Worship Message Texts

I concluded my final interim pastorate in March 2016, so I am no longer preaching on a regular basis. I am available for pulpit supply and these sermon scripts and videos give a picture of my approach. For pulpit supply, I am happy to write new sermons targeted at specific concerns or needs of congregations, otherwise I will rework previous sermons based on the texts of the Revised Common Lectionary for that Sunday.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Uncertain In-Between Spaces of Life

Acts 1:1-11; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53
June 1, 2014 – Ascension Sunday
© 2014

Many of you who have lived in West Texas, and even Odessa and First Christian Church, for many years, even generations feel a comfortable stability here. But the new people who have flooded in with the economic boom may not see this as home or a place to settle down but as a temporary stop on a much larger journey of career and family ambitions. Things that you think of as commonplace that everyone knows are completely unfamiliar and foreign to newer arrivals. You do not need me to tell you that Odessa is becoming a different city than you have been living in. Even more, with a new pastor coming soon to lead you into new arenas of mission, First Christian Church is becoming a different church than you have known. Not only is the destination of these transformations unclear, they will never arrive at a stable, fixed state. You may complain about what is becoming of your city and your church, but you cannot stop the process. We just read the account of Jesus’ ascension in Acts 1:1-11. I believe Jesus’ ascension can teach us how to become comfortable in the uncertainties of these in-between spaces of life.
Jesus’ ascension was only described by Luke in Acts 1:1‑11, as we just read, and in Luke 24:44-53. Luke was the most like a modern historian of the Gospel writers, ordinarily giving indicators of time when that was important, but his accounts of Jesus’ ascension are uncharacteristically non-chronological but theological. He wants us to think of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as intrinsically linked. In Acts 1:9 he wrote Jesus “was lifted up,” and in Luke 24:51 he wrote that Jesus “was carried up.” This is the same language used for Jesus’ resurrection to indicate Jesus did not do these things with his own power or will, but that God’s power raised him from death and carried him to the Father’s side.
None of the other Gospels record Jesus’ ascension. However in John’s Gospel, Jesus pointed ahead to his ascension three times. In John 3:13 Jesus told Nicodemus that “no one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven.” In John 6:62, when even his disciples were puzzled when Jesus spoke of eating his body and drinking his blood, he asked “What if you were to see them Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” And in John 20:17 when the risen Jesus met Mary Magdalene, he told her not to hold on to him because he had “not ascended to the Father.”
In Ephesians 4:8, the Apostle Paul quoted Psalm 68:18 as pointing to the ascension of the Messiah, leading captives in his train and receiving gifts from people.
In his Gospel, Luke reported that when Jesus ascended, the disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. (v. 52) But in Acts 1:10 he reported they stood gazing up into heaven until two men dressed in white robes (code for angels) told them he would be coming back the same way they had seen him go. They were not to be staring into space in the time in-between his ascension and his return. Before considering what we are to be doing in this in-between time, getting some insight into what Jesus is up to is powerful.
The way Paul quoted Psalm 68:18 in Ephesians 4:8 indicates Jesus has taken captivity captive. We talked about this on Easter Sunday. Jesus has released us from the bondages of sin, guilt, shame and punishment to liberate us for joyful righteousness and praise.
Paul also took an interesting angle on Psalm 68:18 to say that in his ascension, Jesus gave gifts to the church. These are not the personal spiritual gifts of Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. These are the gifts to the Church of people called to essential ministries: apostles (we would say missionaries), evangelists, prophets (we would say preachers), and pastor-teachers.
Romans 8:34 does not specifically mention Jesus’ ascension, but it does say that in this in-between time, Jesus is interceding for us. This is the role of the Advocate we talked about last week from John 14:16. Luke 24:50 suggests that Jesus started this just as he was to ascend; he lifted up his hands and blessed them. He gave them (and us) the blessing of the great high priest.
The account of Jesus’ ascension in Luke 24:44-53 tells us what we are to be up to in this in-between time until Jesus returns.
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. 49And see, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”
50Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. 51While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. 52And they worshiped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy; 53and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
The emphasis in the Gospel is on being Jesus’ witnesses. Nothing is said about Jesus’ return. In Acts 1:7 when the disciples asked about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, Jesus almost seemed to brush them off with “It’s not for you to know the times set by the Father.” This matches what Jesus said in Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32, “About that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” We, too, should avoid speculating about Jesus’ return.
Luke 24:52-53 reports that as Jesus ascended, the disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. They went on continually in the temple blessing God. No dour grief now, as they had on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Though Jesus was no longer physically with them, they were filled with joy. The meaning of life was not just restored but enhanced! Their instinctive response was continual worship. Our attitude in this in-between time ought not to be wallowing in “ain’t it awful,” but bursting with joyful worship. The whole week takes its shape and revolves around gathering as the community of Jesus’ disciples to worship him with joy.
In Luke 24:47, Jesus concluded his exposition of the Hebrew Scriptures by saying “that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations.” The more familiar words of Acts 1:8 put it this way, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses.” Commenting on this Fred Craddock wrote, “The Church is not merely a group of good people trying to make the world a better place. The church functions by the presence and power of God.” And Oscar Cullmann put it in the context of this in-between time when he wrote, “Missions are an essential element in the eschatological divine plan of salvation. The missionary work of the Church is the eschatological foretaste of the Kingdom of God, and the Biblical hope of the end constitutes the keenest incentive to action.”
I know your Search and Call Committee has been hard at work. I also know the necessary confidentiality can prompt impatience as the process gets closer to its conclusion. While pastoral ethics preclude my involvement in knowing or selecting candidates, I can tell you the Search and Call Committee is making progress and you will soon have a new pastor. Jesus’ ascension can teach us how to become comfortable in the uncertainties of this in-between time.
Taking a cue from Jesus’ ascension, let me encourage you right now to determine not to impose an unofficial, informal probation on your new pastor. Do not hang back waiting to see how the new pastor is doing. Jump in immediately with enthusiasm, energy and imagination. Evaluating whether you think your new pastor will be successful is not your job. Your job is to positively do everything you can to help your new pastor be effective. That will ultimately do the church the most good.
My parents lived and taught me this same lesson on a personal level. Life is always moving forward. There is no steady state to settle down in. There is no “normal” to go back to. Trying to hang onto the past, no matter how good it was, breeds resentment and regret. Yes, give thanks and learn lessons, but keep moving forward. Always embrace what God is bringing you next with joyful anticipation. You know that at 94 on hospice, life is not easy for my Mom. But several times she has said to me, “I’ve done everything I could want to do in life. I’m at peace with God and all of the people in my life. The only thing I haven’t experienced is death, and I’m waiting to see what that is like.” Candy and I have not hidden from you that we have our struggles, but this attitude learned from my parents, and I believe from Jesus, has enabled us to enjoy our journey in interim ministry as God’s adventure for us at this time of life.
Great journeys are a common theme in literature. From John Bunyan’s classic Pilgrim’s Progress to L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, and one of my favorites J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. All of them emphasize the centrality of the journey. Yes, an ultimate destination gives the journey meaning, but that meaning is uncovered along the way. Pleasant places along the way are suitable for rest, restoration, refreshment, renewal, but to stay too long as though they were a destination distorts and diminishes the journey. As much as we’d like to settle down in one place, whether as individuals or as a congregation, Jesus is always calling us ahead to the next leg of our journey with him. Jesus’ ascension can teach us how to become comfortable in the uncertainties of these in-between spaces of life.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

No Orphans Here

Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
May 25, 2014
© 2014
Should be "Both are equally terrifying." but typo is embedded in graphic.

British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke said, “Two possibilities exist: Either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.” [Quoted in Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize the Twenty-First Century (1999) by Michio Kaku, p. 295] People have wrestled with this fundamental human question from the dawn of civilization.
Until very recently, the scientific community considered the possibly that another planet could support life so unlikely as to be impossible. That never stopped science fiction writers from imagining extra-terrestrial life forms with intelligence superior to ours. Sometimes these were benevolent but often hostile. With technological advances prompting a flood of newly discovered planets and more detailed exploration, especially of Mars, not only is life elsewhere in space expected, serious scientists are searching for it, even if it is only bacteria or algae. We are excited to confirm that we are not alone in the universe.
Of course, humans have been inventing gods, angels and demons from time immemorial. Many of these supernatural beings are envisioned as capricious and selfish, malevolent and immoral. Many are to be feared and appeased but hardly loved. We read about Paul’s encounter with invented deities in Athens, where they erected an altar to an unknown God, just in case they missed one. Paul identified this as the God of creation who raised Jesus from the dead who is far beyond all human art and imagination. (Acts 17:29)
Many modern thinkers have asserted that the task of humanity come of age is to come to terms with being alone in the universe and accept that our lives, indeed the universe itself, are a gigantic, meaningless accident. This is not about disproving God’s existence but about how to live alone and absurd.  William Ernest Henley expressed this in his 1875 (published 1888) poem Invictus, which begins:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
John did not record Jesus’ Last supper with his disciples as the synoptic Gospels did, but many think John 13-16 are Jesus’ conversation with his disciples at that Passover meal. Jesus was preparing his disciples to be alone after his crucifixion and, yes, after his ascension. In John 14:15-21, Jesus began his prolonged promise and teaching about the coming Holy Spirit.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
18”I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 
19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.
20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
In verse 16, the NRSV calls the Holy Spirit “Advocate.” You may remember that KJV uses “Comforter.” RSV and NIV both use “Counselor.” All are legitimate translations of the Greek word Paraclete. This is one case in which Jesus may actually have spoken the Greek word rather than something from Aramaic. Before Jesus’ time, rabbis used paracletos as a loanword for an advocate before God, someone who came to your aid when you were in trouble and argued your cause in God’s courtroom.
This is one of the few passages in the New Testament that describe something of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Certainly, the central theme is the love that flows between each of them and overflows to the community of faith from all of them. Uniquely in John, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit seem almost interchangeable. You don’t get just one, you get all three. In this passage they seem to flow seamlessly into each other. I am not going to try to explain this mystery, except to affirm that you are not alone in the universe. The Father has given the Holy Spirit by whom Jesus reveals himself to you, abides with you and is in you.
Between Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection his disciples certainly felt alone, abandoned, orphaned in the universe. However, as dark and chaotic as Holy Saturday was, they were gathering and communicating with each other. Yes, erratically and in pain, but they hang onto each other when their whole world seemed to have collapsed. Overjoyed when the risen Jesus met them, they had no idea what they would face when he ascended and they were seemingly alone again. This time to attempt an impossible mission against insurmountable opposition. Very soon after Pentecost, Peter and John were preaching boldly and Acts 4:13 says that the Temple leaders recognized that they had been with Jesus. As Jesus said in John 14:17, the world neither saw nor knew him, but the Apostles knew that Jesus was still with them.
I am convinced that most people live as though they are alone in the universe. I think this sense of alienation and absurdity drives much anti-social behavior from senseless violence to despotic terrorism. I think it drives all-consuming achievement and accumulation of wealth. It also can drive moralism and altruism as people strive to create meaning for their hollow lives. Even highly religious people who believe in God’s existence can be driven to satisfy the empty space left if they neither see nor know God. We who have experienced God abiding in us will always be outsiders in the world that neither sees nor knows God, but we know we are not alone.
Jesus told his disciples that the world would no longer see him, but they would see him. As those who still see and know Jesus, we can expect to be misunderstood. We will be challenged to explain why Jesus is better than other spiritual leaders. People will oppose and resist us just as they did Jesus and the Apostles. We will be accused of being delusional.
For those in whom Jesus abides by the Holy Spirit, the Church is not a religious institution, but a community of those who know they are not alone and share a deep bond with others who know they are not alone in the universe. The Church is an alternate society of refuge for those who know we are not alone in the universe.
What we call “evangelism,” proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel is not about persuading people to accept correct facts about Jesus or become members of a church. Evangelism is loving people who feel alone in the universe and are searching and groping for God, to receive the love of Jesus and know they are not alone.
I would be surprised if several of you (especially women) had not read Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia, but I won’t ask for a show of hands. I confess I have not read it, but from what I have heard and read about it, it seems a classic account of someone feeling very alone and searching and groping for God, as Paul said in Acts 17:27. At 32 years old, divorcesdand dissatisfied with her career, she felt devastated and alone, she left everything for a year of global travel. The book’s popularity (187 weeks on the New York Times best seller list) is evidence of how many people identified with her quest. Jesus offers himself as the antidote to alienation, absurdity and aloneness. God assures us that we are not alone in the universe. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus reveals himself to you, abides with you and in you.
Love is the center of gravity for Jesus. We express our love for him by keeping his commandment, which is to love the others who love him, and indeed to love even our enemies. (John 15:12, Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27). We who express our love for Jesus by loving others will be loved by the Father. (v. 21) How cool is that!
Though Jesus spoke this to his disciples before his crucifixion, he clearly pointed ahead to his resurrection when he said, “because I live, you also will live.” (v. 19) In his 1942 essay The Myth of Sisyphus, Albert Camus wrote that there is no more meaning in death than there is in life. In Greek mythology Sisyphus was condemned to eternal life rolling a stone to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll to the bottom so he could start over. When Jesus spoke of eternal life and abundant life in John’s Gospel, his emphasis was not on duration but quality.
A couple of people in the church I served in NJ bought small apartment buildings, not as income property but as extensions of the church’s low income housing ministry. Renée lived on the third floor of one of these. She was a single mom with an addiction history who had bounced from one abusive relationship to another, never feeling she could manage without a domineering man. When a quarrel became physical, her then partner threw her out the third floor window, and she was hospitalized for weeks. Families in the church took in her children and sustained her physical recovery. With their encouragement, she addressed her addictions and gained the confidence to manage her own affairs and raise her children. With a new faith in Jesus, she found a supportive community in the church. Eventually, she got her GED and a stable job. Several years later, she met a Christian man with whom she established a healthy marriage and family life. Renée discovered she was not alone in the universe. By the Holy Spirit, Jesus revealed himself to her and abides with her and in her.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jesus is Calling Your Name

Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
May 11, 2014
© 2014

If you’ve ever worked in a preschool or a church nursery, you’ve seen the uncanny voice recognition between mothers and their children. In a room full of laughing, crying, shouting, running children, a mother quickly recognizes the sound of her own child. Similarly, when a mother calls her child’s name, that child, and only that child, looks up from play or tears, quickly making eye contact with Mother. Sometimes the response is “I want to stay and have more fun.” And sometimes it is “Please rescue and comfort me.” We are less familiar with the metaphor of sheep and shepherd Jesus used affirming that when he calls your name, he leads you to the rhythm of protection and nurture of the abundant life.
I hope you are expecting to recognize the voice of Jesus from your new pastor. I hope you are praying for your Search and Call Committee to discern God’s guidance to the pastor who will speak to you on Jesus’ behalf.
While calling a pastor may have some parallels with a company hiring a CEO, the spiritual process and mentality is totally different. As a congregation you are not only asking a pastor to lead you, you are committing yourselves to follow the pastor. Believe me, I know we pastors are not perfect or infallible, but believing that God has called this pastor and this congregation together, you have a responsibility to listen to your new pastor for the voice of Jesus. Not only are you committing to follow the voice of Jesus you hear, but you are committing to do everything you can to make your pastor the best pastor possible with affirmation and not with criticism.
In the lifetimes of all of you in this congregation you have had pastors bringing their ministry careers to their climax with you. I have heard over and over again from many of you how much you want and need a pastor much earlier in career to build a future. I believe you are right. But I also know that will bring a host of generational differences from what you have been used to. When you are uncomfortable and unsettled by those differences, I urge you to listen carefully for the voice of Jesus.
John 10:1-10 introduces Jesus’ discourse on the Good Shepherd. In the second century it was the most common visual depiction of Jesus and continued to be popular for another 900 years. Not until 1186 was Jesus pictured on the cross. I wrestled with this passage a lot to get this message together. Jesus had been interacting with his opponents and speaking of his followers in the third person as though they were not there. In John 10 Jesus spoke a cautionary word to would be shepherds but had no instructions for the sheep.
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 
3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 
5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 
6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 
7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 
9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
When Jesus identified bandits who harm the sheep violently and the thieves who steal them by deception, he clearly did not condemn the Hebrew prophets or John the Baptist among those who came before him. In our day of a multitude of competing voices claiming to speak for Jesus, we are challenged to discern his authentic voice.
In contrast with the Synoptic Gospels, John does not record Jesus’ parables. This Good Shepherd discourse is more of a cryptic, enigmatic proverb. The shepherd, gatekeeper and gate images are not intended to be logically sorted out but to be different ways of illuminating Jesus’ relationship to his disciples.
John placed the Good Shepherd discourse between the Feast of Tabernacles in the fall and the Feast of Dedication in the winter. I think he was intentionally ambiguous so his readers would associate Jesus with the Temple as the gate to heaven. Jesus as the means of access between our world and God’s realm.
It’s not exactly In-N-Out Burger, but Jesus is not just collecting sheep in the fold. He also leads them out to pasture. When Jesus calls your name, he leads you to the rhythm of protection and nurture of the abundant life.
One way to identify the pseudo-shepherds who are really violent bandits and deceptive thieves is that they come only to steal, kill and destroy. I am at least leery of those who focus on tearing down someone else’s ministry more than building up the people they are supposed to serve.
I love Acts 2:42-47 that we read earlier. It gives us the essential ingredients of healthy church life: the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers. When the sheep are together, they do better at hearing and following the voice of Jesus.
I quoted Susan Andrews, the Executive Presbyter of Hudson River Presbytery last week. She tells of an experience early in her ministry that showed Jesus as the gate to the abundant life. She was a chaplain intern in the cancer ward of St. Elizabeth's Psychiatric Hospital in Washington, D.C. In an isolation unit she found a wretched shell of a human being -- legs and arms chewed up by gangrene, sweat pouring out of a shaking, stinking body. "Dear God," She thought, "what can I possibly say to this man?" The answer came intuitively. The Twenty-third Psalm suddenly welled up in her. As the familiar cadence filled that putrid room, the creature before her changed. He stopped shaking. He looked into her eyes and began to speak the words with her. In that moment, he traveled back home, back into the rooms of a long-lost faith. When this child of God died an hour later, he had been welcomed by a loving God who had never left him. Christian Century, April 14, l999, p. 413
I know I’m dating myself, but I vividly remember watching the 1973 TV movie I Heard the Owl Call My Name which motivated me to read Margaret Craven’s 1967 book on which it was based. A dying, young Anglican priest serving Inuit people in Alaska discovered the courage and grace needed to face his death when he heard his own name in the hooting of the owls. He took it as a powerful word from God. When Jesus calls your name, he leads you to the rhythm of protection and nurture of the abundant life.
Middle Eastern shepherds do not drive their sheep ahead of them and herd them with dogs. The shepherd goes ahead and calls them by name to follow. Jesus did not say the sheep should follow the shepherd. He said the sheep knew the shepherd’s voice and would follow. Sometimes we make the spiritual life too complicated. When you read Scripture, when you pray, when you are worshipping, learning and serving with the Church, Jesus is calling your name. When you hear it, you follow him.
Your new pastor will soon be with you and calling you with a different tone and cadence than you have been used to. You may take a little while to learn to recognize the voice of Jesus, but it will come if you listen for it. As you hear Jesus in the voice of your new pastor, you will be called into spiritual protection from bandits and robbers, and from hazards of our world. As you hear Jesus in the voice of your new pastor, you will be called out to spiritual nurture that will enable you to grow.
I know theology, ethics and worship matter. But I also know following Jesus is not about agreeing with correct doctrine, moral behavior or regular ritual. Those are too superficial and impersonal. Jesus calls us by name. Have you heard him call your name?
Damien grew up in a low income housing project with a single mother who had very limited resources of any kind for raising her children. She lacked the fortitude to run the drinking-drugging thugs off her front stoop each evening. Despite their harassment, Damien was never sucked into their world. In high school he got to know several of the kids in our church’s youth group and became an active and valued part of the group. He excelled in school and was a finalist in the NJ State Spelling Bee. He became an active leader in the regional youth activities of our denomination, along with our son David. I’d pick him up at his house to go to the monthly regional youth meetings. He never wanted me or David to wade through the thugs on the stoop to come to the door. He watched for us and came to the car ignoring the taunts of “You going with those church dudes again?” People in the church helped him navigate the financial aid process to get a full scholarship to Messiah College in PA, graduating in four years. Now about 40 and recently married, he regularly posts on Facebook the lessons he learned about following Jesus from that church. Damien heard Jesus call his name.

As you listen to 1 Peter 2:19-25, think about when you have heard your shepherd, Jesus, call your name.
For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 20If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 22“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 24He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Oh My Burning Heart (Not My Heartburn)

Acts 2:14a, 36-41; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
May 4, 2014
© 2014

A middle-age man in great pain after his marriage ended in a bitter divorce came to the Twelve Step recovery ministry the church I was serving at the time had for supporting people who had experienced a variety life crises. He began to build relationships with several of the church people from the group. After he had visited worship several times, he said, “When I hear the name of Jesus, I find myself weeping uncontrollably. Can you help me understand what’s happening to me?” I believe he had an experience similar that described in Luke 24:13-35 when the risen Jesus met Cleopas and his companion, who I suspect was his wife Mary, and talked with them as they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Perhaps you can find yourself in this story today as well.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 
15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 
17And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”
They stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 
19He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 
21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 
22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 
24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 
25Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 
26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 
28As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 
30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 
31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.32They 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?” 
33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 
34They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 
35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The Gospels tell how the risen Jesus appeared to several people Easter morning. Others had seen the empty tomb, and some were met by angels. We would say their differing stories went viral among Jesus’ disciples that day. As they walked, Cleopas and his companion were trying to sort out and make sense of these stories that connected but didn’t easily fit together. They’d heard about Jesus’ resurrection from people they knew and trusted, but weren’t able to know what to believe.
Commenting on this story, Susan Andrews, Executive Presbyter for Hudson River Presbytery in New York, has observed that “modern disciples come straggling through the church door weighed down by cynicism, stress, pretense and power. They are sophisticated lawyers and skeptical scientists and shell-shocked journalists – skilled practitioners of the seductions of the world, but nervous novices in the realm of the Spirit. … They are eager to discuss and debate the idea of God, but unprepared to experience and recognize the presence of God. They do not yet realize that it would only be through pounding hearts and burning hearts that they will come to believe – that they will come to recognize Jesus.” Christian Century, April 7, 1999, p. 385
Somehow we don’t expect the Church or even Jesus to satisfy the hollow aches that gnaw at our hungry hearts. Some people avoid church because they don’t expect it will wrestle with the issues that churn within them. What is your heart hungry for today? What burns within your heart? Imagine yourself joining the conversation Jesus had with the two on the road to Emmaus. He satisfies our hungry, burning hearts with surprises from the familiar.

I would like to have a transcript of what Jesus told the two on the road to Emmaus interpreting all the things about himself from Moses and the prophets (v. 27). Jesus seems to have taught the same lesson to the other disciples later that evening (v. 44). I understand the summary, but I want all of the logic with chapter and verse that satisfied those disciples. However, faith is born from a hungry, burning heart that prompts the mind to probe Scripture enlightened by the Holy Spirit.
After Jesus left Cleopas and his companion, they said that their hearts burned as Jesus opened the scriptures to them. I’m sure they were familiar with all of the passages Jesus quoted. Jesus surprised them with a whole new way of understanding what they knew was foundational.

Their expectation for Jesus as Messiah was that he would be the one to redeem Israel (v. 21). To have become Jesus’ disciples, they would have to have accepted his emphasis on humility. However, that the Messiah would have to suffer and die and rise again was unthinkable.
Jesus didn’t twist or take away anything from the Hebrew Scriptures. Everything familiar and foundational stayed the same, but at the same time, everything was totally different. Even before their eyes were opened to recognize Jesus, their hearts began to burn with him.

The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection appearances are paradoxical. He is clearly the same Jesus who can be seen and touched, still with the wounds of crucifixion. He is not a disembodied spirit that drifted off from a body left in the tomb. Yet, he is radically different. Not just instantly appearing and disappearing, but mysteriously glorious.
Frederick Buechner says that although they didn’t recognize Jesus, he recognized him. Though an important story, the characters are ordinary, insignificant people. Based on early church historian Eusebius, some think Cleopas may have been the father of Simon who became bishop of Jerusalem after James was martyred and have speculated that Cleopas’ companion on the road was his son Simon. Others think that Cleopas is Clopas, the husband of Mary who witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion in John 19:25. Given the hospitality customs of the day, I’m inclined to think that the two disciples Jesus talked with on the road to Emmaus were Cleopas and his wife Mary.

Jesus was not disguised, but the eyes of Cleopas and his companion were kept from recognizing him (v. 16) When as host not guest, he took, blessed, broke and gave them bread, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.
Did they see the nail marks on his hands? Did they recognize the formula of the Last Supper that is in the synoptic Gospels: took, blessed, broke, gave? (Luke 22:19; Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22)The same at the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9:16 and Paul’s instructions for the Lord’s Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-24).

The commentators are almost unanimous that this was an ordinary meal, and Jesus was not observing a sacrament. Yet, they all acknowledge the sacramental formula. I know our Disciples of Christ forbearers avoided the word “sacrament” as not being in the New Testament. However, its meaning of putting ordinary things to holy use fits the Emmaus story.
Whether Garrison Keillor’s Lutheran tuna casserole or banana pudding for a Texas funeral luncheon, we all know how churches eat comfort food together. 1 Corinthians 11 is clear that the Lord’s Supper was part of a complete meal. Eating together nourishes our relationships and our hearts as well as our bodies.

Outside of our Disciples of Christ tradition, pastors are often called Ministers of Word and Sacrament. My calling is both spiritual chef and nutritionist. Your next pastor will bring a new menu for you to savor and grow with.
Jesus satisfies the hungry, burning hearts of church veterans and outsiders alike with surprises from the familiar. He opens our eyes to recognize that he’s been in the deepest recesses of our lives all along. He juxtaposes Word and Sacrament with our fears and doubts, dilemmas and decisions, failures and falterings. The familiar foundations of Word and Sacrament are at once the same and radically different when we recognize Jesus’ presence in them. Susan Andrews tells of an unbeliever married to a church member who regularly came to Bible studies with all his questions. Eventually, he asked to be baptized because his heart began to burn in his intimate dance with Scripture, and he recognized the living God in the face of the risen Christ. Jesus had become his traveling companion on the journey of daily life. Christian Century, April 7, 1999, p. 385

Reflect on how you recognize the risen Jesus in your life as you read 1 Peter 1:17-23.

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. 20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God. 22Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.23You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.