are over two thousand verses of Scripture that call upon us to stand up for the poor, to feed the poor, to bring justice to the poor. Two thousand verses that really direct us to concern ourselves with the poor. You know it bothers me because churches invest in stained-glass windows and organs and carpets and all kinds of stuff. They don’t understand that the Bible primarily says none of this means anything if you haven’t committed yourself to the poor. The Bible deals with the poor over and over again. –Tony Campolo, “The Victory of Justice,” at <www.csec.org/csec/sermon/campolo_4905htm>
Questions in the Bible/Our Questions
On her deathbed, Gertrude Stein is said to have asked, “What is the answer?” Then, after a long silence, “What is the question?” Don’t start looking in the Bible for the answers it gives. Start by listening for the questions it asks.
We are much involved, all of us, with questions about things that matter a good deal today but will be forgotten by this time tomorrow—the immediate wheres and whens and hows that face us daily at home and at work—but at the same time we tend to lose track of the questions about things that matter always, life-and-death questions about meaning, purpose, and value. To lose track of such deep questions as these is to risk losing track of who we really are in our own depths and where we are really going. There is perhaps no stronger reason for reading the Bible than that somewhere among all those India-paper pages there awaits each reader whoever (s)he is the one question which, though for years (s)he may have been pretending not to hear it, is the central question of (her)his own life. Here are a few of them:
- What is a (mortal) profited if (s)he shall gain the whole world and lose (her)his own soul? (Matthew 16:26)
- Am I my (sister’s)brother’s keeper? (Genesis 4:9)
- If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)
- What is truth? (John 18:38)
- How can a (person) be born when (s)he is old? (John 3:4)
- What does a (person) gain by all the toil at which (s)he toils under the sun? (Ecclesiastes 1:3)
- Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? (Psalm 139:7)
- Who is my neighbour? (Luke 10:29)
- What shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Luke 10:25)
When you hear the question that is your question, then you have already begun to hear much. Whether you can accept the Bible’s answer or not, you have reached the point where at least you can begin to hear it too. From: Frederick Buechner, Listening to Your Life (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), pp. 124-125.
In the Swedish movie, Jerusalem (1996), which—among other things—tells the story of how an apocalyptic-sectarian preacher brings hellfire and brimstone into a peasant community of Sweden around the turn of the 20th century. Consequently, the community is divided, and some of its members follow this fanatical preacher to live in a community in Jerusalem.
Two of the main characters, Ingmar, Jr., and Gertrud fall in love, but alas, it’s not meant to be. To keep his inheritance, Ingmar is forced to marry another woman named Barbro. At first, he doesn’t love her. But as time goes on, he comes to love her and the couple have a child together. Barbro however feels the child is not blessed and still has doubts about whether Ingmar really loves her. The couple agree on a legal separation and Ingmar travels to Jerusalem to find his former love, Gertrud.
However, things have changed, Gertrud no longer loves Ingmar. She has come to love Jesus instead. Eventually, through a series of events, both Ingmar and Gertrud return to Sweden. Once they reach home, Gerturd is welcomed by her parents with joy. Ingmar and Barbro are also reconciled while they bring their baby to the church to be baptized.
This closing baptismal scene is a living sign of new life and hope for the couple and their son in the future.
SABBATH & SOUL/PSALM 23, He restores my soul
Do you know who was the first to replenish his soul on the Sabbath? God Himself. In the Book of Exodus, we read, “You shall keep My Sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the generations…that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed” (Exodus 31:13, 17). In Hebrew, the verbs referring to God’s resting and being refreshed are shavat, “He stopped,” from which we get the word “Sabbath,” and yinafash, literally “He got His soul back.”
If we put our soul into our work, if, rather than just going through the motions, what we do flows from the deepest part of our being, then after a burst of creativity, we need to replenish our souls. If we only put forth and never take in, eventually we will run dry. Even God had to pause after a creative effort to let His soul be restored.
When we lose someone we love, when death, divorce, or other circumstances separate us from a “soul mate,” we feel that our souls have been diminished. Human souls are nourished by love, by relationships, and to sever a relationship is to chip away at a person’s soul. That is why we need prayer and healing, mediated through friends and other good people, to “restore our souls.”
When events challenge our faith so that we find it hard to believe that this world is God’s world, that is when we need God to restore our souls, to reinforce our ability to believe in ourselves and in our ability to do good things. Even as a faithful shepherd gives his(her) flock the food and water they need to be sheep, God, our faithful shepherd, gives us the strength of soul we need to be human. From: Harold S. Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd: Healing Wisdom Of The Twenty-Third Psalm (New York: A Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2003), pp. 65-66, 71.
TRUTH, TELLING IT/EXPOSING LIES/CONFESSINGAfter hiding the truth about his father for almost 50 years, Anton Ahlers told the truth. His father, Tonny Ahlers, was a Dutch anti-Semite, he hated the Jews and even engaged in violent attacks against them. In World War II, Tonny Ahlers betrayed Otto Frank and his family—including Anne Frank—by telling the Nazis where the Franks were hiding. The Nazis found the Franks and shipped them off to Auschwitz. All of them except Otto were killed in the Holocaust. After remaining silent about his father’s betrayal for some 50 years, Anton Ahlers has now agreed to shed light on his father’s past and expose the truth. “I have kept silent all these years,” he says. “It’s now time to tell the truth. Enough lies. No more lies.” From: The Guardian, Monday July 29, 2002, www.guardian.co.uk/.
UNITY OF CHRISTIANS-HOSTILITY TOWARDS
There is a certain hostility to the idea of Christian unity. The very process of ecumenical discussion raises the question of what each partner believes. The issue of the identity of separate churches is sharpened. I like to tell the story of the old Scotsman who became more and more agitated at the time of the Anglican-Presbyterian unity discussions some years ago. He would not have bishops in the Scots Kirk. His family could not understand this. ‘But father,’ they said, ‘you’re an atheist.’ ‘Aye,’ he replied, ‘but I’m a Presbyterian atheist.’ From: Robert Runcie, The Unity We Seek (London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd., 1989), p. 12.
VULNERABILITY/HURTING & HEALING
Openness requires of us vulnerability—the ability, even the willingness, to be wounded….if you were deliberately to put your arm into a grinding piece of machinery, you would be an utter idiot. You would be damaged for naught. But if your attempt to live your life without ever being hurt, you won’t be able to live at all, except perhaps in a very softly padded cell.
The word “vulnerability” is also ambiguous because it does not distinguish between physical and emotional wounding. It is not just that as children we will not be able to climb trees without risking scraped knees; it is more a matter of emotional pain. There is no way that we can live a rich life unless we are willing to suffer repeatedly, experiencing depression and despair, fear and anxiety, grief and sadness, anger and the agony of forgiving, confusion and doubt, criticism and rejection. A life lacking these emotional upheavals will not only be useless to ourselves, it will be useless to others. We cannot heal without being willing to be hurt.
Our cultural attitude is particularly ridiculous for those who call themselves Christians. He whom they call “Lord” not only lived and died vulnerably but was a failure according to our usual measurements. We worship a man whose life was ended by his execution as a petty, provincial political prisoner between two even more ordinary criminals, spat upon by his executioners, betrayed by his followers, and largely deserted by his friends—a total loser in the world’s terms. Perhaps the best motto for Christianity is “In weakness strength.” (II Corinthians 12:9) Certainly the most compelling prerequisite for membership in the true Church is that one has to know oneself to be a sinner. It is quite properly a Church of Weaklings, worshiping a God who in paradoxical weakness rules the world. As G.K. Chesterton stated so well: “The Christian ideal, it is said, has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” From: M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum: Community Making And Peace (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp. 226-231.
A significant and often overlooked way that we serve God is in our everyday tasks. Martin Luther understood this when he wrote, ‘The maid who sweeps her kitchen is doing the will of God just as much as the monk who prays—not because she may sing a Christian hymn as she sweeps but because God loves clean floors. The Christian shoemaker does (her)his duty not by putting little crosses on the shoes, but by making good shoes, because God is interested in good craftsmanship.’
But he quickly adds that a ‘cobbler, a smith, a peasant—each has the work and office of (her)his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops. Further, everyone must benefit and serve every other by means of (her)his own work or office so that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, just as all the members of the body serve one another (1 Cor. 12:14-26).’ From: Martin Luther, Three Treatises from the American edition of Luther’s Works, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation” (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970), p. 15.
YOUTH/LIFE/MAKING A DIFFERENCE
When we worry that our lives are passing in a parade of trivialities and insignificant events, when…we yearn to do things that matter and feel like failures because we haven’t, I have always found that an effective cure for that feeling of insignificance is simply to find someone who needs our help and reach out to that person. A reader wrote to Ann Landers suggesting a cure for teenage moodiness and anger at the world: Get them involved in some form of community service. “Teens who help others are fifty percent less likely to join gangs, use drugs or become pregnant.” Their high-school grades are better, and dropout rates are lower. One suspects that a lot of the self-destructive anti-social behavior of young people, who can be so beautifully idealistic, arises to fill the vacuum of their feeling that they have nothing important to do. Giving them something to do, making them feel important in somebody’s life (and isn’t that why so many teenage girls become sexually active at a young age, to feel important to somebody?), makes them feel better about themselves. From: Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life That Matters (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), p. 130.