“The other side of the boat”

When I ask people how they encounter God, more often than not, they describe an experience in nature. I don’t believe it’s an accident that we are drawn to the sacred in creation. The love, peace, awe and respect that fills human beings when we look out over the ocean or study a constellation or smell a flower might matter more to our future than we can even imagine. What memories and experiences shape your sense of relationship with creation? Where on earth do you love to be? Our moments of intimacy with nature offer us important “data” about who we are. They tell us a truth about ourselves that we easily forget.

Sally McFague argues that as we face the challenge of climate change, a paradigm shift is crucial. We must find, and live, new answers to the questions: who are we? And who is God? She writes: “We now know that ‘who we are’ is interconnected with all other living things. We evolved together with the cosmos and we are entirely dependent on certain conditions on plant Earth (water, food, land, climate and so on) for our continued existence and well-being. Suddenly we see ourselves differently: not as post-Enlightenment individuals who have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but as part of a vast network of interrelationships and specifically as that ‘part’ responsible for the rest, for other human beings and other life-forms. Western societies have spent the last three hundred years internalizing an anthropology of radical individualism; we now must internalize a profoundly different anthropology if our planet is to survive and flourish.” (A New Climate for Theology, 47-48)

When it comes to God, McFague urges us to put aside models that portray God as distant from the world and distinct from it. She explains: “the body of God is the entire universe; it is all matter in its myriad fantastic ancient and modern forms, from quarks to galaxies. More specifically, the body of God needing our attention is planet Earth, a tiny piece of divine embodiment that is our home and garden…. God is the source, the center, the spring, the spirit of all that lives and loves, all that is beautiful and true. When we say ‘God’ that is what we mean: we mean the power and source of all reality…. Our universe, the body of God, is the reflection of God’s being, God’s glory; it is the sacrament of God’s presence with us.” (A New Climate for Theology, 74, 76)  God, in McFague’s model, is both utterly immanent (near) and fully transcendent (beyond). God is not in control, but instead shares power with the whole of creation. Jesus does not provide an escape route from earth to heaven when we die. Jesus is instead an incarnation of what it means to live with integrity in the world that is God’s body.

We need a paradigm shift. And that’s what we get in this morning’s Gospel lesson. We hear Peter declare, “I am going fishing”. In other words, let’s get things back to normal. “We will come with you,” the others respond. Resurrection doesn’t make sense to them; it just doesn’t compute. Mary encountered the risen Christ at the tomb. Jesus came through locked doors and appeared to the rest of the disiciples, too, not once but twice. Jesus stands on the beach and calls to them, a shadowy figure in the early morning. But, once again, they don’t recognize him.

Thomas Troeger, a professor of preaching, writes this about this morning’s text from John: “In short, the epilogue is a dramatic appeal to us not to reduce Christ and the wonders of his ministry to a story in the past, not to leave the gospel in a time and place long ago and far away” (Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 2, page 425) The mysterious stranger urges the disciples, though they’ve been fishing fruitlessly all through the long, lingering night, to try one more time. They cast their nets anew and realize that something has changed. A different dynamic is at work. They haul in a great, teeming, net-straining, abundance of fish. And the beloved disciple finally knows Jesus. He nudges Peter: “It is the Lord!” This moment of recognition emerges out of the experience of abundance — the plenty, the wealth, the seemingly endless richness of creation’s gifts. Aha! They have seen this paradigm shift somewhere before… On a deserted hillside, thousands hungered—for food, for wholeness, for a just and sustainable society that honors every person and creature. And Jesus blessed one small lunch, 5 loaves and 2 fish. Then he shared it among them, and they shared it among themselves. And God appeared in the beautiful, miraculous abundance that ensued! Everyone ate, everyone had enough, with leftovers.

Sally McFague writes: “We must live with limits, with justice, with the long view. This need not be a call for asceticism, for anxiety, or for despair. Rather it is a new vision of the abundant life, not one in which a few like kings while the rest exist as slaves, and not one in which human desires destroy other life forms. Rather it is a vision of just, sustainable abundance.” (A New Climate for Theology, 57)

“When the disciples had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.” They dragged their nets up on the sand and threw some more fish on the grill. And Jesus said to them “Come and have breakfast” “Now none of the disciples dared asked, ‘who are you’ because they knew it was the Lord.” Again, they saw it, they felt it, the paradigm shift. They thought back to the upper room. With humility, he served them, kneeling and washing their feet. He broke bread and shared wine, saying, this is my body, this is my life-blood poured out for all. He instructed them to lovingly serve one another and faithfully eat together. Now they realized it hadn’t been the last supper. It was the first, the inaugural banquet of a new way, a new world, the enactment a different paradigm of abundance that emerges as we bless and share and serve.

My little brother James has a master’s in Latin American studies and spent a year in Chile. On Facebook, recently, he posted the closing words of an article that muses over the decision to exhume the body of the Chilean poet and political activist, Pablo Neruda. Was Neruda’s demise– forty years ago– the result of prostate cancer, or was he poisoned by the Pinochet regime? The conclusion of the article struck me as a beautiful affirmation of the possibility of resurrection, of life that rises out of death. Ilan Stavans writes: “On its surface, a poem seems incapable of stopping a bullet. Yet Chile’s transition to democracy was facilitated by [Neruda’s] survival in people’s minds, his lines repeated time and again, as a form of subversion. Life cannot be repressed, he whispered in everyone’s ears. It was a message for which he may have died, but that lives on in his verse.” (New York Times Opinion Pages, April 9 , 2013; http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/opinion/disturbing-pablo-nerudas-rest.html?_r=1&)

The words of poets and prophets matter; the stories we tell and the symbols we employ matter; they enact reality. Resurrection means that the word and the way of Jesus lives on in us, who are members of God’s body, tending the sacred garden that is home. When Jesus appears to the disciples on the beach, he does not condemn them for returning to their daily life and work. In the midst of ordinary tasks, he calls them, and us, toward a paradigm shift, toward a new way of being that makes abundance possible. Notice that the Gospel begins and ends with the same imperative: “follow me”! Notice Jesus doesn’t say “worship me” or “believe in me”; he says “follow me”. Follow, by blessing the gifts of the earth. Follow, by sharing. Follow, by serving. In the name of the Risen Christ, let us follow in the way of God’s abundance. Amen.