Wrong way to the right way

The other day I was traveling to a usual and customary out of town location for a regularly scheduled meeting.  For an unknown reason I got off an exit earlier than normal, shortly made a left hand turn resulting in a one block trip on a one way street in the wrong direction; other than my embarrassment, no harm done. However, when I got to the street I was headed to I saw a gentleman in a wheel chair obviously struggling. I rolled down the window to inquire, and it turns out his wheel-chair seat had broken. I was able to give him a short ride to his destination, for which is he was thankful. Extra bonus, I was not late for the scheduled meeting.

I am not one to believe the God micro manages human events; in general  I am a believer in the perversities’ of numbers; in short, life happens. I believe it is whether we choose to allow life’s events to define us or if we turn to the presence of God to determine how we respond to life’s events that makes the difference in our lives. Drawing from John 9, I believe life happens, let the works, the glory, the presence of God be made known.

Did God cause me to exit one stop early? Did God cause me to make a wrong turn? Was all that simply serendipity? Who knows? What I do know is that as a result of all that, I was blessed to give assistance to a person in need. My day was blessed from very early on.

 

Idol to Icon

A sermon for 7th Sunday of Easter

Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66:7-18, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21,

Exodus 20:2 reads:

2  I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery;
3  you shall have no other gods before me.
4  You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
5  You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, …

and Exodus 34:14 reads:

14  for you shall worship no other god, because the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. … 

and Deuteronomy 4:15-18 reads:

15  Since you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire, take care and watch yourselves closely, 16  so that you do not act corruptly by making an idol for yourselves, in the form of any figure—the likeness of male or female, 17  the likeness of any animal that is on the earth, the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18  the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground, the likeness of any fish that is in the water under the earth.

For reasons I’m hazy on, images of Christ and the Virgin Mary became popular and by the 5th century were plentiful, especially in the Eastern Church. In the latter half 7th and early 8th century the iconoclast controversy broken out; those who minimized the incarnation, or  believed all matter was evil,  and the probable influence of Islam raged against the veneration of icons. Pope Leo III believed such veneration had gotten excessive, and was an obstacle to converting Jews and Moslems, declared all images idols and ordered them destroyed. Persecutions and revolts broke out. Brother against brother, sister against sister, church against church; intrigue, depositions, and assassination eventually greatly contributed to the split of the church into east and west Constantinople and Rome  in the mid-9th century. [i]

So; what do you do, when your wife does business as Angels Icons and Art, producing all sorts of art work, predominately images of angels, written to lead one deeper into God’s presence? Here, today, it’s not much of a concern, but if it were, I think I’d go back to Athens and revisit Paul’s visit to the Areopagus,

 Image

 

Paul is there waiting for Silas and Timothy; they rushed him on ahead, because of the violent crowds in Thessalonica. Paul notices the phenomenal number of idols, that seem to be on every street corner. Paul’s arguing in the synagogue spills  into the streets, where he confronts Epicureans who believe human life exists by natural chance  and Stoics who are hard rationalists. [ii] He is seen as a preacher of foreign divinities, and is considered a ‘babbler’ [iii] Whether it’s an arrest or an invitation you don’t refuse is unclear; no matter  Paul ends up at the Areopagus, to face the intellectual elite of Athens, who will pass judgment on his argument. It is what the elite in Athens do.

Paul demonstrates his intellectual prowess by carefully noting their religious proficiency, revealed in all the objects they worship. He carefully notes the altar to “an unknown god.” Paul uses it to proclaim the creator God who does not need anything human made; who is not, cannot be served by human hands; who gives life to all living things. Borrowing from a Greek poet Paul declares: In him we live and move and have our being. [iv] Paul is insisting that religious practices must reflect humanity’s kinship with God.  The substitution of inanimate materials for a God who is transcendent and animate makes no sense. [v]

Paul then moves to bring his audience into God’s circle noting:  the time of ignorance is over he commands all people to repent … besides its confrontation, it’s a remarkable declaration of the universality of God’s salvation. [vi] If Paul had stopped here, he likely would have been wildly accepted. However, he knows his calling; he knows the audience must go beyond observation to truth that’s known only in revelation, specifically the revelation of Christ’s resurrection, the source of all our assurance. [vii] Some scoff and leave, some want to hear more, and a few come to believe.  Robert Wall explores how Acts might offer contemporary readers a model for engaging the secular intellectuals of our day. [viii]  

I don’t think there is any question. While perhaps there’s a bit more sophistication, Paul’s speech in the Areopagus is what my colleague and others who are a part of Acts8 call an “Elevator Pitch” a memorized speech-let so you will [a]lways be ready to give an accounting of the hope that is within you. [ix] Steve also picks up on Peter’s guidance to do it with gentleness and reverence. He goes on to write: 

… over time, as relationships develop, the Christian hope for the restoration of all things in the Kingdom of God should, ideally, shine through everything you do, especially showing forth in how you handle the difficult moments in life.  And when, eventually, someone notices, and when, eventually, they get up the gumption to ask, then all you have to do is share your story. [x]

I am not biased but I believe Angie’s icons are powerfully written in persuasive, inviting images. At times they are the bright shining that evokes the question.  At times they are her imaged elevator speech.

Like Athens we live in a culture full of idols:

cars,
homes,
highbrow education,
retirement accounts,
hedge funds,
and off shore accounts;

some are ideologies

profit driven capitalism
conservative individualism
liberal collectivism,
theocracies of all sorts;

anything that promises to give life and breath, promises ultimate life offends God, at least that’s what we read in Exodus and Deuteronomy. We also hear lots of legalistic, exclusive impending judgmental doom; lots of fear provoking proclamations about spiritual warfare with Satan and legions of demons. We live in a culture that needs the revelatory truth of our living incarnate God who transforms all humanity, all creation. Our family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers on the street need to see and/or hear of salvation that’s not out there somewhere, off in the future, but that God’s kingdom has come to earth as it is in heaven; right here, right now! It doesn’t matter if you share your story: in icons, music, poetry, at the food pantry, or clinic, in charitable fund raising, with an isolated neighbor, or chance elevator pitch the world needs to hear your story, as much as you need to know it well enough to share it.

It is true Exodus, Deuteronomy and other Old Testament writings reveal that God demands all our all, and promises sever consequences if we veer off course. I happen to think the consequences are the results of our actions, not wrath, but I wander.

All these writings also reveal a gracious loving God who keeps steadfast love for the thousandth generation, [xi] they reveal the creator God from whom we live and move and have our being; [xii] the incarnate God from whom salvation flows to all the risen Christ in whose resurrection we have hope the eternal Spirit who journeys with us for all eternity.

 


 

[i] E. L. Cross & E. A. Livingston, Iconoclastic Controversy, The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1974
[ii]ROBERT W. WALL,  New Interpreters’ Bible, THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
[iii] William H. Willimon, Interpretation, ACTS A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[iv] Wall, ibid
[v] ibid
[vi] ibid
[vii] Interpretation, ibid
[viii] Wall, ibid
[ix] Steve Pankey, Always be Ready, Draughting Theology, http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4509/
[x] ibid
[xi] Exodus 34:7
[xii] Wall, ibid

Let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting

A sermon for Easter 5

Acts 7:55-60, Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14

There is something divinely humorous touched with irony that on the Sunday I’m scheduled to be at Calvary the reading would be about St. Stephen. But before we get to acting out I mean Acts, a word from Joseph Campbell.

Campbell has a special place in my life. I know of his writings about myths and heroes, and one day I intend to read them; however, it was his answer to an unknown question from Bill Moyer:

If you are on the wrong path you know it, if you are on the right path you know it, and if you ever sell out for money you are lost.

that set off the chain of events leading to my accepting God’s call to priest hood, the five year journey to ordination  and the six or seventeen year journey here. In many respects that decision lives out another Campbell quote I heard the other night as the ending on Criminal Minds

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us. [i]

The struggle to do jut this is seen in Thomas and Phillip in today’s Gospel reading, and in Stephen’s martyrdom.

We’ve skipped ahead several chapters in John. Jesus has just washed the disciples’ feet during the Passover Supper. He has told them: he is going to be betrayed; instructed them to love each other, as he has loved them; and told Peter he will deny him three times before the morning comes, with the crock’s crowing.  

From this morning’s gospel we hear him, tell the disciples no worries believe in God, believe in him, he is providing a place them and they know the way. Thomas, never one to hold back from asking the unspeakable obvious answers:

Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?

Jesus answers:

 I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

“the way” connects with his I am the gate … statement from last week proclaiming he is the whole in the wall, the way through that which separates us from God’s presence. “No one comes … except through me” isn’t an excluding qualification. It alludes to the connection between God and the Word in the prologue. [ii] *

Gail O’Day writes:

[this phrase expresses the] unshakable belief that the coming of Jesus, the Word made flesh, decisively altered the relationship between God and humanity. These words affirm that Jesus is the tangible presence of God. … [it] is the joyous affirmation of a religious community that does, indeed, believe that God is available to them decisively in the incarnation. [iii]

Phillip just wants to see the Father. With satire in his voice Jesus replies:

You’ve been looking at him all these years. When you see me, you see him.

He goes on to say:

those who believe will do similar and greater works. What you ask in my name I will do.

It is easy to interpret this to mean ask for whatever you want and if you believe enough Jesus will do it for you. This is a common prosperity Gospel reading, and it can do great harm. First, it sets folks up for failure, I prayed for … it didn’t come to be, I guess I don’t believe enough. Second, it ignores the critical phrase the works I do. Jesus is empowering us to continue his ministry to invite people to come and see, and to join in fulfilling the purpose of John’s Gospel account:

so that [others] may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing  … have life in his name.

 It is clear that neither Thomas nor Phillip understand what Jesus is saying. They, and to be honest all the rest of the disciples don’t get it, at least not yet. But it seems the community of The Way is making progress in storytelling, because it’s also clear that Stephen does get it.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with Stephen’s story he was:

  • the first of the first seven deacons, chosen by the Apostles to serve the physical needs of the nascent community.
  • He was full of grace whose works and signs drew the attention and ire of, some in, the Freedman Synagogue, who conspired to charge him with blasphemy.
  • He was arrested, and offers a stunning eloquent defense that only further enrages people, so they stone him to death.

This morning’s reading starts as the stoning starts. Stephen sees Jesus standing at God’s right hand, he doesn’t call out for relief, he invites the people to look and see; they won’t. Near his death Stephen asks God to have mercy on his killers.

It is important to understand this is not a Christian verses Jewish argument, it’s the traditional version of Jewish history verses a Christ centered version of Jewish history. In his argument he aligns the people of The Way with Abraham, Joseph, the Prophets and Jesus and the associates his opponents with the Egyptians, Joseph’s brothers, the rebellion in the wilderness, and ancestors who killed the prophets. [iv] To put this in Joseph Campbell’s terms Stephen is showing them the life that is awaiting them, when the give up the life they’ve planned. Like Thomas and Phillip, in today’s Gospel story, the people of Freedman synagogue cannot give up what they’ve so long held true.

There is no question we live in tumultuous times. Some changes such as the Big River Steel project we are ecstatic about; perhaps overly so, the project can be a great benefit to Mississippi County; but  ~  it will not be the savior of Osceola or the county. Other changes such as health care insurance and the status of state laws about marriage many are not so ecstatic about. Common Core and related education changes are disturbing many. And to be honest we continue to fear demographic changes

  • declining population
  • the aging of the population and
  • growing non Caucasian peoples;

and it is a daunting reality.

You know well, that Calvary faces challenges of your own. How we have been stewards of Jesus’ ministry in years past isn’t working any longer. The ministry itself, to proclaim the Kingdom of God, and to invite others to come and see is and always will be valid. How we go about it must change with the times. It has changed in the past, the Reformation, printed materials, the bible and worship in English, actually not in Latin, women serving in elected church offices, women ordained  priest and bishops, are all examples of historic changes that preceded us. None were easy. All required that we … let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.

So here is the challenge we face: to believe, to trust God in Jesus so much that we can let go of what we are grasping so we can grasp what God is offering. [v] Not all the particulars have been revealed, but you know the magnitude of the changes. Resist them, and I do not know what will be save more of the same. Embrace them and know the glory, the presence of God in ways you’ve not imagined.

 


 

[i] http://thinkexist.com/quotation/we_must_let_go_of_the_life_we_have_planned-so_as/152714.html
[ii] Gail O’Day New Interpreters’ Bible THE GOSPEL OF JOHN INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS
     *John 1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
[iii] ibid
[iv] Mikeal C. Parsons, Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL) http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2069 1/3 Commentary on Acts 7:55-60
[v] Mike Kinmen, Executive Director ERD,

and we shall be satisfied

“I am the way, the truth the life.” is one of the more familiar scripture passages. Last week I preached from Jesus’ declaring himself to be the gate, which turns out to be a whole in the wall, which drew me immediately to this passage, so I stayed in the way, thinking I’d focus on truth and life. This afternoon I read john’s story again, I find myself intrigued by Philip’s saying “Lord, show us the Father and we shall be satisfied.” specifically “and we shall be satisfied.”

At first brush it came across as audacious: does any disciple make demands of any teacher?, but how does anyone get off telling Jesus what the terms are! Next time around its coming off as short sighted. Philip is so trapped in his world view he cannot conceive God / Jesus could do anything beyond that he, or the disciples, can be satisfied with whatever because they can conceive it.

But do we really want to limit God, the inconceivable creator of all?  Of course not; but then again maybe so, where is it written: “It a frightful thing to fall into the hands of the living God?

I am the gate

A sermon for Easter 4

Acts 2:42-47, 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:1-10, Psalm 23,

It’s shepherd Sunday. Only Jesus says next to nothing about shepherds, and he proclaims I am the gate. All of which is very confusing; is John saying something about us as sheep, which isn’t necessarily a complement given sheep’s reputation as rather dumb animals; or is he inarticulately setting up Jesus as the shepherd; or is he saying something about God, after all who is the gatekeeper? or is he taking on the Jewish leadership with all the language about thieves and bandits who come in by another way; just what is John up to?

Part of coming to understanding was the structure of Gail O’Day’s commentary on John, which puts the story of the man born blind and this morning’s story in the same section. That is perfectly natural, this morning’s reading beginning with chapter 10:1 follows chapter 9’s story of Jesus healing the man born blind, and the responses of everybody who witnessed, or heard about it. It is O’Day’s belief that the sheepfold story is commentary on the healing. It does follow John’s style of miracle, dialogue, and discourse. Knowing that healing the blind man sets the context of today’s reading let’s review it. Only briefly,it was our Gospel reading six weeks ago.

A man blind from birth is healed by Jesus on a Sabbath. The disciples want to know if his or his parents’ sin was the cause of his blindness. The people who first see him with his sight restored are divided; is it really him, or someone who looks like him. The Pharisees are divided about Jesus; some say he is a sinner because he doesn’t observe Sabbath, others say he must be from God no one else could do such divine works. His parents are divided, wanting to support their son, but afraid of being excluded from the synagogue and thereby the community by supporting Jesus. The conflict in the story escalates ending with the man whose sight is restored  being driven from town; (note: Jesus does find him, and introduces himself  as the Son of Man giving him assurance;) and the Pharisees being chastised by Jesus:  when they ask him,  “Surely we are not blind, are we?” and he replies:  If you were blind, you would not  have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

The entire story is about Jesus’ identity, and those who acknowledge, see, or believe, and those who do not; and the behaviors that follow. Chapter 10 begins with Jesus speaking to his disciples about how people enter a sheepfold; the shepherd enters through the gate, everyone else, thieves and bandits enter by other means. We rush to the familiar images of the 23rd psalm, Jesus as the shepherd, the older images from Ezekiel of God as shepherd, and Israel as the flock. We skip right over knowing voices, strangers, and following or running away. If we’d stay just in this morning’s tight text, I bet we’d be just as confused as the disciples are. But perhaps that is not all bad.

If we admit our confusion, then we create the opportunity to hear Jesus’ reply: So again Jesus said to them,

 Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

There are three bits here to focus on: Jesus as the gate, those who came before, and abundant life. We might as well start with the gat. And I have to admit, I really wish I had a projector and could flash a bunch of gate images, encouraging you to choose the one you imagine Jesus to be. I’d being setting you up for the same surprise I received when I went to Webster’s and looked up ‘gate’. Anybody want to venture a guess? I was surprised to read: “gate: an opening in a wall or fence.” [i] “An opening”, not the plain to fancy stuff, that swings to and fro but the opening, the way in. Of course I jumped to Jesus’ statement I am the way, the truth, the life but that is next week’s Gospel. These two cannot be totally separated, so we will stick to gate, opening, and way.

Imagine an enclosed area. You would like to be inside, and so you seek out the gate, an opening in the wall, or whatever barrier is keeping you out, a way in. Imagine that area to be God’s presence, and that our sins, humanities’ sin, individually and collectively, our community’s, our government’s behavior that separates us from God, and keeps us on the other side of the wall. You know the image, it’s one of the oldest stories in our spiritual library; the one where Adam’s and Eve’s behavior separates them from God’s glory, God’s presence. It ends with a barrier being placed between them, between us, humanity, and God. It’s the end story of the garden, the closing story of our creation epic. However, it is not the last story in scripture, not the last story of our broken relationship with God.

The bible reveals that from the very moment of separation God begins seeking a way to tear down the wall. Finally God decides to come do it God’s self, comes to us incarnate in Jesus, and as we just heard, is the whole in the wall, the gate through which we see our way to move into God’s glory, into God’s presence.

 “All those who came before” is an explicit reference to the Jewish leadership, who is charged with bringing God’s people into God’s presence, but, who have for many complex very human reasons, gotten things so messed up they cannot even recognize the Son of Man in their very presence healing humanity, restoring us all to wholeness with God. It’s a condemnation of any leadership whose behaviors are:  self-serving, or exclusionary of the least of God’s people, or anything that blinds themselves and God’s people from seeing the gate, the hole in wall through which lies abundant life.

And, as Jesus says:  it’s all so that they, that we, that all God’s people, and as you’ve heard me repeatedly say this is literally everyone, may have life, and have it abundantly. This is no 138% of poverty, its abundant life for all.

We live in a created universe. By our ancient and continued hubris in trying to be like God, we are separated all creation from God’s presence. For millennia the wall endures. During which God’s love relentlessly pours out to us. But we could not see, we could not hear, we could not divine glory. So God acted. Jesus, the eternally present Word, left the sheep fold. He taught about justice and righteousness. He showed the wonderful works of God. He reveals himself to be the gate, the hole in the wall, through which we return to glory, dwelling in God’s house, God’s presence forever. Is it story hard to understand? perhaps, but it’s a story we can see our way clear to put your faith in; it’s a story to trust.

 


[i] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gate


 

Bibliography

cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 11, 2014 (Ordinary Time) 

         Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Acts 2:42-47,  Scott Hoezee
         The Lectionary Gospel Text is: John 10:1-10,  Scott Hoezee
         Psalm 23, Doug Bratt
         I Peter 2:19-25,  Stan Mast

episcopaldigitalnetwork.com http://episcopaldigitalnetwo rk.com/stw/2014/04/29/4-easter-a-2014/,  the Very Rev. Anthony F.M. Clavier

Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1993 1/4, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on John 10:1-10 Karoline Lewis

INTERPRETATION A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching, JOHN A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor, Gerard S. Sloyan 

The New Interpreter’s Bible THE GOSPEL OF JOHN, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS, GAIL R. O’DAY  

The New Interpreters One Volume Commentary, David L. Petersen, Beverly R Gaventa

 The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, Walter Harrelson

9, 14, Seattle

So far this week I’ve read of the connection between the blind man in John 9, that Sunday’s reading is more about Jesus being the gate, the Jesus’ “I am the way, the truth and the life”  from John 14, and I’ve stumbled upon the pun of sheepless in Seattle.  All of which leaves me in Seattle following a blind, sheepless, gate along the way to truth and life.  This is nonsense ~ except in how it points to the importance of context, the gleanings of Jesus saying “I am the gate” is shaped by how it flows from the story of people’s response to the blind man and his healing. It’s worth exploring how our lives are shaped by how they flow from the story of our responses to Jesus, birth, death , resurrection and ascension.

 

Despair, recognition, sacrament

A sermon for Easter 3 

Acts 2:14a, 36-41, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Luke 24:13-35, Psalm 116:1-3, 10-17

 

It was done, finished. Months of hard work, disparu; weeks of carefully crafted questions, and assiduous listening, kaput; days of creative endeavor vanished; hours of negotiation within the company and with the customer extinct. Walking in the door he noticed unfamiliar workmen, running far too familiar cable. The simple question “What’s going on?” lead to the customer revealing they’d decided his company wasn’t delivering as promised; and they’d moved on. In a week, they’d be returning his company’s system as the contract allowed. He had hoped, everyone had hoped, this would be the break into a heretofore inaccessible market. Not now. It was done, finished. And he does, as I have done, as I expect you have done, when all is lost, he leaves, and heads back down the road, from whence he came. 

And so to the disciples, are heading back down the road from whence they’d come sometime ago. As had so many others, they had hoped this intenerate rabbi would be the longed hoped for, prayed for, messiah, who would drive the Romans out, and reestablish David’s throne. But Friday he was crucified; and now all that’s gone. 

So they are head back down the road. Perhaps they hoped leaving it all behind, and staying away from the places they seen and heard Jesus would mitigate their grief. So far, not so much, their grief was everywhere [i] or at least their experiences kept popping up, and so they talked about everything. Perhaps in time they would return to Jerusalem, perhaps they could follow the psalmist lead and go to the Temple, the home of God on earth, to pray and offer sacrifice that God would hear the distressed cry of his chosen people. [ii] For now, they talked. 

Then there is this stranger with them. He asks what they are talking about, and with some incongruity they wonder where he’s been but recount the last several days including Jesus’ death, and tales of an empty tomb. “Foolish” he replies, and then continues to speak with wisdom they never heard, but rings of truth so vaguely familiar. We’ve no idea how long the conversation goes on. But when the disciples get to where they are going the stranger continues, it’s an act of politeness, you never impose yourself. [iii] In a reciprocating act of hospitality the disciples invite the stranger to stay with them, and to share dinner. At dinner the stranger becomes the host he reaches for the bread: takes it, gives thanks, breaks it, and give it to them. Then nearly simultaneously

      • they recognize Jesus,
      • they wondered why they didn’t on the road as he spoke with such revealing wisdom,
      • Jesus vanishes, and
      • they get up and sprint back to Jerusalem; [iv] covering that dark and dangerous road in a whole new light.

When they get there before customary greetings can be exchanged, before they can say anything, the other disciples blurt out: Jesus appeared to Simon; and in reply they share: He revealed himself to us in the breaking of the bread.

In the opening gambit, I referred to C.S Lewis’ effort to escape grief by staying away from things that remind you of your grief, only to discover grief is everywhere. Fredrick Buechner wrote:

Emmaus is whatever we do or wherever we go to make ourselves forget that the world holds nothing sacred.

There is great hope in knowing that Jesus comes to us on our Emmaus roads, no matter our grief, Jesus is there, Jesus is everywhere.

And there is a lot to be learned about in this story:

      • strength that comes from sharing similar experiences; [v]
      • how divine presence, divine transcendence is always fleeting, always at the edge of our perception; [vi]
      • about the primacy to go, and
      • how all this is made known to those of us who are not first-hand witnesses, which is pretty much everyone not 2000 years old.

But this morning I’m intrigued by the stranger.

From cultures all over the world there are stories of people “entertaining angles unawares.” [vii] In scripture Abraham, Moses, Gideon, and others all are unknowingly in God’s presence, [viii] so the disciples are in good company. This divine stranger theme teaches us that God’s or Jesus’ or the Spirit’s presence is never coerced. Our coming to recognize the divine, our moving from ignorance to knowledge, from unawares to perception, [ix] is always through revelation. [x] Fred Craddock writes:

[It’s] After instruction in Scripture [that’s Jesus talking on the road] and the Lord’s Supper, the two disciples recognize Jesus. Christ [always] appears to disciples, not to unbelievers. [xi]

He continues:

The meal begins with an act of hospitality, an invitation to a stranger [Jesus]  …  it is the presence of Christ at a table opened to a stranger which transforms an ordinary supper into the sacrament.  [xii]

 The psalm speaks about going to the Temple to be in God’s presence. Though it always been an element in scripture, the Emmaus road story tells us we can meet Jesus, we can be in Jesus’ presence anywhere,  any ordinary, or out of the way place, in the guise of any stranger, perhaps every stranger, perhaps anyone.

You are used to hearing me transition from the offering to communion saying:

This is the Lord’s Table; all those so called are welcome to encounter our risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

In part I am inviting the stranger to table with us, just as the disciples invite the stranger to table with them. But I never know who in the congregation Jesus is. I never know who transforms our simple gathering into a sacrament.

All of this is reshaping my thinking about evangelism just a bit. For while it is about sharing our experience, evangelism is also about hearing the other’s experience of the divine. Such an exchange strengthens, perhaps transforms our relationship with God. Evangelism is about always seeking our risen, living, though transitory Lord and God.

For, we never know who

      • takes us into their heart
      • thanks God for us
      • breaks us away from corruption of worldly ways of death and
      • gives us to a hurting and longing world.

 


 

[i]Scott Hoezee,  cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching, Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Luke 24:13-35
[ii] Author: Doug Bratt , cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php, This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching Next sunday is May 04, 2014 Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19 
[iii] R. ALAN CULPEPPER, The New Interpreter’s Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND EFLECTIONS
[iv] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation,  LUKE, A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor, Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor
[v] Richard Swanson Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Richard Swanson – Working Preacher – Preaching This Week (RCL), http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992 1/3, RCL|Narrative|Evangelio|Index, Commentary on Luke 24:13-35, 4/28/2014 
[vi] Culpper, IBID 
[vii] Hebrews 13:2 
[viii] Culpepper, ibid 
[ix] ibid 
[x] Craddock, ibid
[xi] ibid
[xii] ibid