Date: April 23, 2023 (Third Sunday of Easter)
Scripture: Luke 24:13-35
Scripture Reader: Jan Shumbata
Sermon Title: “Peace Be with You”
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Luke tells us that two disciples were going to a village called Emmaus. For biblical scholars, its location is a much-disputed topic. No one can point exactly where it is today. The only thing we know from Luke is that it was about seven miles from Jerusalem. If we were to walk from here to Lowell General Hospital, it would be about 7 miles and it takes 2 and half hours. Why were they on their way Emmaus?
Luke does not tell us much about why they were walking to Emmaus. But remember that this was the same day when Jesus was raised from death. It was not men, but women, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women who went to the tomb eerily in the morning. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance. When they were perplexed about what happened, two angels appeared and told them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen.” So, the women ran down the hill to tell other disciples that Jesus was alive. But Luke says that these words seemed to them an idle tale. It was a non-sense. So, they did not believe the words of these women.
So, on the same day when Jesus arose from the tomb, these two disciples took their journey to Emmaus, walking about two and half hours. Why? It is possible that they were disappointed that the hope they had in Jesus did not quite turn out to be as they wished. They thought that Jesus would enter the city of Jerusalem and lead the people as their messiah, the warrior, the king. Instead, he tragically died on the cross. All their hope was gone. All the time they spent with Jesus, what a waste! What do they do now? Going back to their family and their former jobs? Or they were filled with grief or despair. They were talking and discussing, “We had hoped …”
Several years ago, there was a sketchy comedy that showed a couple who is holding their hands. The minister looks at them, “Tom and Jane, will you have each other as your spouse and live together in holy marriage? Will you love, comfort, honor and keep each other in sickness and in health, forsaking all others, be faithful to each other as long as you both shall live?” Before the groom and bride are about to open their mouth and answer, the minister continues, “Please think about it more seriously. Don’t think it is already a spilled milk. You still have chance to say no.”
Personally, I have not done this before at the wedding but I wish that the couple give some more serious thought to their marriage instead of saying, “Well, I had hoped…” I had a friend who started his ministry with so much passion and enthusiasm. He was so ambitious wanting to be a future district superintendent or even a bishop. He thought that his ministry could change his church, our conference, and denomination. But later he decided to leave his ministry because he felt like that was not what he signed up for. He thought that his church would exponentially grow drawing people who were hungry for God. Instead, he was jumping from a committee to another committee, always worried about his aging congregation, lack of volunteers, financial crisis. He was saying, “I had hoped…”
How about you? Aren’t you the one who is walking to Emmaus this morning somehow disappointed thinking that the life you are living now is not what you imagined would be. The job you are working is not satisfying and fulfilling as you thought it would be. Our children are not growing to become what we thought they would be. Maybe you are disappointed that your pastor is not who you thought he would be. One way or another, we may identify with these two disciples who were walking to Emmaus, disappointed, grieving, or depressed.
And then, Jesus came along and joined them. It was Jesus with whom they spent the last three years together, learning from him, travelling with him, and sharing food with him. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” One of the disciples Cleopas answered, “Hah! Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know what happened these past days?” Jesus asked them to explain to him what happened. So, they started recounting who Jesus was and what he did, and how he was condemned to death and crucified on the cross. What they hoped in Jesus, and the empty tomb the women saw early in the morning. And Jesus said, “How foolish are you that you cannot believe all that the prophets already declared? Wasn’t it necessary for the Messiah to suffer and enter into his glory?”
Jesus was teaching and preaching to these disciples on their way to Emmaus. I don’t know about you how seriously you take preaching. When people talk about the importance of their church, many of us tend to say, “I love my church because of our fellowship.” “I love my church because of our music.” “I love my church because we put out the best potluck dinner in the town.” But I find it interesting that not many New Englanders will say, “I love my church because our pastor preaches the sermon we need to hear.” This is such a sad thing considering that one of the primary tasks for a pastor is to prepare their sermon and preach.
I mean we all can love our church community. We can love our shared life. But when we talk about our faith in God, who God is, what God has done for us, and reflect on what it means for us to love our neighbors, Bishop William Willimon argues that preaching is the primary way that we hear the words being interpreted and communicated to us. One day, he met a group of Christians protesting on the streets for the poor and the marginalized. He asked them what motivated them to go to the street and boldly shout for justice and righteousness. And they said, “It was our pastor’s sermon.”
When I was appointed to Belmont UMC as associate pastor back in 2008, I was rather disappointed. Having two master’s degrees in theology, I thought that I was ready to be the senior pastor. As one of my youth commented at that time, I wanted to be a top dog. But the news that I was being appointed as associate pastor came across as disappointing to me. But I later realized what a blessing it was to spend two years there especially being nurtured by its wonderful congregation and the senior pastor, Larry.
Larry was somewhat the very opposite of a charismatic preacher. He always wore a white alb and preached quietly. His message was centered on grace, peace, and love. He never raised his voice, touching on some sensitive political and social issues. Rather, his focus was on the inner spirituality of people who would bear their fruits in their lives, their ways to practice love for God and their neighbors. In our conference, he was always a quiet one never standing to speak at the microphone to be heard by others. But I realized the power of his sermons that were nurturing and feeding people week after week.
Throughout the week, he would practice the habit of listening to others, listening to God, listening to my grumbling as the first doctoral student, what was wrong with the seminary, the church, and society. He never corrected me saying, “You should do this or do that.” As Paul says, “the fruits of the Holy Spirit” as love, peace, joy, and patience, he practiced a gentle and invitational love for others through his care and sermon. Later, I learned that he was sitting in the district committee on ordained ministry while I was presenting myself as the new candidate for ministry. He never asked a question but simply observed me quietly and asked the DS to send me to his church.
I wonder if you have had someone like that in your life. You do not even realize their presence because they are never loud or vocal about their thoughts. But they are there faithfully to nurture you with the words of God, with the love of God. Paul says in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from what is heard, what is heard comes through the word of Christ.” Who has been in your journey to tell you and teach you about the love of God? Who has been in your journey to lift you up and carry you on their shoulders when you felt disappointed and down? Your faith is not your own. It came from others who loved you as God loves you.
Luke tells us that when they came near the village, they saw Jesus continuing on his journey. So, they invited him to stay and rest. They shared hospitality with Jesus thinking that they need to welcome this stranger. As Jesus took bread, blessed, and broke it, their eyes were opened, and they recognized that it was Jesus. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning with in us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” As they gathered around the table in the spirit of hospitality, they realized that the stranger became their host who fed them with the passion for God.
One of the handicapped members of the Daybreak Community had to spend a few months in a mental hospital near Toronto for psychological evaluation. His name was Trevor with whom Henri Nouwen had become close friends over the years. He loved Henri, often bringing him wildflowers from the fields, and wanting to assist him during the celebration of the Eucharist. So, when Trevor was away being confined in the psychiatric facility, Henri decided to go and see him. He first called the hospital chaplain who was so excited to hear such a famous person was visiting their hospital. So, he invited other local ministers and priests, and also some important members of the hospital staff to have lunch with him.
When Henri arrived at the hospital, a large group of ministers and hospital staff was waiting to meet him and have lunch with him. However, as he looked around, he realized that Trevor was not there. So he said, “I came here to visit Trevor. Can you tell me where I can find him?” “You can be with him after lunch,” replied the chaplain. “But didn’t you invite him for lunch?” “No, no, that’s impossible. Staff and patients do not have lunch together. Besides, when we heard that you were coming here, we had to reserve the Golden Room. No patient has ever been allowed to enter the room. It is for staff only.” Henri said, “Well, he is my friend and the reason I came here today. I will have lunch here with you only if Trevor can join us.” So, Trevor joined the ministers and staff at the table. As people were quietly introducing themselves each other, Trevor suddenly stood up, took his glass of Coke, and with a loud voice said, “Ladies and gentlemen… a toast!” As people stopped their conversation and turned to Trevor, it was obvious that they were puzzled and also anxious as if saying, “What in the heck is this patient going to do?”
But Trevor looked at everyone and said, “Lift up your glasses.” Everyone raised their glasses. And Trevor, as if it was obviously the next thing to do, started to sing, “When you’re happy and you know it, lift your glass. When you are happy and you know it, lift your glass. When you are happy and you know it, When you are happy and you know it, When you are happy and you know it, lift your glass.” Henri Nouwen says that Trevor completely changed the mood in the Golden room. Not long after Trevor started to sing, some people stood together and sing together. He brought those strangers together and made them feel at home. He says, “His beautiful smile and his fearless joy had broken down the barriers between staff and patients and created a happy family of caring people.” The stranger became the host at the table breaking down the walls and bringing everyone together.
As we gather this morning, I am sure that some of us have been walking toward Emmaus, disappointed with our lives, with our unfulfilled dreams, or maybe wondering where God is in your journey. On our way to Emmaus, God brings strangers like you and me together and put us in a new family in God. As we break the bread and raise the glasses, we recognize the presence of Christ who has been walking with us all along. And it is my prayer this morning that we all encounter the risen Christ, who turns our sorrow into joy, our despair to hope.