Sermon for Sunday, May 4, 2014

Luke 24:13-35 (selections)

“Would We Know Resurrection If It Stared Us In The Face?”

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~ http://www.FranklinCircleChristianChurch.org

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher ~ E-Mail: PastorAllen@FranklinCircleChurch.org

Twitter: @FranklinCircle ~ Pastor’s Blog: https://nearwestclevepastor.wordpress.com

To see a video of this sermon, go online to: http://youtu.be/1e1mJNKeR_w

 

"Resurrection" Photo by Allen V. Harris, via Instagram

“Resurrection” Photo by Allen V. Harris, via Instagram

Two weeks ago at our Easter Celebration I challenged you and me both to believe in resurrection, to nurture resurrection, and then to experience resurrection. We talked about new life, renewal, revitalization, restoration, and rebirth. I urged us together as individuals and as a community to see the resurrection of Jesus Christ, lo those many years ago yet celebrated annually, as an opportunity to recommit ourselves to being focused on, not death, but life, and to shape our lives in such a way as to make that new life possible. Today’s scripture passage, post-resurrection, reminds us exactly how hard that is to do.

 

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus 1601 Oil on canvas, 141 x 196 cm National Gallery, London

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus
1601
Oil on canvas, 141 x 196 cm
National Gallery, London4

[For those of us who’ve been in the church our whole lives, the story is so familiar that it’s almost passé. For those who are less indoctrinated, the story might be a little more astonishing and otherworldly. Two individuals walking along a road meet a third person, and begin to talk about the recent events that have captivated their attention and broken their hearts. A man named Jesus, in whom they had placed their trust and hopes for the renewal of their faith, had been taken into custody by the authorities, tried, beaten, and executed. They also reported that some in their group had been to the place where their dead friend’s body was placed, and the body was gone. As they told this stranger of the tragic and astonishing events, he turned the conversation in such a way as to reveal he knew a great deal about faith, about this man named Jesus, and about hope and new life.

 

When the three of them reached the village to which the first two were headed, they invited the third in for hospitality, as it was almost evening. As they ate at the table, this stranger took bread and, in an oddly familiar way, “blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” In that instant, they recognized the very one about whom they had been talking for the past few miles: Jesus. And in that moment of awareness, he vanished from their sight. This was so astounding that they immediately packed back up and returned from where they had come to report what they had experienced.]

 

It is in the midst of this story that I have had to ask myself the stern but obvious question: Would we know resurrection if it stared us in the face? With all I said about believing in, nurturing, experiencing resurrection, would we really recognize it if and when it finally did happen? If the presence of the very one about whom all of Christendom pinned their hopes and dreams for new life was not grasped by those who had been following him only days before, how on earth do we think we, who follow sight unseen thousands of years later think that we would comprehend and then live into this new life he offers through the pages of scripture and the stories of faith of our forebears? How will we ever know resurrection, and can we ever?

 

Well I believe this story offers several very tangible and persuasive possibilities that will enable us to not only recognize new life in Christ, but live it more fully in our lives.

 

The Rev. Jim Schimmel leads a Sunday School Class at FCCC

The Rev. Jim Schimmel leads a Sunday School Class at FCCC

First, we are in dialogue with one another, and we use scripture and our life experiences to try to make sense of life and our faith. These two disciples, and three when the unacknowledged Jesus enters in, are “talking about all these things that had happened.” We do not talk with each other nearly enough. We live in a culture where people talk at one another, where we posture and promote, work to get our sound byte on the top of the media pile. We Tweet, update our Facebook status, post our blog, and then sit back and wait for the world to “talk amongst yourselves.” Not these disciples, they actively engaged in honest, open dialogue.

 

The Greek implies that they were not only talking; they were “examining evidence together.” This picks up a theme that has been prominent in Luke’s story ever since we met Mary talking with Gabriel: she was confused to have encountered an angel, but not so confused that she couldn’t debate the issue back and forth. And when Jesus stays behind in the Temple as a young boy, talking with the teachers, he (just like his mother) asks and answers analytical questions. This is a story loaded with rational discourse. The disciples walking to Emmaus fits right in. (1)

 

But it is what happens in the midst of this conversation that is magical. There are two facets that absolutely captivate me. The first, which I am indebted to Richard Swanson for making me aware, (2) revolves around the word elpizōmen. It is captured in the phrase in Luke 24:21 translated as “we had hoped.” Swanson notes that the Greek imperfect tense suggests continuous action, such as “we were hoping still…” The tense gives the sense that this hope flowed from the past, and may yet still be alive, but we are unsure. They were hoping… yet… still… that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel, to revive their faith, to change the world.

 

Swanson reminds me, as your pastor, how many times we have heard this tense of the verb. As the exhausted family gathers their things from the hospital waiting room, “We had hoped…” As the person I am counseling fumbles with the ring on their finger, “I had hoped…” As the phone message from the potential employer clicks off or the short, terse letter is folded back into the envelope from the bank, “We had hoped…” Hope in new life is so very fragile, so very vulnerable, so hard to keep going.

 

How powerful is it that these disciples were willing to be in dialogue with one another, and a stranger also, when their hope was so fragile. And yet they did. And what is equally amazing is that they were willing to be challenged, and challenged directly, when Jesus says, “Oh how foolish you are and how slow of heart to believe…” How many of us can take a direct challenge like that, especially when our hope in resurrection is tested and our faith in new life is so thin. But this is what we are called to in this scripture. To discuss and dialogue and dig deeper, and to stay in the conversation longer even when our feelings might be hurt or our sensitivities are ruffled. More importantly, to stay in the conversation when our hope is near its end.

 

This is definitely a moment when you should do as your pastor says, and not as he does. When my hope is thin and my belief in resurrection is laying in a shallow grave in the back yard, the next to the last thing I want to is be deep in conversation with others and the very last thing I want is to be challenged about my understanding of the world. And yet it is precisely this moment, when I say in desperation, “I had hoped…” that Jesus, who is already walking beside me unawares, challenges me and invites me deeper into my very own faith.

 

A Community Thanksgiving Meal at Franklin Circle Christian Church

A Community Thanksgiving Meal at Franklin Circle Christian Church

And if that isn’t enough, the second thing this scripture teaches us about recognizing resurrection is to increase our hospitality. After sharing with this stranger their thinning hopes, and receiving his confronting reflections on scripture, they invite him into their home to stay. And it is there, at table, at perhaps the most vulnerable, personal, intimate place of our lives, that Jesus chooses to be revealed. Resurrection was, in fact, staring at them in the face. We are invited – no urged – by the resurrected Christ to open our tables up more and more to those who might bring new life back into our world.

 

I don’t know everything this means, but I do know it stands as close to commandment for me as a disciple of Christ. Whether we are talking about my table in my home on Whitman Avenue, the tables that get put up and taken down routinely in the gym, or the table of Holy Communion that we gather around week in and week out here in worship. What would it mean to come to the tables of our lives, having already been “talking and discussing” our dashed hopes and mounting fears, to sit at table with friend and stranger alike, and see Jesus staring us in the face?

 

And finally, as if that wasn’t enough, there’s more to the story. This is the part that we – I – rarely if ever talk about. After all this… after all this deep conversation, giving and receiving faith-full challenges, offering hospitality even to the stranger, and sharin

FCCC out in the community sharing the good news of God's Love to ALL people!

FCCC out in the community sharing the good news of God’s Love to ALL people!

g the vulnerability of the table… we must pack up and go back out into the world to tell others that we have seen resurrection and it is real. HE is real! That’s exactly what these two disciples did. The dishes weren’t even cleaned up and they got their belongings together and headed back to Jerusalem to tell those doubting disciples that resurrection has a face.

 

My beloved, resurrection is real. Easter reminds us that God’s alchemy is hope and creation’s purpose is new life.   Jesus is no longer dead, but alive, and traveling beside us seeking to engage us, provoke us, inspire us to believe, even when our hopes are fading, that this new life is ours also to live. Resurrection is, indeed, staring at us in the face. May we have hearts that are willing to recognize it.

 

 

 

 

(1) Luke 24:13-35 Commentary by Richard Swanson, Working Preacher, found online at http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1992

(2) Ibid

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