Sunday, April 14, 2013

Discover Life, Again: Encouragement

John 21:1-19 Part 1: John 21:1-8
[The retelling of the story is Adapted from Bob Lupton’s Urban Perspective publication “Let’s Go Fishing, (Again)!]
Three years. Hard work. Days and often nights. For what? The person you believed in, who you thought was going to bring real no longer around You gave it your very best, you reached deep down into your reserves and offered up all you had, you sacrificed your career, neglected your family, spent your resources, all in the belief that this man, this unusually gifted and inspiring man, would become – must become – the next great leader.

The defeat was crushing. the vision that stirred your soul vanished, The crowds are gone. there is no more adrenalin left to summon, You’re simply numb..... What will you do now? You thought you were going to make a big it’s all meaningless.

But, you can’t just sit around brooding over your coffee, feeling sorry for yourself. Might as well go and try to pick up the pieces of your old life. Six disheartened associates trudge alongside you, all heading home like whipped pups, with tails between their legs. “I don’t know what you guys feel like doing, but I’m going fishing!” you declare. “We’ll go, too,” they all chime in.

Ah the good ole But, the boys were down on their luck, or maybe a bit rusty.... Out all night fishing, nothing but empty nets. Dawn was breaking. A man on shore calls out: “Morning! Catch anything?” “Naw,” they holler. “Throw your net off the right side of the boat, you’ll catch some” the stranger calls back. Who is this guy? We’re the professionals...we’re the disciples...Oh well, Nothing to lose.

Soon, the net started tugging with fish, big ones. Seven weary fishermen become instantly wide eyed with excitement. “It’s the Master!” Peter looks, rubbing his hazed sleepless morning eyes. It has to be! SPLASH! He dives in. “Swim, Peter, Swim! Don’t worry about us and all these fish!”

This story is so rich, so interesting, even though Jesus had appeared to these disciples, even though Thomas had touched his feet and hands, even though Jesus had breathed Peace on them and commissioned them: Just as my Father has sent me, so I send you. Even with all of this, they’re just not quite there...yet THey have to do what they know... retrace their steps. They have to go fishing. It’s safe, familiar, We can certainly understand.

This is a story for disciples who get stuck. Even though we’ve had our conversion experiences, even though we’ve sought to serve God in our lives... even though we’ve experienced easter after easter. Sometimes we just get stuck... a tragedy happened. Expectations weren’t met. Disappointment after disappointment... Monotony of life lulls us to sleep... “The idea of getting stuck makes me sad,” writes Emily Rapp in The Still Point of the Turning World - her memoir about the death of her two year old son. “Don’t get stuck! we tell one another. Erase those old tapes about who you are and move on! But to where? And to what? And why?” (p.99)

Sometimes we can’t help but to resort back to what we know. When we’re stuck, we give up a bit, become more isolated in our own little worlds.. What difference does it make anyway?

I love that Jesus, this random guy from the disciples’ perspective, is just standing there on the shore watching his stuck friends. Morning! Catch anything?! Nope... Try the other side of the boat. He doesn’t scold them for not doing what he told them to: Shouldn’t you be doing something else...that’s why you’re nets are empty.... He doesn’t criticize them for going fishing. Just a small word of encouragement in their fishing. Don’t give up, don’t let empty nets get you down. Another cast...then see.

The letter to the Hebrews says: Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds (10:24) there is something within each of us that has the power to change the world...

What happens when we see that potential...the goodness and life-spirit.. in all beings and give a little encouragement. What happens when others see that potential in us, and they encourage us. Even if we’re just out doing our routine thing...even or especially when we’re stuck “Sister, you’re the best!” or, “Brother, you’re awesome!” Children, cast your nets again...

The late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, a great encourager, loved telling this story: A young man AND woman, both orphans, were to be married. Neighbors in their small Ukrainian town had contributed by finding work for the young man, a small room for the couple to live in, and clothes and food for the wedding. It was time to celebrate. The morning of the wedding the young man walked eagerly to the ritual bath, to prepare for the wedding. The chief of police was waiting outside. He immediately arrested the bridegroom and told the elders who were standing nearby that if they wanted the bridegroom to be released, they’d have to pay a bail of ten thousand roubles. Ten thousand roubles! The men didn’t even bother to ask the policeman what the young man had done. Every few months the police would seize another Jew to get money to pay for gambling. But, ten thousand roubles? That was more than the police had ever asked. How could they raise that much money?

Word went through the community. We need money, lots of money. People looked through their homes for something to give—clothes, chickens, a pot, a pan, a candlestick, a goat. When they counted it up they had five hundred roubles. They needed ten thousand roubles. What to do?

At this time, three rabbis were visiting the town. One, a young rabbi called the Alter (means, the elder), along with two older rabbis. The three rabbis consulted. This was an emergency. Suddenly, Rabbi Alter said, “There’s a solution. It’s Zev.” “Zev?!” The elder rabbis exclaimed. “Zev, the miser? He hates people. He built his house on the hill so no one would bother him. He has a sign in front of his house: ‘NO TRESPASSERS.’ He shoots if you come in sight of his house. He converted from Judaism so he could make more money! Why even consider him?” “It’s not me who is considering,” said Alter. “It’s heaven who is pointing. besides, who else in this town has ten thousand roubles? I’m going to see Zev.” “You can’t go,” said the others.
“He’ll shoot you. We’ll go with you and protect you.”
“On one condition,” demanded Alter, “I do the talking and no matter what I say, you smile. Do you agree?” They agreed.

The three rabbis started up the hill together. The first miracle of the day: Zev did not shoot.

They knocked at the door and Zev himself answered, “Rabbis,” he said. “GOOD MAN,” Alter began. “What a blessing that you opened the door. What a blessing to see you.” Alter poked the other two, who smiled. “Good man, we would never disturb you but it’s an emergency. A big one. Yankel, an orphan, who is to marry Hannah, another orphan, has been arrested, today, on his wedding day. He’s done nothing wrong. The police chief who arrested him gambled away ten thousand roubles, so he needs to repay the money. That’s why we need ten thousand roubles. We know you have a good heart—” Alter took a breath.
“Emergency?” inquired Zev. “You are fortunate. I have emergency funds. I’ll get them for you. Wait.” He went into his house and returned with a penny. One penny. “From my emergency fund,” he said, holding up the penny.
“Wonderful,” said Alter. “What an excellent beginning. We all thank you. Yankel thanks you. Hannah, his bride, thanks you. Each of us appreciates your kindness.” As Rabbi Alter bowed, he poked his brothers, who bowed and remembered to smile. Zev shut the door.
The three started down the hill. “What were you thinking?” The others chided the young Rabbi, Then they heard someone running after them. Zev’s servant: “My master has more funds for you. Please return.”
Zev was waiting for them. “I have found more,” he said and held out another penny. The eyebrows of the two older rabbis shot up in astonishment. Alter said, “How very wonderful. Zev, you have a heart of gold. What goodness, what a difference this is going to make to this young man’s life.” At that moment, the three rabbis saw a light go on in Zev’s eyes: “Wait. Wait. I have more.” In he went, to return with a rouble. One rouble. The older rabbis thought that this could take years, even centuries. Alter said, “Zev, what an extraordinary person you are. You are giving so much. Zev, we thank you. We are so grateful to you,” and he poked his brothers, who remembered to smile. Zev said, “Okay, just wait here.” Zev came back with another rouble. They continued to smile. “Wait,” he said, and after a half hour he brought out ten roubles. An hour went by and he gave them a thousand roubles, then two thousand, then five, then....

Then he stopped and said, “This young orphan, Yankel, he doesn’t have a father... Who will be giving Yankel away? What if I give him away? What do you think?” “Wonderful idea,” they all agreed. Second miracle of the day: Zev gave the necessary ten thousand roubles so that Yankel could be released from prison. Third miracle: the joy of giving overcame Zev and he realized that he couldn’t stop there. He wanted to provide for Hannah as well as for Yankel. He wanted to provide for the education of their children and for all the orphaned children in the town.

It was one of the happiest weddings anyone had ever attended. There was singing and dancing. Zev danced with the bride. He danced with the groom. In his happiness, he danced with almost everyone at the wedding.

At the end of the party, in the early morning hours, the three rabbis returned to the synagogue. The two older ones asked Alter, “How did you know? How did you know it was Zev?” “The only person with enough roubles to pay the bail was Zev,” reasoned Alter. “Heaven knew Zev wanted to give. We all want to give. Every one of us wants to give, but sometimes we don’t know how. Our spiritual muscles are weak, untrained. We need some help. We need encouragement. Sometimes we think others aren’t doing enough but it may be that they are doing all that they can until they get the encouragement to build up their muscles and do more. In the beginning Zev only knew how to give one penny. We can help to open the hearts of those who don’t even know how eager they are to give.” (Adapted from Diane Wolkstein adaptation from Shlomo Carlebach’s telling as found in Parabola Spring 2013 edition))

"Children, have you caught anything? Cast your net on the other side."

I love Peter’s reaction...He Jumps in the water to get to Jesus. an outburst of love! In our baptisms, we have touched that water... Water that reminds us again and again I’m on your side...I’m with you..I promise. . Jesus on the boat calms the harshest storms Jesus off the boat gives us a little encouragement The Christ of the universe is with us, just beckoning us ...keep following in the way of God. I know you have it in you; You know you have it in you... Go will be find full nets... Go fishing by sharing God’s love for the world will find life....

Let us pray... Oh God of Life. You want us to live fully! You want us to live with joy! We want that as well. But sometimes it’s hard to keep going. When we get down, come along side the shore; in the form of a friend, a stranger, an angel and share a word of encouragement. When we meet others let us be agents of encouragement in the form of a friend, a stranger, an angel. So that we may gather ourselves again and continue the work for your kingdom of peace and justice.  

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