Sunday, March 31, 2013

Joy Jumps In (Easter 2013)

A Meditation on John 21
Sunday, March 31, 2013


There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “One joy shatters a hundred sorrows.”  One joy shatters a hundred sorrows.  So there’s Peter out there in his little skiff just after daybreak.  And he’s been nursing a hundred sorrows, all night long.  Jesus his friend mocked and crucified.  Peter’s own complicity, his bruising regret.  And their beloved community—once so hopeful, once so irrepressibly hopeful—in miserable disarray.  Of course, there are rumors going round, Peter’s heard the rumors, about Jesus, about some kind of resurrection.  But he sees the same lousy lake, from the same lousy boat, all night long.  And the fishing?  Well, the fishing is just as pointless, just as pitiful, just as futile as it’s always been.  So there’s Peter out there in his skiff.  Rifling through a couple of six packs, you know, the cheap stuff.  And nursing a hundred sorrows.  All night long.

If you’ve ever been in that boat with Peter—nursing a hundred sorrows, regretting choices you’ve made or opportunities you passed on, catching no fish whatsoever—if you’ve ever been in that sad little skiff with Peter, you know.  Daybreak seems sometimes like a sad, sick joke.  The sun shines on the same sorry mistakes you grieved the day before and the day before that.  There’s that hangover that mocks your every move, and every little wave the sea throws your way.  If you’ve been in that boat, you know.

But there’s a figure on the beach now, and he calls to Peter, to his friends.  And his voice is encouragement, not judgment.  It’s compassion, not derision.  And he calls to them, “Cast your net to the other side of the boat; you’ll find some fish biting over there.”  And suddenly they’re straining against the net so full now of fish; and suddenly they’re laughing and howling and wailing with delight.  You know, the way we do.  When we’ve given up on joy, and joy finds us anyway.  The way we do.  When everything seems irredeemably broken, and then something happens, something like healing, something like grace.  They’re straining against the net.  And they’re wailing with delight.  And one of them points to the shore and shouts to Peter: “It’s the Lord!  It’s the Lord!” he cries.  “Look, Peter!  It’s Jesus.  On the beach.”

And, you know, the proverb really does get it right.  One joy shatters a hundred sorrows.  The way the pope did when he washed the feet of a Muslim woman this week.  The way Handel did when he first composed his Hallelujah Chorus.  The way a newborn fits in the crook of your elbow just right, the very first time you hold her.  One joy shatters a hundred sorrows.  “It’s the Lord,” one of them says to Peter.  “It’s the Lord!  It’s the Lord!  It’s the Lord!”

So Peter does what any decent, grateful, god-fearing fisherman would do.  At least, any decent, grateful, god-fearing fisherman who’s been fishing all night in the buff.  He throws on his clothes and he jumps right in.  Big jump, all kinds of noise, water everywhere, and arms and feet.  And Peter’s gone.


So let’s dare, right here and now, to name the promise this Easter gospel discloses.  Because this is not only Peter’s story, not only the disciples’ story, it’s our story too.  And just like Peter, just like the disciples, just like all the sweet saints and faithful fools of generations past, we are made for joy. You and I are made for joy.  Not just survival.  Not just getting by.  Not just putting in our eighty or ninety years and getting out clean.  But joy.  We are made for joy.  Created for joy.  Fashioned and formed for joy.  And joy jumps in.  Into the lake at daybreak.  Into the strange vows you make in baptism.  Into the big broken world of beauty and injustice.  Into the one life, the only life, you have to live.  Joy jumps in.

Now you may be nursing your hundred sorrows.  And your world may be a sad and disappointing place.  And right now you may be thinking, sure, everybody else is made that way.  But not me: I’ve got issues.  Anybody out there like that?  Not me, I’ve got issues?

But, friends, hear this today and hear it clear.  Because Jesus doesn’t rise from the dead to love just some of us and to delight just some of us and to thrill just some of us.  No, Jesus rises from the dead to claim each and every one of us, each and every one of you, as a child of God.  Made in the image of God.  Made for joy here on earth.  Easter rings out with a thousand ALLELUIAS—not just for some of us, but for all of us; not just for me, but for you.  We are made for joy.  And joy, joy jumps in.

The great 20th century rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel survived the holocaust and dove into the civil rights movement and inspired the American peace movement in the 1960s.  And Heschel once said that “our goal should be to live life in radical get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted.  Everything,” he said, “is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually.  To be spiritual,” and again these are the words of Rabbi Heschel, “to be spiritual is to be amazed.”

To be spiritual is to be amazed.  And Peter jumps in.  And before long, he’s finishing up his breakfast and enjoying Jesus’ company on the beach.  Just like the old days.  The charcoal fire works its magic, dries out his soggy tunic.  And somewhere a couple of friends are cleaning out a hundred and fifty-three large fish.  Taking care of business and shaking their heads at their good fortune.  And Jesus does, just then, what Jesus ALWAYS does.  He asks Peter a pointed, purposeful, provocative question.  “Simon, son of John,” he says, “do you LOVE me?”  And Peter answers him, without any hesitation, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

And then Jesus says to Peter the three words that point us past this Easter Sunday and into another Monday and another Tuesday and into the rest of our lives: “Feed my lambs.”  You’ve heard the reading.  You know this little exchange is repeated, more or less, three times.  Feed my lambs.  Tend my sheep.  Feed my sheep.  In other words, don’t let all those fish go to waste, Peter.  Don’t let your joy get stale, Peter.  Feed my sheep.  Nurture and protect my children.  Honor their lives and bounce them on your knee and wash their feet with love.  Feed my lambs, Peter.  Feed my sheep.

And I want us to hear these three words as something more than another call to action, though they’re surely that.  Feed my sheep.  But I want us to hear these words, Jesus’ words, above all as a challenge to take nothing for granted, as an invitation to radical amazement, as a call to joy and compassion in everyday life.  Feed my sheep.  You awakened this morning to a universe that dazzles and delights and dances every day.  You awakened to a planet pregnant with possibility and hope.  You awakened to a good earth aching to feed her people well.  Live your life with radical amazement.  Everything is phenomenal.  Everything is incredible.  So feed my sheep, Jesus says.  Take nothing for granted.  You’ll look in the mirror this evening and see the light of heaven in your eyes, YOUR eyes, and the peace of Jesus on your lips, and the Holy Spirit hovering round.  In YOUR bathroom.  Live your life with radical amazement.  Everything is phenomenal.  Everything is incredible.  So feed my sheep, says Jesus.  And take nothing for granted.

And what is it—to be amazed?  What is it—to live with joy?  Well, I think it’s something like the wild gratitude I saw in Stew Jenkins’ eyes early this morning, when we lifted him out of the roiling surf of the Pacific, and baptized him in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one God who is Mother of us all.  What is it to be amazed?  What is it to live with joy?  Have you looked in Stew’s eyes this morning?  And it’s something like the tears running down Deb Culmer’s cheeks Thursday evening, walking these stations of the cross and appreciating what God’s doing right here, right now with her life.  How her courage has inspired our creativity!  What is it to be amazed?  Have you walked these fifteen stations?  Have you experienced the reverence, the humility, the provocation of love along the way?  It’s stunning.

You see, Stew reminds us and Deb reminds us that joy is not a stable, static thing.  It’s not a commodity you buy low and sell high.  It’s not a rainy day fund you keep tucked under the mattress for, well, a rainy day.  Real joy, Easter joy—it releases waves of generosity, it loves fearlessly and forgives boldly.  And real joy, Easter joy—it JUMPS IN.  Joy believes in ABUNDANCE—when the word on the street is scarcity.  Joy imagines NEW possibilities—when conventional wisdom is cynical and dismissive.  Easter joy releases wave after wave of generosity.  Need to be convinced?  Check out the look in Stew’s eyes this morning.  Introduce yourself to Deb Culmer after the final hymn.  Joy jumps in.


There’s a story I love to tell about a great Zen teacher who once asked a student to sit by a stream until he’d heard ALL that the water had to teach. So he did. The student sat and he sat and he sat. And after days of looking, after days of taking it all in, after days of listening to the stream, it just so happened that a lively little monkey came along. And in one fearless leap of joy, that little monkey dove headlong into the stream. And he splashed and he splashed and he splashed in the water.

Well the student, the student wept with delight, and he ran off straightaway to find his teacher. Obviously this was it. This was the lesson. He got it at last. But, surprisingly, the teacher only scolded him. Not at all what the student expected.  And the great teacher said, “The monkey heard.  The monkey heard.  But you, you just listened."

Now if you’ve never before made that leap, if you’re not one given to jumping, if you’ve never before invited God to inspire and arouse, it can seem a little scary. Or maybe even silly.  And maybe that’s what held the serious student back.  Maybe he didn’t want to look silly. Maybe he didn’t want to get wet.  But I wonder if the teacher’s saying to the student, you can wait on banks of that stream, you can watch the monkeys diving and the fish jumping, you can wait.  But the time's going to come. The time's going to come--when YOU’VE got to jump. The only way to know that stream, to feel that stream, to TASTE its joy, is to jump.


So friends, the word today, the Easter word today is COURAGE.

You see, the time has come; it has most certainly come.  The time has come for YOU to jump.  Jump into the beautiful, broken world, the world of rivers and redwoods, and love it, love this world with everything you are and everything you have.  Jump into the sixty-minute hours of your life and watch life unfold with radical amazement and irrepressible gratitude.  The time has come, you see, to JUMP.  Jump into the feeding, sheltering, caring ministry of the church--or the organizing, advocating, agitating ministry of the church--and bear witness to Jesus’ passion for justice.  The time has come.  The time has come for you--to JUMP into EVERY hymn and EVERY prayer and EVERY breath--because every moment is phenomenal and incredible.  And God’s gift.

You see, you are MADE for joy.  Not just for survival.  Not just getting by.  But joy.  And joy, my friends, jumps in.  Always, always, joy jumps in.