There once was an ad campaign by a major insurance company that said, “Sometimes life comes at you fast.”
No doubt. Life comes at us fast. In our urban, fast-paced, hyper-technological world, that is certainly the case.
But life also feels as though it rushes at us, when there’s stress at work, demands at home, a grim medical diagnosis, a tragic accident taking the life of a loved one, and a relationship breaks down – and it all happens all at once! It can overwhelm the human spirit. Emotional overload.
Life can come at us very fast. You know the saying: “When it rains, it pours.” Or, you’ve heard this one: “Awful things happen in threes.”
And what about this one? It can be understood in either a negative way, or a positive way: “Life happens, when we’re busy making other plans.”
In other words, life often happens outside our expectations, or direct control, when we’re busy spinning wheels in other directions.
In the scriptures today, in the Gospel reading in particular, we catch the disciples at the point when they are completely overwhelmed by life, life which came at them very fast.
The tension-filled, emotional high of their entry into Jerusalem, followed by the upsetting event of Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple, and then an extraordinary Passover meal unlike any other, then, an intense experience in the Garden of Gethsemane, followed by an unexpected betrayal, an armed arrest, a series of denials, a mock trial, a jeering mob, and finally, a bloody execution.
By the end of it, the disciples were crushed and numb. The human spirit can take only so much.
But then, to top it all off – news of an empty tomb and resurrection appearances. Just way too much to handle. Emotional overload.
No wonder, in today’s Gospel reading, Peter and the others just need to take some time out. Peter says, “I’m goin’ fishing.” And so, they head back to doing what they knew best – fishing. They seek out some familiar comfort, some emotional space to process what they’ve gone through.
But then, as they’re fishing – as they’re busy doing something else – something amazing happens. An unexpected, unplanned moment. They suddenly become strangely aware of the presence of God, the living Jesus, right there with them. Like blinders falling off, scales falling from their eyes. They suddenly are able to see something they up to this point had not.
They were able to see: life, joy, hope for the future – all of this suddenly bursts on the scene in a way they couldn’t have planned or anticipated.
They had been mired in a grim landscape of emotional burden and stress. They emerge, transformed, into a bright space of hope, renewal, and a spirit of new beginning.
In better mental space, they go ashore, and there, on the sandy beach, at the crack of dawn as the sun rises over the lake, over a warm fire, they eat breakfast together, sharing memories, laughter, hopes and dreams, experiencing the life-giving, joyful presence of Jesus in their midst.
And this is amazing considering how, remember just several days ago, the disciples basically abandoned, basically disowned Jesus when he was arrested and taken away. Essentially there was a broken relationship there – Jesus feeling dumped and abandoned by his closest friends – and the disciples feeling scared and guilty for ditching Jesus in his `hour of need’. Imagine the feelings of hurt and betrayal between Jesus and his disciples.
And now, here they are, over breakfast, experiencing such relief, forgiveness, reconciliation with Jesus. They know Jesus has forgiven them for deserting him. Such refreshing love renews them, and sends them out in mission and ministry in the name of Jesus.
And it happened unexpectedly, unannounced, unplanned. I think how some of the most important events of our lives, rich with lasting meaning and joy happen outside our direct control or planning or strategizing.
God has a way of surprising us.
Christian author and speaker Brian McLaren shares a personal story of a chance encounter with a boy, which eventually created the basis of his greater appreciation, understanding, and care for people of the Muslim faith.
It happened years ago, shortly after he was newly married.
The story is actually kind of funny. It begins with a good practical joke.
While Brian and his new wife Grace were away on their honeymoon, Brian’s brother, who had keys to their apartment, filled the only bathroom in their small apartment with a million balloons. From floor to ceiling, this bathroom was stuffed, packed with balloons.
Returning from their honeymoon late at night, Brian and Grace, to their utter shock, discover this. In rising panic, and driven by their intensifying biological need to use the toilet, they quickly take out the balloons and spread them around on the floor of their small apartment. Tired, they decide to deal with the balloon problem in the morning.
So, early next morning, Brian goes out to sit on the front stoop to figure out what to do with a million or so balloons.
And as he’s sitting there, a young boy of about eight literally runs into him almost pushing him right over. Aatif is the boy’s name. He and his family recently came from Iran, and were living in the apartment directly above theirs.
After talking a bit, Aatif is really happy to take these balloons, along with some neighbourhood friends. They love balloons! Problem solved!
But more than that, since that day, a close friendship with Aatif and his family began, a friendship that would last years. This relationship blossomed, opening doors to greater associations with the Muslim community, for which Brian was eternally grateful so many years later.
And all because of an unexpected, unplanned surprising encounter, a `bumping into each other’. A moment of grace. A bolt out of the blue. Changing lives forever.
In our own times of emotional overload, where we feel confused and stressed and tired, wondering where God is…
Let’s not forget the God who unexpectedly came to Saul on the road to Damascus, like a bolt out of the blue, changing his life forever.
Let’s not forget the God who in Jesus came unexpectedly to those very sad, despondent and disheartened disciples, renewing their hope, bringing new joy and lightness of being…
…the God who comes to us, unexpectedly, while we’re busy making other plans.