Jesus calls Simon and his brother Andrew and then says to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”
What you and I see in any time of history depends very much on the lens through which we choose to look. You and I have been given a lens. It is the lens—or better yet we may call this a story—a story that we know as our Christian faith. This faith story is one which Christians place upon the reality that they experience.
The Christian story offers us two great insights. It tells us that God is our creator and according to Christian tradition, that Christ is arisen. The theologian Jorgen Moltmann points out that creation is not something that happened once, but is far more than a past event. What Moltmann says is that there is our memory of creation as in the past, our present experience of creation and our hope of on-going creation.
Jesus’ saying then “Follow me and I will make you fish for people” relates us to the past, to the present and to the future.
For you and for me it’s tremendously important to realize not only the progression in our lives as Christians, but it’s also important that we begin to understand in our lifetime that something vast is always ending and something incredible is always beginning. And if this is true then what is the church to become as we know it?
In other words, there is a growing concern about the things that need to change in the world of the Christian church and in our understandings of religion.
Let me offer three things that the church and religion in general needs to give consideration to. And we might call these three things (1) Issues of creation, (2) issues of human beings, and (3) issues of religion. Each of these issues needs to be looked at by our national church, our diocese and our parish.
First, our church and our religion must begin in a serious way to deal with issues of creation: issues like environmental concerns, issues of cosmology as we penetrate new understandings of creation, and new concepts that we are faced with as we begin to regard all life as flow rather than as being in a fixed state.
Secondly, we also need to look at the issues of human beings: issues like euthanasia, our stand on abortion, the ongoing reality of feminism, the problems of race and prejudice and the mysterious spectrum of human sexuality.
And, finally, issues of religion themselves: we must look at a deeper understanding of biblical meaning and truth; we need to view a real sense of love among each other as believers; and a sense of trust and openness in discussing difficult issues of faith and belief.
These may sound like high-flying ideas. But they aren’t. They are deeply religious ideas. And I propose them to you as ideas that our parish needs to give some thought about over this year. You will be choosing a new rector for St. John’s over the next coming months. And in that choice that you make, you will choose someone who must bring vision, and hope, someone who brings sensitivity and good thinking. You will choose someone who will lead this parish community into new ways of stimulating personal spirituality, someone who has a deep concern for the pastoral needs of this congregation, someone who helps you reach out to serve the wider community, and, certainly but not least, someone who encourages and teaches all of us more and more about the need to love each other. This won’t necessarily be a simple task.
So, what do I think St. John’s needs to offer as a Christian community?
- We have to offer a Christian story that is potent and believable in the times in which we live;
We can do this through the continual education of adults and of our children. We can deepen the learning of what our faith is about and how to practice that faith. We can experience and value a wide diversity of understandings of the Christian faith—all within the context of being a worshipping community.
- We can offer community to the difficult loneliness and hunger of the community around us.
We can do this through a stronger commitment to our outreach programs: we need to better fund Feed the Hungry and a few more of us can volunteer to serve in such a way as to strengthen the Board, help in making the program known in groups that we belong to, give a few dollars regularly to make food available for those who have little. At the same time we need to be open to and happy about welcoming people into this community who need the support that can come from knowing that they are loved and cared for.
- We need to become an empowered church that takes away the sense of powerlessness that so many people feel—but that empowerment must make acts of compassion possible. To be powerful is not to be authoritative, but it is to be conscious of the feelings and integrity of others.
- Finally we need to be a church of burning hope—because without hope the flame of life will burn low both here in this faith community and in our larger neighborhood.
We are in the business of telling a story that gives meaning to human life, around which a community can form, in which people will find healing and wholeness and a vision that will make it possible to act hopefully every day of every week of every year.
This is what I think the church needs to be about. This is what we are in business for. This is our “main thing.”
Let me end with a story. I don’t know how many of you have read The Lord of the Rings but there is some truth here for us.
Somewhere near the beginning of this saga Gandolf, the figure of wisdom and power (incidentally at one of the last parishes that Bishop Ladehoff visited before he retired, as he was walking down the aisle one of the kids in the congregations said—“Mom there’s Gandolf”)--but on with the story. In the story, Gandalf is asking Frodo, the Hobbit, if he will accept the quest that will take the Ring back to the land of Mordor, bringing peace and freedom.
Gandalf is holding the ring waiting for Frodo’s acceptance of the challenge. As Fordo stands before the tall figure of Gandalf, he begins to feel an icy chill descend over his whole body. He realizes that this evil is coming from Mordor and its purpose is to make it impossible for him to respond. Frodo summons up every ounce of resistance within him, every source of goodness he can think of, every ounce of resistance within him, every source of courage he can think of to overcome the paralysis he is feeling. He can see the ring in Gandalf’s hand. And so with great effort, Frodo slowly forces his arm forward and upwards. Then, as if listening to someone from a great distance, he hears his own voice say, “I will take the ring, though I do not know the way.”
What’s the moral of the story? The moral is that which is being asked of each one of us during this time in the life of St. John’s?
What is being asked of us is that we understand that the task over this next year and beyond is a big task. And it is an important and vital task.
But we need to summon up the courage and grace to say—“We will take the ring, though we do not know the way.”
May we be given this grace.