Fourth Sunday in Easter, May 3, 2020 Sermon- The Rev. Canon Shay Craig.

And day by day the Lord added to their number

This past week, the Presiding Bishop
Bishop Micheal Curry
Sent a letter to the church –
which you can find on the Episcopal Church Website
And on our facebook page
In which he describes the scene in the Gospels

Where the disciples are fishing
And they fish all night and all day
And catch nothing.
And then Jesus, on the shore,
Tells them to put their net in on the other side of the boat
And they bring in an abundance of fish.

Bishop Curry makes the point that
We are moving into a new reality
And we are beginning to think about how to be a church
In a world where Covid 19 exists and continues to be a factor
For a very long time.
Things are different now

We have experienced and are experiencing trauma and loss
Whenever we feel comfortable coming out of our homes
We will come together in a new way
Having to do things differently.

We can no longer drop our nets on the side of the boat that we used to use.

AND Jesus will help us to know how to drop our nets in a new way
In the early church, the image of the church as a boat predominated.
In part, because it was a fishing community
the Sea of Galilee, the Mediteranian sea, etc.
And in part because it was a good image.
I’ve told you before that this area of the church is called the Nave
Because it is meant to remind us of being a ship’s hold.

But here is a thing I want you to notice about the references to boats in the Gospels.

They are sailboats.
Occasionally, there is a reference to rowing
But in large part, all the boats in the gospels
Depend on the wind.

Now, both as a lay leader and a priest
I have almost always served churches
Where the congregation was energetic

This Cathedral community is no exception.
We have an idea of where we want to go
We call up strong lay and ordained leadership
Father David holds the rudder
And this community rolls up their sleeves and rows.

And its a good crew.
We almost always row in the same direction
We almost always help one another
Pick up an oar when someone steps back

In my time here at the Cathedral
We have pulled together with great power
And accomplished so much!

And now, as we begin to think and plan
For how to be a community
And a church in this new time

It is an overwhelming prospect.

Getting the boat moving again
From a full stop
Will take a terrific amount of effort
And we don’t even really know which direction to go
Or how to get started going there.

It’s daunting.
But I found a great deal of comfort in the reading from Acts today.
And day by day the Lord added to their number

In a way, the disciples had it easier than we do
The disciples were starting a church from scratch
They had no image of how it should be
Based on what it once was
They had no past experience
To cloud their vision of the future

But their boat, like ours
Was starting from a full stop.

But they didn’t have to pull the oars.
Because they had been given the Holy Spirit.
Remember that Jesus breathed on them
And in a few weeks we will read about the Pentacostal fire being placed in them.
They didn’t have to pull the oars
Because the church of the first century
Was driven by the spirit.

And the post Covid 19 Church
Can no longer be a rowboat.
It will have to be
Like the church in the first Century
A sailboat.

We cannot by effort of will
And using our memories as our guides
force our church to go back to what it once was.

Instead, we have to “spread a little canvas”
Feel for the Holy Spirit
And let the spirit fill our sails
And set our path
And move us into the future.

In the Scripture that the Bishop referenced
When the disciples could not draw any fish in their nets
They listened to the words of Jesus from the shore
And drew up an enormous haul.

In our reading from Acts today
The disciples did four simple things
For basic basic things
And day by day the Lord added to their number

So, what did they do…..

They devoted themselves to:
apostles’ teaching
to the breaking of bread
and the prayers.

They read scripture.
They checked on their neighbors and friends
They celebrated the eucharist
And they prayed.

Everything else, God did.

And it is not just this community
Into which God is breathing new life
Each of us has been rowing like crazy these past few weeks.
Each of us has been reaching for that last effort at optimism
Each of us has been struggling to find the energy to do another project
Each of us has been trying really hard not to let it all get on our very last nerve
And may God bless and keep all these homeschooling parents.

But I invite you to consider
That while we are pulling the oars in our homes
And in our personal lives
Out in the world
Where we are doing nothing
God is healing creation.
We have all seen photographs of cities with less pollution
And thriving animal life.

Let those images be a reminder to you
That even when you are doing nothing
God is at work.
How can you let God do the work in you?
Where in your life
Can you put down the oars and listen for the wind?

Look, It is in our nature to think
That it is our job
To get this community back together
We are doers.
I love that about us.
But the only “together”
That we can imagine is
“Back together”

God can imagine a great deal more.
Our future is not behind us
It is ahead of us.
And God knows how to get us there.

In his statement to the church, the Presiding Bishop says
Today, like Peter and the disciples, we must discern a new normal. COVID-19 has left us disoriented, uncertain, and confused, afraid of what we know and anxious about what we do not know. Our old normal has been upended, and we hunger for its return.
But, none of us can go back. We must move forward. But we don’t know for sure what the new normal will be. Fortunately, God shows us the way.
We can be a sailboat church.
We can read scripture, care for one another, say our prayers and eventually celebrate the eucharist together
And listen for the whispering of the Holy Spirit
Be open the breath of God that inspired Creation
Set down our oars and set our sails to catch the wind that will blow us into a figure that God imagines for us.

It is easy to be overwhelmed
Both by what we are going through
And what it will mean for our future
There is so much that we don’t know
There is so much that we can’t predict
There is so much that we can’t plan for
There is so much that we can’t control.

But the good news is:
The Holy Spirit is at work
And God will show us the way.

For now, all we have to do…
is read scripture, love one another, celebrate the Eucharist as we can, and pray.

Notes for this Sermon:
Presiding Bishop Curry’s Word to the Church

Sailboat Church, by Joan S. Gray

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