Sometimes it just hits you, you know? Sometimes fate, or luck, or God or whatever it is that moves you when you are doing something else comes along and grabs you from the safety of your world and uncovers a path going off in a strange direction, a darker, thornier path as often as not, one with brambles and low hanging limbs and the detritus of centuries, slowly rotting along the pathway.
You, on the other hand are on your way down the road. You plotted your course and set your sights on a star and are following the path you knew in advance. You’ve got it all together. You know who you are and what is going on, the road is easy and smooth, the skies are clear and the air carries the sweet scent of flowers.
That’s the vision we all have of ourselves. We’re the ones who plot our course and know the way. We are the masters of our own lives and we are the ones who plot and plan and practice so that there will not be mistakes.
That’s the goal of post-enlightenment mankind, isn’t it? To find a disease and cure it, to see a mountain and climb it, to have the vision to see what is coming and be ready for it. It is a whole industry, actually several industries. We invest according to a plan; we have children and raise them according to a plan; we go to school according to a plan so that we will have a career according to a plan and retire according to a plan.
Plans are good. Plans may be the very highest achievement of mankind once you bore down through all of the little things, curing polio and stuff like that. To plan is to master the unknown.
And we hate the unknown. As much as people might claim otherwise, we do not like surprises. In the middle of that smooth road journey mentioned above, a surprise is always a distraction from the plan, a flat tire, or worse if we are driving and if the plan is good, then the surprise is bad.
Order is good, chaos is bad. When Khrushchev banged his shoe on the podium in 1960 it violated almost every rule we had for decorum. We knew how people are supposed to behave, we have Robert’s Rules of Order and now Rosenberg’s Rules of Order and banging his shoe was so surprising, so out of order that people in America went crazy.
They never stopped to look at how much chaos is allowed in other parliaments in the world. We have rules of order and this was out of order.
I wonder how the people in 1960 would feel about the way Congress runs nowadays.
Probably more chaos than they’d like, but still less than in other countries.
But up here, with our plans and our success, up here on the lofty heights we miss out on the blessings of chaos, the real value of surprises and we also overlook that order is the benefit of money and that chaos still reigns in many people’s lives because of the lack of money.
Famine has been ravaging great swaths of the world for decades but when farmers in California are affected by the drought it is news. Our poor would be the middle class all over the world, but when the market crashes and wealthy people lose money, then it is a surprise and it makes the news. Isis kills Muslims every – single – day but it takes a bomb in Paris to make the news. The Chaos has reached even the shores of the wealthy and people are freaking out.
One more thing thing we overlook is that chaos and surprises, the thorny path that fate shows us; is sometimes the shortcut to grace. The bramble is where the sweetest berries grow, and the low hanging limbs are heavy with fruit and the decay of decades hides the tasty mushroom if only, if only the surprise doesn’t knock you back, but instead draws you forward.
Suddenly we realize that life isn’t order. Chaos comes, no matter how hard you try and insulate yourself, no matter how hard you try and hold it back; it comes nonetheless. It is woven into the fabric of the universe and each time we, in our enlightenment awesomeness cure another disease, somehow a new one springs up, each time we fix a problem in agriculture or finance or politics a new problem always seems to arise, almost as if by design.
In all of our magnificence I think we have the tendency to overlook that. Maybe we try and pretend that it is not so, that chaos does not dog our steps each and every day and surprises are not around every corner. But it is not true. Somehow, from time to time and into every person’s life, every person’s life, from Charles Koch to George Soros and everyone in between, chaos is always around the corner, surprises are everywhere.
I mean seriously, was there ever someone more sure of themselves than Saul of Tarsus? Persecutor of the church, breather of threats and murder, Pharisee and leader of the temple, with a letter authorizing him to do what he had to in order to eliminate the church from the earth? This was a guy with a plan, a leader, a mover and a shaker, well the shaking part came when he was driven to his knees on the Damascene road.
In a single stroke everything was taken away. Even the people he was travelling with and trust me, this is a guy who travels mainly on the basis of reputation and respect, they see him struck blind, they hear a voice coming from nowhere, they do not see Jesus but the scene is a shock nonetheless.
He is taught, in this moment, what it is to be, not the subject of every sentence, but sometimes the object of someone else’s will, some fate he could not foresee, a power greater then himself. He is taught humility and we, riding along, so to speak, are asked to ponder a moment whether or not the measure of us is how well we ward off chaos or how well we ride the chaos into whatever future God has in mind.
Saul could no more restore his own sight than an investor could recoup their losses upon reading the business page and the long, grey columns of numbers, all going down when the market did it’s little dive.
How do we respond when the curveball comes? What will we do and who will we be in that moment? Will we be Debbie’s cousin Katherine, whose response while driving down the road, driving, I said, and a bee came into the car was to do this <throw hands in the air and wave them about frantically, taking hands obviously off of the wheel> or will we be Saul, or even better Ananias in this morning’s reading from Acts, Ananias who simply took the Lord’s word for it and welcomed in the persecutor of him and of his friends.
Or Peter, James, John, Thomas, Nathaniel and the other two, why they don’t get names I will never know, but these guys are fishing, what they do a lot of because the disciples and Jesus all need to eat and they were a coastal people and so, fishermen. They know what to do and they also know that no matter how much you know, some days there are no fish and so when the nets are empty they are surely disappointed but them’s the breaks, everybody knows that.
When Jesus comes up and says, “come on guys, just one more time,” Peter is so struck by the absurdity of the request that he gets dressed and jumps out of the boat. Jesus is dead but has shown Himself to the disciples from time to time but still, it is not what they were expecting, and besides, we’ve been fishing all night, there are no fish.
But Jesus knows better, and knew better as well when he spoke to Ananias, that the surprising path is sometimes the shortcut to grace. The load of fish is so large that they are again struck that the nets do not break; Saul feels the touch of unexpected grace, of limitless forgiveness where he had no right to expect it. Abundance, it would appear, is down the thorny path for those open enough, willing to set aside the plan for a minute and just see where the surprising path leads.
The disciples are shown the abundance that is the fruit of faith, metaphorically in the load of fish so great that they stand in awe of it, then in the simplest gesture of all, he sits and eats with them, feeding them in case they did not get the message and then, when they may have been understandably ready for a nap, Jesus challenges them as well.
“What will you do with this abundance?”
Saul too, is asked, and even though his abundance is not fish but forgiveness and grace Saul too has a decision to make.
The abundance of grace, no matter what for it takes in your life is not simply a gift to be enjoyed, to be reveled in really, it is great and it is grand and it is a blessing you could never afford on your own, but it is also a challenge, a question for you.
“What will you do with this abundance?”
The life of faith is not one of endless sunshine and problem free existence, heck, that’s not even the goal of the life of faith. The disciples this morning are taught, Peter always bears the brunt of the teachings it would seem, that abundance is the way of the thorny path, it is filled with an abundance of all the things that we see all around us.
There is an abundance of homeless people and I learned just Friday that Camp Micaela is being evicted again and must find a new place to continue to try and build their community. Visit any of the food pantries in town and you will see that there is an abundance of those who feel the sting of food insecurity. Across the face of the earth there are still people who are oppressed, enslaved, living on the brink.
Not the kind of abundance you were hoping for?
Well, the other kind is there also. We have an abundance of rain for the first time in many years but has there been an abundance of learning, an abundance of humility about how we deal with our water?
We have an abundance of people of goodwill, this is not, perhaps the epicenter of goodwill in the world, but Sonoma County is reliably a spot where people tend to be five or ten percent more caring.
We have an abundance of wealth, even our poor.
What we need is an abundance of will, an abundance of dignity, and abundance of humility and then we can bring the good together with the bad and build something better for the generations who come after us.
Jesus asks, “Do you love me?” and when He hears Peter say yes His reply is not “Yippee! Good for you.”
Love means more than that. Love means taking what you have and using it like Spackle, filling in the deficits in the life of another child of God, equal in dignity to yourself no matter what their station because we are all alike in the eyes of God. Love means taking what you have and putting it out there, allowing yourself to be surprised and not bothering to try and hide your shock, but rolling with the chaos because abundance is yours.
Grace abundant. Love abundant. Hope abundant in faith.
Faith is the courage to be vulnerable, to risk your abundance because while the journey may be hedged in with brambles, and the low hanging branches may threaten to crack our noggins and the rot of decades may fill our nostrils, while the journey may be chaos, the destination is sure and when Jesus says, “follow me,” we know that our guide is trustworthy because He is the surprise, we only need to open enough to let ourselves be changed and not destroyed, molded and not broken.