April 10, 2005

Immanuel Presbyterian Church

The Rev. Dianne O'Connell

 

Acts 2:14a, 22-32

I Peter 1:3-9

John 20: 19-31

On the Road Again

Good Morning. It's good to be here. In fact, I'll be in the pulpit both this Sunday and next Sunday while John and Mary Charlotte are basking in the Florida sun. Chuck and I just returned from a week traveling through Oregon and Washington. As some of you know, I'm on the road quite a bit. So this morning's lesson about the disciples on the Road to Emmaus seemed like it might have a message for me, and possibly you.

Each year we review the events surrounding the Easter story and hope for renewal and to find something new in the story for us. Let's see if there is a renewed message in the story of the Road to Emmaus.

Today's gospel lesson from Luke is the familiar story of two disciples walking from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus, sometime later in the afternoon following the events of Easter morning. The women had run to the apostles earlier that morning to tell them that Christ had Risen. He wasn't in the tomb.

"But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."

Peter went and checked it out and was "amazed", but the rest of the disciples were left in their confusion and disbelief. Not at all unlike a good number of us.

So we find two of them sadly walking to Emmaus. A stranger comes up to them and asks what they are talking about as they walk.

The one called Cleopas asks the stranger, "Are you the only person in Jerusalem who doesn't know what has been going on for the last couple of days?" So they begin to tell the stranger all that had happened and what they had hoped from the man Jesus.

The stranger chastised them a bit, reminding them that the prophets had said that the one who would be the Messiah would suffer many things before "entering into his glory". The stranger continued to interpret the Scriptures for the two men.

When they got closer to the village, the stranger appeared to be ready to walk on and leave them. But the disciples asked him to stop, come to the village with them, and have dinner. It was nearly evening, he would need a place to stay. The stranger agreed to do so.

During dinner, the stranger must have been treated as an honored guest. It was he who was asked to give the blessing. He took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them.

BAM! They remembered. They remembered the night before their leader had been arrested. Jesus had done the same thing - spoke the same words. Telling them that when they broke bread again in this fashion, they should remember him. And they did. They recognized their Risen Lord. And at that point, the Risen Lord, the stranger, vanished from their midst.

Perhaps, for a moment, they sat quietly. As it all sank in, they jumped from the table, and ran the seven miles back to Jerusalem - not withstanding that it was now dark out and the road could be dangerous. The news was too good, they had to get back to their friends and tell them what had happened on the road, that they had seen Jesus, and that he had been "made known to them to them in the breaking of the bread."

Our minds whirl. What does it all mean? How could they not have recognized Him? Why could they recognize Him after the breaking of the Bread? Is it still an "idle tale", or does it have real meaning for us?

Some suspect that Jesus was testing the disciples. It was a three-part test. First, would they recognize Him right off? No, they failed here. Second, would they recognize that he, as a stranger, would need food and shelter? Yes, they passed this test. And third, given this hint, would they finally recognize him? And yes, with a gentle reminder at table, they remembered and recognized their Lord.

Pope Gregory the Great in the sixth century saw this story is "a moral lesson concerning hospitality." When we meet and greet the stranger in our midst, and offer our hospitality, we are serving and recognizing the Risen Lord. It's a familiar theme in the Old Testament, as well, where God or God's messengers come as strangers. It matters how we treat these strangers. And, perhaps, how open we are to the message they bring us.

This reminds me of a trip I made to Chicago last fall. I had a few hours before leaving for the airport to come home, so I went across the street from my hotel to do a little looking around and stopped in this little restaurant for a sandwich and cup of coffee. It was the kind of place where the waitress seats people wherever she can find an empty seat - so I found myself literally rubbing shoulders with this tiny, elderly woman sitting to my left. For a while, we both kept to ourselves and focused on our newspapers - she on hers and me on mine. Finally, I said to myself, "This is silly", and I turned to her and said "Hello, pretty day" or something like that.

We began to talk. And I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. She spoke of her children moving to Seattle and to Montana, and her remaining and living by herself in Chicago. I spoke of my mother who lived alone for many years before she died. Finally after maybe 30 minutes of friendship - it was time to leave. I said, "By the way, my name is Dianne." She replied, "I'm Arlene."

This was a major shock for me. "Arlene" was a woman who had been like a second mother to me when I was a child. I loved her deeply. She was now gone, but talking to this woman in Chicago was like having a message from beyond telling me that Arlene still cared about me. What if I hadn't put down that newspaper and said "Hello?"

Perhaps on a more humorous level, on our trip last week, we arrived in Ashland, Oregon - one of the places we thought might be a nice retirement spot. Chuck sent me in to get a motel room, and I began to talk to the clerk. I told him that I liked his town and was thinking about retiring here.

The young man looked at me aghast and said, "Well, not me. I'm quitting and moving to Alaska next week." Why Alaska, I asked? And he responded, "Anyplace but here" - and then gave me a long list of the area's deficiencies.

As this young stranger kept talking, I began to wonder if the Lord was trying to tell me something. Hmmm. Maybe Alaska was the place for me, too.

We are told in today's story, that we too can recognize our Lord and understand his message for us - not only through the stranger in our midst - but:

  • Through the study of Scripture - which is what the men were doing as they listened to Jesus interpret the Scriptures for them as they walked along the road;
  • Through the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper (and the breaking of the bread with both friends and strangers); and
  • Through the fellowship of friends and the church (the experience was not complete for these two disciples until they ran back to Jerusalem to share their understanding and awe with their friends.)

After the Easter events, Jesus' followers were asking, "Now what?" In our lesson from Acts, this morning, we find 3,000 Pentecost converts asking, "Brothers, we are stricken with guilt, but what should we do now?"

Peter responded that they should repent - turn away from the old, tired life of despair and separateness from God. Take a new path. Or, I might add, revitalize the old one.

The converts are told: Be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit means that we receive that gift which empowers us for service to God and to neighbor.

After baptism, the converts devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching, fellowship, and to the breaking of bread and prayers. In short: Scripture, Fellowship, and Sacrament.

We're seeing people at the beginning of a new adventure, a new movement of taking good news to the ends of the earth. This would have been as radical as the ancient Israelites crossing the Red Sea into a new adventure; or Ruth the Moabite leaving her homeland to follow Naomi into Palestine; or Abraham leaving home without his extended family to go on an adventure with God.

An Adventure with God. Maybe that's what life is all about.

Each year we pause for reflection and refreshment, and then: We're On the Road Again -- remembering that we don't have to make the journey alone.

Where has your adventure with God, your adventure with the Risen Christ taken you? Where has our mutual adventure as a Christian congregation taken us?

What does this idea of "fellowship" conjure up for us. We are "in fellowship with one another"? In I Peter, the phrase is "fostering genuine mutual love". What would such "mutual love" look like? I'm not sure I can answer that question, but I can point to the work of our particular church. I can point to the love, mutual support and fellowship that is fostered here. Our hospitality to the stranger. Our desire to encourage the stranger to become a friend, a member of our community. I think we have the beginnings of "fostering genuine mutual love" here.

The adult forum before church has been working with some materials entitled: A Study Guide for the Eight Points by Which We Define Progressive Christianity. It's getting late, and I'm not going to review the eight points here this morning. But since, I believe, that most of us take some pride in being a Progressive Church, I thought I would take a minute to share a few of them. Next week, we can look at this a little closer.

The first statement is: By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who proclaim Jesus Christ as our Gate to the realm of God. We are on our way. We're on the road, heading for the Kingdom. When we reach the gate, we find that it swings both ways - we can go in and fellowship with our friends and gain strength for the continued adventure; and we can go out - back into the world, to serve God's people. Eventually, we get to stay inside the gates.

The second statement is: By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who recognize the faithfulness of other people who have other names for the gateway to God's realm. As a popular bumper sticker reads, "God is too big for one religion." This is a difficult concept for those of us who were raised in faith communities which thought of themselves as the only "true church", and their beliefs as the only "true religion", but when we think of each of us on our own separate roads to the Kingdom, facing our own special challenges along the way, perhaps it becomes a little easier.

The next point reads: By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who understand our sharing of bread and wine in Jesus' name to be a representation of God's feast for all peoples. The adult forum a couple of weeks ago spent considerable time on this idea. I, for one, didn't quite "get it." Wasn't the Lord's Table only set for Christians? I made no distinction between different types of Christians, but it did seem like a Christian table to me. Why would a non-Christian even want to partake of communion?

Hmm. During his earthly life, Jesus never did have the opportunity to eat and break bread with a bona fide Christian. Not a single one. He ate with all sorts of strange people, but no one ever had to show a membership card, anyone who wanted to come, was welcomed.

The prophet Isaiah said,

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all

Peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged

Wines, of rich food filled with marrow, or well-aged

Wine strained clear. (Isaiah 25:6)

In this vision of the banquet, all the nations, tribes, and clans of the earth are God's guests. No one is to be excluded. As I reflected, I figured I still had a lot to learn in this life.

One final thought on "fostering genuine mutual love" and progressive Christianity. By calling ourselves progressive, we mean that we are Christians who invite all sorts and conditions of people to join in our worship and in our common life as full partners, including (but not limited to):

  • Believers and agnostics;
  • Conventional Christians and questioning skeptics;
  • Heterosexuals and homosexuals;
  • Females and males'
  • The despairing and the hopeful;
  • Those of all races and cultures, and
  • Those of all classes and abilities,

And, this is important: Without imposing on them the necessity of becoming like us.

You don't have to dress like us. You don't have to believe like us. You don't even have to have the same politics as us. You get to be just you. Like each of us gets to be just ourselves.

For me, that's fostering genuine mutual love. We're on the road together, and anyone who wants to is welcome to come along on the adventure.

Maybe this is one of the reasons that we review the Easter story every year and think about just what route our Christian journey together should take. It's a time to pull over to the side of the road, take a look at the map, take a moment to share a sandwich and coke with the stranger at the counter, make a call or two to check on our friends and family - and then set out again, refreshed, well-fed, with a new sense of direction.

As Christians, we might join Willie Nelson when he sings:

On the road again

Just can't wait to get on the road again

The life we love is makin' music with our friends.

Goin' places that we've never been

Seein' things that we may never see again,

We can't wait to get on the road again.

Amen.

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