Easter 3, year A

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Title Sermon Date Liturgical Scripture
Pentecost 3, year A June 29, 2014 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A Romans 6:12-23, Matthew 10:40-42
Pentecost 2, year A June 22, 2014 Second Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, Year A Psalm 69:8-20, Romans 6:1b-11, Matthew 10:24-39
Trinity Sunday, Year A June 15, 2014 Trinity Sunday, Year A Genesis 1:1-2:4a, 2 Corinthians 13:11-13, Matthew 28:16-20
Pentecost, Year A June 8, 2014 The Day of Pentecost, Year A Acts 2:1-21, I Corinthians 12:3b-13, John 20:1-23
Easter 7, Ascension Sunday, year A June 1, 2014 Seventh Sunday of Easter Acts 1:6-14
Easter 6, year A May 25, 2014 Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A 2014 Acts 17:22-31, John 14: 15-21
Easter 5, year A May 18, 2014 Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A 1 Peter 2:2-10, John 14:1-14
Easter 4, year A May 11, 2014 Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47, I Peter 2: 19-25, Psalm 23
Easter 3, year A May 4, 2014 Easter 3, Year A Luke 24:13-35
Easter 3, year A – Shrine Mont May 4, 2014 Third Sunday of Easter, Year A Luke 24: 13-35
Easter 2, year A April 27, 2014 Second Sunday of Easter, Year A John 20:19-31, Psalm 16
Easter April 20, 2014 Easter Day, Year A Jeremiah 31:1-6, Matthew 28:1-10
Good Friday April 18, 2014 Good Friday, Year A The Passion according to John
Palm Sunday 2014 reflections April 13, 2014 Palm Sunday, year A Matthew 26:14- 27:66
Fifth Sunday in Lent April 6, 2014 Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year A 2014 Ezekiel 37:1-14, Romans 8:6-11, John 11:1-45, Psalm 130


Easter 3, year A

Sermon Date:May 4, 2014

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

Liturgy Calendar: Easter 3, Year A

"The Road to Emmaus" – Tiffany (1912)

PDF version 

“Come Holy Spirit and kindle in us the fire of your love. Take our minds and think through them; take our lips and speak through them, take our souls and set them on fire.” Amen

It is 7:15am on a weekday morning, the sun has just risen. I am in St. George’s in Fredericksburg opening the church for the day as I usually do at that time. I often stop in one place – just in front of the “Road to Emmaus”, a Tiffany stained  glass window on the north wall.   A picture of the window is on the front cover of the bulletin, though unfortunately in black and white. 

The window has special memories for me.  I helped to restore that window in 2012. Mary Downman gave it to the church in 1912, 100 years earlier in memory of two sons.   Ironically, it was dedicated in the same week when the Titanic went down with tremendous loss of life.  It’s a dramatic window.  Even in the shadows of the morning, Christ is looking out almost above of the two other individuals in front of him.  His eyes are piercing.  He is majestic, standing as a statue.  The two companions’ expression is one of surprise or uncertainty.  That may be one way to describe the resurrection – surprise and uncertainty.

To those who lived at the time, the Resurrection of two weeks ago at Easter appeared to be the end of the movement around Jesus. It was a confusing time and many questions existed about the fate of Jesus and resurrection. However, we know now it was not the end but the beginning.  For the two individuals in the scripture it is also their beginning and provided a new life for them.

So, what must we do after the Resurrection?   Most of the readings this week call for our response

In Acts, Peter declares God had made the risen Jesus, both Lord and Christ. The people respond, "What must we do?" "Repent and be baptized."   But he also promises them the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle answers "live as the baptized” in reverent fear of God, and with deep affection for one another .

The writer of the Psalms says to love and praise God since God saved him from an affliction.

So what about Emmaus?  Let’s get our bearings.  This is the second of Luke’s 4 stories about the resurrection in  Chapter 24 – first is the Empty Tomb, then Emmaus

Luke is the only Gospel to include the story of the Road to Emmaus.  

There are a number of unknowns – Emmaus cannot be found on any map though only 7 miles from Jerusalem.  The concept of a road was a common metaphor at the time – The early Christians were called “people of the way.”  The Road to Emmaus may have been an actual  physical road or only a spiritual road. You decide.

There are two companions – we don’t know the name of one and  Cleopas the other one is only mentioned in the Good Friday reading of the Gospel of John.  Two unknowns going to an unknown place.  The reason they are going is not disclosed.  Are they ending Passover and simply returning after the event in a normal fashion or they are fleeing a desperate situation in Jerusalem? 

One of the key parts of the story is that the two companions were not apostles, not part of the inner circle. Just everyday people. In all of the other resurrection experiences, Jesus appears to the group around Jesus. Thus, this story may have been included in the Bible because it is about and for us. 

What’s Luke’s answer to what we must do after the Resurrection?  I would say it is the need to imitate Christ in being resurrected.  To be awakened from our own personal worlds and then to made a difference to extend Jesus concept of love and improve our world.  We must be ready to build our own roads to Emmaus wherever they lead and by whatever means with Jesus as our guide and companion.

It’s so easy to imagine, those two characters striding down that road -we can almost hear them talking, maybe even arguing about what happened, trying to make sense of their world. Jesus was supposed to be the Messiah. Jesus was the One who had come to liberate Israel, to free the people from oppression.

Now Jesus was gone, and what had changed? The Roman Empire was still oppressing them, still inflicting such pain and hardship, still killing them. Was it all a lie? Had they been fooled by some kind of cruel hoax—were they wrong to put their hopes in this man from Nazareth? They had trusted Jesus believed in Jesus, followed Jesus. Their lives had been changed. They had seen the lives of others changed and they had expected even greater changes to come. Jesus had confronted corrupt powers. Jesus had charmed great crowds. Jews and Gentiles alike responded to the truth of Jesus’ teaching. Rich and poor had come to Jesus, believing in Jesus’ healing power.

And what did ‘resurrection” mean? Apparently it was not the resuscitation of a corpse. Jesus wasn’t revived to resume his former life; to take up his broken body until the day he might die again. No, somehow this was some new mode of being that seemed to be spiritual to some and yet real to others. And, if Jesus were risen from the dead, what would be the point of all that if Jesus wasn’t able to lead people here on earth? How could Jesus restore Israel when he had so easily been defeated by a handful of Roman guards and Jewish officials?

The stranger that appeared on the road to meet these two was Jesus but they didn’t recognize him. As they neared Emmaus, it was getting late so they invited the stranger to stay with them.  Cleopas and his companion knew how unsafe the roads were.  As Luke reveals, “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.”

Luke 24 is often seen as a model of the journey that Jesus makes with us today.   He opens our eyes, points us to the Word, and reveals Himself along life’s walk as the resurrected Savior and Lord.  One of the things the story teaches is that Jesus cares for your hopes and your dreams.

There are three main areas to consider  in this story:

1.  Scripture -Jesus interprets the scriptures more fully.  We find their fulfilment in Him.

2.  Eucharist -The meal is a Eucharist the dominant form of worship in the growing church. The two companions recognized the risen Jesus only in the “breaking of the bread.”

3. The emphasis on mission and evangelism – after encountering and recognizing Jesus in the scriptures and in the Eucharist, the two individuals went back and shared their faith experience with the community.

This defines what we are doing and should continue to do St. Peter’s – Bible study  and reflection, participating in the Eucharist and doing mission.  I will dwell on mission but want to talk  about the others.

#1 area – Scripture

Vv 16 “While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  But then in Vv 31  "And their eyes were opened and they recognized him."  Did Jesus open their eyes or did  they ?

What happened to create this transformation ?  – Hearing the scriptures and participating in the Eucharist. Yes, they had to begin the transformation, but it wasn’t about who they were but who God is.

The two companions did not see Jesus because they did not expect to see Jesus.  They had lost faith.  When the two lost faith, they placed their focus upon themselves; they could not understand anything beyond their own personal lives or agendas. When they lost faith, they wallowed in their own pain; their hearts could not recognize others reaching out to them. Without faith they had no hope and no way of seeing Jesus.  

Note without Faith -> no hope-> people isolated-> become blind to those helping them. We can become that way too.

Willie Nelson’s song “On the Road” has this phrase – “We’re the best of friends Insisting that the world keep turning our way and our way.” Yes they may have best of friends  but they were confused on which way the world was turning.

The telling of their story to Jesus and inviting Jesus to stay with them was essential because they were reaching out. They had “hit the wall”.  Crying out to something beyond ourselves — even if when it felt there was nothing there — that very act of reaching out is a tap on the shoulder from God.  Note that Jesus doesn’t begin to teach until they have reached out through their story. This is a crucial recognition for the life of faith for them and for us.

Jesus had to refresh their memories about the scriptures before they could see him. Luke insists that Jesus fulfilled the prophecies of the Scriptures present at what was then the Old Testament, the law and prophets. For this reason Luke regards the Scriptures as sufficient for the generation of faith (16:31). Those that rejected Jesus did so because of the failure to understand their own Bible in both mind and heart. 

Jesus also interpreted Scripture in a new way. [24:26-27] .The Christ needed to die in order to truly live and give that life to others.  Jesus reminded his disciples that he predicted his resurrection during his earthly ministry.  "And while they abode in Galilee, Jesus said unto them, The Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of men: And they shall kill Him, and the third day He shall be raised again.”

We should always to expect to see Jesus along our roads we travel. We must open our eyes to Jesus action in the world in the ordinary.  When we do, we will come to see His spirit working in our own lives.  We will see new opportunities and possibilities as the two companions did.   Religion becomes a form of action not an intellectual exercise.

Suzanne Guthrie, an Episcopal priest in MA wrote this week,  “Living in the post-resurrection world means cultivating some kind of extra sense – and being open to surprise.”  We may ignore God when God is trying to reach us.  As Guthrie writes “How often insight occurs indirectly, slipping in sideways from the unconscious, or, while your eyes, blurry in daydreaming, lose their focus. How often a problem solves itself in twilight sleep, in the shower or garden, while you’ve ceased to concentrate on the puzzle.”

#2 areaWorship

The key to many post resurrection experiences with Christ occurs at meals, gathering for the breaking of the bread and became one of the hallmarks of the first Christians.  What would sustain the community of faith was the Word, friends and sacrament.  It is all bound up in worship.

Worship assumes a relationship with others. We need worship more than we ever know

Like these companions, many people today are forced out of their comfortable surroundings, out of relationships by unexpected events

1. It may be the elderly who had expected to live in their homes forever but because of events, financial, medical are forced to flee to assisted living

2. It may be estranged spouses who have to pick up and create a new life. It may mean a new town, neighborhood

3. It may be children that are sent to live in foster homes or from relative to relative when their parents’ marriage breakup

We rely on our various communities to help us through these events – both public and private.  

What the church provides is the spiritual fellowship, during and after these events.  It’s both the foundation and the glue.

And the means of for this fellowship is centered on the Eucharist. It’s at the Eucharist that Jesus became real for these disciples – and for us.  Note the companions only knew Christ in the breaking of the bread and not by actually seeing him. 

He helped them recognize that out of darkness God can bring light. Out of despair, comes hope. When there seems to be nothing but the suffocating gloom of death, new life becomes possible.   That was Jesus story and it could be theirs.

Hope is in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is soul food-God’s presence fills us, heals us, strengthens, comforts and transforms us. 

Luke scholar Fred Craddock writes “The disciples have now experienced Christ in word (interpreting the scriptures) and sacrament (the breaking of the bread). “   If we had only the scriptures and not the Eucharist all later generations would be “second hand Christians” removed by place and time from the Christ.  Craddock goes on “His presence at the table makes all believers  first-generation Christians and every meeting place Emmaus.”

#3. area – Mission

So how does this relate to mission ?   God also takes us, blesses us, offers thanks and gives us to others that we might be life and hope-bearing gifts to one another. God sends us out.

Luke’s  Gospel is about maturing – and where we do it is on the road. Almost every important event in Luke takes place "on the road," on the land between destinations as we mature.  Think of the Good Samaritan, for instance.

The choice for the disciples after receiving Christ in scriptures and Eucharist is whether to continue on their journey and ignore what has been revealed to them, or to turn back to Jerusalem and participate in the work that God has already begun.

In the end, Cleopas and his companion returned to the Jerusalem community so they could share their encounter of the Risen Lord. That may not have been the easiest decision but it is the right one.  I think of them as refugees – it is difficult for refugees to return to the land they fled with unpleasant memories – they must have a reason.   But now they could make it back – with Jesus walking beside them. This was the new hope – a new spark. 

Ironically by turning back they go forward. As they hasten back to Jerusalem, they remember not sadness, but burning hearts. 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?"

In a sense the characters here are raised from the dead.  They have been resurrected. They are changed from tellers of a story to ones that are ready to participate in it with new hope, new energy.   And they were going to do it in community – in Jerusalem.

Will we fail to recognize him too and stay locked in our homes? Or will we become revitalized so we can feel a “burning in our heart”?

Presiding Bishop Katherine Schori in her Easter message provides example of this “burning”  – “The Body of Christ is rising today where it is growing less self-centered and inwardly focused, and living with its heart turned toward the cosmic and eternal, its attention focused intently on loving God and neighbor.

We are called to share what we have seen, heard, and touched with others. We, like the early Christians, are to witness to God activity in his creation, extending God’s love and joy to others in mission at St Peter’s. 

We are already doing this but Luke cautions us there is always more to be done.  Ken Pogue and the tutors have recently put us on the map with Port Royal Tutoring.  It’s mission with a human face. We get to know the children we are helping – they get to know us. Everyone is changed and we are the better for it.  But we shouldn’t stop there.

We need increasingly to be a church for “others.” The phrase “a Church for others” is adapted from the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Writing from prison, where he was sent for witnessing to his faith as an opponent of Nazism, Bonhoeffer called Jesus quintessentially the one “for others.” Those of us who would follow in his footsteps are called and challenged to be a people and a community “for others”, above and beyond our own self-interest. The tutoring program is making us a church for others.

Luke talks about going to Jerusalem. Matthew, the Gospel which contains most of our Gospel readings this year, has another phrase which I like. “Meet me in Galilee.”   I am indebted to Bishop Curry of NC, one of the most dynamic Episcopal preachers in our time, for the following discussion.

Galilee in biblical times could accurately be described as the land of others. Scholars tell us that the region of Galilee included a mix of people, ethnically and economically – Palestinian and Hellenistic Jews; Gentiles of Roman, Greek and Palestinian origin; wealthy landowners, and the working poor.

Jesus spent most of his time in the rural communities and peasant villages of lower Galilee with those who were “the other,” with those on the margins of society and sometimes on the margins of hope. Jesus is the one “for others.” Being his disciple, following in his footsteps means being a Church and people “for others.” Jesus said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

It is from Galilee that in Mathew Jesus sends his disciples out on their apostolic mission with these words: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

What is our Road to Emmaus and where is it going ?  How are we going to get there ?

My friends – Port Royal is our Galilee, our road leads there.   If we are to survive, we need to know the scriptures and reflect on them, as well as worship in community.  But these are just the first steps.  We also need to take what we have done in education and tackle other problems, meeting Jesus there more fully. The question is this -“How can we become more relevant to Port Royal?”

Port Royal is a village of others.  We have African Americans, Whites, Spanish and many others.  In many ways this community is below others on the economic scale.  Problems of alcoholism, drug abuse and others abound.  There are people who don’t have a destination – much like the two companions to Emmaus.  Some drink their lives away – they are not living, they are just existing.  They need to find their own Jerusalem, a purposeful life. We can help but they have to reach out as the two companions did.  To date, we have only scratched the surface of what we can do.

So which new road we build leads to Galilee?  That will take some discernment which we can begin on May 18 when we host Sally O’Brien at St. Peter’s for lunch and discussion after the service.  Sally is a VP with the Episcopal Church Building Fund.  We are struck by recent trends in the Episcopal Church – “According to the Church Insurance Company, every month more than four congregations close their doors for good. This alarming situation threatens the health and life of the Episcopal Church.”  Also, in 20 years the current generation of St. Peter’s parishioners may be gone. What then?

Sally will help us to think about what we will want to be doing as a parish in the next several decades.  She writes “Our church buildings are more than bricks and mortar, they should be the heartbeat of mission and service, not the heartache of history and loss. As congregations find a role in their community, they can also find creative and innovative ways to sustain themselves financially.”  How can we become the heartbeat of mission and service in Port Royal?

We need to make  St. Peter’s the church that more people in Port Royal can call their own whether as parishioner or as a force to make their lives better and more productive.  That is necessary if we are to continue beyond our generation.  There is no guarantee it will. We need to use Sally’s guidance to initiate a discussion about this topic.

In closing, the Biblical Emmaus is not on any map but Emmaus is, however, a place where you can go. Emmaus is a place of scripture so we can see Jesus along the road and reflect on his teachings. Emmaus is a place of worship where God’s presence fills and strengthens us during the Eucharist. Emmaus is a place of mission, helping to transform a place of “others.”   In turn, it is a place for those we help to help us in our transformation.  To be Church of “others” we need to travel to our own Galilee in Port Royal with a renewed sense of heart,  purpose and action.  We have  new roads to build and our hands will be dirty doing it. Praise the Lord for that!

As  Bishop Schori concludes her Easter message “The Body is recognized when the hungry are fed – on the lakeshore with broiled fish, on the road to Emmaus, on street corners and city parks, in food pantries and open kitchens, in feeding neighbor nations and former enemies, and as the Body gathers once again to remember its identity and origin – Christ is risen for the sake of all creation.”  Amen

– Ben Hicks

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