Thursday, May 15, 2014

Eating with Jesus

This is the sermon I preached on the Third Sunday of Easter at Bethel Lutheran Church.
I got behind in posting because of all the catching up I had to do from being sick. The sermon is based on the gospel of Luke 24:13-35.

We all have times in life in which we experience disappointment.  We weren’t accepted at the school of our dreams. The job we had hoped for was given to someone else. Relationships within our family are strained. Loved ones are sick. Each of us could easily come up with a laundry list of disappointments we’ve experienced.

In today’s gospel, we meet two discouraged, disheartened and disappointed disciples on the way to Emmaus. We are not sure why they are heading to Emmaus. One possibility is that after all the activities surrounding the death of Jesus on Good Friday, that these two disciples were probably just going home. 

Cleopas and his companion were in deep discussion. The Greek implies that they were not only talking; they were “examining evidence together.” Jesus joins them and they don’t have a clue who he is. Have you ever wondered about that? Jesus was there but they didn’t recognize him. The Greek words for were kept are used in the passive tense, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16). This means that they were prevented from recognizing Jesus. This is called the divine passive. Although not clearly spelled out, we see the action and work of God. We have a divine set up. If God had kept them from seeing Jesus, then God created the situation where Jesus could explain the scriptures to them. 

When Jesus does join them, he plays dumb, acting like he didn’t have a clue as to why the two disciples should be so sad. Can you hear Cleopas’ annoyance, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” (v. 18). But isn’t this the ultimate irony? Jesus knew better than anyone what had happened just a few days before. The one who played at being ignorant was the One who opened up the scriptures to the truly ignorant ones!

In listening to the conversation between Jesus and the two disciples, they tell him one phrase that explains their whole reason for being dismayed and disappointed.  These three little words were “we had hoped” (v. 21). The Greek tense for this phrase suggests continuous action—it was simply an old habit. Their hope had been that Jesus, the mighty Messiah, would be an ancient Superman who would deliver the people from the cruel occupation of the Romans. However, the events of the last few days brought that habit to a screeching halt.

Jesus opens the scripture to Cleopas and his fellow traveler. Jesus’ exposition of scripture brought in an element that was not part of Jewish theology—that of a suffering Messiah who would die. The cross could not be avoided by Jesus if he was to do his Father’s will and accomplish our salvation. We like Easter. Easter is happy, joyful. The Lord is risen. But we have to go through the events of Holy Week before we can celebrate with the alleluias of Easter. We must not forsake the way of the cross as part of our Christian life. 

Even after their divine tutelage by Jesus, these two disciples were still in the dark regarding the reality, that Jesus was alive and that he was with them right then and there. This was not enough to open their eyes.  Something more was needed.

In Luke’s gospel, a lot happens around Jesus and meals. In fact, it was as if we could see Jesus’ signature as he was at meals. We see it in his actions with bread: he took it, blessed it, broke it and gave it. This same pattern was used at the feeding of the 5,000 and the last supper. We repeat this pattern every time we celebrate Holy Communion. It was at the table the disciples recognized Jesus. 

There are some funny things that happen in this portion of Luke’s gospel. As soon as the disciples recognize Jesus—poof! He’s gone! He disappears! Isn’t that a little hard to comprehend? But that happens to us as well. The moment we encounter Jesus in our lives, he’s gone. 

There are those times for us when we get an insight into God and our relationship with him, when we see him. But our glimpses are fleeting. We do not have a continual sense of God’s presence with us. That’s when we have to look back to those times of recognition of God, the times we have known his presence. It reminds me of these lines from the poem “Footprints.”

      "You promised me Lord  that if I followed you,
        you would walk with me always.
        But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life
        there have only been one set of footprints in the sand.
        Why, when I needed you most,
        you have not been there for me?"

       The Lord replied,
        "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints,
          is when I carried you.” (Mary Stevenson)

After all the excitement of seeing Jesus and realizing just who they had been walking and talking with and who was teaching them, these two could not keep the news to themselves. They returned to Jerusalem to tell the disciples there what had happened. The trip would be a couple of hours in the dark. But they just had to share the good news. It could not wait until morning. 

When they finally got to Jerusalem, before they could blurt out what they knew, the other disciples were telling them of new sightings of Jesus that occurred throughout the day.  When Jesus’ followers got together, they shared their experiences. Out of that excitement of hearing and sharing, they were ready to witness to the world of the living Savior. 

This happens to us in our lives today. We gather together, we break the bread, we fellowship with each other and we go out into the world to tell those we meet about the risen Christ. There is something special about sharing a meal together. For those who attended the spaghetti dinner, did you listen to the buzz of comfortable conversations and fellowship that occurred at the tables while you were eating?  

Jesus comes to us, wherever we are and opens our eyes. Jesus “meets us on the road to our Emmauses—in the ordinary places and experiences of our lives and in the places to which we retreat when life is too much for us”  (Daniel H. Kuhn, Jr.). After today’s service, when we gather together in the fellowship hall, let’s share with each other how we encountered the risen Christ in our lives over this past week. And when we leave this building, let’s share that good news in the community. Amen

Brian Stoffregen,
Richard Swanson,
Daniel H. Kuhn, Jr,, Table Grace

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