Rabbi Jeffery Salkin, author of numerous books on Judaism, and rabbi of Temple Israel in Columbus, Georgia, tells this story in his book, “Being God’s Partner,”…
“A few years ago, a young taxi driver drove me to John F. Kennedy Airport, on Long Island. After a few minutes of conversation, I discovered that Mike had belonged to my synagogue years before I came to the community.
‘So, rabbi,’ he asked, while we sat in heavy traffic, ‘What do you say to a Jew like me who hasn’t been to a synagogue since his bar mitzvah ceremony?’
Thinking a moment, I realized that in Hassidic lore, the baal aqalah (the wagon driver) is an honored profession. So I said, ‘We could talk about your work.’
‘What does my work have to do with religion?’
‘Well, we choose how we look at the world and at life. You’re a taxi driver. But you are also a piece of the tissue that connects all humanity. You’re taking me to the airport. I’ll go to a different city and give a couple of lectures that might touch or help or change someone. I couldn’t have gotten there without you. You help make that connection happen.’
‘I heard you on your two-way radio after you drop me off, you’re going to pick up a woman from the hospital and take her home. That means that you’ll be the first non-medical person she encounters after being in a hospital. You will be a small part of her healing process, an agent in her re-entry into the world of health.’
‘You may then pick up someone from the train station who has come home from seeing a dying parent. You may take someone to the house of the one he or she will ask to join in marriage. You’re a connector, a bridge builder. You’re one of the unseen people who make the world work as well as it does. That is holy work. You may not think of it this way, but yours is a sacred mission.”
We have just celebrated the birth of Christ, the incarnation of God, Emmanuel, of the one who has come to live among us, the Word made flesh. We celebrated the sacred occasion of naming this holy one, Jesus – that was our worship service last Sunday. And today, in the Gospel of Mark we hear that the child is already grown, and is being baptized in the river Jordan. His ministry as the Holy One, his sacred work, in the Gospel of Mark begins – for the Holy Spirit descended upon him like a dove – and we hear that he is God’s beloved. Jesus is the bridge builder for us, the way in which God comes to know us more deeply and we come to know God.
The Holy Spirit, the active energy of God is manifesting God’s desire into the baptism of Jesus, into the world, into our lives, in and through us. And, by virtue of our baptism, the Holy Spirit infuses us with her energy, guides our work, and enables us to partner with God. The Holy Spirit is means by which the bridge is built between humanity and God.
It is God who has chosen us, chosen to let our hands be God’s hands, to let our feet take us where God desires, and put into our mouths the words of compassion that God would have us say. But, though it be God’s desire it still require us to respond, to do, to act, to participate with God.
The Acts of the Apostles gives us a glimpse into the life of the early church and the mystical reality of God acting in creation and the response of humanity to God. Into that glimpse this morning we find St. Paul baptizing a group of people in Ephesus, and we hear that the, “Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke…” This is the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s desire becoming active in us, motivating us to action, into crossing the bridge.
Maxine F. Dennis, in her reflection titled, “Of Human Hands” wrote,
“Cashiering in a supermarket may not seem like a very rewarding position to most. But to me it is. You see, I feel that my job consists of a lot more than ringing up orders, taking people’s money, and bagging their groceries. The most important part of my job is not the obvious. Rather it’s the manner in which I present myself to others that will determine whether my customers will leave the store feeling better or worse because of their brief encounter with me. For by doing my job well I know I have a chance to do God’s work too. Because of this, I try to make each of my customers feel special. While I’m serving them, they become the most important people in my life.”
The most important work we do each day is to consider how we are doing God’s work by living into our baptismal covenant – how we are loving God, loving self, and loving others. How we are working toward justice and the dignity of all people, how we are treating everyone as we wish to be treated. How we encounter Christ in one another, in friend and stranger alike.
Each of us spends our time doing holy work, a sacred mission. You may not think of it that way, whatever it is you do with each day, but it is. It is sacred because every day you encounter other human beings in some capacity, whether the person is your neighbor or a stranger in the grocery store, a colleague at work or a friend in school, every day we encounter others – and in that process, how we treat others is a measure of our engagement in the sacred work of God.
Bruce Epperly, a noted author and spiritual director offers this on the Process and Faith Blog:
“Mark’s Gospel describes Jesus’ baptism, but God’s words to Jesus reflect God’s care for our lives (as beloved of God)… While sacraments awaken us to God’s love, they don’t define the scope of God’s love. In the interplay of divine call and human response, sacramental moments – (which make obvious the mystery of God’s grace and love occur with the potential that they) may lead to life-transforming experiences…. each day can be a celebration of our baptism…an opportunity for renewal, refreshment, transformation, and cleansing…”
During this year, as we read and reflect on the Gospel of Mark we will be pondering the question Mark asks – “Where is God?” – and the response will be varied. Sometimes we will encounter God in one another. Other times we encounter God in a moment of time or in the words of a complete stranger. All of these encounters with God will happen, whether we notice them or not. Today’s passage from Acts suggests that we should be on the lookout for these mystical experiences, sacramental opportunities, in which we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, make visible signs of the invisible grace of God desire in our lives.