“What did we come to do?”

Picture of Jesus healing Simon's Mother-in-law from Mark 1:29-39. Many disciples and onlookers are present in the scene.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH February 7, 2021

From 1 Corinthians chapter 12: “There is one body, but it has many parts. But all its many parts make up one body. It is the same with Christ…If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”

These words from the Bible strike to the heart of how I witness our discipleship as Christians. Words which speak of how we are interconnected through the Holy Spirit and the call for each of us to help ease the suffering of other people in the world. Yet, I wonder what is the cost of discipleship; What is the price each and every one of us must pay for such a deeply ingrained empathy; what is the price when our world is hurting and suffering?

For, today, we are witnesses to people who are suffering from racism, environmental destruction, misogyny, food insecurity, political unrest, LGBTQIA + inequality, domestic violence, isolation, health care concerns, inadequate support for schools, the pandemic, and a host of other issues. Are you overwhelmed, yet? With everything happening in the world around us, are you overwhelmed with grief for our Body? When all the people in the world are crying out in pain and agony and you want to help them; do you feel overwhelmed and not sure which way to turn – who to help – what part of God’s ministry you came here to help as part of the Body of Christ? This beloved is the price each of us sometimes pays for our discipleship – a price for our empathy when we can become overwhelmed by the pain of those who are suffering.

The problem is that if we become overwhelmed, we may become the wounded – the wounded people who become self-protective and thereby avoid – disregard – or minimize the wounds of other people, no longer empathetically walking in the Way of Christ as one Body but only concerned with our own wounds. The cost of discipleship has and will cause a spiraling wound of trauma if we let ourselves become overwhelmed.

Yet, beloved, we are not alone in this struggle. The darkness cannot win for there is a light and it begins with Christ – and within each of us as the Body of Christ. So, although the world is hurting – hungering for healing – thirsty for justice in ways which I have never seen in my life, I invite us all to stop – take a step back – and refocus ourselves as Christians to ask the very real question: what did we come to do? 

As we ponder this question would you pray with me,

Body of Christ reveal to me Your Way and invoke in me Your calling; so, we may each be Your gift to the world. Reveal this gift through Your Holy Spirit so each of us may be healed by those who are called to heal – taught by those who are called to teach – guided by those who are called to guide. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to You God.

Now, Beloved, I am speaking today specifically about our personal call of discipleship – our purpose in God’s ministry – our individual part of God’s Mission. I am speaking of this call through the realization of our pandemic isolation which has provided more time for us to witness the ailments of our world as many people are out of work, working from home, or unable to engage in social activities. Even if this reality is not your case, people do seem to be expressing all the issues of the world louder and more viscerally than ever before. And I hear these concerns, but I am worried about you – worried that these issues of the world are being intensified by your own sadness and loss. Worried that your empathy will become overwhelmed and cost you – your empathy for other people.  

I imagine this same conflict was afflicting Jesus in our scriptural reading from the Gospel according to Mark. This same concern over becoming overwhelmed. For, the story begins in the middle of a narrative of healing early on in his ministry. In fact, these healings in Capernaum were at the very beginning of his ministry directly after he had been baptized and called the first of his disciples. Then, he began his ministry of teaching while using his gifts to heal people and cast out demons. Let me clearly say that although there are interpretations which state the casting out of demons is a metaphor for the healing of mental illnesses, this text according to the theologian Lamar Williamson JR. is referring to actual demons as that is how the Hellenistic world of the first century understood what was happening to people. Either way, the casting out of demons is clearly different than the physical healing which Jesus is also performing. This point becomes especially important as the narrative continues to bring more and more people to be healed by Jesus. I imagine his empathy for their wounds and afflictions must have been overwhelming. For, even though he could heal them all – the streets were full of people needing to be healed.

Then something interesting happens in the Gospel according to Mark, something vastly different than in the accounts of Matthew or Luke. Jesus stops – as he sits there healing people in Capernaum – he stops. And we know the healing is not done; for, the disciples share that “Everybody is looking for you.” There is more healing to be done and they are looking for the healing touch of Jesus. Yet, he stops, and we are left without the answer of why. Why he stopped in the early hours before dawn. Why he stopped healing when people were crying for this touch. And although we do not know, I imagine it is because of how each and every one of us is feeling right now as the world cries out hurting – hungry for healing – thirsty for justice. I imagine that anyone with empathy hearing all these cries needs to stop and take a moment for self-care. Because no matter how much we love all people, residing in the pain, the loss, and the devastation will overwhelm us and destroy our ability to help one another as disciples of Christ. 

And this beloved is the Good news of the account from Mark – the good news of how to continue being a disciple when you start to feel overwhelmed by all the tragedies in the world. Just stop and take a step back to engage in self-care. Jesus’ need for self-care is revealed here by stepping back and entering a “deserted place.” Yet, this deserted place is not like our pandemic isolation; it is a place where he can pray and discover what God is calling him to do. That said, prayer in this Good News can and should be witnessed: as a form of self-care; as a way to refocus our lives; as a way to remember our part of the Body of Christ and thereby be able to help other people throughout the world. 

Furthermore, I believe this Good News is needed; so, we may remember what we came here to do – what we are called to do as people individually and how we are called to be part of the Body of Christ. For, as we saw in the scripture of Mark even Jesus needed to stop, step back, and refocus. We are witnesses to his amazing gifts of healing; but healing is not what Jesus was called to do as the head of the body of Christ. Instead, he is called to “proclaim the message and cast out demons” throughout Galilee, to teach all people about God and heal them spiritually by casting out their demons. This Good news beloved is the Way of Christ – the Way of the disciple – not the exact way for we are all different parts of the Body. Yet it is the Good News we are invited to follow as disciples of Christ especially when we feel overwhelmed by the suffering of the Body.

So, what is your Way – your Way of self-care – Your Way to stop – step back – and refocus? That is the depth of the question this week and one which we will explore throughout the Lenten season. Yet as we explore the various paths, I wish to remind you they are paths with a purpose. For, we are disciples and there is a cost of that discipleship. The cost and joy of allowing God to use us to make the world better. And as I mentioned in my letter this week, I would like each of us to discover that part of God’s Mission – ministry – purpose we came here to do in this life. Now perhaps discovering this purpose will be through trial and error which is why I invited all of you to experience Lent in a new way – instead of giving something up – I have, and am, inviting you to take on a purpose – a ministry – a part of God’s Mission throughout the season of Lent. I offer this invitation knowing that many of us are feeling overwhelmed with the suffering and the pain that is happening in our world. But I offer this invitation now because it is not a simple discernment and I wish you to take your time, consider your gifts, and the variety of ways to share them with the Body of Christ. This Good News, beloved, is the Way Jesus walked – the way of the body of Christ – the Way of the disciple which invites each of us to stop, step back, and refocus on what we came here to do in this world. May each of your days be full of self-care and reflection as we walk in the way of Jesus as the body of Christ. Amen.

“Fishing the Web”

Picture of Jesus walking on the shore calling to Simon and Andrew to become the first disciples from Mark 1: 14-17.

Presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH January 24, 2021

Today – we have a brand-new world. No matter how you lean politically, this week has been a historical change in our lives. We have our first African American female vice-president and for many people that sign brings hope – hope that this week marks the beginning of a future where gendered and racial human inequality will come to an end. This month has also been a historical change. No matter how you feel about the vaccine, New Hampshire has begun vaccinating people over the age of 65, for many humans that sign brings hope – hope that this month marks the beginning of a future where this pandemic will come to an end. 

But do these signs of hope – help? Do they help everyone in our society feel hope? Do the doctors in hospitals feel hope when the emergency room is full? Does the person of color feel hope when their environment – the place they live and work – is increasing their chance to catch this pandemic? Do you feel hope from these signs when you disagree with the vaccine, voted for someone else, or have resisted the call of Christ to share worship – our fellowship – our love of all people in an innovative way?

Beloved, only you can answer that question; but I feel it must be asked as so many hopeful praises for the future this week have been focused on human works either absent or minimally using our faithful hands to help create a better world. Thus, these praises seem empty. Empty of God’s divine hope. That said, this divine hope is present – this divine hope that we were reminded of one month ago, this day, is amongst us – this divine hope of Christ is present with us when he came into our world and called us to not just be hopeful in word but to be disciples in action: disciples who “fish for people” – who share the hope of God with all people – who reveal our hope by living our faith to recreate a better world without divisions – without isolation – without inequalities – through God.

Before we continue, would you pray with me

Blessed Creator – create in us the divine hope for a better world where we not only witness your hope but become the examples of Your divine hope for all people regardless of who they are, what place they call home, or where they are on Life’s journey. May the words upon my lips and the meditations in all our hearts be pleasing to you, God.

Now beloved – do not get me wrong. I do not want to besmirch any form of hope that you are feeling today. Hope is by far one of the most blessed gifts that God gives to each of us every day of our life. It helps us climb out of bed each morning and face the world when all we see is unfairness – it helps us be at peace when we are alone – it helps us come together as one people. But hope without God – hope in humanity without God feels empty. This type of hope without the love of God for all people makes me ask: what is the human motivation; as, I am sure it does for so many of you. 

As I am sure it does for the people who are living in our cities throughout this nation and have not had the privilege of isolating themselves during Covid. Not had this privilege because their employment requires them to be present and their communities are over populated. Added to these realities are medical, educational, and financial disparities within a population of people who are predominantly the ancestral minorities in this country. When we say this reality is racism – environmental racism – beloved, the story of how Covid -19 has affected these minority communities is what we mean. It is the reality that the environment of Boston with a population predominantly black must expose themselves to Covid more than us here in Salem, New Hampshire with a population which is predominantly white and able to work, live. and worship virtually. So, of course when we say there is hope for our future where we may all be one because we have a new vice-president – the words seem hollow. They seem empty to our black sisters and brothers as they only seem like words – these beloved people have neighbors, families, children coming down with a pandemic at a disproportionate rate and Washington DC is very far away.

I can only imagine how hollow the sentiments of hope must feel for these souls who are stuck in an environment which is making them more susceptible to this pandemic. It reminds me of the story of Jonah from our scripture reading who was thrust into the sea because of his failure to follow God’s call. He was rescued and then stuck in an environment – the inside of a whale – which offered him no escape. Much like the people of Nineveh were stuck in their “evil ways” because of how they had lived in their city – their environment that was going to be destroyed by God because of their ways. Are we stuck in our environment as well – destined to be destroyed because we have failed to see the Truth that people – all people – are children of God and that we hold onto traditions of “fish(ing) for people” which rely on techniques from a pre-electronic age? Do we feel the hope is hollow when “hope” is claimed by our community while we cling to our physical church environment which may be killing us in this new world of hybrid worship?

Again, this question is something we must answer for ourselves, especially since many of us are living in the Good News by becoming the hands and feet of God through this community – bringing hope through worship and outreach to all through innovative ways. And for each of you, I must say thank you – thank you for the blessings of divine hope your ministry has and continues to share with this community. But there is more work to do – more ways to share this divine hope – more Good News to bring. For, like Jonah we are called to thank God – focus on the divine and repent. Following this path, Jonah was freed from the whale – the environment which was keeping him stuck. Likewise, the people of Nineveh put on “sackcloth” – repented and were free of their environment which was about to destroy them. The Good News, beloved, is not just in the hope of words alone but in the divine hope which reveals our repentance and actions to secure freedom from the environment which is holding us and could be killing us. Through this path we discover words of hope spoken aloud are no longer empty, but a revelation of God’s hope through our actions which seek a better world to come – a place where all are equally loved and equally cared for regardless of where they live or the color of their skin – a place we call the kin-dom of God.

Now this call to bring divine hope is happening in this community. Much like when Jesus called the “fishermen. And … said, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’” You, beloved from other states, have been called across the internet. I pray you continue to answer the call, we continue to share our voice of God’s love with each other – continue to be free of the singular environment of Salem. For our fellowship has grown – grown through you who visit across the internet each week. Your ministry of joining us brings me hope – a hope in the ministry we can do together; but we need to hear your voice as part of our community so we may all feel divine hope and reflect it into the world – divine hope for all people no matter where they are, what place they call home or where they are on life’s journey. You in Michigan, Maine, Florida are part of our ministry and please share your voice so we can live into our faith together. Yet, there are also more ways for all of us to bring divine hope to the people of the world; for, we are no longer limited to the confines of a building – an environment. 

As such, let me ask: what would Jesus’ words be if they were spoken to us today? What would it be like if our computer programmers – our retired – our teachers were called instead of fishermen? Would God’s call be, teach of God’s hope – guide with God’s love – fish for people across the internet? Beloved, know that the call of discipleship is not limited to one way; but it is an expansive call within today’s world – it gives people hope – divine hope for they know our words are not hollow when we invite their voice, when it is based on caring for everyone, when it has no limits and no boundaries. And this call, beloved, is what we are called to do as disciples of Christ – stretch beyond ourselves and bring God’s divine hope to those who feel stuck in their environment – not out of some false sense of superiority; but so, we will be better together when people know they are not alone. So, reach out across the internet and fish for all souls who need spiritual love, care for all people in these trying times, share divine hope so we will truly be one people under God. May your days be filled with discernment as we discover new ways to reveal God’s divine hope with our sisters and brothers stuck in environments which may be killing them. In Your eternal name we pray. Amen.