Saturday, April 05, 2008

A Walk to Emmaus: Sermon Luke 24:13-35

Gracious God, give us humble, teachable, and obedient hearts, that we may receive what you have revealed, and do what you have commanded. Amen.

Has this ever happened to you? You are in a grocery store, the mall, maybe you are at the courthouse, or the drug store and someone comes up to you all smiles and beaming eyes. They say “Hey You! How have you been? It’s been such a long time. You look great.” You look deep in their eyes and you think for a second and the truth begins to sink in….you have not idea who this person is. Or maybe you have been in the same place and see someone you thought you need and so you run up to them telling them how good it is to see them and they give you a puzzled look and it turns out they weren’t the person you thought they were. These two scenarios are embarrassing to say the least. Unfortunately they happen to me more times than I care to admit. I have met so many new people in my work as a pastor and at Vanderbilt and some times the face look familiar but the name escapes me. We have all had a case of unrecognized identity or maybe mistaken identity.

This is the case for our story today. In our story from Luke two men are walking from Jerusalem to the nearby village of Emmaus. Now we are still talking about Resurrection Sunday, this is still the same day we have looked at the last two weeks. These two men are not part of the 11 remaining disciples that followed Jesus had picked, but these two were followers of Jesus and were perhaps fleeing the possible danger that lied in Jerusalem. As they were walking, another person began to walk with them to Emmaus it was about a seven mile journey. This person was Jesus but the two men were prevented from recognizing him. We don’t know why they were prevented from recognizing Jesus. Perhaps Jesus wanted to gain some inside information. Perhaps Jesus wanted to see if these two followers would understand the events that had transpired over the last three days. Would they believe what was told to them? Would they believe that Jesus had been raised? Perhaps Jesus wanted to find out what his followers were saying about him. We don’t know the reason specifically because Luke does not tell us. We do know that it was the work of the Holy Spirit because Luke says that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”

Do we recognize Jesus each time we see him? If Jesus were to come into this sanctuary or meet us at the store and say hi would we recognize him? Do we always recognize the times when God is trying to tell us something? If you are anything like me the answer is no. So the questions before us this morning are what prevents us from seeing Jesus clearly and what can we do so see Jesus more clearly working in our lives and walking with us in our journeys?

Selfishness can prevent us from seeing Jesus clearly. We have talked about this before. We live in an individualistic society. We have been taught by society almost for birth to look about for us and ours before we look out for anyone else. What is the old saying “Charity begins at home”? The Bible says that doesn’t it? No, it doesn’t. That is a saying that has been floating around for almost two millennia it was first coined by the Roman dramatist Terence sometime in the Second century AD. That is what we have been taught we have to get ourselves straight before we should move outward and look at anyone else. We have to look out for number one. This is what we have been taught; the only problem is that it is complete opposite to the teachings and the actions of Jesus.

The Church has moved into this realm of thinking. Many preachers preach sermons and write books that seem more like self-help seminars than gospel proclamations, but my do they sell. These people who preach a gospel of prosperity have their time on the New York Times bestseller list and they sell out arenas around the world. Why? How? They want us to ask the questions, “What can I get from God today? What can God do for me? God, what have you for me lately?” These are easy questions to ask. That is why they sell books and seats in arenas. These are not the questions of the Gospel. The gospel teaches to ask not what God can do for you but what can you do for God and God’s kingdom? Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. We have all fallen into the trap of selfishness. We have all looked to ourselves first before looking to others. When we continually do this, when it becomes habit, when it becomes a way of life then we fail to see Jesus in our lives and in our journeys.

Along with selfishness, injustice also prevents us from seeing Jesus clearly. There is so much injustice in the world today. There are governments, including our own, and corporations that oppress people all around the world and in our own community. We see it on the news and we feel it in our own lives. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer and those stuck in the middle feel the squeeze. Gas prices are a record high and so are oil company profits. Health care costs are going up in astronomical rates and there are a growing number of people who don’t have health care coverage. The price of life is rising and we are having a harder and harder time to catch up with it. These are not just issues of politics, they are issues of justice and that makes them issues for the Church.

We do a lot for the poor in our community in this Church. We send money to the Help Center and we send health kits to those who need them. We give money, food, clothes, and these are all good things. Unfortunately this is not enough; it is only a Band-Aid covering a deeper wound. We must work to change the systems, social and governmental, that perpetuates poverty and force people to seek the help we provide. This means joining together to seek solutions to deeper problems. We must look together and work toward a common good. When we fail to do this, when we fail to do justice then we fail to see Jesus.

We live in a 24/7 society. You can get anything you want anytime. You can get information and entertainment at the touch of a button in your own homes. Technology was supposed to make our lives easier and it seems that we are only getting busier and busier. How many times do you feel that you have too many irons in the fire? You feel too busy, too stressed, and stretched too thin. What happens when our lives are filled with activity and our schedules are packed tight? We have a tendency to put God on the back burner. We say things like, “I want to have a better prayer life, but I am too busy.” “I want to volunteer for that mission work or to join that committee, but I have more than I can say grace over.” We all have been there and some of us are there right now. We must remember that the Master and Creator of the universe deserves a little of our time. After all he did create the day that we have packed tightly with activities. When our busyness becomes the thing we worship then we fail to see Jesus.

The two men on their way to Emmaus did not see Jesus until he broke bread with them. Perhaps they remembered the story of the last supper they had heard over the weekend. Jesus was seen plainly by them. How do we see Jesus more clearly? First, we pray. There is nothing more important and yet more neglected that prayer. It is the one thing we most need and the first thing we drop when things get busy. We have to talk to God, but more importantly than that we have to have patience enough to listen to the reply.

Bible study is another way we can work to see Jesus more clearly. We must spend time looking for Jesus and his teachings within God’s word. What is the Risen Christ saying to you today? What meanings are behind his words and actions? We will not be able to recognize Jesus until we know what to look for. We must also spend time with fellow Christians. We have to create and maintain community. We cannot face this world on our own and hope to survive we rely on God’s strength, but we also need to rely on each other as a family.

When we love we see Jesus. When we love our neighbor and when we love God with all that we have then we begin to see Jesus in our lives. It does not happen overnight, sometimes it takes a lifetime, but the goal is to work a little each day and to each and every day become more like Christ.

Remember when the men were walking to Emmaus they did not recognize Jesus; he was just some dude walking with them on the road. I want to leave you this morning with this thought, How many times have we missed Jesus in our own lives? Maybe he was that homeless man we ignored in the street. Maybe he was in the face of that little girl who has been beaten and neglected. Maybe he was a widow reaching out for help. Maybe he was the single parent who had to swallow their pride and ask for food for their children. We don’t know when we have missed an encounter with Christ. Let us work not to miss him again.

Let us pray…

Grant, O Lord,

That what has been said with our lips we may believe in our hearts,

And that what we believe in our hearts we may practice in our lives;

Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


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