The Sixth Sunday of Easter — the Rev. David Rider

The Sixth Sunday of Easter: May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26  |  1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19  |  Psalm 1

Preacher: The Rev. David Rider, Executive Director and
President of the Seamen’s Church Institute of New York and New Jersey

We’ve settled into another wonderful Sunday of worship amid the Great Fifty Days of Easter

Music abounds, the warm glow of community surrounds us with prayers of joy, we await Eucharistic fellowship and, all too soon, our Deacon will cry out in polite liturgical language, “Get out of here!”

I’m sure it will sound something like, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”

This proclamation transitions us from the Church Gathered to the Church Scattered in witness and service to this world

Fortified by sacramental food and spiritual bonds of affection, we return into the world individually and corporately to bear witness to God’s presence in our acts of justice, love and mercy

In continuation of our sermon teaching series on various parts of our worship, I hope to speak on our dismissal not so much as the end of liturgy as the beginning of outreach ministry in the world

As I speak to a theology of outreach and mission, I am handed the sweet yet challenging Gospel lesson from John in which Jesus celebrates love, joy, friendship and bearing fruit, along with at least 4 invocations of the word, ‘command’

Jesus’ ode to love and fellowship wafts through our souls, and yet it feels slightly strange to be ‘commanded’ to love one another

As an American and New Yorker, I am happy to take something under advisement, but I can bristle when ‘commanded’ to do something

Yet Jesus persists, both inviting and commanding us to love one another, bear fruit (make yourself useful), and to serve each other sacrificially (no greater love than to lay down one’s life for another)

So let’s work out our authority issues regarding whether Jesus ‘commands’ or ‘invites’ us to love one another and serve this world—this becomes our missional task and opportunity when we depart this space

Of course, we do this individually in our various acts of service, volunteerism, perhaps professional commitments

The Church also sponsors collective forms of outreach ministry and social service in many social sectors:

Prison ministry, hospital ministry, migrant/refugee ministry, academic ministry, military, ministry, social service ministry and, yes, maritime ministry

Think of the next few minutes as a case study of how we pool our resources of time, talent and treasure and ‘abide in love’ with the stranger and sojourner

It is my honor to serve as President & Executive Director of the Seamen’s Church Institute, a wonderful Episcopal church-and-society ministry with roots back to Victorian New York in 1834, a ministry that has reinvented itself countless time and now addresses such timely issues as suicide prevention, international seafarer legal aid, post-piracy clinical intervention protocols, and high-tech simulation training for American mariners who move the world’s most hazardous cargoes

You have a direct stake in this mission

If you name several of your most treasured possessions—your I-phone or tablet, the TV through which you watch our President rail at his enemies, the clothes that you wore to church today, your favorite wine, automobile or cheese, 90% of what you own made its way to you by sea

Same with the less exotic but equally important products that make our modern way of life possible:  home heating fuel, road sale from Chile, jet fuel, corn, soybeans, orange juice from Santos Brazil—the list goes on and on

International seafarers live highly professional and dignified lives, yet they deploy from family for 9-12 months at a time and cannot return home when mothers die or children get into trouble

Living 24/7 in a vibrating hulk of steel, mariners have nowhere to run when bullying or harassment occurs at sea

As SCI chaplains visit nearly every ship that comes into Port Newark, we never know whether we will high-five a seafarer whose child was born yesterday, conduct an impromptu memorial service for another whose loved one died, or confront a human rights dilemma when the captain denies shore leave or a medical visit

On the American inland river system where we also serve, mariners work just 28 days per deployment, yet thy face more frequent re-entry stressors when they return home to family has gotten along without them for a month

A river chaplain’s bearing fruit might mean embracing the widow with love after her mariner-husband dies from a self-inflicted gunshot wound upon returning home, a scenario with which we deal perhaps on a monthly basis

On a happier note, we also serve as the delivery system for St. Michael’s knitters, who send us your labors of love for distribution during the Christmas holidays

So allow me a shout-out and thanks to those knitters who make it possible to give away > 20,000 knitted hats/scarves each year

Your labor of love helps to overcome the loneliness of working far from home on Christmas

Mariners thank us (and you) for these gifts and tell us so throughout the year—it’s very cool

In the cacophony of our busy lives, in the world’s greatest city and the city’s coolest parish, seafarers today can become an abstraction at best

I bid you, however, to visit New York Harbor to see massive international ships and local tugs navigating in harmony

When you do, look beyond the vessel itself to imagine God’s children crewing the ship who hail from the Philippines, Ukraine, China, India, South America and elsewhere

The very DNA of a veteran seafarer embodies a crusty, slightly jaded world traveler who has seen it all, knows the dark side of life —cruelty, sudden death, and attacks by bad guys—and wonders whether life’s glass is half full or half empty

Seafarers also know the frazzled state of the human condition—like the disciples that first night of Easter, fearfully locked into a safe room—and they are never sure whether authority figures will protect or exploit them: just try crossing the North Atlantic during a winter storm or locking yourself into a safe room during a pirate attack off Somalia or the Malaccan Strait

American seafaring has legendary roots both colorful and tragic—with crimping, intoxication, prostitution and dangerous seas that drained life expectancy to 12 years beyond the first day onboard.

Today’s seafarer, however, now knows high-tech safety management systems and best-practice protocols to protect people, property and the environment; uses Skype in his free time to read a bedtime story to his child in Asia

Yet, seafarers continue to experience God’s presence and absence in unique ways when time vacillates between boredom and life-threatening terror in an instant

I will lead a forum in a few minutes to explore this unique blend of chaplaincy, social justice and educational ministry, but it all syncs up with Jesus’ admonition in John’s Gospel today:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

“I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last…”

These same values embody the many chaplaincies and outreach ministries that provide collective witness to the church at work in the world

Whether at a soup kitchen or Harvard University chaplaincy, whether with military or prison ministry, whether at Bellevue Hospital or Memorial Sloan-Kettering, God calls us to bear fruit and witness in this world

We serve those who are chronically or situationally vulnerable

We celebrate life’s victories while ameliorating life’s traumas as God ‘commands’ or ‘invites’ us to serve the world in His name

We live out this mission in corporate structures like SCI and in our individual service to family, neighbor or stranger in need

We near the end of the Great Fifty Days of Easter, a time when we practice resurrection—not only as a personal spiritual uplift but also as the divine energy that permeates our humanity and draws us into loving, sacrificial service to this world

We never hoard resurrection spirit, but we metabolize it to bear fruit and bear witness to Jesus’ command that we love one another

Jesus ends today’s passage with a heady vision that results because he chose us: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.”

That’s a big idea, a big vision, and a big command

Whether we serve the seafarer—the stranger, the sojourner—or whether we take our place in hospital, academic, social service, military or prison chaplaincies as staff, volunteers or donors—we bear fruit together that ameliorates human suffering on a tough day and celebrates human resilience on our best

Continue practicing resurrection as this Easter season moves toward its conclusion

Embrace this parish community as a school of discipleship, love and service

In a world bent on staring into the abyss, go countercultural and celebrate Jesus’ admonition to bear fruit so that Jesus’ joy may be in us and our joy may be complete

In just a few minutes—but not yet—go in peace to love and serve the Lord.