“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.

Preparing for the Light of Hope

Lit advent candle of hope with the text "Hope".

This sermon was presented to the First Congregational Church of Salem, NH on November 29, 2020

This morning, our sanctuary appears a little different. Transformed almost overnight by new vestments on the communion table, by the placement of our traditional nativity scene, by the addition of our community Advent candles. A transformation which marks the beginning – the beautiful beginning of our Advent season. The season where we learn about, celebrate, and experience – waiting…

Waiting… what an interesting concept – this year – this year where we had to wait in lines to get in grocery stores, wait for stimulus checks, wait for racial justice, wait for environmental insights, wait for election results, vaccines, school closures and semi-openings. We have had a year of waiting. And I suspect most of us do not think of waiting as a celebration.

But waiting is just that – a celebration in our season of Advent. A season of the Christian calendar dedicated to active waiting. A season which begins the four weeks before Christmas and invites each of us to explore waiting in a deeper way. For, waiting through Advent is not just about Christmas; this season is also a way for us to explore our lives as we wait for Christ, who is coming again. 

That said, do we really understand how to wait – how Christ calls us to wait – how to prepare our hearts in the same way we have already begun preparing our sanctuary? If you have then this season is already a celebration for you. If not, let us discover together what Advent is about as we prepare for the light of hope coming into the world.

Would you pray with me?

Holy Creator recreate our hearts this day – prepared to welcome your light of Hope – so, we may be Your Hope for all the world. May the words from my lips and the meditations on all our hearts be pleasing to you God.

Now, when I was a small child, I admit that waiting in Advent seemed like torture; much like this year has seemed like torture for many people throughout our world. For, my family celebrated with advent calendars; but, we could only open one package per day – Christmas presents were placed under the tree; but, we could not open them until Christmas morning – the stockings were hung; but, we had to wait for Santa Claus to fill them before we could discover what we had received. Yes, in my young and privileged perception waiting felt like torture because I was only focused on Christmas – on the end. Much like I suspect it has felt for many people as we waited for everything to get back to normal; waited for the world to figure out a solution before understanding the social issue; waited for a vaccine before engaging in any social gatherings. 

That said, I commend all of you who have faithfully discerned how, or if, you would engage in anything over the last year, especially large gatherings like Thanksgiving. But I am curious: were you waiting passively – feeling like it was torture – through this last Thanksgiving – this last year – your entire life? Is waiting for the end goal torture for you like it was for me as a child or maybe not torture. Is waiting for you, just a simple passing of time – like waiting for that Christmas morning patiently when the world would one day return to normal – not experiencing life in the meantime – just waiting? 

I ask because Advent has come along, and we are confronted with a simple question: what if things never become normal again? What if the day of the Lord comes while we are waiting passively for the world to right itself? What will happen if we are asleep when the master returns? 

I believe everyone who reads our passage from the Gospel According to Mark this week may wish to consider this question. For, our passage describes the second coming of Christ through a parable – a moral lesson about the master going on a trip. This metaphor of the master is Christ Jesus. The servants who are left behind are therefore all of us. Thus, the author of this Gospel is sharing an eschatological, or end times, parable which is offered to remind all of us to remain watchful as no one, but the Creator knows when this time will come. Remain watchful, ever present to our call as disciples, actively engaging in the life which God gave us even while we are waiting. This lesson is the beautiful message from Mark. 

However, this message also comes with a warning to stay awake. Not a threat for we have no idea what will happen if – if we are asleep when the day of the Lord comes – if things do not return to normal and we have been passively waiting – if the loved ones we left alone on Thanksgiving are carried home to God before next year? We have no idea for sure. Yet, I suspect there will be fear, anxiety, regrets for any who are asleep on that day.

The theologian Pheme Perkins seems to lean toward the idea of regrets for all of us in the 21st century. He says, watchfulness may not seem significant to us today; but “we all know that human life is fleeting.” Therefore, how we engage each moment is precious on this earth and we are called to stay awake, be present, actively engaging in life; so, we will not live in regret when the day of the Lord comes along. This idea of sleeping while waiting though is not just for the end times. It is also about passively waiting for Christmas and not experiencing, celebrating, or learning about all the ways in which we can prepare our hearts for the light of hope, our Christ, which is coming again.

This passage from the Gospel also shares the Good News that the kin-dom will come – the end times not as some apocalyptic nightmare; but, it is a time of hope when suffering, pain, injustice will come to an end. That in some unknown future we will all be one with Christ as kin. However, this time is only known to the Father so we must continue to learn, to experience, and to celebrate life every day – creating a future of hope by living in the present as Christ’s disciples – today. 

We also witness the Good News of hope in Psalm 80. The Good News that God made us strong, gave us life and will save us as a people. As a Christian, I believe this saving comes to us all through Christ Jesus, the light of the world, the Hope for all humankind. This good news is another message of hope found throughout the Bible. We are reminded of this hope many times that God will save each of us; but are we prepared to be saved – have we prepared our hearts to receive that light in? Are we actively living our faith each day as we wait for the day when we all will be saved by Christ or are, we waiting passively for the day of the Lord and Christmas?

Only you can answer that question for yourself, beloved. Only you and God know what lies in your hearts; yet, from what I have seen, regrets – anxiety – fear cannot exist in the same heart as hope. These emotions seem to oppose one another in a way that does not allow them to coexist.

So, how do we actively wait – how do we go from the fear – anxiety – and regret into a disciple’s heart where we are prepared for the light of hope which may guide us through the darkness?

Well another theologian named Henri Nouwen once said, “Active waiting means (being) present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it.” That beloved is how we actively wait – not by hiding away and letting regrets for a normal which will never happen again rule our thoughts, not by letting anxiety guide every action because we did not find the right present nor by allowing fear to rule our discernments; but, we actively wait by being present fully to every moment of life and knowing that something is happening around you, within you, through you to make the world better. 

For me, today, it means being present to the world around me and living every moment in the promise of hope that this too shall end – engaging with people not with expectations of what we once experienced; but, in the new moment of every day of this blessed advent season – letting go of the what will come in a month and simply experiencing every moment I have with each of you – today. I believe hope is found in the now while we are actively waiting for the coming Christ.

This active waiting does not mean running out to engage in a gathering you feel is dangerous – it means learning what makes you feel uncomfortable and experience life as you can around those difficulties – it means reaching out to one another and exploring innovative ways to engage relationships – it means gathering in family groups to celebrate worship together – it means we keep living even while we are waiting for the Christ to come, the suffering to end, the vaccine to be developed. And we have already seen this community begin to experience Advent as a people who are actively waiting – We have seen Norma decorate the sanctuary so it will bring us hope even though we are semi-closed to in-person worship, Bridget and Cindy will be decorating the outside of the church bringing the people of Salem hope even amongst the rising covid-19 numbers, members of the worship, education and outreach teams have prepared advent care packages to bring you each hope and connection amongst the isolation. 

Still, God says do not fall asleep – even if you have been fully engaged all year. God reminds us to not fall asleep now. Help reach out to one another and engage in a crisp socially distanced walk – be God’s disciples here on earth by engaging in the reverse advent calendar – imagine new ways we can be in worship together and share them to bring hope to all people. For, when we continue to live our lives by actively waiting, by being fully present – by living every moment together we will continually make a place for hope in our hearts that the whole world will be able to witness. May this season of active waiting allow you to bring the hope of Christ into your life – now and always. In the name of Christ, we pray Amen.