Debbie Little Wyman, a communications director at Harvard Law School, never imagined that she would one day become a priest to the homeless on the streets of Boston. Debbie never imagined that one day she would find peace and meaning beyond her wildest imagination through a communion of coffee and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the homeless and panhandlers in Boston.
In fact, such a life stands in contrast to the one she had experienced as an adult. Debbie had attended a liberal arts college and had done communications work for over twenty-five years. That was what she was good at and so, of course, Debbie thought to herself that that was what she was supposed to do with the rest of her life.
And yet, she found herself filled with this unexplainable itch in her life that would not go away that she was not quite sure what to do with. After all, she loved her job … right?
And yet, one day Debbie was driving up Massachusetts Avenue in Boston on her way to a press conference, when she glanced to the right and saw a woman sitting on the steps of an entrance to her apartment complex, surrounded by paper bags.
She heard her own silent voice say to her: “I want to have a life in which I could go and sit with that woman until she has what she wants.”
For years, Debbie wrestled with this yearning that she had and with the practical reality that she needed a practical job and a pay check. Debbie describes this time as an “excoriating cavern between one life and another I couldn’t yet see.” As she stood at the edge of the unknown, Debbie had a grip on all the ideas about who she was supposed to be while also sifting and sorting through the rich soil of wounds and dreams that life so generously provides each of us. “How far could I roam and still be me?” Debbie wondered.
As she wrestled with this yearning deep inside of her, Debbie gradually discovered that a sure sign of a new direction is the prize combination of fear, doubt and insecurity.
This reminds me of the disciples in today’s Scripture.
Fear, doubt and insecurity are an excellent summary of where the disciples are in the beginning of this Scripture. The disciples have been through a lot. Only three years ago, they had given up everything to follow Jesus, who taught them the true meaning of grace and hospitality and only a couple weeks ago they had watched their beloved teacher die and mourned his death.
Then, just a few days later, the Risen Christ had appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you. Peace be with you, as the Holy Parent has sent me, so I send you.” Christ breathed on them, gifting them with the Holy Spirit, then disappeared.
Christ was alive, Love lived on, forgiveness triumphed over hatred … it was a lot to wrap their heads around. Moreover, Christ wanted to send them into the world, this world, the one that had just crucified him??
The disciples weren’t quite sure what to make of this invitation. Just minutes ago, they had been so sure that they knew how their lives were going to turn out. They had known that their beloved teacher had been killed, that violence & the Roman empire had won, and that their own futures were precarious and uncertain.
They had so sure that they knew how their lives were going to turn out that they had locked themselves in a room to keep themselves safe.
And then Christ had shown up and said, “Peace be with you. As the Holy Parent has sent me, so I send you.”
In the midst of the disciples’ fear,, Christ was sending them into the world.
The thing is though was that the disciples’ didn’t really want to be sent. “Being sent” means so many things – it means daring greatly, taking risks, letting go of the ideas about who we are supposed to be, talking to strangers, finding ourselves in places that we never imagined. In the case of Simon Peter, being sent would mean traveling the outskirts of the Mediterranean sea, relying on strangers for lodging, being a prisoner because of his convictions, and leaving his vocation of fisherperson behind forever. Not quite the life that he had always imagined for himself.
Christ sends not just Peter but all of us, but I wonder: Do we really want to be sent??
Sometimes I am not so sure, sometimes I wish there was a part of the Bible where Jesus says, no, I changed my mind, you are not sent, how about everyone just stays home by themselves and watches TV? That would make life so much easier.
And yet, there is within me, a yearning, an itch, a desire, that is more powerful than my desire to stay home, huddled on the couch by myself.
There is a yearning within all of us for that new direction, more powerful than the fear, doubt and insecurity that plague us.
It is the call of Jesus on our hearts that says: Come, see, experience and come away transformed.
It is the call that says: Come and follow me.
It is this call that finally propels the disciples out of their locked room into the world and yet, once there, they remain unsure what to do or what to say. Yes, Christ called them to love, but sometimes that just sounds like a pie-in-the sky ideal. What they want to know was: What are they supposed to do?
It was as if they stood, like Debbie, in an excoriating cavern between one life and another they couldn’t yet see. As they stood in that in between place, their stomachs rumbled and they figured that they would at least go fishing so that they could make the decision on a full stomach.
But they don’t catch any fish.
They are so hungry that they pull an all-nighter and fish by moonlight.
And still they come up empty.
Yet, just as the sun begins to rise and warm their faces, they hear a Voice from the shoreline, that tells them to try fishing on the other side.
They do. They say yes to the holy invitation and, when their net comes up, it is fuller than they could have possibly imagined. One of the disciples looks at slippery, dancing fish and then at the person on the shore and suddenly his eyes widen in recognition. “It’s the Teacher!” he calls out.
Peter looks up and sees Jesus. Jesus, who he had denied, Jesus, who he doubted, Jesus who had sent him into the world.
In that moment, the last years with Jesus come rushing back to him – the moment when Andrew had come sprinting to him, telling him that he had found the Holy One, and said to Peter: Come and see. Peter remembers the numerous times that Jesus ate with the tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes, proclaiming their equality and dignity even when society wouldn’t. Peter’s minds drifts to the last supper when Jesus had gathered them all around the table, even Judas, and had told them to eat bread and drink fruit of the vine as a way to remember that they all God’s beloved children. Peter recalls how Jesus, his teacher, had stooped down and had washed his filthy calloused feet with a sense of tenderness.
Peter stands in this cavern between the life he has had and another one he can’t quite see yet. A yearning fills his heart, to be loved, to love, to feed, to be fed, to be part of this incredible kin-dom that God was building even if it means stepping out into the unknown. In that moment, courage and truth fill Peter’s heart as he decides to show up, to step out, to be present, even though he is a human being full of imperfections, even though he doesn’t always know what to do, even though there is a part of him that liked staying in that that locked room.
Peter says “yes” to love, and so, daring greatly, Peter jumps right over the side of the ship and swims all the way to Jesus.
There on the beach, Jesus tends a campfire, the embers glowing, the smelled of the smoked bread and grilled fish rising from the fire. Jesus adds the disciples’ fish to the fire and when they are ready, he says to them: “Come and eat.”
“Come and eat.”
As they pass around the bread and fish, Peter looks into Jesus’ eyes and sense of love flood over his body, flowing into every nook and cranny. Peter is filled with the knowledge, that here on this mundane beach, in the midst of mistakes and messiness, the Holy is present!
When Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus and asks Peter to feed his sheep, Peter suddenly realizes that what Jesus is calling him to do, is not getting his words or even his theology right, but rather to put his love into action. Sometimes that means washing feet, and sometimes that means eating together with strangers or people who are different or people we are not particularly fond of.
This is the call of Jesus on our lives: Come and eat.
This is the call that burned in Debbie’s heart as she came to realize that she too was being sent into the world. It is the call that filled Debbie’s heart as she began to ponder, what if … what if I said yes to this yearning … and so, one day Debbie said yes, out loud, quietly to herself. When she finally did this, Debbie discovered that the the knot in her stomach immediately loosened and she became curious.
Debbie decided to quit her job and started volunteering at homeless shelter for women. She was supposed to do communications work, but instead, she would talk for hours with the women on the hard folding chairs, just sitting and listening.
In those hours, she fell in love, with the simplicity, the women, the bare vulnerability, the truthfulness that they offered. In the beginning, she could feel the yearning in her heart but she had no idea what to do. She says that she made it up as she went along.
One day, Debbie ventured out from the homeless shelter into the streets of Boston to try her hand at street ministry. On her first day, she bought two cups of coffee and went out into the Boston Public Garden. As she strolled into the park, she found herself wondering what in the world she was doing … she was afraid and yet she had found the courage within herself to step out, to dare greatly.
She looked around for someone who looked “homeless”, who she could help, and spotted a man, went over and sat down. Not sure what to say, Debbie handed him a cup of coffee.
The man took, looked her in eyes, and asked her kindly, “So, how are you doing today?”
Wham. In the first five minutes of street ministry, Debbie says, she learned who was ministering to who. God’s love, right there in that cup of coffee.
Come and eat, come and drink.
Debbie continued her ministry, passing out not coffee, but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and, as she ate and shared the cup with strnged, Debbie discovered communion, beloved community in the midst of difference.
In the words of Rob Leveridge’s song “All God’s people”, Debbie discovered the divine invitation:
“All God’s people, gather ‘round, welcome home, the holy is here!”
The holy is here.