Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Last Sunday's Sermon

Today’s Gospel deals with Resurrection and reconciliation. How do you go back to the old life after Easter, when this new life seems so much larger, how do you weave this new light, this new insight back to the old way of living? It also relates to the situation that both Gamaliel and Peter are dealing with in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles: how do you follow, obey and honor God in our human world. As Jesuit spiritual director pit it to m: “How uncomfortable will you allow yourself to be for the new creation?” How do we go back to the old life when what you understand life to be is all new, when what we thought was death and defeat turns out to be larger life and new victory? When there are no dead ends, all roads are open, all possibilities call out, it can be exhausting!

For the disciples and apostles the events of Holy week, the tragedy of Good Friday, and the great surprise of Easter move them beyond belief, beyond the way of life they had followed before into something both wonderful and very different!  A nap would have looked good! It is the same for us. Both Christmas and Easter can be demanding seasons for people in the church, bringing us to new birth and the possibility of life beyond death, and that’s a stretch.

I don’t know about you but after I am stretched, with joy, with sadness, with a new understanding of what life is about and where I am, then I need some time to relax and reconnoiter, I need coffee or chocolate or a hot shower or a good nap, Thirty years after giving up smoking there are still times when I think of how I would love a cigarette. Those old common comforts are powerful!

So how do we deal with life after Resurrection? The Gospels give us several examples for this post-resurrection transition: Disciples on the road to Emmaus are walking it out, talking it out, getting out of town and taking it on the road run for a bush walk: the old geography cure. Some other disciples try the closed room and conversation mode. There’s also the way of Thomas: hiding, denial and defense by erecting a new wall based of a lack of trust, “I won’t believe until...”. In each case Jesus shows up to remind them that life is different from here on, that all things are new!

So that’s background for the overnight fishing trip we heard about in today’s Gospel, which might have four particular focal points on how to live into the new life: work, water, people and food. So I want to bring in some stories from my own life to consider how these four areas can help us in growing in faith.

Let’s go back to John: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others decide to go back to work! It makes sense, work is the main way a lot of us spend time and it can be a very reassuring ritual, except now it is different and it is night, and they really are in the dark! Maybe there’s a hint that it takes time in the dark, to figure out where you are and what you can do after a new look at life comes into view.

In the late 1970s my understanding of God deepened, a graceful sense of God believing in me more than I believed in myself started to flower in my life and, after a few years, I found myself in seminary working on an MA on prayer and mediation while working in a printing business my family owned. You’ve heard of family businesses and dysfunctional families? Well, we had a dysfunctional family business!

In my second semester I took a unit on “Theology and Work” and the question came: if God exists, then where is God to be found in my work? For a semester I read and worked and prayed and by the end I had built a series of strategies on how to explore the possibilities of God in the printing business. One took place in a small hallway between the backshop and the front office where I formed the habit of stopping to take a breath and ask God to remind me to look for a new way, to see with new eyes, to be surprised and ready for a blessing, and it worked! My belief and my occupation came together with more integration than ever before.

Going back to John. After the night shift a dawn light comes, and a stranger on the shore throws them a question: “why don’t you try it over there?” A change of mode, a great catch,  a surprise! John, the beloved disciple, says, “it is the Lord!” and Peter jumps into the water!

Water: our second focus, a place where you wash up your life, clean up your act, get baptized into new beginning. Here are three places where water marks renewal, think about where yours might be found.

First, In 1981, I was repainting my parents house and fell through a roof, compressing my spine, with a week in the hospital wearing a steel brace for four months which I could only remove when going to bed or taking a shower. I still remember the glory of taking off that metal contraption and standing naked under fresh warm water! I still have great joy stepping into a hot shower, embodied, alive, a bare beginning every morning!

In 1989 I was training to be a chaplain working in an acute psychiatric ward: intense, tragic, dedicated and wonderful work: often chaotic and always very busy. The only place where I could be along was the staff wash room, so I learned to wash and dry my hands carefully and prayerfully: creating a new and clean intention in that moment, a redemptive space in a noisy and sometimes dirty world.  Both purification and dedication, washing up God’s world.

Then last Sunday, when a family presented their one year old son for Baptism (and my first as a priest) I was reminded that it’s not a bad thing to get into church 10 minutes early on some days to reread the Baptismal covenant in the Prayer Book as a reminder of why we’re here and what we’re for: ministry, friendship, sharing the love of God.

The third place in our Gospel for today is the stranger who asks a question, who calls us to new tactics, who might just be our new best friend as well as a door to new awareness, new life. How do we look at other people?

In 2003, I led a Lenten quiet day atSt Peter’s Eastern Hill in he middle of Melbourne. I asked people to walk to a block to  the tram stop across from a major hospital and look for the “Hidden Jesus” hidden (to misquote Teresa of Calcutta) in the distressing disguises of his friends.  To look for Christ in people making peace, feeling pain, moving in love, doing all the diverse duties of everyday life in the middle of the world, and see the people who are loved by God in a new way. It can be a good exercise.

And finally in sharing Food.

Now I don’t know much about fish, though our Bishop does; but I do know that they’re from a place where I can only swim on the surface. I also know that what these disciples, and new apostles have been fishing in the nightwatch and the new dawn ends up feeding them in community, and that takes me to a Maundy Thursday sermon I gave in 2008.

Food means company, not just company for dinner, having friends in to share substance and spirit, though that is part of it: but company as in a group of people, many, different, working together in separate ways that come together in a common cause. The bread and wine we eat and drink has been touched, gathered, lifted up by workers in the fields, harvesters, processors, moved by ship, truck and train to market with many hands holding, refining the food from the land; bringing it all togethers. Bread and wine mean grapes and water: yeast and fat and oil and wheat mixed and kneaded, work of human hands, to rest and rise, to be taken away to warm and transform. All this before they come to the table to be broken and shared. Many backs have been bent; many hands have stretched out to give us food at our daily tables. Many have gathered to ensure this harvest. 

And Jesus says, “This is my body, this is my blood!” Jesus says I am willing to be known in this meal, this Eucharist, and I tell you I will be here, but prepare to meet me in the entire world, because in my love I have taken up with the body and blood of all humankind and all creation. This bread and wine are means of my love to you, but I mean to love you in everywhere, in everything, in everyone!

So through the ministry of work, the grace of water, the ministry of friend and stranger, and in the celebration of sharing food, we become ready to live in a world where God will go so far and come so close, and where it is time to make Eucharist.

In the name of Christ. Amen.

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