April 30, 2017 Sermon

Third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017, Lectionary A

The Rev. Dr. C. Clark Hubbard, Jr. Rector                                            Scripture: Luke 24:13-35

“Stretch out your hand [Oh, Lord] to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”  Acts 4:30

 

What did you expect?

 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, send now the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to seeing Jesus who rules with you and the Holy Spirit one God for ever and ever.  Amen. 

 

Play video clip at https://youtu.be/ZneREuLZzqY

 

 

I have been fascinated to read two separate articles recently about flying cars, made for individuals not pilots.  The video you just saw is one example.  It does not stop there, however.  Uber has announced that in three years they will have flying cars available in Dubai and in Dallas.  Who would have thought it?  Did any of us expect to see such a marvel in our lifetimes?  Then again, no one could argue that technological advances have not been in hyper drive for some time now.

 

In today’s gospel from St. Luke we come across the familiar scene of two individuals on their way to Emmaus, when suddenly Jesus joined them.  Strangely, “their eyes were kept from recognizing Him.”  Why?  Why could they not see who was right in from of them?

 

The actor Kevin Bacon has appeared in numerous movies, television shows and commercials — so many in fact that he is the subject of the popular game known as “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.” It’s based on the theory that anyone on earth can be connected to any other person on the planet through a chain of acquaintances that has no more than five intermediaries. Theoretically we know someone who knows someone else who knows this other person who knows someone who knows someone else, by which time we should have established a connection with just about anyone anywhere in the world.

 

Though Kevin Bacon is almost instantly recognizable, there was this time he worked with a makeup artist who created a prosthetic that made very subtle changes to Bacon’s face. Suddenly he was able to walk around Los Angeles without being recognized. He didn’t like it. “It was almost disturbing,” he said. “People kind of looked right through me and weren’t nice to me.” The actor said that because of his fame, he was used to being treated well, and suddenly he was no longer getting those strokes.”

 

Of course, we all have had the experience of seeing someone out of context and not recognizing that individual.  People who have always seen me in my priestly garb sometimes do not recognize me if I am in jeans and a t-shirt.  Who is that, they think to themselves if they think anything at all.  Take off the uniform, or leave your place of work, or show up with a child in hand, and suddenly you are unrecognizable. The relationship we thought we had doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Instead of a smile and a wave, we may be treated as a stranger, perhaps even treated rudely. What happened to the connection we used to have?

 

Two of Jesus’ disciples did not recognize Him when He suddenly joined them.  Was it a case of Jesus being out of uniform, so to speak, or seeing Him in a different context?  Admittedly, they knew He had died three days earlier.  He had been crucified.  Certainly, that was more than enough reason for them not to expect to see Jesus.  Who would?  We would not expect to see a grandmother who died last week or friend who died two days ago.  The last time we saw that person was when she or he was lying in a casket if not cremated, of course.  Other than the funeral home’s cosmetics, well, that person did not look so good, certainly not alive.

 

No, what the two disciples, what all of Jesus’ followers, including the twelve, expected is found in the statement that one of the two named Cleopas made about Jesus: “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” The Greek word used here for “redeem” is lutrow (lootroo), meaning to liberate.  The word is only used once by Luke in the entirety of his gospel.  Rather, than meaning something spiritual, the word for Luke means something social and political.  In this case, it meant to be liberated from the Romans under which Israel then suffered.    The two Emmaus travelers weren’t so much looking for the person Jesus as they were expecting a socio-political movement.  They had hoped Jesus would have been the one to free them from the harsh Roman occupation.  Their expectation of Jesus had blinded them to seeing Him; couple that with their natural inclination, our natural inclination, not to expect someone dead to be other than dead.  How could they have possibly seen Jesus—someone who presumably no longer existed?  It is not supposed to work that way except in some Hollywood perversion of life or a Stephen King novel.

 

One Sunday morning at a small southern church, the new pastor called on one of his older deacons to lead in the opening prayer. The deacon stood up, bowed his head and said, “Lord, I hate buttermilk.” The pastor opened one eye and wondered where this was going. The deacon continued, “Lord, I hate lard.” Now the pastor was totally perplexed. The deacon continued, “Lord, I ain’t too crazy about plain flour. But after you mix ’em all together and bake ’em in a hot oven, I just love biscuits.”

 

“Lord help us to realize when life gets hard, when things come up that we don’t like, whenever we don’t understand what You are doing, that we need to wait and see what You are making. After you get through mixing and baking, it’ll probably be something even better than biscuits. Amen.”

 

So far the two disciples were only acquainted with a few of the ingredients that would eventually lead them to seeing that the man walking with them was none other than the resurrected Jesus.  As we heard in Luke’s gospel, they told Jesus: “[S]ome women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”  That was as far as the two disciples had gotten in the recipe—a little buttermilk and a little lard.

 

It took Jesus adding a few more ingredients and mixing them together for them to see, to see Jesus.  So, He responded to the disciples’ half-baked idea of the vision of angels with these words: “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

The biscuits were almost done.  When the three of them sat down to eat, Jesus took the bread (might have been biscuits at least if they had been in the South), blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  And, that was when the timer went off.  Their eyes and hearts were suddenly ready and opened, and they recognized Jesus, whereupon He vanished from sight.

 

It is curious if we think about it.  The two disciples seemingly were not surprised, astounded, or even frightened that this person with whom they had been walking, talking, and eating suddenly vanished from sight.  Poof, Jesus was gone like some kind of apparition.  No, rather they said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?

 

Continuing with the metaphor of baking biscuits, we observe that the oven in which the hearts and eyes of the two disciples had been baked was that of scripture.  “Our hearts burning within us,” aswe heard them say. Yes, it was the Old Testament (at least that is what Christians call it), but it was there where the expectation of the Messiah, of Jesus had been prophesied—His life, ministry, death, and resurrection.

 

It must be acknowledged, however, that the biscuit—the resurrected body of Jesus and ultimately our own, is a pastry, a baked-good if you will, while similar to the original in appearance is also something other than that original.  Different ingredients constitute a different outcome; one which no longer bears the deficits and deficiencies of the previously fallen body and soul vis `a vis the fall in the Garden as a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience.

 

It is an important question for us as well?  Why might we not be seeing Jesus?  What have we been expecting?  If we have been looking for Jesus, has it been in all the wrong places to recall a certain song?  Has He been walking and talking with us, right at our side, no more than arm’s length, and we have blind to seeing Him?  The question may not seem so serious until we find ourselves in a difficult situation – a life-threatening one, perhaps.  Then, then, our need to see Jesus moves to utmost importance.

 

I find a few words from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI book, Eschatology: Death and Eternal Lifeappropriate. “Each and every human being is a suffering being.  The moment of death is not our first experience of finitude (that is the end).  Finitude presses daily on body and soul.  We must prepare ourselves for an encounter with that limit which, whether we are more aware of it or less, is the recurrence of suffering.  This is a primordial human question” (p. 272).

 

In other words, we all have certain expectations.  We expect life to go along at its usual pace, but then, then something terrible happens (a limit, a finitude), no less than happened to Jesus’ disciples.  Their beloved Jesus in whom they had put so much hope had been crucified.  All hope was lost, so they thought.  We have expectations of Jesus, of God, that our lives would turn out a certain way; that our children would be healthy, that we would be successful or happy, but it did not happen in that way.  So then, we have wondered where Jesus, where God was.  We have asked why, only to find an empty tomb. What are we to expect now? Are we defeated and bereft, as Jesus’ disciples first believed they were?

 

There is an obvious lesson to us in today’s gospel, is there not?  If we are expecting to see Jesus, the ingredients for that are clearly identified in Luke’s gospel this morning.  Much time could be spent on this, but I will make it short.  There is fellowship, Christians spending time with other Christians.  In fact, we might remember these words from Matthew 18:20: “For where two or three (how manydisciples were on the road to Emmaus) are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”  There is conversation about Jesus, so we heard the two disciples talking about Him.

 

Most importantly, there is Bible study.  Without it we are lost. I cannot emphasize that enough. Bible study was essential for the two disciples seeing Jesus. Bible study is essential for us seeing Jesus. Lastly, there is the Eucharist, Holy Communion, or the Lord’s Supper.  It was in the breaking of the bread that the two disciples were able to see Jesus.  Why in the Eucharist did they suddenly see Jesus?  Well, isn’t this what Jesus had promised earlier in Luke 22:19?  “Then (Jesus) took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

 

“Last month the Barna Research Group released some more of their findings about why people, especially those in the millennial generation, aren’t going to church.  Basically, it can be boiled down into two assertions:  1. I’m not meeting God at church; and 2. The church isn’t making the world a better place.

 

In other words, from their perspective the Christian church, in all of its modern permutations, is not keeping the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40), nor is it living out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) Of course, Barna says, this is not news. It has been happening for decades. It’s just being felt more now because the numbers are greater.

People come to church to meet Jesus, up close and personal, face to face. They want and expect not just to hear about Jesus but to have an encounter with the Living Christ. They are hungry for that encounter; they need it to give their lives meaning, direction, depth, and authenticity. And they want to be part of something that is actually improving their lives and the lives of generations to come.  Like those two disciples walking to Emmaus on that first Easter afternoon, they are at loose ends and looking for direction — and they are asking (the church) to help them find it through Jesus Christ.”

 

Perhaps, as Barna’s survey suggest, people are coming to church expecting to meet Jesus, but what Jesus are they expecting to meet?  We do have to wonder how much our expectations blind us to what is right in front of us, to what the future might hold, to what we might be able to accomplish. Then again, maybe it is just easier not to expect much at all except our daily routine.   We want to be comfortable, right?  No worries!  But, is that what life is all about?  Is that what being a Christian is all about—sitting around being comfortable, avoiding a challenge or adventure?  Is that what Jesus calls us to?  Surely, it caught our attention that it was the two disciples who wanted to stop for the day, and, as we heard, “(Jesus) walked ahead as if he were going on.”  Similarly, when the two disciples’“eyes were opened, and they recognized (Jesus); he vanished from their sight.”

Jesus does not sit still, not because He is busy, but because life (Jesus is life) is movement, movement toward the future, not the past or the way things used to be. Jesus drives this point home when He chastises the two disciples.  “Oh, now foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared.  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  God is moving toward the future and not the past.  God is baking biscuits, which to us at first may look like nothing more than lard.  Indeed, in Jesus He is making something even better than biscuits. He is making flying cars.  Despite what circumstances may look like, because we are followers of Jesus, we are being prepared for a future where there are flying cars—something we never would have expected.  St. Paul sums it up this way: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.