1 Corinthians 15:1-11
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death! So live! live! live!”
This is a quote from a favorite movie. Now you may remember the story of Mame when Lucille Ball played the character in the musical in the 1970s but I prefer the original non-musical version with Rosalind Russell. They sort of messed up the story with the musical too. I think this quote is foundational to the story and was kept from the book.
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death! So live! live! live!” Mame is exubérant. She loves life. She loves people. She spends her life partying and connecting and laughing and exploring and creating. But many people around her consider her a sinner, a heathen, a hedonist. And she is. She is a sinner, like you, like me. And her exubérant ways are suspect as she raises a young boy, a boy who is her only living relative, and she his only living relative. They have ti figure out how to be in relationship with each other and learn to depend on each other. And Mame’s exubérant ways are challenged by others in the story even more when this boy comes to be her responsibility.
But Mame keeps on living large and loud and has this saying that the boy remembers the rest of his life, though he does go on to a boarding school for a better upbringing after a short time with Mame.
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death! So live! live! live!”
When I first moved into the rectory, I didn’t have internet for a few weeks but I did have a DVD player and TV. So I borrowed some DVDs from An and Tim Walker and enjoyed particularly binge watching the television show Joan of Arcadia. This lesser known show ran from September of 2003 through April of 2005. It introduced viewers to a teenage girl named Joan, but with a twist: Joan’s character is loosely based on the life of the 15th-century saint, Joan of Arc. The overarching plot showed Joan Girardi as a modern 16-year old girl who is visited by God in various forms, such as a garbage man, a dog walker, a little girl, a teenage punk rocker, an elder lady and other unexpected people. God continually asks Joan to do things that seem strange at the time, but work themselves out in transformational ways within Joan’s character and the lives that she touches.
In one episode, God, in the form of a cute teenage boy, tells Joan that he wants her to do something that scares her. As soon as he tells her this, he turns around and walks down the school hallway, leaving Joan alone with a million questions. She is afraid of so many things, how is she supposed to know which one to pick?
Responding to God’s request to do something that scares us is exactly that: scary. When this happens, the fear of change hits us on a personal level—a change of will, an attitude of openness to change one’s heart, a change of perception toward another person. In many cases, people would rather have a 40-foot wave of water come down on them or be shot up into the sky without a parachute than make such a change. But if we stop for a minute and breathe, we notice that deep down inside—sometimes not until afterward—what God is asking of us is the right thing to do.
At the end of each episode, when Joan of Arcadia would fulfill what God asked of her in, it always made her grow as a person and brought her closer to others. Such things are usually signs that we have done or are doing the right thing in answering God’s call.
Fear is paralyzing, though. It motivates us to maintain the status quo and to resist growing into who God is calling us to be. Fear is what made Saul of Tarsus, who would later become the apostle Paul, persecute Christians. Fear is what makes us believe we are not worthy of being loved—by others, by ourselves, and by God.
Fear casts out reason. Fear lacks God’s imagination of wonder for the future. We can certainly imagine any number of horrible things that might happen, but it is more difficult to visualize something entirely new. Fear tells us it will keep us safe, but it does not tell the whole story. It also traps us and makes us unable to experience the freedom of what Jesus offers.
Yet, this is where God finds us. Just like Jesus found Simon Peter in his boat and Paul on the road to Damascus, God comes to where we are and asks us to do something that seems unthinkable, laughable, bizarre, or just plain scary. We could stay the same, but it would go against our Baptismal Covenant and against the transforming power of living a life of faith by following Jesus. With Jesus meeting us where we are, we have a wonderful opportunity to experience God’s grace. We do not have to be perfect in order for God to want to be in relationship with us. We just have to be willing to drop our own baggage around our fears and follow, like Peter, James, and John did when they brought their boats, overflowing with fish, to shore.
It sounds so simple to follow Jesus, doesn’t it? It should be compelling to hear about his miracles in scripture and witness that the work of God is full of abundance and grace in our own lives—so compelling that we want to leave everything and follow Jesus, too. Jesus tells Peter, James, and John that they should not be afraid of what has happened and that from then on, they would be catching people, too, just as Jesus has caught them—by being with them where they were and exemplifying the blessing and abundance of God. In leaving everything and following Jesus, they immediately reorder their entire lives, with Jesus at the center of every decision they make.
What would that be like for us?
What if we applied this type of order to our Christian life? What if, like those first disciples and Paul, Jesus was at the center of every decision we made? It is not just asking ourselves what Jesus would do, but more deeply and pointedly, what would Jesus have me do. What Jesus would have us do as a parish.
Perhaps the list of values we would use come from the Baptismal Covenant or the fruits of the spirit, values such as seeking to serve Christ in all persons, faithfulness, proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Jesus Christ, embodying gentleness, living in peace, or administering self-control. Would our lives be different if we did this? Would our world?
One of the things I learned about this Gospel story this week is that Jesus got on to the boat to teach for more than one reason. It seems that getting some distance from the crowd who were “pressing in on him” was a way for them to see him as he taught. But there was another possibility at play here. The water between the boat and the crowd acted as a natural amplifier of his voice.
My family has an old pontoon boat on South Holston Lake which straddles the Virginia-Tennessee state line. The boat dock we use is in a cove and my brother gets the boat from the slip and brings it up further into the cover to a peer to pick us up so my aging mom doesn’t have to walk so far. This cove is between some steep cliffs too so the natural acoustics up in there are amazing. We have learned that we can speak at almost a whisper and hear each other. That’s because our voices are bouncing off of the water. It is a lovely sound, especially when there is not much else going on.
This gives me an experiential access to this story. I can imagine standing on that beach leaning in to hear the voice of the rabbi in the proper seated position speaking quietly and yet there is no other sound buy his voice and no other wisdom to learn and no turning back. I can imagine being gobsmacked by what he teaches. A new, radical way of life. The way of love. And he didn’t have to yell. It just bounced off of the water.
But then Jesus did something. He took action after he taught. So, not just words here. He commands us to follow up the lesson with action too. And he models some action.
In this story he took the fishermen out to deep water. Now, this would have been scary for even these seasoned fishermen. The deep water is where the monsters lived. The deep water is a place of great respect and big time safety practices. No one wants to fall overboard into the deep water. One is certain to perish there. But Jesus tells them to fish there and they do. Reluctantly. And the catch is miraculous. This abundance of fish comes so easily that they are overwhelmed.
Jesus asks us too to go to deeper places. Jesus asks us to take chances and go to places and do things that are scary to us. He doesn’t just ask this. He commands it. And when we are able to follow, especially to the scary and deep places, the abundance of his love and action in the world, through us in spite of us, is always more surprising.
So, back to Mame. Mame can be compared to Jesus. Well, maybe if you leave out the bathtub gin! Like Mame who said to live! live! live! Jesus wants us to get out of our shells, get off the shore, get into the deep water and dive into the waters of life. The abundance of his love will guide us. The abundance, like so many fish, will nurture us. And when we dare to answer our call to follow Jesus, our eyes will be opened to the riches of the sea, and the earth and the beauty of all of God’s creation, even sinful, human kind.
To be called by God to follow Jesus takes more than just a willingness of heart and living through our core Christian values. It takes the humble response that we repeat every time we recite our Baptismal Covenant: I will, with God’s help. We have the will, but God is the way. We must actively choose to follow Jesus and we need God’s help to do so, as that road is unknown and will present us with challenges and joys which we are unable to predict.
In our modern time, we have control over a great many things in our lives and therefore perceive that we can control everything, including other people and events. When we come up against uncontrollable circumstances, we are often at a loss. In a difficult circumstance, people may tell us platitudes such as “Let go and let God,” or “There’s a reason for everything.” Although the person means well, these sayings are not helpful when facing a life-altering event. Or, we may be going along, happy with our daily lives like Simon-Peter, when suddenly we experience a miracle—something unexpected and uncontrolled. Something that we did not order from the menu of what we thought was our life.
Regardless if it is a positive or negative circumstance that comes up, we are challenged to respond faithfully, knowing that Jesus is getting into the boat with us, no matter what. No matter if we deserve it or not, no matter how great our fear or joy is, Jesus meets us where we are and this is why we grasp his outstretched hand—unexpected, full of grace, in invitation—and we follow.
 The Rev. Danae M. Ashley, https://www.episcopalchurch.org/library/sermon/trusting-jesus-epiphany-5-c-february-10-2019.