Sermon Sunday, October 2, 2011

Luke 24:13-35

Awaking People To Joys Of Life With Jesus”

~ Today is the third of a four part sermon series on Living Up To And Into Our Mission: Why We Are Franklin Circle Christian Church! ~

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Cleveland, Ohio

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor

To listen to this Sermon Podcast, click HERE:  111002SermonPodcast

Our Mission Statement reads: “We… awaken people to the joys of life with Jesus Christ.”

How are you awakened to the joy of life?  Of life with Jesus?

How are those around you awakened to the joy of life?  Of life with Jesus?

Some ideas about finding joy…

> Hospitality – on the road!

The story tells us about two disciples, not part of the original twelve disciples of Jesus, who are walking on a road to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem.  Now they were clearly familiar enough with the events that had occurred around Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion to talk about them easily.

What is most impressive is that along this road a stranger – who we know is none other than Jesus himself – begins to talk with the two and they allow him to join in.  Perhaps joy may in part be about letting strangers converse with us along the road of life.  This isn’t about giving money, or even advice, to people you pass.  It’s about honest, friendly engagement with those with whom you have no prior connection and without ulterior motivations.  I know when I have been at my best and most comfortable self, and have opened myself up to conversation with a fellow traveler, it has made all the difference in my spirit.

Just yesterday a couple of men at the gym were clearly in a good mood competing with each other in their lifts.  One guy bet the other he could curl a 65 lb dumbbell.  I happened to overhear the conversation, and lightly added, “I’ll join you in that bet!”  What fun we had laughing when the first man did curl the dumbbell – easily.  The frivolity perceptibly lightened the air around us, and we laughed about it off and on for the rest of our workout.  Hospitality along the road of life awakens us to joy.

> Honesty about our fears and our vulnerabilities

Another clear aspect to today’s scripture is that these two disciples were willing to tell this stranger both what they knew about Jesus, whom they had devotedly followed, but about their sadness at the dramatic turn of circumstances and their fears that what they once believed might not now be true.  Cleopas, one of the two, admitted, “But we had hoped that he (meaning Jesus) was the one to redeem Israel.”

How often have we carried a “heavy burden, been laden with a load of care,” and failed to share these deepest, hardest parts of our souls with anyone?  It’s especially great to share our burdens with those we know and love, but every now and then allowing the objective perspective of a stranger, or at least someone not in our closest network of friends and family, to hear our anxieties and know what frightens us not only gives a different sort of relief, but may result in a new and different perspective on life.  Honesty about our fears and our vulnerabilities awakens us to joy.

> An openness to new ideas and a questioning spirit

And in this sharing, the two learned that this so-called “stranger” wasn’t as out of touch as they at first might have believed.  He challenged them to have more faith in their own tradition and in the prophecies of their own scriptures.  “Oh how foolish you are,” Jesus as Stranger chides them, “and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!”  It is at this point that many of us would have checked out of the conversation.  Whether we would have given him three snaps or simply the back of our head, we would have been offended by the confrontation of a stranger (well, these days we get offended by a confrontation with anyone, right?).

But not these two disciples.  They did not ask for this advice, but they had willing hearts ready to receive a new perspective and a gentle challenge to their perceptions.  They recognize that, even in their sadness and confusion, someone else might have advice and counsel they need to hear.  What about us?  Well, we might be willing to allow the pastor to question our carefully thought out take on life, and we might permit a therapist who we are paying to figure out the problem, but not just some Joe or Josephine on the street!  Where do they get off telling me I’m wrong?!

But these two were willing, and they did listen.  And later, after the traveler would reveal his identity as Jesus, they would reflect on this part of the encounter and marvel, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening up the scriptures to us?”  This is not the “heartburn” with which we are all-too-familiar.  This is, in the words of John Wesley, founder of Methodism, hearts that are “strangely warmed” by the Good News of the Gospel… even if it is as a challenge to our way of thinking.  An openness to new ideas and a questioning spirit awakens us to joy.

> A willingness to learn from the past

Likewise, the two disciples were willing to receive new words about their own tradition.  This stranger, clearly knowledgeable about that of which he is speaking, is telling them about their very own history.  Now, I am quite open to hearing someone tell me about the inner workings of an automobile engine, or about quarks and black holes and other such astrological phenomenon about which I know nothing, but to listen to someone tell me about Christianity, or the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)?  Nah… I’ve got that all figured out!

But that resistance was never present in these disciples, who I have come to admire and trust in so many ways.  They were willing, perhaps made even more eager because of the deep sadness they had on the death of one who would be their savior, to hear a new take on an old story.

And you know, it is often here that we are most flexible, most willing to listen: when we feel our tradition has forsaken us.  Our human pride and hubris tends to bend and even break open when we get to the point of asking, “Where was God in all of this?”  “Why doesn’t God do something?”  “Nobody in the church ever contacted me.”  It is when we feel like our faith has failed us that sometimes it simply takes someone to look back and point out Jesus was carrying us all the time.  Or prodding us.  Or preparing a way for us.  Or sending strangers to walk with us.

A willingness to learn from the past awakens us to joy.

> Hospitality – in the home!

And then we come to the biggest leap of faith: letting a stranger into our home.  “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over,” they say.  Now, to be fair, this man had been walking with them for quite a while, perhaps even the full seven miles between Jerusalem and Emmaus.  It’s hard for us moderns to understand travel by foot when so many of us drive places, either in our own car or on public transportation.  But they had been given the gift of getting to know this man, had opened up to him and received his wisdom.  They most likely had discerned a decency and trustworthiness that allowed them the wherewithal to invite him into their home for dinner and a good night’s rest.

But, let’s be honest, he still was a stranger.  And it was their home, not an inn along the way, like the Good Samaritan had.  And this is the most frightening part of this story for those of us who live in a highly individualized, extraordinarily privatized, & deeply suspicious world.  But, lest we chalk it up too quickly to “that’s the way they did it in that day” or “but it was really Jesus in disguise,” let us imagine it was exactly the same challenge for Cleopas and his friend as it would be for us.  What if joy really does mean opening up our homes to strangers we have met along the way.

Now, I know for a fact that there are some among us who have this gift.  There are those in this congregation who have both the resources, that is, a place to offer and enough food to share, who do… willingly… with strangers.  Here, I am convicted.  My home is my castle, my sanctuary, my retreat.  Oh, I love to host parties for folks I know and love, but the thought of having strangers in my house makes my skin crawl.  I get sweaty and anxious letting the water meter reader into the basement (well, maybe not the hot hunk of a meter reader like the last one… but you get my drift!)

So, let us take the challenge and imagine it, even if only for a moment.  Because it is here, in the home, around the dinner table, that the true magic and mystery of our story happens.  It is here, in the inner sanctum, where bread is broken that Christ is revealed.  If it doesn’t mean for you to go out to the street and invite the first person you see into your apartment or home, then what does it mean for you?  For me?  Maybe there is one step in that direction you and I can take, such as inviting someone into your home, beginning with folks we do know and love and trust, such as friends, coworkers, and church colleagues.  And then folks we don’t know so well.

The act of hospitality is one of the single greatest sacred acts of humankind.  It runs deeply throughout every great faith tradition, and it is one of the most underrated hallowed deeds in our own Christian tradition.  I believe, along with Baptism and Communion, we should sanctify Hospitality and spend more time doing it reverently and frequently.  Hospitality in our homes and in our hearts awakens us to joy.

> Communion – in both its liturgical and common meaning.

Which leads us to Communion.  Using the exact same words as when Jesus was in the upper room with his disciples prior to the horror and tragedy of his arrest, trial, and crucifixion, this stranger is revealed: “When he was at table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”  This same wording is no accident.  We are called to recognize, acknowledge, and reenact this in our own day and in our own homes.  And when we do, every single time we do, then we should expect a revelation.  “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized Jesus.”

Holy Communion was not given to us so that we would have a participatory break in an otherwise dreadfully long worship service.  Holy Communion was not given to us so that the Deacons and the Elders would have something important to do each week.  Holy Communion wasn’t given to us so that we could keep the juice and bread industries in business.  Holy Communion was given to us so that we would see Jesus!

And make no mistake, this is Holy Communion with a capital “C” and a lower case “c.”  Yes, it is Communion, which is the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup which we do in worship “every time we meet,” which is holy.  But it is also communion, which is the sharing of ourselves whether at table, in meetings, on the street or the bus, in homes, at work or school, which is also holy.  Communing with one another, with all the hospitality, honesty, and openness we’ve talked about, is a holy act, and the sacred is revealed when we gather together.  Communion awakens us to joy.

> A desire to tell others where you found joy, where you found Jesus

And, finally, a desire to tell others where you found joy, where you found Jesus, is a sure way to create more joy.  As Jesus said to the one he healed, “Go and tell!” he tells us.  When we have joy, share joy.  When we find Jesus, see Jesus, feel Jesus, hear Jesus, we must not keep him to ourselves.  For God’s sake, we share the negative aspects of life to anyone and everyone who is within earshot.  Why can’t we share joy just as easily and frequently?  The light of the candle was meant to be seen.  The city of God must not be in a valley, but on a hill.  The joy of life with Christ must be told, celebrated, and shared.

A desire to tell others where we find joy, where we find Jesus, awakens us to more joy.

Franklin Circle Christian Church, we proclaim that “We… awaken people to the joys of life with Jesus Christ.”  Let us live out that reality this day, and every day!



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