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 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.

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