February 10, 2019
5th Sunday after Epiphany, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
On Wednesday this week, I grumbled as I drove to Minnetonka on snowy streets, the GPS taking me on all back roads. It had taken me 45 minutes to get home the night before, and here I was out driving again. I was on my way to the Minnesota Multi-Faith Breakfast, an observance of World Interfaith Harmony Week. Since people were supposed to come from around the state, I was sure I would be one of about five people who ventured out on the roads.
Apparently, people from other faiths aren’t as grumpy as me. When I walked into the synagogue, it was warm. People were smiling. The breakfast buffet was steaming. I was assigned to the Council on American-Islamic Relations table. We made our round of introductions and then were led through a vision process to imagine an interfaith Minnesota. The leader invited us to get comfortable, to close our eyes if we needed, and to imagine what Minnesota would like in thirty years if our principles of harmony, relationship, and justice were embraced in the state.
It probably wasn’t an accident, given my seat near the coffee table and food line, that I immediately saw a morning gathering in my mind. People from all varieties of religious background were joyfully greeting one another. It felt like a holiday celebration. I could smell all varities of food. What struck me was how enthusiastically people greeted one another, as if they were already long-aquainted; that they had shared many other gatherings together. It made me imagine that the state had instituted some kind of multi-faith religious holiday, something that we all celebrated together, despite our different individual traditions, a holiday that had been celebrated together long enough that it had developed its own ritual practices and warm memories. Sure, we still had our Christmases and our Ramadans, but this was something new becoming ancient and deep.
I think a lot of us live on the surface, casting about superficially, bumping from one night of fishing to the next, one assignment to the next, one day of pain to the next, one email to the next, one political low to the next, one snow storm to the next. The vision leader, speaking from the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Allah, on that snowy morning was inviting us, “I know you’ve been fishing for a long time, trying hard to feed your needs. I know you’re tired. But, go back out. Drop the nets in a different place, past the currents on the surface, into the deeper waters, the depths, the mysterious darkness were God’s Spirit broods and pools and moves. Drop the net of your life into the baptismal depth of God’s imagination, where harmony and peace, love and justice are beautifully swirling and ready to be caught.
John August Swanson painted a picture of the Gospel scene for today. It’s on my Facebook page. The net that the disciples are pulling out of the water is filled to bursting with brilliantly colored fish: rainbow colored, complex, swirling patterns of brilliance—a superabundance of beautiful fish. The sun is shining brilliantly in the sky. Birds, (or are they angels?), fly above.
Close your eyes for a minute and put your life into the net: forgiveness offered, grace washing over you, a communion of beautiful, but sometimes fishy, people, a meal shared, life for you in God’s hands. Here love is more true than the hatred we see every day. Here is your truth. Let yourself be reeled in. Open your eyes.
If we dropped our nets into that deep place, I suspect people would begin see it on our faces; that they might catch the glow. Peace, love, and compassion that just might surface a little more quickly as a result. It’s true that once you start practicing to fish in the deep place, you get better and better at it. People start to notice, and it catches people. Little by little, it ripples outward.
On Wednesday morning, when we shared our visions at the table, I shared mine. Others shared their visions, too. One said, “I saw a world with no hunger, where everyone was housed.” Another said, “I looked but I couldn’t find racism or hatred for Muslims.” And still another said, “I saw climate change reversing.”
It struck me that they were pulling in fish of a different kind. My vision was relational. That’s just like me. But others were more social, more cultural. Their visions required hard work on our parts if it is to come true in 2049. I suppose it’s all related. In the end, we really can’t have genuine and deep abiding relationships without dealing with all the things that divide and separate us, especially the things that are also deeper under the surface. In our current reality, even the fish themselves need to be gathered into a different kind of net, not for consumption but for protection.
To carry our metaphor one step further, these social visions—these challenges to how we structure our thinking and our society—strain the net. Like putting new wine in old wine skins, these new visions were stretching, maybe even breaking, other patterns of life.
God’s deepest vision breaks many of the nets we’ve tried to use.
Maybe we’ve experienced that at Gloria Dei. We’ve expanded our welcome. We’ve worked to make God’s communion breakfast a banquet for those who “depend on this meal for their life, and those for whom it is a new and strange thing.” And when those people come who may think our nets are odd and strange, they bring new ideas. They ask questions about why we say this or do that. They challenge our structures. People of color arrive and they notice all the little ways that many of us make racist assumptions or assume whiteness to be the normative pattern for our congregational life. People who experience their bodies in different ways call us to examine our gendered language in liturgy and hymnody. People with differing abilities notice all the barriers to participation. People with different sensory experiences invite us to consider how we practice community and connect with each other.
When you cast your nets into the wide and beautiful welcome of God’s grace, you don’t know what you’re going to pull up. You may never be able to fish the same way again.
It’s hard work to pull in the fish. Sometimes, it makes you realize, “Wow, we’ve been sinful people.” But in the end, when the boat is full, it’s beautiful. This catch from the future provides the resurrection energy to set out from the shore tomorrow, the next day, even to 2049 and beyond, until all of us are caught, pulled into the boat, and saved for heavenly feast.