If you explore the Bible you may discover that one of the big rivers that run through it, that run through story after story of testimony to how God is at work, is the love song of a people for their holy land. And that love song for the Holy Land, if you want to talk about it as a river you could say it’s actually a current in a larger river flowing through the Bible, which is the love song between a people and God. The love song between a people and their Creator flows in with the love song between a people and Creation, in particular the Holy Land they call home.
The testimonies of our faith are full of story after story of people encountering the Holy One on a holy mountain or on a sacred lake or a sacred river. This is true in the Bible and this is true in most of our lived experiences as people of spirit and fiath. Many people can say that they’ve had sacred experiences that occurred along a mountain or a river or in a meadow. And that’s true for Abraham and Moses and Elijah and Jesus, and Hildegaard and St Clare of Assisi and so on. And it’s true of those of us who are less saintly.
We become what we love, as St Clare of Assisi said: “We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.” So if we love God’s Creation, that can lead us into deeper love with the Creator. And if we love Christ as an incarnation of the Holy One, as God’s Word made flesh, that can lead us into becoming “vessels for God’s compassionate love.” Loving Creation and loving Christ are not incompatible. Just the opposite.
Let’s not forget that the turning point in Jesus’ life, took place in a sacred river. He had plunged down into the River Jordan with John the Baptizer and the moment he broke through the surface of the water, the Holy Spirit broke out from Heaven and flowed into Jesus, and the holy words sung out: “You are the Beloved Child of God.”
Let’s not forget that Jesus couldn’t talk about the Realm of Heaven without talking about things like planting seeds in good soil and working together to gather up the harvest, things like being in a boat upon the waters at dawn and casting out a net and pulling in an astonishing heap of shining fish.
“In the beginning, when God began to create heaven and earth, all was empty and dark over the deep. Then God’s breath winged over the waters. And God spoke, ‘Let there be Light’ And there was light.” And later Genesis says that when the whole creation had been set in motion, the Creator beheld all of it – from bacteria to black-holes – and God exclaimed “Good!”
The word here is not like, “well, it coulda turned out lousy but seems it ain’t too bad. Let’s call it good.” No, the Hebrew word here is an exclamation of joy – it’s more like, “Wow!” “Yes!”
It’s like what the disciples would have shouted when they hauled in those nets full of fish in our gospel story for today. “Whoa!” “Yes!” The way the gospel of John tells it, it was that moment when one disciples recognized that it was Jesus on the shore. He had been a stranger to them, just a guy giving unsolicited fishing advice. This story takes place after Jesus’ death, so of course they weren’t expecting to see him. As a matter of fact, they were going back to what they were doing before Jesus came along. They were fishing before Jesus swept them up in his whole movement. And that all met a tragic end – the Jesus movement for a restored humanity – a humanity in harmony with the loving God of creation – that movement had gotten stomped out by the most vile forces of the human heart. So maybe it was all a joke: creation isn’t good, it can’t be redeemed, evil wins.
So these disciples were were sitting around dejected: Well, that was a bust, what do we do now? Let’s go back to fishing. And at first even that was depressing – this is the dark night of the soul – a dark night that doesn’t seem to be netting anything. Then this stranger suggests they try the other side of the boat. And what does it mean that it is the very moment of surprise and delight – the moment of Wow! Yes! – that is the very moment when the disciples can look up from their dejection and let it hit them between the eyes that here is the Resurrected Christ? Christ lives on and lives on abundantly. And these fishermen, these stewards of God’s abundance, now have good joyous work to do. There’s something about casting into those deep waters … and something about pulling and hauling to bring that teeming bounty from the deeps to the surface … something about that “Wow!” “Yes!” … that has something to do with the mystery of our faith, that Christ abides on earth beyond death, as the Creator’s Word made Flesh.
I will leave that for you to contemplate.
Thanks be to God.
John 21:2-14 When Simon Peter and Thomas, the one known as “the Twin,” were together, along with Nathaniel from Cana, Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples, Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going to go fishing.” “We’re coming with you,” they replied. They went down and got into the boat. But that night they didn’t catch a thing. It was already getting light when Jesus appeared on the shore. But his disciples didn’t recognize that it was Jesus. “Young men, you haven’t caught any fish, have you?” Jesus asked them. “No,” they replied. He told them, “cast your net on the right side of the boat and you’ll have better luck.” They did as he instructed them and couldn’t haul the net in for the huge number of fish. The beloved disciple exclaimed to Peter, “It’s the Master!” When Simon Peter her, “It’s the Master!” he tied his cloak around himself, since he was stripped for work, and he threw himself into the water. The rest of them came into the boat, dragging the net full of fish. They were not far from land, only about a hundred yards offshore. When they got to shore, they saw a charcoal fire burning, with fish cooking on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” Then Simon Peter went aboard and hauled ashore the net full of large fish – one hundred fifty-three of them. Even though there were so many of them, the net didn’t tear. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat.” None of the disciples dared to ask, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Master. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and passed the fish around as well. This was now the third time after he had been raised from the dead that Jesus appeared to his disciples.
Psalm 24:1-5 The earth is the Holy One’s – Mystery Beyond Name – And all that is in it – the world and those who dwell therein. For it was God who founded it upon the seas And planted it firm along the rivers. Who may go up the mountain of the Holy One? Who may stand in God’s holy place? One who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not set their mind on falsehood Nor has sworn with a lying tongue. They will receive blessing from the Holy One And justice from the God who saves.
“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God’s compassionate love for others.” – St. Clare of Assisi
“I laugh when I hear that the fish in the sea is thirsty.” -Kabir
(Delivered April 15, 2018, at First Congregational church of Walla Walla, by Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg)