Isaiah 9:1-4; I Corinthians 1:1-10; Matthew 4:12-23
It wasn’t until I sat down to write this sermon that it occurred to me that our Capital Campaign, “St. Paul’s 2020:Preparing A Place For All,” paralleled exactly the time between the Sunday after the presidential election and today, the Sunday after the inauguration.
I remember standing in front of you in November and confessing my apprehension about undertaking such a major, brave and visionary campaign when so many people were reeling, so many people were feeling lost and hopeless. I told you how Paul reacted by telling me it was exactly the right time for such a campaign, and how I agreed.
I was almost as ambivalent about today being ingathering Sunday for the campaign, the morning when we will all offer up our pledges each according to our ability, for the building up of God’s dream for this place.
Did I really want to preach a Capital Campaign sermon two days after the inauguration? Did I want to talk about the Campaign one day after the historic Women’s March?
As I have said to you before, I believe coincidences are God’s way of staying anonymous. Because I believe this, I tend to search out where God is in the midst of it all. When I look for God in the midst of it all, I look for the Good News. When I find the Good News, I find God.
As we were walking into town yesterday morning, approaching the Boston Common, one of the parishioners with whom I was walking asked me how we are supposed to find hope when there is so much about which to be terrified. “How do we find hope?” she asked.
Almost as on cue, a few minutes asking the question, and as it still hung in the air between us, the Boston Common came into view, and with it, the thousands and thousands and thousands of people assembling for the march.
“That’s how,” I responded, pointing to the gathered crowd, “that’s hope.”
The gathered community was the Good News. And in the people, I saw the face of God.
It really was a vision of the kingdom of God. From the very youngest to the very oldest, they were there. Black and white and brown, they were there. Male and Female and everyone in between, they were there. Rich and poor were there. Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Atheist and a road side hare Krishna band – they were there. Democrat, independent and Republican – they were there. They. Were. All. There.
Looking around at the amazing spectrum of God’s beloved children there was only one thing we all had in common. We all had hope. Hope that the vulnerable would be protected. Hope that all the things which unite us would be strong enough to overthrow the powers of fear and hate. Hope that our children and our children’s children would inherit a world that is more just, to live lives that are more free, to feel a love even more abundant.
It was a remarkable sight.
It is not unlike the one in front of me right now.
We are, all of us in this place so different in just about every possible way you can imagine. We look differently, we think differently, we vote differently. We believe different things about the God we worship together. We like different things about the way we worship together. We support different causes and we hold different priorities.
In my experience here at St. Paul’s there is really only one thing we all have in common. And that is hope. Hope that things can be different. Hope that things will be different. Hope for a world that is more just. Hope for a life lived in the service of others. Hope even for a life that is more hope-filled. Hope that, here, that which unites us is so much stronger than all the many things which threaten to divide us. We are held together by a hope born of community and nurtured with love.
When I thought back to the parallel time line of our campaign and the election and inauguration, I was awestruck at how we at St. Paul’s spent that time.
Hosting the Brookline Interfaith Thanksgiving Service. Gathering for the Messiah Sing and Candlelight Carols and Silent Night on Christmas Eve. Delivering presents for over 50 children at the Brookline Community Mental Health Program.
Watching the documentary 13th and sharing honest heart-break. Our baby Jesus Lucy in the Christmas pageant and a crowd of smiling family and friends watching. We attended “Out of one: Many” at the Boston Islamic Society Cultural Center and yesterday we marched.
This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it meant for congratulatory pats on the back. It is simply meant to hold a mirror up to this community to remind us that, while the country became a strange place in many ways. Here, we kept doing what we do best. We came together, and we built a community of hope. We had our hope renewed and we taught our children and grandchildren how to hope, we taught them why they can hope. Because here, following the example of Jesus, we know that coming together, united in love, has the power to change the world.
The disciples didn’t drop their nets and follow Jesus because he made them a better business deal. They dropped their nets and followed Jesus because they knew that the way they were going about their lives wasn’t working; that they need more; they needed a reason to hope.
And so Jesus went around, gathering people to create a community where hope for a new life might be born out of radical love for one another, fed by the abundant love of God.
We are just beginning. We are always just beginning. We are always becoming. We are always being transformed more and more into who it is God needs us to be.
If the march and rally yesterday is the end of the hope, then it will have been a nice day spent with friends. Nothing more. And nothing will change. Marches and clever signs, buttons and bumper stickers don’t create the dream of God in the world. Our hands and feet, our hearts and our voices do.
If all the many ways we have come together here at St. Paul’s is the end of the story, then those times will become pleasant memories of a nice day at church.
But if we are willing to drop our nets and follow as it were; if we are willing to let our lives be transformed by the lives in which we come in contact, then these times we get together have the potential to unlock hope and to unleash love.
If this Capital Campaign is just about making St. Paul’s prettier, we should save our money.
But if it is about making St. Paul’s a place where hope is cultivated and the seeds of God’s abundant love are planted; where God’s justice is a call to action, and where community creates transformation, then it is worth every dollar we can possibly scrape together.
Friday night, we had a karaoke party to mark the end of the campaign. And while there were many amazing musical gifts shared, the highlight of the event was when six of our young women got up and sang their hearts out to a crowd of smiling, applauding, loving adults. A roomful of people pouring out love as hard as they could. I couldn’t help but wonder what these young women were thinking about the reaction of the crowd. I hoped it was something like, “I matter here”. “I am loved here.” “I am safe here.” “I am celebrated here.” “And since this is all happening at church, maybe God feels the same way.”
And I wonder what that experience might have unlocked in each of them, what seed might have been planted, what courageous act of love they will perform with their lives.
There is so much work to be done. Each one of us has work to do in ourselves. We have work to do in this community. We have work to do in our country and we have work to do in the world.
That is why Jesus gathered community. That is why we gather here. To share the same message and unlock the same hope.
You matter here. You are loved here. You are safe here. You are celebrated here. And God feels the same way.
This is only the beginning. But what a beginning it can be.
© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello
[i] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing. Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here: David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .