Sunday, May 4, 2014

On the road

Luke 24: 13-35, NT page 90 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. Sermon I know what this line means in the beginning of our scripture lesson: “but their eyes were kept from recognizing him,” because my eyes suffer from temporary blindness often enough. Every morning I riffle through the pantry looking for peanut butter – and where do I finally find it after pushing everything to the side, lifting and stretching to see what’s at the very back of the top shelf? The peanut butter was there all along, right in front of my eyes. On the road, two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and on that road a stranger asks them what they are talking about as they walk along. These two don’t know who it is they are walking alongside – their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Jesus asks them what they are talking about, and they say to him, he was a “prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,” they say, “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” Death, despair, disappointment – these things have a way of shouting so loudly that all logic is filtered out, the obvious is missed, knowledge slips away, and eyes can no longer see what is right in front of them. And his death – such a disappointment was his death that all they could see was a tomb, sealed shut, confining not just his body but all their hopes for who he was and who he would be to them, sealed and buried, after being hung up on that cross, promises and hopes are broken just as his body was broken. These two saw it happen – they thought they had found salvation – and instead they found death and the meaning of this death was not assurance that he was in fact the Christ but complete and utter disappointment. So they left, and began walking towards Emmaus and back to life as it was before, though they knew that life would be just a little less sweet because they had hoped for something and seen that hope crucified. But for some reason, though they have no idea who he is, they urged him strongly saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” It’s nothing really, just an invitation. “Stay with us,” they said, but in those words was the beginning of something - a new faith, a stronger faith, the kind of faith that rises up out of the hopelessness of death. The reality of things is that death, disappointment, failure, loss, are the inevitable hardships of life. These realities deserve your tears. Last Sunday afternoon the Rev. Jennie Barber who has served this church faithfully as an Associate Pastor, was called by God and the congregation of Rivermont Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She has accepted this call and next Sunday will be her last Sunday of ministry here. Such a change as this one is unsettling. Something important is ending, a chapter is closing, and this change is worthy of your tears – but do not be blinded by your sadness. I say that because that is how we are sometimes. Life is full of breakups, but sometimes the end of a relationship hurts so bad that you swear you’ll never love again. You wind up laid off, but it doesn’t feel like the end of a job, it feels like the end of the world, so rather than picking yourself back up you start to wonder if you really have what it takes. Or maybe you believe in some thing or someone. Say you believe in him so much that a spark of hope becomes a brightly burning fire in your heart and you start to believe in something you’ve never dared believe in before. He rides into Jerusalem and you cheer him on because you allow yourself to believe that this man is different – he really is what we’ve been hoping for – the Messiah the Son of God. But his death on a cross deflates all that, and the tears of such disappointment are so blinding that you can no longer see. Still, not knowing who he was, “Stay with us,” they said, and while he was at a table, not so different from this one that Jennie has stood behind to say the words of institution every month for the last three years, behind this table where together we pray a prayer that she wrote proclaiming that God will overcome every wall that can hurt or divide us. It was at a table like this one that he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. We all walk the road to Emmaus, away from how we had hoped life would be and towards accepting it as it is, but on the way there he stopped them and while grief and disappointment had closed their eyes, he opened them again and they could see that he had never left. And he hasn’t – but your eyes must be open to see him. Too often disappointment has closed my eyes. Last week I took our daughters to Woodland Park, and I had been hoping to see some familiar faces, but instead the park was full of strangers, people I had never seen before. Being around strangers can make me feel uncomfortable, I’m not my best self – instead of being outgoing, the mulch on the ground captures my attention, and then the ice cream truck pulled up – not the nice one, the really creepy one, and I suddenly wanted to pick our daughters up to take them back home. But a little boy, his mother sent him over and I had noticed that she didn’t speak English, so she sent him over to give Lily a watermelon popsicle. And in the opening of that popsicle – in the breaking of the bread, suddenly my eyes were opened. He was there all along. He is with you even now. So do not be blind to his presence. Do not let disappointment, sadness, or grief blind you to reality or to hope. And while what you expected to happen has not happened, he still walks beside you, for he is risen indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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