Jesus said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.
I have an affinity for Archbishop Desmond Tutu – his sense of humor, and, come to find out, his love of cycling. He has said, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime. Teach a man to cycle and he will realize fishing is stupid and boring.”
So, after a full Easter it came as no surprise when my mountain bike beckoned me, and I looked up at these gorgeous San Gabriel Mountains and said, “See you soon.” Now, there is an important piece of information that I ought to share at this point, about half way between my home and the trailhead it occured to me that my tools and spare tube were still at home – in case of a flat tire. But, my pregnant wife was peacefully taking a nap with our two children and I didn’t want to go back home and risk waking her up, and, more honestly, the trail was just so close. So, I risked it, and there I was, making my way up Brown Mountain under the assumption that, all shall be well.
And all was well. I sat up at the top and overlooked the San Gabriel Valley, with views as far as the ocean, and I had my moment of serenity. But, time to get home. I was coming down the trail, flying past the wildflowers, on top of the world, until “smack” and the next thing I know I am on my side, flying through the shrubs, and I can feel something digging into my leg and making its way down the side of my quads; and then it is over and I can look to see if the bike is okay, and then see if I am okay. I know, we cyclists are an odd bunch. Well, the front tire was off of the wheel, my wheel was going a different direction from the handlebars, and my first thought was that the bike was mangled – thankfully, it all could be tugged back into alignment. But, that front tire, that was going to be a problem. Oh, and my leg, well, it wasn’t pretty but I was going to be okay. Then came that moment when I realized that I was probably still 3 miles away from the JPL parking lot where, after calling my pregnant, sleeping, darling wife, I could request for her to get our two children into the car and come and retrieve me.
So there I was, limping, holding my bike over my right shoulder and the front tire around my left shoulder, and I gave out a little prayer to the Good Lord, “Hey, I’m really in a pinch here and I sure could use some help.” I kept hiking, and with every step I realized what a challenge it was going to be to get down this mountain. The next thing I know another mountain biker is making his way up the trail, he sees me in my pitiful state, and asks if I’m okay. It soon becomes apparent that, yes, I rode all the way up here without a pack for a flat tire and, yes, I would be grateful for some help. I am still shaking and having a hard time putting my tire on and he sits on the dirt and does it for me. Before I know it my bike is put back together and as long as I can just take it easy and point my bike downhill, I’ll make it home. I stick out my hand, “Hey, I really appreciate this. I’m Mark.” “Hi Mark, I’m Abraham.” Happy Easter, Abraham.
When we pick up in our readings this morning Peter is addressing the people, his people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus.”
In our Gospel this morning the disciples are in a pinch, a tight spot. Let’s try to place ourselves in their shoes, they had left everything to follow Jesus. They had gone all in, all their eggs in one basket, in hopes that Jesus really was the Messiah, God’s anointed one. They had thought he would be the one by whom God would redeem Israel. But Jesus was crucified, executed by the powers at be. And their honor and reputation died up on that cross with their beloved Rabbi.
One of my favorite themes in the Psalms is that when we are in a tight spot God can step in to deliverus, lift us up and out, and place us in a broad, spacious place. And that is just how our Psalm this morning begins,
A plea – “Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause!” And then a reminder – “You set me free when I am hard-pressed.” The NRSV translates it this way, “You gave me room when I was in distress.” Or, the MDB translation, “When I am really in a pinch, you burst open the doors and place me in wide open spaces.”
Now let me ask you, do you know what it is like to really be in a pinch? How do you respond?
I grew up with a guy named Britt whose dad was a retired CIA pilot, in fact he had been Ronald Reagan’s pilot back when he was governor. So, naturally, Britt went on to become a pilot and we would go out in his small plane together – can you imagine, a couple of 18-20 year olds up flying a plane over the farm lands of Northern CA? If you have ever flown in a small aircraft before you will recall right away the number of checklists that pilots have. There is a pre-flight checklist, a take off checklist, a landing checklist, and a checklist for what to do in case of an emergency, like if an engine cuts off, or if the engine cuts off. You see, in case of an emergency, there is a process the pilot goes through that is meant to guide her to a safe landing. It is meant to prevent the pilot from panicking and rather guide her through some simple steps that, in most circumstances, will get the plane safely back on the ground.
Our Psalm this morning states, “When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.” So, when you can’t sleep at night because you are so shaken up, so consumed by what is pressing in on your peace, have a gameplan so you don’t do something stupid.
In Moses’ final sermon in Deuteronomy he is depicted as declaring to the people, there are two paths before you, life and death, now choose life. Don’t choose death. Brothers and sisters, when we are hard-pressed we are all tempted to respond in ways that, if we were to stop and think it through, are ways that lead to death. They do not lead toward health, healthy relationships, life and wholeness and peace. Do you have a checklist for how to respond when life closes in and you are in a tight spot? Why not make a plan, so you can engage in a simple process that puts you on the path of life. Whether physically or mentally you can then take out your list and simply put one foot in front of the other. Sit down and write a list – put up at the top – “How do I cope?” Then with two columns, one for life and one for death, place your coping mechanisms. On the positive side that might include getting out and going for a walk, going for a bike ride, calling a loved one, reading the Scriptures, going to a support group. On the other side – write down all of the temptations you face that do not bring about life. Have a plan, think it through, and in that plan – remain connected to your faith community.
Have you noticed yet in our resurrection stories that the risen Jesus appears when the disciples are gathered. Last week we learned that Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared, and he doubted. Yet when did Jesus appear to Thomas and say “here are my hands and my feet, touch”? It was when Thomas had rejoined the community. Our faith is personal but it is not private. When we are hurting, struggling, discouraged – do not cut yourself off from your faith community because it is within the faith community that the risen Jesus will most often appear. That is not to say that the risen Jesus cannot or will not meet you when you are alone, but you can be sure that he will direct you toward his people. Why? Well one reason is that we lift one another up – we need each other. We are called to remind one another that God is faithful when we have a hard time remembering or believing it ourselves. As our Psalm states, “Put your trust in the Lord” – because “when we are in a pinch, God comes to our side and places us in a wide open space.” God shows up and brings peace.
One of the prominent themes in our reading from Acts and our Gospel passage is that what was accomplished in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was to fulfill the Scriptures. The God of Abraham is the God who raised Jesus from the dead. Perhaps it would be helpful to think about fulfill as “to fill up.” As though the Scriptures had cast a mold for a way to understand who God is and how God works, and the life of Jesus beautifully filled up that cup.
Abraham lived back before there were any Scriptures, and God called him to come and follow him, so that, through this childless man, the entire world might be blessed. And there it is, back in the beginning, God had a plan to use a specific couple, who would become the ancestors of a specific people, so that through them the entire world would be blessed. It is through this people, the Hebrew people, that we have our Scriptures, writings which tell the story of a God who is fiercely committed, never gives up, keeps reaching out a hand and offering forgiveness and a way home to a world that time and time again has rejected him.
So, is it any surprise, as the disciples and the early church began to reflect upon the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth that they began to marvel, could it be? Could it really be that Yahweh, the God who created the heavens and the earth, has come to live among us through this humble carpenter from Nazareth? Could it really be that after nailing him to a cross and laying him in a tomb that he would refuse to let even death stop him from loving us, but rise to new life offering peace and forgiveness? God of Abraham, could it really be you – Showing up once more, when we’re really in a pinch?
Sisters and Brothers are you in a pinch? Hang in there, keep trusting. Follow your gameplan, stay connected to your community, and remember: the God of Abraham and Sarah, the God of Jesus and Mary, he is faithful, he will show up, and place you in a wide open space.