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April 30, 2017

Pastor Fowler’s Sermon for April 30 

“Heartburn” Luke 24:13-35

 

Have you ever suffered through one of those moments when someone has come up to you enthusiastically and said your name, yet when you looked at them, you had no idea who they were? They say something like “It has been so long! How are you?” And all you can do is look at them with a blank stare, desperately trying to remember who they are. Having worked in a few different congregations over the last 25 years,that often happens to me. I remember once while I was in college at SF State, I was waiting for my lunch at an A & W, playing a video game. Suddenly I heard a young voice say, “Hi Danomite!” which was a camp name I used while working at a Christian summer camp. I looked away from my video game and saw a young boy and his dad. He said to his father, “This is Danomite! He was my camp leader last summer. Do you remember me?” To be honest, I had worked with over 600 campers that past summer, it was at least three months after camp had ended, and I had at best a vague recollection of him. I said “Sure!”  I knew right then he wanted me to remember what HIS camp name was, and of course I had no clue. He told me, and then as he walked away, I could sense he was disappointed.  I hadn’t remembered him. In part I hadn’t recognized him because I saw him out of context. He wasn’t wearing a Sherwood Forest hat, and I was at college, not at camp. My mind was on other things.

 

I think in some way this is what happened to Cleopas and the other disciple of Jesus when he appeared to them on the road to Emmaus. Even though he was there, right in front of their faces, he was out of context. In addition, so many things had happened, and the last thing they expected was to see Jesus face to face. They had their minds on other things. These two disciples were doing what I like to call “Stress walking,” something my wife is very good at. Everyone know what that is? It is when something tragic or frustrating has happened or is happening, and you walk with another person to blow off steam and process the whole mess you are facing. I would guess these two disciples were stressed and sad, having seen their Lord, their leader die, wondering if they might be soon arrested by Roman authorities for being his followers. With all of their swirling emotions, it is no wonder that their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

 

 

As Jesus drew near the two, he feigned ignorance of the recent events. Cleopas was surprised. Apparently, the event of his crucifixion was well known. So Cleopas recounted all the events that had happened- How Jesus, a great and mighty prophet had been condemned to death and crucified. How they had hoped he would be the one- the one to rescue Israel, to redeem it. How it had been three days since all of these things happened. Rev. Nancy Seheasted says, “They had hoped that he was really going to be the one to set the oppressed free. They had hoped that he was really going to be the one to lead their movement for liberty and justice for all. They had hoped, but no more. Tragedy had struck. Devastation and despair crashed through hope's door and demanded entry into their inner chambers. Two defeated disciples dropped their heavy hearts on the dusty road.” Jesus was dead. Hope was dead. Three days had passed and the world was unchanged. Rome was still in charge.

 

 

Then Cleopas mentioned how some of the women disciples went and saw the empty tomb- They said they saw an angel, and that they were told Jesus had risen. Some of the other disciples then went to look for themselves, but they only saw an empty tomb, and did not see any sign of the Risen Lord.

 

It is here that Jesus could’ve said, “Hi guys! It is me!” Yet instead he sought an opportunity to teach, and so he reminded them of the prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures, and how Christ’s death fulfilled all the scriptures about Messiah.

 

Their journey must’ve seemed to take less time, as he walked with them and taught them. Suddenly, they were at their village, the place they called home. The sun was setting, and their long walk was at an end. It seemed that this stranger who knew so much about the messiah and scripture was traveling on. Both of them however, felt something with this man, and wanted to spend more time with him. “It is late. The day is almost over. Why not stay with us and have some dinner?” Jesus agreed, and as he sat at the table, he did the same thing he had done in the upper room. He took bread, blessed it and broke it. It is likely that there were more than just the 12 disciples with Jesus on the night of the last supper, and perhaps Cleopas and the other disciple were there. As they saw him take the bread, bless it and break it, they were suddenly taken back to that moment. They put the face of the stranger back into context- and at that moment he vanished.

It was suddenly clear to them, all at once- “Who else would know so much about the scriptures? Who else could teach in such a way? Who else would’ve broken bread in the same manner? Surely our hearts were on fire when he was with us! We have to go and tell the others! Jesus has risen!”

 

They were so excited that they couldn’t wait until the next day to travel, and so the two of them set out at night, even though they had just walked 7 miles, and were tired. Traveling 7 miles on foot, how long would that have taken?  My wife who, thanks to the Lillian B Komen breast Cancer walk is a master walker, can go about 7 miles in 1:40, but that is power walking, with tennis shoes, etc. My guess is that their journey must’ve taken a good  hours to get to Emmaus, and the same time in getting back.  They were so excited that Jesus had appeared to them, they rushed back in the dark to Jerusalem despite the distance to tell the others what had happened.

When they got back, they heard that someone else had also had an eyewitness encounter with Jesus. Verse 34 tells us that the Risen Lord had already appeared to Peter. According to 1 Corinthians 15:5, Jesus appeared to Peter before anyone else. Although we have no details of this meeting, whatever occurred also energized the disciples.

 

 

What happened as a result of these experiences with the Risen Lord? Originally, Luke and the book of Acts were together as one work Acts is really the second half, or part II of a single work. The first part, Luke’s account of Jesus on earth, set the stage for part II, the Acts of the Apostles. Part II of the book is the establishment of the Christian church- disciples going and preaching to thousands, people getting converted, and churches getting established. The catalyst for these events was the disciples’ encounters with the Risen Lord. As they met and recognized Jesus, they were inspired. Their hearts burned with faith, and they spread the word.

 

 

What does this encounter on the road to Emmaus tell us for today, we who are modern day disciples? We see that Jesus appeared to the disciples at their most discouraging moment, most fearful time, most anguished of days, and then he revealed his true identity. Jesus instructed them with words and sustained them by his presence. This is a pattern that persists to this day if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear. Christ gives us hope in the midst of hopelessness, light in the midst of darkness.

 

The Emmaus story also tells us that when we are in the presence of the Risen Lord, our hearts catch fire. Our faith is strengthened. Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) We are gathered here today in the presence of the Risen Lord. Do we feel his presence? Are we inspired to go out in boldness of faith? How will we respond to our encounter with the Risen Lord? Will we go forth like the disciples did, and spread the word about Jesus? We are in the midst of trying to revitalize this congregation- to invite friends to come and experience our service for the first time, and to invite old friends and members to come back. Will we invite others to church to share with them the Good News?

 

The third thing we can glean from this passage is that we should look for the Risen Lord amongst us. This means that we are called to recognize the face of Christ in others. Jesus told us in scripture where we could find him.  Jesus reminds us in Matthew 25 that “whatever we do to the least of these we in effect do to him. We will find him among the poor and homeless as we provide shelter and food. We will also find him when we break bread and share the cup in the Lord’s Supper. We see his words in Matthew 18:5 "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Matthew 18:5).   Therefore Jesus is present in children. Theologian Jim Forest says, “I am in those around you, especially those who are being made to walk the way of the cross: the hungry and thirsty, the naked and homeless, the sick and the imprisoned.

One way we can describe Christian life is to say that it is the continual rediscovery of the face of Jesus in those around us. Suddenly, very often when we least expect it, a word is said, an expression alters in an unexplored face, we glimpse a grief in someone whom we thought too petrified to contain grief, and the idea we had of that other person is demolished. We find ourselves in the presence of a huge mystery. That face seemed so easily mapped, so safely flat, a kind of dull wallpaper. Yet suddenly a seam is revealed, a door swings open, and we are in Christ's presence.”

 

 

I have had many encounters with the Risen Christ, both joyful and painful experiences- seeing a young homeless couple on the street in San Francisco with a newborn child, speaking with someone in the early morning who slept on my office deck the night before, on the faces of those who needed a hot meal last Wednesday, in the eyes of a blushing bride on her wedding day, in someone’s presence as they approach to be served communion, and in the face of someone on their deathbed. Jesus is there, and in looking back at those moments, my heart was on fire. In our encounters with the Risen Lord, our hearts can burn with the flames of faith, and we can be inspired to do great things of hope and purpose.

 

In today’s fractured and contentious world, where there is such polarization and strife, people are longing for whatever will break down barriers, and bring them together with their neighbors. If we recognize Christ in others, then fear will be replaced by faith.  The gap between conservative and progressive might not seem so vast. The color of one’s skin won’t matter. Differences melt away when we see Christ in others.

And so we are sent out from our experience with the Risen Lord. May we have hearts on fire, so that we might spread the good news that Christ is risen. May we have eyes of faith to recognize Christ in other people’s faces, so that we too might be inspired to do great things. Amen

 

Pastoral Prayer

Eternal Lord, as we read the pages of Scripture, we yearn to experience in our own lives what those believers in previous ages experienced. We ache to believe with the passion that they believed. We thirst for that first-hand encounter with You, which emboldened Your people in times gone past to worship and serve You with a zeal that we do not often see today. So we pray, O Lord, that You would set our hearts on fire. Create in us a holy flame. Kindle our spirits. And ignite in us a renewed faith, so that we might be led into the world to proclaim with confidence Your wondrous love. We lift our prayers this day for all those who have never believed. By Your tender touch, soften their hearts and enable them to be receptive to the word that You would have them hear. We raise our prayers as well for our church. Forge in our midst a burning desire to be Your people and to seek to do Your will in such a way that our community and our world might be transformed. And we pray at the same time for ourselves. Fan the flames of Your Spirit within us, so that our devotion to You might not be half-hearted, but that we might commit ourselves to You with our whole heart, mind, and soul. We ask all these things in the name of our faithful Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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