Friday, April 13, 2018

What Are You Discussing? (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?  I believe grief is the most intense and painful experience in all of life.   For some of you it is a distant memory.  For others the sting of grief is still raw and painful.   In our story from the Gospel of Luke, two disciples are sharing their grief with a stranger on their journey home.  Many of you have walked that road.

Cleopas and an unnamed disciple 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.   Overwhelmed with grief, they push on, alternating between moments of silence and quiet conversation.

We had hoped that he was the one.  The one to redeem Israel.”  They had hoped Jesus would liberate the Jewish people from the Romans.   They loved and respected Jesus as their teacher and friend.  They had seen him perform miracles, care for lepers, and heal the sick.  Jesus taught spiritual lessons through parables about the Kingdom of God.  But now that was all in the past.

They trudge on, when suddenly, a stranger appears before them and asks: “What are you discussing with each other?  They were surprised and probably 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, the stranger reveals His true identity as the Risen Lord.

In this Easter season, we shout with joy because we don’t grieve a dead Jesus, but follow and worship a living Lord.  What is God’s word to you in this story?  Here is what I hear God saying.

First, the two disciples were surprised by the sudden appearance of this stranger.  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 and renewed their hope and faith and courage. Sometimes God surprises us in this way.   It's the surprises of life: the unexpected blessings, a contact by a friend from the past, anticipated bad news that turns out to be good news, a gift of health or finances, that you realize is God’s will in your life.  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. There are times when we are more receptive, reachable, open to God’s word and action in our lives than other times.   A time of need is just such a time. Scripture has story after story when Jesus meets people at their point of need.  They are surprised that this stranger is interested in their conversation:  What are you discussing with each other?” God cares about what you are discussing and thinking about and doing.  God’s mercy meets us in our times of brokenness spiritually or emotionally, when we are weak or hurting.  When has God met you at a time of need?

Third, Jesus appeared to them, but they didn't recognize him.  Why?  Perhaps Jesus didn’t want them to immediately recognize him.  Or maybe it was about perception – if you don't expect to see something, you often won't recognize it, you won't see it, you will look right past it.  I remember that happening to me when I ran into a couple from our former church in Santa Monica when we were living in Colorado.  They were looking at me and I noticed them looking, but kept walking, until they shouted “Hey, Pastor it’s me.”  They were out of place.  I saw but I didn’t see.  Our own perception prevents us from seeing what is right in front of our eyes.

Jesus stood before the disciples, but they didn't realize who it was.  There are times when God is acting in our lives, when God is intervening in our lives, when God is reaching out to us, but we don't recognize that it is the presence and power of God.   Later we think, I wonder, could that have been God intervening in my life?

Fourth, though broken-hearted, these disciples were not defeated and headed home to start the next chapter of their lives.  In my experience, people who battle on in times of grief and deep disappointment, who persevere in making a life or taking care of family 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, opens up opportunities to encounter the living God.  There is one set of footprints in the sand, because God is carrying you forward.  I have experienced this in my own life.  I have seen it many times in the lives of people.

Fifth, God is saying that Jesus the Lord reveals Himself, His word, 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?  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.  The Gospel of John says:  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 is a priceless source of inspiration and guidance and strength and wisdom.  By the Holy Spirit's witness through the Bible: Bach composed, El Greco painted, and Pascal wrote his book Pensées.  The Word of God has inspired Christian authors like Catherine Marshall, Charles Swindoll, Billy Graham, Charles Stanley, Pastor Rick Warren, and Max Lucado, whose works have inspired millions.

Sixth, I hear God saying that 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.

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 communion with the living Christ.  We receive forgiveness, healing, and spiritual renewal.  We grow closer in our union with Christ and with one another as we gather at His table.

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.

A woman writes: “Someone dear to me once gave me a little cross adorned with roses. It bears the inscription, ‘Hope raises no dust.’ I tried my best to penetrate its mystery. But after thinking about it, it still seemed like a vague axiom about hope.  But for Christians, hope is not vague. We have a hope that is historical, personal.  We have a hope that encounters us in life and says, “What are you discussing with each other?

Theologian Jurgen Moltmann expresses the heart of God from Good Friday to Easter in these words: "God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with him."  My friends, may we too encounter the Risen Lord in worship and in our daily lives.  Such encounters are surprises of grace.  Amen.

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