Friday, May 9, 2014

On the Road (Luke 24:13-35) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel


Think for a moment about a time when you grieved the death of a loved one.  What was that experience like for you?  Grief, mourning is I believe the most intense and painful experience of all of life.   For some of you it is a distant memory.  For others the sting of grief is still raw and painful.   In light of our story from the Gospel of Luke, on the road is a metaphor, for coping with loss in a time of mourning.  I know many of you have walked that road.  I have as well.

It is in just such a time, that we encounter two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed disciple, who are departing from Jerusalem and heading back to their home in the nearby village of Emmaus.   They are trying to come to grips with the death of their dear friend and teacher Jesus.  At this time they were completely unaware of Jesus’ resurrection.  For them it was still Good Friday, not Easter Sunday.   Overwhelmed with grief, they push on, alternating between moments of silence and quiet conversation.  

“We had hoped that he was the one.  The one what?  The one to redeem Israel.”  They had hoped Jesus would liberate the Jewish people from the Romans.  And besides, they loved, respected admired Jesus as their teacher and friend.  They had seen him perform miracles, and care for lepers, and heal the sick.  Jesus taught them wisdom through parables about the Kingdom of God, like no other rabbi they had ever met.  But that was all in the past, now Jesus was dead.   They had seen their master crucified on a cross. 

True, there were rumors about an empty tomb and a vision of angels announcing that Jesus was alive, but this was undoubtedly mere hearsay, wishful thinking, and nothing more.   The two men are returning home to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on.   They trudge on, when suddenly, out of the blue, a stranger appears before them and asks them what they were discussing.  They were surprised and I'm sure annoyed by this interruption.

This stranger listens and then gently chastises them for their lack of faith in His teachings and promises.  He spends a day with them and then at the right moment, reveals His true identity as the Risen Lord.

In this Easter season, we declare that we don’t grieve a dead Jesus, but believe in and follow and worship a living Lord.  We declare to a secular world, to the atheists, the agnostics, and skeptics that God is real and that Jesus is alive.  We don’t believe that Jesus was merely a gifted teacher and prophet of the past, but the Lord of today. 

What is God saying to us in this story?  What is God’s word to you?  Here are some things I hear  God saying. 

First, the two disciples were surprised by this stranger who interrupted them.  He appeared out of nowhere.  They didn't expect him at all.  And this intrusion turned out to be a surprise of grace.  It changed their lives forever.  It renewed their hope and faith and courage.   Sometimes God surprises us in this way.   Sometimes it's the surprises of life, the unexpected turn of events, the things you didn't see coming, that later on turn out to be God's hand at work, God's blessing, a blessing in disguise, which has a profound impact upon our lives.  Can you think of a time when God's grace surprised you?

Second, Jesus met the two disciples at a time of deep personal need.  Here is an amazing truth about God.  God is compassionate, gracious, merciful, loving, who meets us in our times of brokenness and need, who reaches out to us when we are hurting and struggling and fearful.  I think of how God spoke to my heart, and touched me, when my mother, and later my father died.   Can you think of just such a time in your life? 

Third, Jesus appeared to them, but they didn't recognize him.  Why?  I think it was about perception – if you don't expect to see something, you won't recognize it, you won't see it, you will look right past it.  I remember that happening when we ran into a friend from Santa Monica in CO.  They were looking at me and I noticed them, but kept walking, until they shouted “Hey, Alan, its me.”  Our own perception prevents us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.

Jesus stood before them, but they didn't realize who it was.  Yes, there are times when God is acting in our lives, when God is intervening in our lives, when God is reaching out to us, strengthening us, renewing us, guiding us, but we don't recognize that it is the presence and power of God. 

Fourth, through broken-hearted, these disciples were not defeated and headed home to start the next chapter of their lives.  In my experience as a pastor, people who battle on in times of grief and deep disappointment, who persevere, are more likely to find God or to be found by God, than those who just give up.  Having the courage to keep moving forward, to carry on, to keep going, can bring us through the most painful times and in such times there is the real possibility that we will encounter the living God.   I have experienced this in my own life and seen it many times in the lives of people I have ministered to. 

Fifth, I hear God saying that Jesus the Lord reveals Himself to us in the scriptures.  “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?   The Bible is the written word of God.  God has inspired people throughout history as they have turned to His word.  God continues to speak to us through the Bible today.   The psalmist says: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”  We read in the Gospel of John:  “These words were written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  II Timothy says: The Bible was written to teach us the truth about God and salvation, to teach us the truth about moral living, to correct  unjust or unkind behavior and to change our lives, so that we might mature in faith and grow closer to becoming like Jesus Christ in mind, heart, and behavior.

The Bible has proved to be a priceless source of inspiration and guidance and strength and wisdom for countless believers over the ages.  By the Holy Spirit's witness through the Bible: Bach composed, El Greco painted, and Pascal wrote his Pensees.  The Word of God has inspired Christian authors like Catherine Marshall, Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley, Pastor Rick Warren,  and  Max Lucado to write  books and devotionals that have inspired millions.

Finally, I hear one more thing in this story - Jesus reveals Himself to us in the Lord’s Supper. 
The church has claimed from the time of the first Easter meal when the disciples ate with Jesus after his resurrection, that the Risen Lord is present whenever his followers gather together for communion.  The two disciples sit down with Jesus, break bread and Luke tells us:  “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him”  Throughout the ages, Christians have testified to Jesus the Risen Lord being truly present in the celebration of Communion.   The broken bread and poured wine are occasions of Christ's presence. 

We gather around the Lord’s Table because of our common spiritual hunger.  We come together for meals to satisfy our physical hunger because physical sustenance is necessary for life.  So it is with spiritual thirst and hunger.  For we humans are more than flesh and blood, more than primates, we are spiritual beings created in God’s image.  We  need spiritual nourishment as well.  

In the Lord’s Supper, by faith, the Holy Spirit feeds our souls with the bread of life and the cup of salvation.  The Holy Spirit strengthens our faith and confirms our faith.  We participate in a spiritual reality, in a spiritual communion with the living Christ.  We receive forgiveness, healing, and spiritual renewal.  We grow closer in our spiritual union with Christ and one another as we gather at His table.

Jesus invites us to come to His table regularly.  The Lord’s Supper is meant to be experienced many times in a believer’s life.  Jesus knows about the human hunger for a transcendent reality beyond ourselves.   Jesus knows that there is a hunger deep in our soul that no amount of calories can fill, that only Jesus, the bread of life can satisfy.

Shortly before his death, tennis star Arthur Ashe, who died of AIDS due to a tainted blood transfusion in 1993 wrote these words to his daughter:  “Camera, have faith in God.  Do not be tempted whether by pleasures and material possessions or by the claims of science and smart thinkers, into believing that religion is obsolete, that the worship of God is somehow beneath you.  Spiritual nourishment is as important as physical nourishment and intellectual nourishment.  And by it you will grow into a deeper understanding of life’s meaning.”   

Christians have said:  “At this Supper I experienced God’s forgiveness .”   “At communion I have experienced an inner peace and calmness.”   “At communion I experienced a healing in my soul.”  “At communion I experienced God’s affirmation and love and acceptance.”  “At communion I experienced God’s call to some vocation or to serve others or to share with others or to go and reconcile a broken relationship.”  “At communion, I experienced a renewed sense of energy and power and courage to get on with my life.”

My friends, as Jesus revealed Himself the two disciples, may we too encounter the Lord in worship and in this supper today.  Encounters with Christ are always a blessing and a surprise of grace.  Amen.

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