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.