April 18, 2015
I love this part of John’s gospel. I can see it, and hear it, and taste it. Many years ago, I attended an Easter sunrise service on the shores of Richmond Beach in Seattle. There was a huge bonfire on the beach and on the edge of the bonfire was a skillet filled with fish. The first thing I thought when I saw the fish was, “Jesus is here!” I knew the gospel story, I’d taught it in Sunday school many times. Seeing the scene in real time with the waves lapping on the shore put my 20th century body back in 1st century Palestine. Now I love to recreate that scene wherever I can. If you come to sunrise service at Camp Burton, you will smell the smoke of a wood fire and feel its heat; you will hear the crackle and sizzle of fish frying as the aroma of salmon fills the air; you’ll feel the early morning air in your lungs and the damp earth beneath your feet; you’ll hear the birds singing and the hush of human voices greeting one another. This year after we worshipped, we gathered around the fire and shared the salmon straight out of the skillet. Easter sunrise is a feast for all the senses. Everything about it is tactile and real. “Christ is risen” seems so obvious—so new and fresh. I love the Easter sunrise service because it is so richly embodied because I am a creature that is embodied. I know as much through my body as I do through my mind.
I love how generous Jesus is in meeting his disciples early in the morning after a night of fishing. I love it that he built a fire and started breakfast; that he called out to them in the early morning stillness. Jesus—taking care of weary, discouraged friends. “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat!” Surprise! Almost more fish than they can haul. It must be Jesus, the worker of miracles, the one they love. That’s the God I need when I’m exhausted and discouraged, the God with skin on who knows that I need encouragement—and breakfast. That’s the Jesus I meet on Easter morning among my friends and even people I don’t know who gather for warmth around a fire and exchange greetings.
That’s the Jesus I meet here among you. We come from so many life experiences on a Sunday morning to worship, or a Tuesday morning for coffee, or Wednesday morning for Bible study, or a Monday morning for covenant group, or a Wednesday night for bell or choir practice, or any other time we gather. When I’m with you, I experience God with skin on. When one of you brings dinner, or walks the dog for someone who is recovering, or picks up groceries, or drives a friend to the doctor, we experience God with skin on. The most powerful experiences I have of God are with the people of God. The hug after we receive bad news, the phone call, the willingness to listen to our woes. We are God with skin on for each other.
Sometimes it’s just to get our attention, to know that we are seen. We were eating in a restaurant with our two year old grandson and his parents a few weeks ago. He loves to make friends with the wait staff. Our waitress that day was all business, taking orders and making sure everyone got what they ordered. As she talked to the adults over his head, Dylan, who’s two, kept looking at her and saying, “Hey! Hey!” Either she didn’t hear him or ignored him. Finally, he yelled, “Hey!” at the top of his voice. The startled waitress looked down at him as his mother apologized, “I think he just wants to say ‘Hi.’” Dylan looked up with a sheepish smile and waved. For days I wondered how hard God might have been trying to get my attention just to let me know that I was seen and loved, but I was too busy. Sometimes you, the community, yells “Hey!” and I hear God’s voice getting my attention.
I long to be with Jesus, and I experience his presence when we are together within the sights and tastes and smells of our community. Coffee brewing on a Sunday morning, flowers on the chancel, the choir, the bells, your voices singing, praying, and chatting over the treats at coffee hour—you are God with skin on. The sound of the bell calling us to worship, a hug at the end of the service, drawings the kids made during worship, the smile of the usher bringing the offering forward. The taste of the fresh communion bread, the feel of oil on your foreheads, music in my ears as we bless one another. We are God with skin on for one another. That’s why it’s so important that we are here for each other. It’s not just what I get out of it that brings me to worship, it’s the skin that I bring to others that blesses them. It is so important that we show up for each other, to be the body of Christ “cooking fish on a beach for each other.” It may be cookies, and cheese and fruit, and nut breads instead of fish, but we’re here for each other, feeding each other, caring for each other, hearing each other’s stories, sharing each other’s burdens, laughing and weeping together—God with skin on. We are not alone in our suffering or our joy. We know God is with us because we experience God in community.
There is such power in the community of the Beloved! I have to tell you about a post-Easter experience I had this Friday. Many of you know that I teach at Seattle University on Friday mornings. This last Friday there were four bomb threats found in two of the campus buildings. All of our classrooms and buildings were locked down. We received updated texts to let us know what was happening. And yet—Jesus stood in our midst with words of peace as one of the students, who happened to be leading prayer when the lock down occurred, simply prayed for the safety of all those involved, including the one who had made the threats. That is the second time in two years I have witnessed the peace of Christ enter a locked down classroom through a student’s prayer.
Finally, it’s in the Beloved Community that I find forgiveness and direction. Just like Peter, who was given the chance to declare his love three times after denying Jesus three times, in this beloved community we are loved and accepted in spite of our failings. This is a place of second and third and fourth chances. I learned about real grace in church from Maureen, who worked with the at-risk teens and preteens in another church that I served. Even the most rebellious child was given three chances to change his or her behavior to abide by the guidelines. After the third warning, the child was told that they needed to go home, but they were welcome to come and try again tomorrow. Mercy and grace were new every morning. A hundred new days made such a difference in those teens’ lives. We offer each other grace that is new every morning—that is one of the signs of the Beloved Community. And from the community, we are sent to feed others with bread and justice and mercy—to meet the real embodied needs of weary, discouraged people. A meal, a hug, a ride, an hour of listening, a changed law, a word of hope, and act of mercy. We are God with skin on for each other.