Plymouth United Church of Christ

Sermon, Year A Easter 3, May 8, 2011
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber, 2011

Focus Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 (Cleopas and another encounter Jesus on the Emmaus Road)

Life can be pretty crazy sometimes—unexpected things happening that require us, or others, to adjust course, and find new ways to live. Sometimes just temporarily, and sometimes permanent. And the last week has been pretty crazy of good and bad stuff. We had a royal wedding in England – I got up early to watch it, did you? I used the excuse that I was up early to make bread for the bake sale, but I really did want to watch it. Last Sunday night we heard news of the killing of Osama bin Laden. This week were more tornadoes in the south causing more damage, flooding in Missouri and elsewhere threatening homes and croplands and cities; but we also had lots of heroic rescues and communities banding together. The price of gas going over $4 a gallon. Continued democratic uprisings and counter-uprisings in the Mideast, and farmers very delayed in getting fields ready ... it’s been quite a week. My mind and heart have been all over the place, as probably yours have as well, judging by what I have read on your facebook pages and others, and seen in the news and comments posted online.

And I’m note sure where I’m going with all that, but I feel that it all needed to be said. Sometimes you just have to point out the elephant in the room. Even if you don’t know yet what to do with it, at least admit that it’s there and name it and admit that it has had an effect on your mind and soul, because the world can be a confusing and chaotic place that doesn’t always make much sense. And the older I get, the more ambiguous I realize the world is. Especially now that news travels around the world within seconds, and that we aren’t limited to a few news sources but have access to the Internet, a seemingly infinite number of cable channels, email, twitter ... we are bombarded with news, even when we’re not trying to be. I would have totally missed Osama’s death Sunday night. I was watching the Food Network, and they don’t interrupt for anything, so I had no idea anything was happening. But I was online – I was playing a game and one of my invisible friends I was playing and chatting with in the conversation window, asked me “Are you watching TV?” I typed back, “I’m watching Iron Chef – why?” And he told me to turn the TV to a news station because something big is happening. So I did, and wow! I got to the station just a few minutes before the President made his statement. If I hadn’t been online, I’d have completely missed it. Well, no, scratch that. I wouldn’t have been able to miss it, because my phone was on – Jeanny texted me a few minutes later.

Imagine if the disciples would have had this technology:
“At the tomb — It’s empty! Get over here!”
“OMG! On my way!”

or this Emmaus road story:
Cleopas to Peter, “OMG—just had supper with Jesus! He is risen LOL”
Peter, “LOL! Caesar just got PWNed!”

Then they wouldn’t have had to retrace that 7-mile journey they had just finished to go back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples.

And it’s funny, but after I wrote the above, I realized that I had pictured the disciples and Mary and Cleopas as having cell phones, but considered only that they’d use them to text, tweet, or post on facebook because, come on, who uses a cell phone to make phone calls? But the disciples did not have any of that. No cameras. No recording devices. Only their words and the trust of their hearers that they were telling the truth as they reported these astounding tales of meeting the risen Christ.

And so we, too, find ourselves left with nothing but trust and faith in their reports, and in the writings of those who eventually wrote the stories down, and preserved them in the Bible. We are people of story. Our faith is a story handed down from generation to generation. And we see here, in this story of the Emmaus Road, and last week’s encounter in the locked room, we see the church in its first day and days doing what it does: telling the story of God’s active involvement in human history, in the present, and the promise of involvement in the future. The disciples, the women, the other followers tell the story of Jesus, his miracles, teachings, parables, and so on, and especially his crucifixion and rising from death. “I know Jesus rose from death because I met him, I ate with him, I saw his wounds ...” They tell these stories. Even among the disciples these reports are met with suspicion, until it happened to enough of them that they believed. And then they went out and told others, “I have experienced something so wonderful, that I have to share it with you.” Peter was doing that in the Acts passage — telling others about Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the one who had recently been crucified, and that the promise of forgiveness is for everyone, including children and those who are far away – that is, foreigners and immigrants and people in other countries. The crowd ask Peter what they must do. “Repent and be baptized,” he responds. They do, and about 3,000 people are baptized. That’s a lot of people in one day from a city of about 80,000.

It all began with a few of these odd encounters with the risen Jesus, who in a number of the stories, like today’s, is not recognized until food is brought out. Then they recognize Jesus, and he disappears. Poof! He’s there, they don’t know him, then he blesses bread and shares it which makes them recognize him, and then he immediately disappears. As if to say, “OK, you recognized me here, but that’s not enough. You must now look for me in the next place, because I am not static but am active in the world. You cannot keep me for yourselves.”

Cleopas and the other disciple walking with him lived in a time of chaos and confusion like we so often do. Their spiritual leader, who they thought was the Messiah, was killed a couple days ago. Now there were rumors that his tomb was empty. The disciples were scattered. Plus, I imagine the authorities were looking for the disciples to ask some questions about the rumors. And all this is taking place in the midst of their country occupied by the Roman Empire, soldiers everywhere, very few, if any, rights for non-Romans. There was constant agitation by the Jewish group called the Zealots who wanted violent uprising against Rome. There was food scarcity, poverty, and anxiety about tomorrow. Not a lot different than now.

And yet Jesus is there, in the midst of it all, showing us how to be his people. He teaches the scripture, tells about God’s love, disengages from violence, but mostly he takes bread, blesses it, and shares it. That, I think, is the example we are to follow. In the midst of pain and suffering to come forward and share bread, and bless it, and bless our neighbors. Not to condemn, or criticize, or wield scripture as a weapon against them, but to share bread and be a blessing, as Jesus has done for us.

And I have been struck this week on that thought of feeding compared to what Peter does in Acts. In the Gospels are a number of tellings of stories of Jesus feeding thousands. Not because they asked, but because he looked at the large crowds and said, “We must feed them!” So he did. What I’m struck by is Peter’s reaction to a large crowd, “We have to baptize them!” I’m not criticizing them for it, and Jesus did say to make disciples of the nations baptizing in his name. But I wonder if Peter and the disciples missed something, and did something we often do, which is to tell people what they need instead of listening to their needs—to say they need to change their attitude, wear different clothes, listen to different music, look and talk and act like us. Sadly, our early Congregational missionaries did a lot of the latter in Japan and Hawaii and elsewhere instead of making bread, blessing it, and sharing it, which is a need everyone has.

In a crazy, mixed-up world of evil and violence, natural disaster, and anxieties aplenty, perhaps the best witness of the church, and of us as individual disciples, the best witness of saying God is love and God loves you, is the simple act of meeting a need for bread or a blanket, or a place to call your own, or just a simple blessing to say you are not alone and that you are part of God’s family and have a place at the table.

Let us pray: God of bread and communion, as we walk through the valley of shadow, comfort us and set a table for us and feed us at your table of love through bread and cup, and by your Holy Spirit to nourish us for the journey ahead in a world that so often takes too much of our energy to navigate and survive. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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