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Monday, October 17, 2011

The Magic of Mission

“The magic of mission” – John 21:1-12
A sermon preached for the Celebration of New Ministry
The Episcopal Church of St. Paul’s in Bergen
October 16, 2011 – The Rev’d Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton

Please Pray with me: O God, take my mind and think through it. Take my lips and speak through them. Take all our hearts and set them on fire with the mission of your Gospel.

So, what do you think? Was it Tuesday or Wednesday after the Sunday of the Resurrection of our Lord, when Peter looked around at the faces of fear and anxiety and confusion and slapped his hand on the table and said, “I’m going fishing”?

And, Thomas – the one John called ‘The Doubter” – and Nathaniel, of Cana in Galilee and James and John, the sons of Zebedee, got up and went out with him near the Sea of Tiberius to do the one thing they knew how to do: fish. And even then, Scripture reports, they didn’t do it well.

They fished all night and caught nothing. The next morning, Jesus appeared on the shore and said, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” And they said, “No.” So, he made a wee, little suggestion. On the face of it, it sounds pretty silly. Indeed, it makes no sense, if you think about it for a red hot NY second.

“Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” Absurd! As if the fish were all huddled together on the left side of the boat, but not the right, because – oh, I don’t know – the net wasn’t there? How ridiculous!

But the boys must have either been so exhausted and so distressed and so beaten down and weary and, no doubt, hungry, that they actually paid attention to the man they thought was a stranger, for they did not recognize Jesus in their midst.

St. John tells us that they dutifully cast the net on the right side of the boat, “and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.” Imagine that! It’s a miracle! A mystery wrapped inside of a conundrum!

Well, that’s what we often call things that happen that we don’t quite understand.

Jon and his Sr. Warden
So, what do you think? Will it be Tuesday or Wednesday after this day we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord and this new mission and ministry you began together a little over a year ago when you called Jon Richardson to be your priest when one of you will slap your hand on the table and say, “Well, I don’t know about the rest of all y’all but I’m going to go __________”?

What? What will you do? What is your mission here in Bergen? What is it you intend to accomplish in the next two years together in the name of Jesus?

Now, don’t panic. This is not a test. I’m not going to ask you to have a well-articulated mission statement with a business plan on my desk by Wednesday at 3 PM. Now, the bishop may ask you for that but I’m not going to.

Jon and Elizabeth
When Jon was my seminarian I might have gotten away with such a request but I can’t now. He’s no longer “my seminarian”. He’s a duly ordained, wonderfully skilled and talented, articulate, passionate, deeply committed and pretty amazing priest in his own right who now considers me one of his mentors. I am deeply honored and even more deeply blessed.

On Tuesday, the Feast of St. Luke, I’ll celebrate the 25th Anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood by joining the demonstrators at the movement known as “Occupy Wall Street”. I can’t think of a better way to mark that date on my calendar than hanging out with people from all ages and all walks of life and every denomination and creed because they are exactly the folks I think Jesus would hang with if he were walking among us today.

Scripture tells us that the heart of Jesus is with the one lost sheep, but as a measure of just how far we’ve strayed, that equation has now completely shifted. It’s the 99 who have been left behind. Pushed to the margins. Fallen through the cracks. “We” are become“them”.

Many of us live just a paycheck away from financial disaster. Some of us are two paychecks – or one serious illness without health insurance, or one serious unexpected accident, or one sudden death of a loved one or an unplanned pregnancy and complicated birth of a handicapped child – away from losing our homes and the lifestyles to which we have become accustomed. We’ve been faithfully fishing on the same side of the boat for years – doing what we know how to do in the same way we’ve always done it for years – but our nets are empty.

Many of us are exhausted, just from trying to make ends meet. We’re weary and frightened and spiritually hungry. Isn’t it enough just to take care of ourselves? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with doing good liturgy and having wonderful music, education and pastoral care and maybe some good old fashioned outreach? Won’t people come and seek us out? If we just ‘build a better yesterday’ we’ll have a better today and a brighter future, right?

Either that, or, we’ll just wait for a miracle. God will provide. God sent us Jon. He can do it. Maybe he can find the magic combination that will bring people back to church. Maybe he can find the hidden diocesan treasure that will send us a much-needed infusion of cash. Maybe the bishop will help us find a miracle.

I want to say four things about that. The first is this: If what you’ve been doing isn’t working, repent. Jesus said that all the time: Repent! Many people think that has to do only with sin. Repent actually means “turn around”. You don’t like this road or where it’s leading you? Repent! Turn around! Take another road! Put your nets down on the right side of the boat!

The second is to tell you that you are in charge of your own story. Don’t like the narrative history of St. Paul’s, Bergen? Repent! Start a new chapter. Rename your ship. Author Diana Butler Bass reminds us that we have a choice. We can either consider ourselves on the Titanic, hitting an iceberg and doomed to sink. Or, we can consider ourselves on the Mayflower, headed for one place but landing in another and on a new adventure.

The choice is yours. You are writing your own story. You are living history. The new chapter began a year ago when you called Jon.

What will you call the boat on which you sail: The Titanic or Mayflower?

What will you name your journey: Disaster or Adventure?

What is your destination: The bottom of the deep ocean or the beginning of a new commonwealth?

It's your call.  Your choice.

The third thing I want to say is that there is no mystery or magic to mission. Simon Peter started off to do what he knew best: fishing. And, when the others saw his conviction, they followed. They weren’t at all successful until they made one wee, small change. They stopped doing what they knew how to do best and started doing it a different way. They repented. Turned around. Moved from the left to the right side of the boat. And suddenly, they were catching more fish than their nets could hold.

You may have noticed a few small changes in tonight’s liturgy. For example, here’s a contemporary lesson from Blessed Oscar Romero about not aspiring to have more but to be more. Like the Prophet Jeremiah before him, he reminds us that we are clay in the potter’s hands.

“We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God's work,” says Romero. “Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the kingdom always lies beyond us.”

God’ mission, you see, is already in the world. Our job, as the church, is to catch up with it and do our part in advancing it further in the world.

Perhaps by bringing in, from time to time, a few contemporary voices who speak of the gospel to us in a slightly different way, and in a new time – our time and our place –we’ll be doing the modern equivalent of putting our nets down on the right rather than the left side of the boat.

It’s not magic or 'hocus pocus'. It’s about taking small risks for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Megan, Elizabeth, Jon and Brandon
Which brings me to my fourth and final point: Get yourself a theme song. A little something you can hum to yourself while you’re hauling up the heavy net from the left side of the boat, and listening to people grumble about how this is crazy and what do you think you’re doing and why do you think you’re going to change anything by putting the nets on the right side of the boat.

Just a little ditty to keep yourself on track when you get tempted to turn back and follow the same old road you’ve always known.

Now, I asked Jon if he had a favorite song that could become your theme song, but he’s so smitten with The Indigo Girls – who are, admittedly, wonderful and have important things to say but they say it in complex words and music and harmony – that you just couldn’t hum it when you’re anxious or whistle it when you’re in the dark.

As he said of himself, and I quote, “I totally suck at picking out a theme song.” Good man. I always taught him that a strong leader is one who knows his or her own weaknesses.

So, here’s one I picked out for you. Actually, I picked it out for Jon on the first Sunday after his ordination when he was presiding at his very first mass at St. Paul’s in Chatham.

I mean to tell you that that boy was as nervous as a long-tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs. He was sweating and his hands were shaking. Which, of course, was precisely where one should be every time one presides – no matter how many years one has been ordained – before the awesome experience and privilege and joy of presiding at Eucharist.

Well, that is, if you know what you’re doing. Which is to admit that none of us really knows what we're doing. We simply preside - as we walk - by faith alone.

At that time, I gave him a theme song which I’m sure he’ll be pleased to share with you. Perhaps you’ve heard it before. It’s called “The Hokey Pokey”. Before you completely dismiss me as a crazy and a fool, let me tell you the story behind the song so you’ll understand why I think this could be your mission theme song.

This was told to me by my friend, Rev. Lauren Stanley, who has been a missionary to Sudan and was most recently was a missionary to Haiti:

During World War II, a musician by the name of Larry LaPrise served in the European Theater. After the war, LaPrise and his friends formed a band called the ‘Ram Trio’ that entertained the crowds coming off a day of skiing in Sun Valley, Idaho. One of the songs he wrote – or so the story goes – is one that all of us know: The Hokey-Pokey. Most of us have sung it and danced to it, usually as kids and then again, for some unknown reason, at weddings.

The words “Hokey Pokey” come from the words “hocus pocus,” which most of us know are the words you speak when you’re doing magic. The words “hocus pocus” come from the Latin phrase, Hoc est corpus meum – “This is my body,” – the words the priest speaks when s/he elevates the bread during the Eucharist.

Elizabeth, Jon, Bishop Mark, Erik
In the old days, when the priests would celebrate in great stone cathedrals, they would turn their backs to the people, and sing the Mass: “Hoc est corpus meum!”

Their voices would reverberate throughout the cathedrals, and as the echo moved throughout the cathedral, what they would be signing – “Hoc est corpus meum” – would sound like Hoooo-cuuussss pooooocuuuuus . . . . . . .

From that term – “hocus pocus” – LaPrise came up with the “Hokey Pokey” (although there are some who claim that the song and dance existed in England during the war). In 1949, LaPrise and the Ram Trio recorded the song and it soon became nationally known.

So, what does this silly song and dance have to do with the mission of the church? Well, think again about the last part of the song: You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That’s what it’s all about!

Isn’t that what I’ve told you mission is all about? “Repent” means “turning yourself around.” That’s what Jesus tells us to do – and in tonight’s gospel, he’s telling us how to do it. Stop doing things the way you’ve always done it. Switch sides. Change your perspective. Change your attitude. That’s what the Hokey Pokey tells us to do: Turn ourselves around!

Turn around and walk together – as the Body of Christ, coming to the table to most fully meet the Body of Christ. Every time we do that, we’re turning ourselves about – away from the things that society tells us are important to the things that God proclaims are important. Turn around and come into the mission of the gospel.

How is that done? Well, you start with one hand, because sometimes that’s all you can do because you’re already juggling three balls in the other hand. Then you put in a foot because you want to test the water. Then you go for your right side, followed by your left.

And then, if you can, if you’re willing to be bold – to take a risk for the Gospel, for Jesus, who gave His all for you and wants all of you, just as you are without one plea – if you can have that kind of courage, Jesus asks that you put your whole self into the Body of Christ. As the Body of Christ (known as the church), you turn yourself around and you commit yourself to Christ.

It’s something we have to do over and over again, this turning around, this committing ourselves. But we can do it. And we can start to do it through the Hokey Pokey, believe it or not. It’s a silly song, at least on the surface. But when you learn the real meaning of it, when you learn what the words are and what the intentions are, it becomes something a whole lot more significant.

Jon Richardson
So, this is my three fold charge to you. Would the members of St. Paul and your rector and wardens and vestry please stand up?

Dear friends in Christ Jesus, as you begin the second third of your time with Jon, I want to remind you that the way to new life in Jesus is through true repentance.

I want you to repent three times: Don’t like the road you’ve been traveling or where it’s leading you? Repent! Turn around Take another road!

Second, You are in charge of your own story. Don’t like the story you’ve been living out of? Repent! Turn around! Write a new chapter. Change the name of your journey from disaster to adventure!

And finally, remember tonight’s gospel story. Mission is not magic. It begins when you do what it is you love. When you work from your strengths, not “oughts” or “shoulds”.

Have you been doing what you know and love but still not finding success? Repent! Turn around! Try something different.

Mission is not magic but when it happens, it is magical. It’s hocus pocus – hoc est corpus meum. This is the Body of Christ. You are the Body of Christ.

Well, are you willing to do this? Are you willing to stand up and dance the Hokey Pokey with me? To begin to take a small risk for the gospel?

Okay, then. Let’s do it. (“Oh no,” you’re thinking, “She’s not going to make us get up!” Oh yes she is!). C’mon! Everybody form a circle around the church. That’s it. Let’s do the Hokey Pokey. Right here in church. You too, bishop. C'mon, choir! Ready? Everybody sing and dance!

Put your right hand in. Take your right hand out. Put your right hand in and shake it all about. Do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, that’s what it’s all about.

Put your left foot in. Take your left foot out. Put your left foot in and shake it all about. Do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. And, and that’ what it’s all about.

You put your whole self in, you take your whole self out, you put your whole self in and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around.

‘Cuz that’s what it’s all about.

Yes, that’s what the magic of the mission of the Gospel is really all about!

And you, too, can do it! There's no magic. But it is magical when it happens.

As Simon Peter and Nathaniel of Cana and James and John of Zebeddee and the people of St. Paul’s Bergen have discovered: the magic of mission is created in the doing.



Muthah+ said...

Awesome, Sistah! And I think I can shake it all about too. Fear not I am going to steal this!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Steal away, Muthah. I got it from Lauren.