Saturday, April 13, 2013

Hard Roads and Empty Nets

Disclaimer: Yes, this is a farmer's blog.  I'm a farmer, and that's at the heart of what I do and how I move around in this beautiful, bruised, burgeoning world.  Now, part of a farmer's job is to pay attention to EVERYthing, especially the connections that bind us all to every other aspect of Creation.  Sometimes, those connections--and their implications--are so powerful that it's hard to explain.  Dry facts won't do it.  So I reach into the storehouse of sacred stories, and it comes out less like an essay, more like a sermon.  Still, the farm--and our way of farming--is right there, mixed up in the myths.  If you've come here to read about farming, you can sidestep the sermon and skip down to other entries as you please, or enter the story here.  Either way, welcome!

Hard Roads and Empty Nets”  
A sermon for April 14th, 2013 (Easter3C) 
(Based on Acts 9:1-20 and John 21:1-19)

I have a lot of questions, today. The first one is the most important, so pay attention—maybe scribble your answer down—and we'll come back to it later. Where do you see Jesus? That's the first question. Think about it. I'll ask you about it later.

Second question: what do you do when a nightmare becomes real? What do you do when the center of your life gets scooped out like the seeds of a pumpkin, leaving you hollow as a jack-o-lantern, staring at the world with empty eyes? What do you do when it all goes south, and you don't know which direction to turn?

That's where they were, Peter and the other disciples. The beautiful vision had crumpled, their hopes were shattered, and they didn't have the first clue of how to pick up the pieces and move on. Everything had gone off somewhere in a hand-basket. So who can blame Peter? He grabbed his favorite John Deere cap—the one with the brim curved just the way he liked them—and his old barn coat, his fleece vest and his rubber boots, called up his buddies and told them to meet him at the old place—you know, just off the side of that back-road bridge down on Range Pond. He grabbed his rod and his old tackle box and headed out, slamming the door behind him. He felt the muddy ground beneath his feet, and then felt the crunch of gravel as he stepped from the driveway onto the road. “When the going gets tough, the tough go fishing.” (Well, maybe that wasn't how the saying really goes, but in Pete's mind, it should have.)

Meanwhile, down another dirt road, on the other side of town, along came Saul. You know Saul, right? He's that guy who's always got an ax to grind, the one who gets up at meetings and starts shouting about THOSE people, and how THEY'RE the cause of all the trouble? You all know Saul. Well, Saul was on his way down to the Town Office to give them a piece of his mind. The closer he got, the more he thought about everything that had gone wrong. He was sure he knew who to blame, and how to shut them up once and for all. He'd done it before. He could do it again. And if he could just get a-hold of the authority to do it, why... I hardly need to tell you what ol' Saul was planning to do. With every step he took, his heart beat a little faster, wrapped up in the heat of his self-righteous rage. Yes, Saul said to himself, SOMEbody's got to clean up this town, and I am the MAN to do it. “The Lord helps those who help themselves...” wasn't that what the Good Book said? (Don't tell Saul, but it isn't in the Good Book. It was Ben Franklin who came up with that one!)

Down at the shore, Pete and his buddies fished for hours. Pete, Tom, Nate, and the rest of the guys stayed out all night, in fact, sometimes talking low so's they wouldn't scare the fish, sometimes just staring out into the darkness, wondering if the sun would ever rise again. Not once did any of them feel a tug on their lines, even though the fishing was supposed to be good. Well, it figured. Hadn't everything else gone all to heck? Well, Jerusalem crickets, why should this be any different? When the dawn did come, it was a cold light—that weak, early Spring light that shows the lay of the land but doesn't warm it one bit. Their lines were empty, their hearts were empty, and—frankly, with all the stress of the last week catching up to them along with the sleep deprivation—their heads were kinda empty too. So when the stranger showed up, right there, between the pond and the bridge, well, they just couldn't figure it out at all. Had he been standing there all night? Nobody had heard a motor, and you know the way sound carries over water. Had he come on foot, or by boat, or what? The light was still weak, and they couldn't quite make out the guy's face, but there was something about him that seemed familiar. None of them could put a finger on it.
“Good morning!” the stranger said. He looked at their empty nets, their slack lines. He gestured over to the other side of the bridge, where there was just a small ledge between the water and the road. “They not biting? How 'bout you try the other side,” he said, and there was a funny catch in his voice, as if he were halfway between a laugh and a sob. Pete thought he must have a screw loose or something, but the guy sure seemed earnest—and, frankly, at this point, what did any of them have to lose? They'd already lost pret-near everything. So Pete and Nate and Tom and the other guys ambled up onto the roadbed and then sidled down onto that little ledge and cast their lines in. And the stranger walked up to the pull-off and started setting up a beat-up barbecue grill.

Now, Saul, meanwhile, had about walked the soles off his shoes, stomping along towards town. In his mind, it played out like some old Western: him all spurs and pointy boots, ten-gallon hat and silver star, catching the unsavory riff-raff and ridin' 'em out of town on a rail. Maybe he'd tar-and-feather them first for extra effect. He'd get rid of everybody that didn't belong, starting with the People From Away.
And that's when it happened. It was like all the lights at Oxford Speedway, come on at once, so bright he couldn't see. And a voice—a voice like the saddest country song you ever heard, calling his name, asking, “why do you persecute me?” Saul flung himself on the ground and asked, “who are you?” and the voice answered, “I am Jesus, who you're persecuting. Now get on into town, hush up and listen. This time, listen good, 'cause somebody's going to tell you good. There, you'll find out what to do.”

Now, maybe you've got the story all figured out. You know what's coming next: Saul loses the spurs and the silver star. He meets up with a Guy From Away—and, because he's been blinded, he doesn't even see the out-of-state plates or the peace bumperstickers all over the back of the guy's Prius—and, even though they circle each other like wild dogs at the start, it turns out they both take God seriously, and the scales of judgment fall away. Both of them change. Together, they create a whole new ministry. And down by the bridge, Pete and his buddies have filled up every bucket and cooler and the whole back of Nate's big Ford truck with the craziest catch of fish you ever saw. The guy at the grill in the pull-off calls them over for breakfast, and they have themselves the best fried fish ever, and suddenly they understand: it's Jesus. And we all know how it ends...or maybe we don't.

Because here's the thing. This is how the resurrection happens. Jesus shows up—in the garden, at the shore, on the road—and we don't recognize him. Jesus calls us by name when we're not even ready to hear. Jesus shows up among the people who make us uncomfortable, the people who tick us off, the people we reject, the people we hate. And Jesus shows up at the table, right when our hearts are aching and our souls are absolutely starving, and he reaches out and offers to feed us.

So, maybe we don't know the end of the story. Because maybe the story hasn't ended. Maybe there are new chapters waiting to be written. Maybe God needs us to help the story continue, to help the Good News unfold.

So, where's the crossroads? Where do we see Jesus now? Think for a minute. Who are the people we persecute? Who are the strangers here? Who reaches out and serves us? Who disturbs us? How does the Risen Christ come to each of us, and in what disguise?
I can't finish the story myself. Remember, I'm one of those People From Away. And so, now, I ask you to help me out. Someone—Anyone: where do you see Jesus? And by that I mean: who challenges you? Who feeds you? Who do you persecute? Who opens the way to New Life?

This is how God comes to us. This is how Jesus is revealed. Not locked away in some dusty old book, not a holy relic in a climate-controlled vault. The Risen Christ reaches out to us on the roads we travel, on the shores we stroll, the place we fish, the place our kids learn to swim. Here, now, where our Good Fridays keep bumping up against his Resurrection.

Next time you see Pete, or Nate or Tom at the boat launch... Next time you run into Saul at the Dollar Store, reach out your hand. Because this is our new chapter. We have seen Jesus, and now we have to do the hard work together: living out his kind of love.