It is the end of a long weekend at the church! I’m pretty sure most of us spent more time at the church than we did at home … but I think I’m okay with that.
Enjoy this morning’s sermon!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
May 4, 2014
The Many Roads To Emmaus
On Friday afternoon I posted on Twitter, hoping to spark a discussion with some of my clergy friends that would help me with my sermon. I posed the question, “Who’s preaching Road to Emmaus this week and how are you getting there?”
Five minutes later, my friend Sarah – not clergy – replied and said, “I usually get there via car, maybe bike.”
That really wasn’t what I had in mind.
(The ironic thing is that Sarah actually lives about 45 miles from Emmaus, Pennsylvania.)
Not sure a bike or a car was going to help me, I closed Twitter and opened up one of my commentaries.
Let me set the stage for our Gospel story. In this version of the resurrection and Easter story (remember that each Gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – tells the story a little bit differently), Jesus did not physically appear at the empty tomb, he appeared in this version on the road to village Emmaus. Our reading comes from the 24th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Here is what happened right before it. In the 23rd chapter, Jesus was tried, sentence to death, crucified and buried. Then the women found the empty tomb and were perplexed by what had happened until two men in dazzling clothes reminded them that Jesus had said he would be handed over by sinners, crucified and rise again. The women suddenly realized what had happened and ran to tell the disciples, but the disciples (with the exception of Peter, who ran to the tomb to see for himself) did not believe them.
Later that day, two of the disciples were traveling to Emmaus – which we know from scripture was about seven miles from Jerusalem – when they encountered Jesus. But they did not recognize him. In fact, it was not until much later in the day, when he sat at a table and took bread, blessed and broke it for them that they actually realized that they were encountering the risen Christ. This passage holds one of my favorite lines of scriptures, the line that followed the breaking of bread. Luke 24:31: “Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”
When have your eyes been opened to recognize the risen Christ?
When you look at it by itself, this story has a lot to teach us. But I think that it actually has a lot to teach us within the context of the entire bible as well. Think about it – the four different gospels each have a different account of the resurrection. On Easter morning we read from the gospel of John, where Jesus appeared at the tomb to Mary Magdalene. Last week, we continued the John narrative and read about the moment when Jesus appeared to the disciples, remembering how Jesus showed them the marks in his nails and sides and they believed it was him. We then read about the disciple Thomas – doubting Thomas – who did not believe that it actually was Jesus who was with him.
The Gospel of Matthew tells a different story. This Gospel tells us that an angel appeared to the women at the tomb and when they ran to tell the disciples what had happened, Jesus appeared to them.
And now here we are in Luke, walking along on the road to Emmaus, experiencing the resurrected Christ in a completely different way.
My point is this: Clearly there is no one way to experience the risen Christ. And more than that, there is no right or wrong way to experience the risen Christ. Scripture is proof of this. There are multiple accounts of the resurrection, different ways that God’s presence on earth was experienced – and they all carry their own validity.
Therefore I can only conclude that there is no one right way to be a Christian. We all live out our faith in different ways and not only is that okay, I really do believe it is scripturally and theologically bound.
Think about it – at various points in your lives and in your faith, you will experience resurrection in a new and different way. What you believe today is probably not what you believed five or ten years ago. Throughout your life you may see something or hear something that makes you believe in a different way. You may feel God’s presence in our life in a different way or you may feel comfort or assurance in a different way. You may understand grace in a different way. Faith is not a destination or a state of being, faith is a journey. And along that journey, we experience resurrection – we experience God’s presence, we experience the risen Christ and we experience God’s sustaining grace – in new and unexpected ways. We experience this both inside and outside the walls of the church and we experience this in both the joys and sorrow of life.
I am taking a course in church renewal right now and during the first week we were asked to submit the most recent profile for our churches. I dug into the archives of my computer and found the profile that the church put together when you all were getting ready to begin the search process back in 2010. The Statement on Leadership in Ministry was powerful for me to re-read and I wanted to share a piece of it with you this morning:
As evidenced throughout our profile, the main focus of the Rehoboth Congregational Church at this time is to revitalize our congregation and to restore the community spirit of our church family. We are seeking to rejuvenate a sense of enthusiasm, commitment, and participation in the coming months and years. We want to demonstrate active Christian living and service with members who are proud and excited about their connection to RCC. We need a leader who will help us redefine this vision and clarify our goals for the near and long-term future.
While our newly settled pastor will be called to fill many roles, chief among them is preparing and delivering sermons that connect members with the essence of their Christian faith. We are looking for a guide to help each of us continually examine and discover what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. Our congregants come to us with diverse faith backgrounds, and many are attracted to the blending of tradition and openness that our church offers. We are seeking a pastor to challenge us in positive ways not just to believe in Christ, but also to find our own ways to demonstrate that belief through the choices we make every day.
Here is what jumped out to me:
We want to demonstrate active Christian living.
We [want to] continually examine and discover what it means to be a Christian in today’s world.
We [want to be challenged] in positive ways not just to believe in Christ, but also to find our own ways to demonstrate that belief.
It is almost like you were already on the road to Emmaus. You were traveling on a journey, but still waiting for that moment when your eyes would be opened.
And guess what? Those things that you wanted – that is what we are doing now. That is what we are doing in our worship, in our mission and in our community outreach. That is what we are doing every time we invite a friend to church or welcome someone that is new. That is what we are doing every time we wrestle with difficult questions or allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable in order to grow in our faith. That is what we are doing when we break down barriers that once threatened to divide us an allow God’s grace to unite us. That is what we are doing when we intentionally design our programs to help people find meaning in their lives. That is what we are doing every time we ask the question, “Where is God in the midst of all of this?”
You know, in many ways, being a Christian today is very different from how it was five, ten, 50, 100, 1,000, 2,000 years ago. But in many other ways, not much has changed. We are still trying to understand the resurrection in our lives. We are still having encounters with the risen Christ. We are still seeking to discern what and who God is calling us to be. We are still walking along the road to Emmaus, unsure of what we are seeing and sometimes completely unaware that Jesus is walking with us.
So perhaps my friend Sarah wasn’t so far off when she offered her opinion that I could try to get to Emmaus via bike or car. Because in the end, there really are so many ways to get there. There are many roads to Emmaus. There are so many ways to experience the risen Christ, to see God alive and at work in our lives. There are so many ways to take this journey.
And when we allow it to happen, we truly do experiene resurrection in a completely unique and overwhelmingly graceful way.
Christ is risen, my friends. And he is here. And he is calling us all to be active and unique participants in the Body of Christ. And this is good, good news.
Thanks be to God!