We’re All In The Same Boat!

Two Sundays ago, I rose early and headed off to church. I hoped to offer a “welcome home” to friends from St. Paul’s who’d returned from Israel a few days earlier. Though I was unable to physically join them on this trip, I traveled with them in spirit. The tour director and fellow tourists had shared this adventure via photo and video posts on Facebook. They’d allowed me to be with them, at least virtually, every step of the way. Though these images indicated that all concerned had enjoyed an amazing trip, I wanted to confirm this for myself. As it happened, the smiles and comments of the six friends I met that morning indicated that they’d experienced the same once-in-a-lifetime adventure I’d enjoyed in Israel. When I returned home, I pulled out the albums which chronicle our trips there. Within minutes, that unexpected sense of peace which greeted me in the Holy Land returned…

For reasons unknown to me, the time I spent in Israel felt very much like a family reunion. Several years earlier, Mike and I had traveled to Croatia to meet his cousins there. Two years ago, we flew to Quebec to meet my dad’s family. Last summer, we traveled to Sicily to visit Mike’s grandparents’ hometown. Each of these encounters left us with a heartwarming sense of belonging. I’d experienced precisely the same in Israel. When I pondered this phenomenon, it occurred to me that going to the Holy Land was a family reunion as well. My own story began there long ago when the one whom they called “Teacher” laid the foundation for everything of importance to me. Jesus revealed the essence of God’s love and our capacity to love one another. I wouldn’t be the person, child, sibling, wife, mom, aunt, grandma and friend I am today if I hadn’t taken these lessons to heart. Though our family trees may not indicate that we share our genealogy, Jesus and I are family just the same. Every encounter with Jesus’ history in the Holy Land proved to be an encounter with my own history as well. When I revisited our photos of The Jesus Boat, I understood why I take today’s passage from Luke’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) to heart.

We read a great deal about fishermen and boats in the gospels. Though some of his followers abandoned their fishing businesses to follow Jesus, he went back to their boats often to get from place to place, to preach and to rest. Though no one can say with any certainty that Jesus set foot on The Jesus Boat, this vessel is definitely a relic from Jesus’ day. Because it was discovered just north of Magdala and just south of Tabgha, Jesus may have looked upon this boat as he lingered on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The boat is displayed in a museum in Kibbutz Ginosar. There I learned of Moshe and Yuval Lufan, brothers and fellow fishermen like Peter and Andrew. They discovered the ancient boat buried in mud near the shore of the Sea of Galilee. I was struck by the excitement of these two who couldn’t hide their amazement over this discovery. Their treasure shook both the archaeological world and the spiritual world to their cores. No one had ever before unearthed such an old vessel in such complete condition. This bit of Jesus’ history is particularly special to me because it gives life to Luke’s telling of Jesus’ adventure with Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As Luke tells it, Jesus had been preaching among a crowd near the Lake of Gennesaret (also called The Sea of Galilee) when he saw Simon washing his nets. Jesus boarded Simon’s boat and asked the fisherman to pull his boat into the water just a short distance from the shore. Simon must have been taken with Jesus because he obliged immediately. After preaching from Simon’s boat for some time, Jesus asked his unsuspecting friend to sail into the deep water and to cast his nets once again. Practical man that he was, Simon pointed out that he’d worked all night in the same area and had caught nothing. Still, Simon did as Jesus asked. Almost immediately, the poor man’s nets became so full that they threatened to tear. Simon’s fellow fishermen came to the rescue as his boat might have sunk under the weight of those fish. Having seen The Jesus Boat first hand, I understand Simon’s fear! Still, small as that boat was, Luke tells us that Simon seemed to fear something else far more than his sinking boat. Witnessing this miracle filled him with absolute awe and trepidation. Simon seemed to wonder, “Who am I to be in the company of this Jesus who can work such wonders?” Indeed, Simon followed this thought with a command to Jesus: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Jesus’ response to the fearful Simon is the reason I take Luke’s account to heart. Though Simon doubted what part he could possibly play in Jesus’ plan, Jesus remained steadfast in his confidence in Simon. Though one day Jesus would rename his humble friend Peter, it was the essence of the old Simon which compelled Jesus to ask him to follow him and to work at his side. Whenever I doubt myself, I must open my ears as Simon did to God’s call. Incapable and unworthy as I may seem to me, I must never doubt my place in God’s world and God’s plan. Nor should you!
©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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They Couldn’t Resist Him!

Jesus said to them, “Come after me;
I will make you fishers of men.”
They immediately abandoned their nets
and became his followers.

Mark 1:17-18

In a few days, several friends will fly off to Israel. I’m feeling a bit melancholy regarding their departure as I was supposed to join them for this adventure. Unfortunately for me, circumstances arose which caused me to delay this return trip for another time. Still, as quickly as I wrote about my disappointment, I couldn’t help smiling. I’ve been to Israel twice before and both trips left me filled with awe. Though I know Jesus’ story well, walking where he walked and meeting his modern-day countrymen and women firsthand touched me in amazingly unexpected ways.

It was in Israel that I finally began to understand what caused the disciples to walk away from everything to follow Jesus. Simon and Andrew were hard-working men who left their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Perhaps Jesus couldn’t contain the wonder within him. Perhaps just being nearby was enough to draw people to him. The scriptures recount numerous instances of Jesus’ interactions with lepers and blind people, sinners and the lonely, all of whom found the courage to approach Jesus.

Though I’ve never seen Jesus as his contemporaries did, I did walk where he walked. I breathed the air he breathed and I sailed on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus so often found solace. The truth is that I can’t imagine my life without his influence. When I consider the Jesus I’ve come to know, I understand the attraction. It must have been overwhelmingly amazing to walk with a visible Jesus because simply being where he was proved completely overwhelming to me.

With that, I wish my Israel-bound friends an equally amazing encounter!

Loving God, thank you for the gift of Jesus who transformed my life from the moment I first heard his name.

©2019 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Always Ready To Listen…

I breathe a sigh of relief as I recall Holy Week and Easter. Paschal preparations kept many of us here at St. Paul’s extremely busy. Hopefully, the collective efforts of all concerned filled those who prayed with us throughout those holy days with heartfelt inspiration. I’m happy to report that it wasn’t until the week after Easter that my fatigue caught up with me. Though I’d hoped for a day or two to relax, the realities of life dictated otherwise. I had no choice but to roll up my sleeves and to address the tasks at hand. In the midst of my efforts, I realized that I had a good deal of writing to attend to as well. I needed two editions of these longer Sunday reflections as a result of my Easter weekend hiatus. I also needed another week of daily reflections to post here.

I admit that I panicked as I grasped for ideas. I’d referenced the last of my notes from our trip to the Holy Land and had to turn to life-after-Israel for inspiration. So it was that, while picking up the house and starting the laundry, I considered the aftermath of the first Easter. After all, the disciples had returned to the realities of life-after-Jesus. Though stray strands of Easter grass, spots on the kitchen floor and the clothes dryer’s buzz attempted to distract me, I quickly found myself in the disciples’ mindset. By noon, I set aside my chores and sat at my computer to write.

Sometimes, the tasks at hand overwhelm us so completely that we miss the joy that lingers within our reach. Much to my good fortune, Jesus’ nudged his way into my thoughts. Just as Jesus responded to the disciples with perfectly timed appearances after his death, he continues to gift each one of us with his gracious and loving presence. Luke’s gospel (Luke 24:35-48) points out how amazingly nearby Jesus always is.

The story begins with two disciples who were recounting to the others what happened to them on their way home from Jerusalem. Distraught over Jesus’ crucifixion, the duo walked home to Emmaus together. After all, there was no reason to remain in the Holy City. All seemed to be lost for the not-so-faithful band who had followed The Teacher. As they commiserated along the way, the two friends met a stranger who asked many questions about what had happened during Passover. The two disciples were amazed that there was anyone in the vicinity who didn’t know what had become of Jesus. They recounted the prior week’s events as best they could, but this stranger pressed on. Finally, this man took the lead and began to cite scripture passages for them. He explained that the events which led to Jesus’ demise fulfilled the prophets’ predictions from generations past. Intrigued, the disciples begged the stranger to remain with them through the night so they could continue their exchange the following day. The man agreed to have supper with them. As they ate, the stranger took bread and broke it, finally revealing himself as Jesus. Luke’s passage begins with the two back in Jerusalem. They’d returned to their friends to share the good news of their encounter with the Lord. Much to their surprise, Jesus appeared in their midst before they’d finished their story. Jesus greeted them with the now-familiar words: “Peace be with you!”

I think it was no accident that this duo traveled together to Emmaus. After all, there is nothing more consoling than to share hard times with a friend who understands. It also seemed only natural for these two to share their good news with the others as well. This is the reason they hurried back to Jerusalem to tell Peter and the rest about their encounter with Jesus. I can’t help recalling the numerous times someone’s presence has helped me through an illness, a loss or an insurmountable mound of worry. Their intentional offers of kindness made all of the difference in the world to me. Jesus’ subsequent appearances were also intentional. Life was difficult for Jesus’ friends after his crucifixion. They needed one another and they needed Jesus more than ever. Still, Jesus ignored the obvious and asked, “Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see…” Though that should have been quite enough to reassure his friends, Jesus went on to share a meal with them. As they ate together and listened further, Jesus opened them up to many things which they would never have understood on their own. Being in Jesus’ company was all that they needed.

Like the disciples, whether our worries are great or small, we sometimes succumb to despair. Whatever our troubles, they too often push us beyond our capacity to cope. This is when we must open our eyes, our ears and our hearts to the one with whom we share the path. Even when we don’t understand the sorrows which plague us, we must open ourselves to this Jesus who invites us to look and to see that it is he. Just as Jesus sat and listened and consoled his friends after the first Easter, Jesus sits ready to listen to each one of us today and always.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

All God’s Flowers

In their panic and fright
they thought they were seeing a ghost.

Luke 24:37

While decorating our church for Easter, my husband realized he’d forgetting to buy flowers for our Easter table. As soon as he left church, he went off to purchase those forgotten flowers. He returned home with what he thought was a disappointing handful of yellow tulips. Because he loves plants of every sort, Mike lovingly nestled the small bouquet into a little glass vase. I found them to be just right for our small family gathering though I wondered why Mike thought they were yellow tulips. To me, they looked sweetly and delicately white. By Easter Sunday morning, those delicate buds had blossomed beautifully. In spite of their lack of color (They were white!), they filled that vase and gave unexpected life to our Easter table.

Though my reflections regarding our trip to Israel are coming to a close, the impact of that wonderful experience remains with me. Just as those precious tulips graced our home for a full week, God has graced me through my experience in Israel and through every moment with which I’m blessed.

You and I are much like my husband’s tulips in God’s eyes. God sees us just as we are -yellow, white, brown, black or red. The color of our skin or of our mood is part of what God loves about us. Just as my husband chose that seemingly unwanted bouquet to bring a bit of Easter joy into our home, God singles out you and me to enhance life on this earth, especially the lives of those God has given us to love.

Dear God, thank you for the many surprising ways you remind me that I am loved. Help me to love all of your children as you do.

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

Brave and Inquiring Thomas

Alleluia! Rejoice and be glad! Today, we continue to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. As is the case every Easter Season, we’ll sing alleluia for several weeks to come. As for me, I’ve been immersed in Easter sentiments for quite some time. Our January stay in Israel inspired much reflection regarding the life and death of Jesus. Unlike Jesus’ contemporaries, I cannot contemplate these things without considering all that has happened since Mary Magdalene and the rest discovered Jesus’ empty tomb. Because we know these things, our perspective differs greatly from Jesus’ friends who could only wonder about what was in store. I do my best to keep all of this in mind. Still, like many who try to live as Jesus lived, I often find myself falling short. Though I know what is in store for us all after this earthly life, I stumble and fall along the way. Today, I realize once again that I’m not alone in my frailty.

When I read the gospel for this Second Sunday of Easter, I took a mental trip back to the Holy Land. This time, I was in the good company of the apostle Thomas. While considering this disciple whom John’s gospel portrays as the doubter, I found myself back in the pre-Sabbath hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. The crowds I encountered there seemed to have known exactly where they were going and what they had to do. Knowing what was coming next is a luxury Thomas and the others rarely enjoyed while they walked with Jesus. Most of the time, they were uncertain of what to expect.

A few weeks ago we listened to a passage from John’s gospel which chronicled one such occasion. Some time before Jesus and the disciples returned to Jerusalem for the last time, Jesus received word that his dear friend Lazarus was near death. You probably recall that Jesus delayed going to his friend’s side in spite of the urgency of this news. Most of the disciples likely breathed a sigh of relief because their inevitable demise was put off a little longer. When Jesus finally announced their departure for Lazarus’ home, his friends reminded him that the people had recently tried to stone him in that very place. When Jesus explained his timing, it was Thomas who spoke up. “Let us also go and die with him,” Thomas said, in spite of the fact that he had no idea of what was in store. As it happened, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the people were pleased. So it was that Jesus and the others were out of harm’s way for a little while longer. Still, I wonder. Did Thomas continue to worry about what was to come or did he simply give thanks that this new miracle would keep them safe a while longer? I just don’t know. What I do know is that Thomas’ devotion to Jesus was absolute. After all, it was Thomas who was willing to stay with his beloved teacher and perhaps to meet his end in Bethany where Lazarus lived.

It seems to me that today’s gospel (John 20:19-31) illustrates Thomas’ bravery once again. Thomas missed Jesus’ first post-resurrection visit. Because the gospel fails to explain Thomas’ absence, I wonder further. Did bravery counter Thomas’ fear of the authorities? Did Thomas leave the safety of their hideout to see firsthand the aftermath of Jesus’ death? Perhaps Thomas needed to separate fact from rumor for himself regarding the responses of the people to Jesus’ demise. Perhaps Thomas needed to experience the loss of Jesus outside of the others’ paralyzing fear. John’s is the only gospel which reports Thomas’ absence and doubt regarding Jesus’ first visit after he rose from the dead. Perhaps the other gospel writers saw something different in this disciple. As for me, I see Thomas as a man of thought and action whom Jesus wanted at his side. In the months and years afterward, scores of people heard the name of Jesus because Thomas spoke it to them. Many others came to understand forgiveness, compassion and mercy because Thomas shared his experience of these things with them. Thomas touched skeptical hearts because he once walked in their shoes. When Jesus returned to the disciples with Thomas among them, Jesus invited his friend to come closer. Thomas responded as only he could: “My Lord and my God!”

I have great affection for the Apostle Thomas because I walk in his shoes often. I understand his need to leave that upper room and to sort things out for himself because I often need to do the same. While in Israel, I often became lost in my own thoughts regarding all that Jesus means to me. I understand Thomas’ elation when Jesus reached out to him. Throughout those days in the Holy Land and all of my life, Jesus has invited me to come and to see his great love for myself. Jesus extends the same invitation to all of us on this Second Sunday of Easter and again and again throughout our lives. Like Thomas, it is up to us to recognize Jesus and to respond, “My Lord and my God.”

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

A Memory To Celebrate!

Then they recounted what had happened on the road and
how they had come to know him in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:35

We didn’t visit Emmaus during our second trip to Israel. Our rigorous schedule which included some new sites simply didn’t allow the time. So it was that I allowed myself a peaceful return to Emmaus which only I enjoyed. As we traveled between nearby sites, I recalled the grounds of St. Mary of the Resurrection Abbey. The abbey is located in the Muslim village of Abu Gosh along one of the oldest roads which links Jerusalem to the coast. At the time, the grounds were bustling with young people gathered for a program. When we returned, I discovered that the granddaughter of a friend from Germany was among that group.

After sharing the outdoors with those college students, our guide ushered us into the historic church. Beautiful as it was, I recall the lower level with deep gratitude. It was there that we discovered an ancient stream which flowed as freely as it had in Jesus’ day. I thought that listening to the same soothing rush of water which Jesus’ contemporaries heard was a gift to be cherished. When our guide pulled out his flute and added his rendition of Schubert’s Ave Maria to the mix, I tasted a bit of heaven.

The disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus aren’t the only ones gifted with such encounters. Whenever we open ourselves to one another and to the beauty around us, we cannot help meeting God. This is the reason the Easter Season lasts fifty days and the reason the miracle of Easter should set the tone for every day of our lives. When we respond to the promise of the Resurrection of Jesus in all that we say and do, we truly celebrate Easter!

Loving God, I will find a bit of Easter in every day!

©2018 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved