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So long, and thanks for all the fish

This sermon was given in the immediate proximity of the San Diego synagogue shooting. One of the aspects of that horror that didn’t get covered much was the religious affiliation of the perpetrator. He was a young, white Presbyterian. He was a devout attender of the Presbyterian Church of America–a breakaway group of the PC(USA), and in his writings, used what he had heard in that church to justify his murders.

So.

Here’s what I said (in notes form)

Intro?  Douglas Adams? So long, and thanks for all the fish.

I feel it appropriate today to call upon the little-known theologian, Douglas Adams.  Douglas Adams, you are probably familiar with from his great masterpiece, Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wherein he ruminates on the chaotic nature of existence, the necessity of humor, and the importance of towels.  You may not, however, be aware of the theological nature of this work.  WELL.

You may recall that the story begins with the demolition of the earth, to make way for a bypass through the galaxy—and that immediately prior to this demolition, scientists notice that all dolphins on earth suddenly rise up, make some squeaky sounds, and fly off into the air.  Adams explains that the squeaks, properly translated, mean “So long, and thanks for all the fish”, as dolphins are the smartest creatures in existence, and long knew the bypass had been planned, so were making their escape.  

They take leave of their trainers and scientists with this friendly goodbye—so long!  And thanks for all the fish!

Now, I know, it may not seem like it has anything to do with the gospel, but here you would be wrong.  So long, and thanks for all the fish basically sums up what we are called to in the resurrection life of the Body of Christ.  

For one thing, nearly every time the resurrected Jesus appears to his disciples, he eats with them.  At Emmaus, he breaks bread with them, and that’s when the disciples finally recognize him.  In the locked room, the disciples are hiding, and Jesus enters, and asks for something to eat.  And here, Jesus spies the disciples fishing, and cooks them breakfast.  A breakfast of fish.  on the beach.  And he feeds them.  There is a lot of feeding happening in these resurrection appearances.  Both to make the narrative point that the newly-alive Jesus is physically alive, and not a ghost, and because it’s a form of caretaking.  Jesus is caring for his disciples.  They’re eating together. Here, Jesus is doing a very strange thing, in that everywhere else in the gospel of John, Jesus is preaching, and teaching, or doing some specific sign.  Here, Jesus just feeds them.  Here guys!  You’re hungry!  Have some breakfast!

But the crux of this story is the conversation over breakfast.  Jesus, as everyone has helped themselves, turns to Peter, and asks him “Simon, do you love me?”  Peter is thrown but says “Yes!”  Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.”  Three times this gets repeated, til Peter gets downright offended and hurt, with Jesus emphasizing, if you love me, feed my sheep.  

There’s a take on this that it may be a way to ritually undo Peter’s denial of Jesus.  He denied him three times; now he affirms him three times.  But it also goes deeper than that; Jesus, in the last story we have in John’s gospel, is reminding Peter of the commandment he laid down back on Maundy Thursday:  love one another as I have loved you.  If you love me, you will go and do likewise.  You love me, Peter?  Then you will do as I have done.  Then you will love and care for other people.  

Peter is recognized as a leader in the church as early as Acts—and these are his marching orders.  Do you love Jesus?  Then love people.  Care for them.  IF you want to claim to love Jesus, then you have to love those he loved, and care for those he cared for. 

These are the marching orders Jesus gives his disciples:  so long—go and feed each other.  That’s your job now.  And these are the marching orders he gives us too.  

If you think back to the services of Holy Week, they were literally when we were passed the torch.  On Maundy Thursday, we heard Jesus tell the disciples, go and wash feet!  Go and love one another as I have loved you!  We washed each other’s feet….but if you noticed, the liturgy…didn’t really end.  There’s no dismissal at the end of Maundy Thursday—the liturgy is basically interrupted by the stripping of the altar and we leave in silence.  Then, on Good Friday, there’s no opening, no acclamation.  We immediately start with the collect of the day, with a bare altar, and tell the Passion story.  Because the liturgy never really stopped.

Then, right after we hear the story of the crucifixion—we pray.  We pray for everyone and everything—we pray for the world, and the church, and for people who are mad at the world and the church, and for suffering people, and for literally everything. In liturgical time, as we recall the death of Jesus, we also take up the task that Jesus left to us.  We begin to care for the world he died for, as we recall his death.

So this is our task, as followers of Christ.  A task so important that we rehearse its beginning every Holy Week, as we try to carry it out in the world.  God gives into our hands the job of caring for the world as God redeems it.  That’s how we show our love for Christ.  We care for those around us.

There is no way to extricate those two.  

Everything we do, say, are in the world.

It’s our lens in the world.  It’s our motto.  

theology that harms, that damages God’s creation cannot be of Christ, because Christ sends us out—so long, and thanks for all the fish!  Go forth, and feed the world!  Go out, and care for everyone!  You love me? Go care for those in this world I love. That’s your job. Go out, and care for all these. Peter, you love me, do you? Take care of these people. You all claim to love and follow me? Then love and care for those around you. Even the ones you dislike. Even the ones who worry you. Even the ones you’d rather not sit next to. Take care of them, if you love me.

There is no way to separate love of God from love of neighbor. You cannot love God while hurting your neighbor. If we love Jesus, we have to feed his sheep.


About megancastellan

Episcopal priest, writer, wearer of fancy shoes.

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