I have been experiencing some hospitality lately. I’ve been meeting with people in coffee shops and making my way from house to house these past weeks and next weeks, being welcomed in for coffee, muffins, cake, parfait and tea, and lovely tables with beautiful cups and saucers and the most fun conversations. There is something about sitting down across from someone and choosing to be present in the moment right now, giving each other your attention, listening to stories and eating and drinking together, that reminds us that we are not alone, that we are alive, that God is trustworthy and that we are blessed.
In this season of Eastertide we are spending some time in hospitality with the Resurrected Jesus, or, at least, with the disciples while the resurrected Jesus comes and goes here and there as he pleases, and they keep sitting across from him and getting their lives readjusted.
Mary at the tomb, Thomas in the upper room, Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, Then last week we saw Jesus appear to the disciples just as they were telling stories about him, and resort to eating fish in front of them to help them believe he was really there among them. Today we see him cook them some fish on the beach, and remind them of who they are meant to be.
Next Saturday, we will get to meet a group of people, most of whom have been church together for 20 years. They’ve weathered ups and downs, and right now are in a time of unknown and change. They have unique strengths as a congregation, passions and interests that are different from ours. They are grieving some loss, in the shadow of some death, and on the brink of some resurrection as well, navigating those waiting waters, those discernment days, asking God what is coming next.
And in two weeks they will worship with us for the first time. ‘Come have breakfast.’ we will say. And perhaps, the week after that, as part of your Sabbath practice, you might decide to come worship with them, ‘bring what you caught and we’ll cook it and eat it together.’ And we’ll meet in the hospitality of God, who welcomes us all in and adjusts our lives to newness, again and again.
Because we are a people of resurrection. Yes, the Church big C, but this church, little c is a people of resurrection. We have seen newness too many times not to believe it. God comes near and brings us new life - and it’s happening again.
And here is the lovely thing about it- it’s not what we do, it’s what God does. These people need new life, and God is bringing them new life, God is making them into new life to us, and making us into new life to them, and together we will encounter God differently than we did before, as we begin to share the stories of resurrection that have sustained and changed us all, the times when Jesus has called our name, has met us in doubt, has calmed our fears, had challenged us away from our nets and summoned us into newness.
Now here’s the scary part. It means we will change. Things wont stay the same.
Now that’s scary, for sure, but it’s only very scary if you believe things wouldn’t already be changing, if you believed you could keep everything the same for always, which we as human beings try to do with predictable regularity. Just look at our disciples.
When things get scary and feel new and different, sometimes we go back to what was familiar to try to get our bearings. We pick up old habits or step into old routines or roles, we hang out in the old places and call up the old friends who you never really had to be real with but who were good for when you wanted to forget for a while. And maybe that’s ok, for a time, to hide in the familiar.
But you can’t hide from newness forever, and resurrection is a pretty relentless thing – so even if you were to keep hunkering down like you’re still in what is past, going back to your boat and taking up your nets and finding yourself trying to do what you did when everything was familiar and predictable, and, if not comfortable, then at least understood – it wont be long before a few things happen.
First, it wont be long before the deadness of that seeps in. Before you discover what was is over and you can’t go back, and the night drags on and the nets stay empty and in the quiet of the inky water lapping around you, you begin to look within your soul and find that you are letting fear and avoidance steer the boat because it’s just too frightening to sit around in the indefinite mysterious and wait for God to show you what is next.
And that night can get mighty long.
So, when the dawn begins to crack over the horizon, and you begin to be able to see the outline of the people on either side of you, also in their own uncomfortable self-awareness after each and every agonizing drawing up of the empty nets, you begin to feel that you might need saving. From yourself, from this moment, from the belief that there was anything there to go back to, from the anxiety that keeps you pinned to this seat, rocking in these gentle waves instead of back in the city, waiting with the scared and hopeful others, anticipating the next move of God.
And then the figure strolls across the beach and calls out, Dear children, you haven’t caught anything, have you? And you sigh, and with resignation you call back in a single word the entirety of this night of wrestling with emptiness, No.
You are almost pleading for him to say, Come on in and forget it then! Better luck next time! Anything to get you out of this rut and make you face what’s really in front of you – which is this: Will you live in death or will you live in resurrection? Will you hang onto what was, or will you step fearfully and tentatively into whatever may be? By the time the stranger’s voice breaks the morning air, you know what you will answer.
But instead the stranger calls out, Drop the nets down the other side! You will find some there. And suddenly a new way opens up, an unexpected third route. You feel your heart quicken and you stand and maneuver the nets down with the others, and they’re instantly bursting with fish, and the answer pulses through you and you feel yourself wanting to laugh and cry and scream and shout it out, It is the Lord!
I will live in resurrection! I will live in abundance and new life and unexpected miracles and strange encounters and unknown moments! Jesus is Risen! All bets are off- now and forever! Because even when you pretend like everything is what it was, you know it could never really be again, and now you can embrace what will be.
Then Peter, who should just by this point be called, “Peter, Peter, Peter…” does what everyone is feeling and shrieks in wonder and excitement and relief and hope. He pulls on his heavy clothes and throws himself in the water – not able to stand one single minute more in this boat of giving up and going back, this boat of trying to forget and stay still, this boat of choosing the ease of death over the capriciousness of life. And he is propelled toward the Risen one, swimming and straining to shore with all his might.
The rest of you figure, it’s a minute from the beach and we’ll be out of it soon enough, so you row your flopping, writhing, ridiculously abundant catch in to shore and fly off the bow as soon as you feel the ground scrape.
Bring what you’ve just caught! He calls, and you watch Peter lunge into the boat and grab the giant net, batting away help, dragging it all the way up the beach, expending his excess of adrenaline and leaving a deep and wide groove in the sand.
Come, Jesus says. Come have breakfast.
The warmth of the charcoal fire, the smell of sizzling fish, the welcoming arms, reaching out – come and be, come and sit, come and settle, come and eat and drink and be.
And nobody dares ask him who he is because you know that he is the Lord. In the old way, someone would’ve asked. Or knowing would have been simple and required nothing more of you than glancing.
But you’ve begun to learn this new way of knowing, this different way of grasping – this soul seeing that involves a feeling in the gut and not so much relying on the eyes for proof. Everything is different – he’s different, you’re different, all of life pulses differently, and you are learning to be a resurrection people instead of a death people and you don’t even dare question, it doesn’t even occur to you to ask, because you know already, and you couldn’t explain it if someone asked how you knew, but there is nothing truer or more sure than the knowledge that God is in your midst right now, serving you breakfast.
After this Jesus and Peter have a conversation, a forgiveness-thing, a reconciliation and new life kind of thing, and Jesus keeps asking Peter if he loves him, and Peter keeps saying, you know that I do! And Jesus keeps on answering, then Feed my sheep.
If you love me, feed my sheep. If you love me, feed my sheep.
And here you sit, with your shepherd, being fed and welcomed, seen and forgiven, embraced and at home, and you know that love is calling you to live the same. You don’t dare ask because you know that being a resurrection people isn’t a cold, distant unknown, that you have to figure out on your own, that takes away all the familiar and leaves you stranded and lost in frightening hypothetical “faith.” It is a warm and nourishing unknown, that you are never on your own, that takes away all the familiar and leaves you connected and satisfied, and broken open with real gratitude and love.
Being a resurrection people means letting go of what we hang onto for cold comfort- the familiar that is no longer relevant but so hard to move on from because it’s all we’ve known.
We’ve been doing some purging in our house the last three weekends. Both the kids rooms and now their toys and our family room, as we adjust our home to their current and future ages and let go of where they were when those things were first set up. But it is so painful that I can’t be in the room when they’re sorting and tossing and giving away.
Even though the kids have outgrown them or don’t play with them anymore, who they were back then seems to be tied to these things they loved back then, and it’s so hard to let go. Where are we going? What is coming next? Who will we be? How can we make room for the new if we are hanging onto the old so fiercely?
Or so thoughtlessly and inattentively that we’ve stopped seeing it and don’t notice that we’ve crowded out any possibility for new by surrounding ourselves with old and familiar – even when it isn’t serving us anymore?
Jesus sets them free that day on the beach, by awakening them again to the abundance of new life, the resurrection, rule-breaking, preposterously lavish grace of God’s future that reaches into the now and fills their silly nets with more than they know what to do with. It drives them back to him, sends them to his side, so that he can feed them breakfast, and remind them in very earthy and ordinary ways that they are not alone, no matter what comes next.
Being a resurrection people also means that we are ready to stop, and laugh, and slow down, and receive the gift of hospitality from our Risen Lord, to eat and drink together and trust that God is leading us into what is next. It means letting love lead, and feeding sheep, and calling out, “come have breakfast!” and welcoming others to the meal.
Because there is something about sitting down across from someone, listening to stories and eating and drinking together, that reminds us that we are not alone, that we are alive, that God is trustworthy, and that we are blessed.
So I look forward to what happens when our community pats the cool sand next to us and says, sit down, warm yourself, pass the bread, let’s be resurrection people together.