Goldfish and the Glory of God

November 4th, 2018

Preacher:  The Rev. Ruth Anne Garcia

This All Saints Sunday we are not only coming together to celebrate one of the seven major feasts of the Church Year, we are also re-affirming our baptismal vows and welcoming three new members into the Church. One of the things I love most about AllHallowtide is that it is, indeed, a celebration of the fullness of our life experience as human beings and Christians. We are simultaneously looking back and looking forward; celebrating new life and recalling our mortality. We are given time to consciously recall that we are all swimming in the waters of life together.

In baptism we recognize the power of water and recall the place that it has played in creation. And water is important. It makes up 60% of our human body – and we need it to survive. Water is life. And I love water. In my hometown in Montana, I grew up with water that was 99.9% pure from the spring. While I do not know if they have had to add it yet, what that the water from the Madison Aquifer did not have was added chlorine. Which meant that I grew up with the most delicious-tasting water you can imagine. And I have carried the remembrance of that water with me all my life.

What it also means is that I grew up not having some information that I needed for the raising and care of goldfish. I grew up with goldfish as pets and have always loved them. We kept ours in our kitchen, in the center of our family life, and were blessed with gregarious goldfish who genuinely interacted with us. I remember the weekly ritual of cleaning the goldfish bowl. Taking our little friend and putting them in another bowl while we would wash their bowl with hot water and salt, rinsing it carefully, filling it with water not too cold and not too hot, and then inserting the smaller container into the larger bowl so as not to shock their systems and then reintroducing them into the clean water. While I am sure that fish specialists probably would have a lot of feedback about this process, we were fairly successful as we had fish that lived for many years. But that was not the case for the two goldfish I adopted as an adult in New York City.  And this is why. While I had learned some important steps in the care of goldfish growing up, because we did not have chlorine in our water, I never knew I had to add the special drops to neutralize it in tap water.

So, about eight years ago we brought home two small goldfish. We named the first John Waters, after the Baltimore-based director, because of his pencil-thin mustache marking. And the second, because it looked like he was wearing a red-beret, we called Curtis Sliwa, after the founder of the Guardian Angels who with other citizens, sporting red berets, sought to protect folks in 1980s NYC subways. When I got our new fish home, I went through all the steps setting up their bowl, getting the water the right temperature etc to welcome them into their new home.  I was, therefore, absolutely devastated the next morning to find our new fish friends decidedly unwell. John Waters looked more than a little unwell  and Curtis, with his little red-beret looked rather green around the gills. What was going on? What had I done? I went online and quickly found out what I had not previously learned about the raising and care of goldfish—that you had to neutralize the chlorine in their water. So I immediately rushed to the pet store to get the drops, dumped the water, put them in a little sea salt bath, re-cleaned the bowl and filled it with water AND the neutralizing drops.  Curtis Sliwa was rapidly restored to health. However, John Waters was not. He went to be with Divine who had gone before him. And I felt so, so terrible. I, even with all my love and careful preparations–I had killed my goldfish.

During the time that Curtis Sliwa lived with us, I had to make a check list to get myself in the habit of adding the necessary drops.  A couple of times, I almost put Curtis back in the water without the drops. I had to re-train myself. And it was important. Our fish’s life depended on it.

A few weeks ago, I was getting some treats at Petco for the Blessing of the Animals. And I went over to look at goldfish. I have been thinking about getting another fish and I learned something new – that the bowls that most folks have long kept our goldfish in are detrimental to their health.  In the Petco, they posted a notice that those who were thinking of buying a goldfish should talk to a sales associate. So I did and found out that for those wanting to properly raise and care for a goldfish, we should make sure to have at least a twenty-gallon tank for each fish. How many of you all have had goldfish? Did you know about this twenty-gallon tank? Well apparently, while the old adage that a goldfish will grow as large as the space allows may be true, too small of a bowl actually affects the health of the fish. Being forced to stay small is a stress on its system. Goldfish are meant to grow bigger. And while I think most of us know this on some level, we have kept them in bowls and small tanks and harmed them in the process.

In the children’s sermon over the last few weeks, we have been learning about the saints. And we have been singing Lesbia Scott’s “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” Scott, an English Christian educator, playwright and clergy spouse wrote this hymn about the saints for her children on All Saints Day. And while we might be tempted to call this a child’s hymn, it is according to Anglicans Online a not-so-secret favorite hymn (in the top 40) of many Episcopalians. And while I will leave its real musical analysis to my colleagues Zach and Wyatt, from a theological perspective I think it captures an important truth about our Christian life – one that I shared with our younger members and I am glad to share with you—namely that we are all called to be saints. In the third verse of this hymn we read, “They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, the world is bright with the saints of God who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church or in trains or in shops or at tea, for the saints of God are just folks like me and I mean to be one too.

I think this is an important reminder for all of us as we renew our baptismal vows today and as we prepare to welcome three new members into the Church of God. As followers of Christ, friends, we are meant for bigger things. We are meant to be saints. And as folks who will be making promises to raise up these new members to their full stature in Christ, we need to remember exactly just how amazing a human being who has grown into their full stature in Christ is. In these difficult times when our society and our human world seems to be spiraling out of control, it is easy for us to play small and to think, as Mary did in today’s gospel, only in terms of our grief – only in terms of “If only this would be different, then I would believe or I would be happy or things would be different…” But Jesus reminds us that if we believe, we are meant to see the glory of God. This does not mean that we are meant to see the glory of God only when the circumstances which surround us are perfect or when the lighting is exactly right or we are feeling absolutely safe and secure. This means that we are to see the glory of God – the glory of the communion of saints—right in the midst of our lives—today, starting right now – where we are just like the hymn says.

As much as I love the hymn, I would say that Lesbia Scott was wrong on one account. And that is that there are more than hundreds of thousands of saints and potential saints alive today. Christians we, thanks be to God, number in millions AND we are all called to be saints. Curtis Sliway started the Guardian Angels with his desire to protect commuters in the New York City Subways. We may be called to start somewhere else. And today is as good a day as any. As we re-affirm our baptismal covenant, and as we make promises on behalf of Elin, Miles and James let us start and re-affirm our commitment to follow the teachings of Christ and to do the will of Jesus. Because not only are we meant to help our youngest members grow in the knowledge and love of God, we are being called to grow into the people that God sees in us and provide leadership and vision for our world in need. We were not meant to stay small. If we want to raise and care for our souls and the souls of our children, we need to remember that we all swim in the same water. That what we say and do matters. We also need to remember that we were not meant to live small lives—being forced to stay small stresses our souls. Today as we rejoice in the holy, life-giving water of baptism, we are called forth to unbind ourselves and let us ourselves rise up in a new life in Christ– and the glorious promise of that new life cannot be contained in a bowl or even in a twenty gallon tank – we are swimming in deep waters of the Spirit and we need to carry the memory of that water all our lives…