Sermon #182 St. James the Less #89 4/26/20
Now on that same day two of Jesus' disciples 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.
My Mental State
I want to start with a bit of honesty. This past week really hit me hard. Quarantine is wearing me down, and I think it’s wearing all of us down as this has continued for weeks now. I’m tired, anxious, restless, and I even feel a little defeated.
I’m really wanting for things to return to normal. I especially miss my Sunday morning routine. I want to see all of you, I want for all of us to be back together, I want to worship with you, and I want to sit around the Parish Hall and catch up over a cup of coffee.
But all that is still going to have to wait. And it’s that waiting and not knowing that is draining me.
My assumption is that you are going through something very similar. You’re either cooped up in a house by yourself and ready to see some familiar faces, or you’ve been sharing the space around you with a spouse, and maybe even children, for so long that you can’t really remember what used to be considered a normal day.
What’s true is that we’re all tired and restless. We’re fed up with all the Zoom meetings and conference calls. It seems like a distant dream to have dinner in a restaurant or give someone a hug. And it’s hard to accept that things will ultimately be different. We will have a new normal, at least for the foreseeable future.
And so, I, like so many of you, are worn out, and I haven’t even left the house.
Disciples’ Mental State
But you know, we likely have the same kind of feelings that the two disciples were experiencing as they walked from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus.
We need to remember that our story from Luke 24 is the evening of Easter Sunday. We are three weeks removed from Easter, and yet we still haven’t left that day.
These two disciples are walking along the road and they are confused, troubled, and mulling over the news from that morning.
And don’t be mistaken, they had heard that Jesus had risen from the dead, but they didn’t automatically run out into the streets sharing the good news and evangelizing the crowds.
No, instead, it seems like they are walking home after the Passover festival. They’re not on a mission to share the gospel, they are not risking their lives for their faith, but rather it looks like they are trying to return to life as normal in Emmaus, even though some have said Jesus has risen from the dead.
These two really aren’t an inspiring picture of Easter discipleship.
Jesus on the Road
As they walk their seven-mile journey, a stranger begins to walk with them. He asks questions and listens to them. And then quite rudely he rebukes them and starts teaching them, opening up the Scriptures that they had learned since they were children, but it’s like they are hearing this new interpretation for the first time, and amazingly, it puts everything that they’ve experienced over the weekend into perspective. The puzzle pieces are slowing coming together.
With their hearts on fire, they invite this stranger to dine with them, and oddly enough their guest performs all the actions of a host: he took the bread, blessed it, and gave it to them, and in doing that they see that it is Jesus. And just like that, everything clicks for them: he has in fact risen from the dead and the Bible had foretold it all along.
When I was in college outside of Boston, the Diocese of Massachusetts was interviewing a few candidates to become their new bishop. At the end of this process, before the members of the diocese voted, the final four candidates were invited to speak at a few churches so that people were able to personally hear from them before making their final decision.
I ended up going to one of these meetings at a church in Salem. As I sat in the darkly lit nave, each of the candidates stood in front of the altar and were asked to describe their Damascus road experience.
The question was referring to Acts 9 when Paul is knocked to the ground by a shining light and Jesus’ voice calling him to stop persecuting the Church and start following him. For Paul, it was the moment he turned 180 and completely changed his life.
To be honest I don’t remember any of the candidates’ responses except one. This particular priest admitted that he never had a Damascus road experience. Jesus had never knocked him off his horse and called him by name in a dramatic way as he did for the Apostle Paul.
Rather, he said, his faith story was more like the road to Emmaus.
It’s on the journey that Jesus comes and walks beside us. He meets us on the road, where we already are, and when he pleases (and when we are perceptive), he reveals himself to us.
Where Jesus Meets Us
Most of us have not been knocked off our horse and heard the voice of God. Instead, through the journey of life, we’ve encountered Jesus: he has opened our eyes to his presence in daily life, he has revealed himself in the Scriptures, and our hearts burn with passion in these subtle yet beautifully transcendent moments.
For the disciples in this story, they go from not recognizing the great work of God in their lives, to seeing the Risen Lord in his fullness. They go from ignorance and hopelessness to being able to fully perceive and respond to God’s action in their life.
We have all walked the road to Emmaus. But we must not forget that once Jesus revealed himself, Cleopas and the other disciple return to the community to share the news. This faith journey is inherently connected to community.
At St. James the Less we want to talk about discipleship as an Emmaus road journey. Just think about it, you were already on your faith journey when you walked through our doors for the first time. We want to help you to continue that walk and deepen that journey as an individual disciple that is anchored to a Christian community.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about the lesson this passage can teach our church. I’ve become convinced that we need to refocus how we do discipleship and how we talk about it so that we think less about the programs that we offer and more about the path we are walking together. The things we offer need to help you take the next step in this journey.
The Alpha Course, which so many of you have done and we hope so many more will do this coming fall, is a great doorway into the path we offer, it’s really the first step. Our small group offerings and Bible Study, that we are continuing online during this time, is a great way to grow together in our faith and wrestle with the tough questions. Getting together for worship and fellowship is yet another part of the path.
My hope for this church is that we can be more intentional about the path we are offering for every age here at St. James the Less.
Our faith is not a program, the Church is not a program, nor is the answer to fill the church with more and more programs.
Our only goal is to walk with Jesus and follow him. We believe if we do that, he will surely walk with us, and in his good pleasure, he will reveal himself to us and make his presence known.
The model for our church and it’s flourishing in the future is to take this passage seriously. If we want to be the community that God is calling us to be, we need to mine the riches of this text over and over again.
So, my friends, I invite you to walk with me. Let’s do this together (virtually until we can meet again in person), but let’s journey together to Emmaus because you never know who will show up along the way.