22nd January, 2017
There is a story about Henry St George Tucker, the 19th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, who died in 1959. A reporter, hopefully being clever as he covered Bishop Tucker’s election, asked, “If you were scheduled to visit a parish on Sunday, and it burned down the night before, what would you do?” Bishop Tucker, without hesitation, responded, “I would take up a collection for missions.” Admirable hope and conviction, yes? Just what you’d expect from a bishop?
I am reading a new book, The Book of Joy, about two mischievous old men who gathered for a week to celebrate the younger’s 80th birthday. The two old men, who call themselves mischievous? Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Southern Africa, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These two have known prominence, and suffering. They have been on the forefront of issues such as apartheid in South Africa and the military conquest of Tibet by China. They have felt the world’s fear and pain, known its despair, yet the wisdom of their years is about hope, and the story of their meeting is The Book of Joy.
Here is an excerpt, the Archbishop writing: “Hope is quite different from optimism, which is more superficial and liable to become pessimism when the circumstances change. Hope is something much deeper” (Joy, p122).
Optimism “… depends on feelings more than the actual reality. We feel optimistic, or we feel pessimistic. Now, hope is different in that it is not based on the ephemerality of feeling but on the firm ground of conviction. I believe with a steadfast faith that there can never be a situation that is utterly, totally hopeless. Hope is deeper, and very, very close to unshakable.”
In a time of national uncertainty, when public voices of conscience were being silenced by threat or execution, Jesus went looking for disciples. In a day when his nation was under the fist of an aggressive foreign government, Jesus went looking for colleagues. At a time when disease and poverty and uncertainty cowered people into fear, Jesus went looking for companions to change the world. Jesus looked first to four fishermen to be his partners in a journey of hope and reconciliation. Admirable hope and conviction.
First, a thought about those four. Why did Jesus choose commercial fishermen for disciples? Jesus was a little known itinerant rabbi at first, and perhaps those were the best he could hope for at the beginning. There is that clever line in the Gospel today, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Or maybe he desired the fisherman’s no nonsense philosophy – life can be hard, getting by depends on hard work, and there are no guarantees. You may have your own ideas.
I remember, though, an intriguing idea of Nancy’s, when she preached on the call of these four disciples. Why fishermen? Nancy believes fishermen are able to bring the visible out of the invisible, bring to light truths that may be hidden. She wrote yesterday, “Fishermen in their profession are trained to see life that is invisible, under the water, and to bring that life into visibility. You can see the equation with discipleship, bringing unseen holy moments into the seen world.” Peter and Andrew, James and John, bringing to light things that were forgotten, bringing to memory truths which were buried, bringing to conversation holy moments which were hidden. They accepted the invitation.
I lay these words before you, aware as you are that our country has just celebrated the inauguration of our 45th President, and we have seen intentional resistance from marchers in Washington and all across the country. For some of us this is a time of rejoicing. For others, a time of distress about our present and future. Some ask, “What’s the fuss?” For others, there is real fear, fear among those “masses yearning to be free” who the Statue of Liberty would welcome. These are troublesome times, but not hopeless times, and they are times we have faced before as one nation under God.
Jesus looked first to four fishermen to be his partners in a journey of hope and reconciliation. Today he looks to you and me. Again from Archbishop Tutu: “No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create the quality of him a life on our planet. This is the power we wield.” (Joy, p122).
If our Bishop Patrick were able to be here, we would be renewing our Baptismal vows. We would be recommitting ourselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to breaking bread and praying together. We would promise to resist evil and when we fall into sin, to repent and return to Jesus. We commit to the teaching and example of Jesus, to seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. We would just about now be committing ourselves to justice and peace among all; people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. We are people of hope, and wherever we go, through whatever darkness, Jesus has been there ahead of us.
No despair then, people of God. For some the possibility of despair is new, for others there is at last the possibility of release from despair. But claim your hope: Remember that you are chosen, remember that you are baptised. We are the kingdom here, but remember we are also the problem, the makers and enablers of mischief. Finally, as God’s own, remember that we are the medicine.
I encourage you to pray for the people in these our United States, for a more perfect union and for the President, the Congress and the Supreme Court. We are in this together. But our highest call is to embrace the grace and heart of God. To hold high the truth that is in, to honor one another, and when our justice cries out ot be heard, silence is unconscionable. “Fishermen in their profession are trained to see life that is invisible, under the water, and to bring that life into visibility… bringing unseen holy moments into the seen world.” Peter and Andrew, James and John, brought to light things that were forgotten, brought to memory truths which were buried, brought to conversation holy moments which were hidden. They accepted the invitation. Now it is up to us.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.