Monday, April 15, 2013

Double Rainbow

There's a phenomenon in nature known as the double rainbow. Regular rainbows happen when water in the atmosphere, usually rain, reflects sunlight back to the viewer. That's why you always have to look away from the sun to see a rainbow, because the light is actually bouncing off of the water, and then back to you. The color of light that you see from each raindrop depends on where the raindrop is in relation to you and the sun, so you'll see red from some raindrops, and blue from others, and so on. And when you see the light bouncing back at you from all of those millions of raindrops, it forms a rainbow.
When the conditions are right, you will sometimes see a second rainbow over the first one. It won't be as bright, and the colors will be reversed, but if you're ever lucky enough to see one, it's an amazing sight. This secondary rainbow is formed when light is reflected twice inside of the raindrop. You need a lot of sunlight and lots of water in the air for this to happen, so it's pretty rare.
A couple of years ago, there was a video on the Internet that everyone was talking about that featured a double rainbow. Now, the reason that everyone was talking about it wasn't because of the double rainbow. Though double rainbows are rare and beautiful, the fact that this man had captured one on film wasn't what everyone was all excited about. No, the reason this video had gotten so much attention was because of the reaction that this man had to seeing the double rainbow. As the camera pans across the sky, you can hear him reacting to it. He is ecstatic, he's laughing and crying, and he keeps asking, "What does it mean? What does it mean?" You can hear him sobbing. I mean, he really kind of goes over the top. The first time I tried to watch it, I couldn't even finish the video because I was having too much secondhand embarrassment. I just thought this guy was making a fool of himself.
Which is kind of what I thought Peter was doing when I first read today's lectionary. Jesus appears to the disciples on the shore, and Peter is out on a boat with some of the other disciples, trying to catch some fish. One of the disciples on the boat says, "Hey, that's Jesus!" And, without any hesitation at all, Peter, puts on some clothes, because I guess they sometimes fished naked back then, jumps in the water, and swims to the shore, while the other disciples, much more calm about the situation, bring the boat. Was Peter wrong to do this? I'm going to say no. But, did he have to do this? Did he have to kind of go crazy, throw on some clothes and jump into the water in his excitement over Jesus showing up? I'm going to say no to that, too. I don't think Jesus needed him to be quite that enthusiastic, or expected him to put on quite a show when he appeared, but I'm willing to bet that it brought a smile to Jesus' face.
I have to admit that when I first started looking at this text, I had a hard time with it. This image of Peter, hearing that Jesus was there, and then getting all excited about it, throwing on some clothes and jumping in the water; bless his heart, the poor guy literally didn't know what to do with himself. Swimming to the shore while the others brought the boat in, I mean the guy literally went overboard. It's too much! Some people think that maybe he decided to put the clothes on because he didn't want to greet Jesus naked, you know, as a sign of respect, or maybe it was a special type of clothing that would help keep him dry, although if I had to guess, I'd say that clothing technology probably wasn't quite that advanced back then.
I actually kind of like this image of Peter, just kind of flipping his lid, running around like a chicken with its head cut off, saying, "Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! Jesus is here! What do I do? What do I do? Uh, throw on some clothes and jump in the water!" I mean, this is Peter we're talking about! "Fly by the seat of his pants" Peter, "cut off some guy's ear with a sword" Peter. This is Peter's M.O. The "acting before thinking" Peter, the "guy who screws things up, but still somehow manages to wind up being the rock that the church is built on" Peter, and I think this is why so many people just find him so endearing. He's not perfect. He's expressive! He's exuberant! He loves Jesus, and he's not afraid to show it! Except for that one time…with denying Jesus three times and the rooster crowing…
But, we get it, right? We know Peter! We know that person who gets too excited about things, overly enthusiastic about things, that person that's the life of the party. We love that person! And sometimes, a lot of us wish we could be that person.
Like I said, when I was first looking at this text, I had a hard time with it. Usually, the first thing I do when working on a sermon is try to think of a personal story that I can relate to the text. That's my M.O. I like using the stories from my life as illustrations because I can be the most authentic when I'm telling one of my own stories as opposed to when I'm telling someone else's. But this time, I just couldn't think of one. As I sat there at a loss, trying to figure out what to do, I suddenly realized that the reason I couldn't think of a story was because I am basically the complete opposite of Peter! I couldn't think of a story because I don't have an equivalent "throw on some clothes and jump in the water" moment in my life. So far, I've just been too reserved, too cautious, too worried about what people might be thinking of me.
For example, I really like praise music, and a lot of times, when people are singing praise music, they'll lift their hands into the air. Even when I am in a setting where everyone is raising their hands to God in response to some really awesome praise music, I'll only raise up one hand, and I'll only raise it about halfway. I'm too self-conscious, too worried about what I look like. Even when I'm in a situation where it's totally okay, and I know, rationally, that no one is going to look at me weird, I still can't do it! And now that I think about it, it makes me sad. I want to get excited for God! I want to know what it feels like to just let go and not care if I'm making a fool of myself! I don’t even know where this hang-up comes from, but it is so deeply ingrained in my character that I don’t know if I'll ever be able to shake it, and I'm guessing that some of you might be able to sympathize with me.
The first time I saw that double rainbow video, I was a little judgmental. I mean, I had been primed for it; the only reason the video was making the rounds was because everyone was making fun of it. People couldn't understand why this guy was making such a big deal out of seeing a double rainbow! I mean, it was just a matter of physics, right? Light coming into contact with water and bouncing off of it, no big deal. People were ridiculing him; video responses kept popping up making fun of the things that he said and the way that he said them. I actually felt bad for him, and like I said, embarrassed because of his grand display of emotion that he was making and all of the horrible things that people were saying. I mean, what possible reason was there for this guy to be gushing over the Internet like that, laughing and crying and carrying on, trying to find some deeper meaning to this perfectly natural display of rain and sunlight.
Only, it turns out there was a reason. I didn't know it at the time, but right before he saw the double rainbow, he had just finished writing an email to a friend saying how he felt like he was Noah, because he was trying to live off the grid and how he was growing his own organic food. He was feeling separated from the rest of humanity, and he thought that maybe that was what Noah might have felt after the flood, after the waters had subsided and he had to start making a new life for himself without all of the social structures that he had lived with all of his life. This double rainbow guy had been seeing a lot of rainbows, and he had been wondering if it was some kind of sign from God. And after he sent his email, all of a sudden, his room was filled with color and light, and he went outside, and there was this amazing double rainbow, right outside his front door! He said it looked like God's eye, because only God could have an eye that big. He was having a God moment, an experience with the divine, and unless you've been there, unless you've felt the presence of God for yourself, then there is no way to understand it. There are literally no words. All you can do is laugh and cry and humble yourself before the presence of God and look in awe and wonder at the glory of the Spirit.
Peter wasn't afraid to love Jesus, to love God and love God extravagantly. I want to get excited for God, like that! I've had too many God moments in my life to not have a "Peter jumping in the water" experience. How can I, as a Christian for basically my entire life, not have a moment like that? I want that! I want to get so excited that I can't even handle it and do something so crazy that people have to write it down and still be talking about it 2,000 years later! We should all dream like that. There's a reason Jesus said that Peter was going to be the foundation of the church. He wasn't afraid to love God!
I watched that double rainbow video again, so that I could prepare for this sermon. And, I have to say that I didn't feel like it was embarrassing this time. Maybe it's the three years of seminary that I had between viewings, or maybe it's because I've been working with this image of Peter jumping into the sea with his clothes on, but when I watch that video now, I feel inspired. I hear the voice of a man who isn't afraid to tell the world that he loves God. I want to be like that. I hope that we all have the chance to be like that, to fill the world with goodness and love, hope and joy, tears and laughter. May we all get the chance to be that excited over God. And, may our lives be filled with rainbows. Amen.

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