Sunday, June 2, 2013

Sermon on Luke 24:13-35: "A Homily" (on dinosaurs, discussing, and the gospel of Luke)

Children’s Message

I had a wooden box full of Easter eggs.  Easter eggs!  But Easter was nine weeks ago!  Today is the 9th Sunday after Easter.  But today we are going back in time to Easter, the story we are telling today is the road to Emmaus -- that happened the very same day that Jesus rose from the dead!  Open up your eggs.  What's inside?  (I passed out the eggs.  They shook them.  Then they opened them.  Dinosaurs!!)  Yes!  Dinosaurs!  Because today we are going back in time.  Not quite as far back as dinosaurs.  We're going back to Easter morning two thousand years ago.

This is how we tell stories in the church.  We go back in time.  We tell stories about things that happened a long time ago.  That's because they are stories that tell us very important things.  They tell us who Jesus is, and they tell us who we are.  So we tell these stories again and again.

So for the rest of the summer, we will be starting from the beginning with the gospel of Luke.  We’ll be telling the special stories that are unique to Luke -- stories like the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan.  We’ll be going through these stories to hear who Luke says Jesus is and what that means for us.

This summer, we're going back in time.

Scripture:  Luke 24:13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?"

He asked them, "What things?"

They replied, "The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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."

Then he said to them, "Oh, how 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?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, "Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over." So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?"

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, "The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Sermon on the Walk to Emmaus:  “A Homily”

Good morning!  Happy Easter!  [Laughter]  That's where we are today -- back at Easter morning.  The last eight weeks we've been going forward from Easter morning, working through the stories of the resurrection of Jesus and the life of the early church.  But today we go back in time and start at the beginning -- not the very beginning but the beginning of our Christian hope.  The beginning of a world turned upside down by a risen Savior.  We're back to Easter morning, except no one knows it's Easter yet.  For the followers of Jesus, today's story is taking place on a day full of grief.  A week ago Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem.  And then the chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and crucified him.

All Saturday the disciples have been lamenting and grieving, asking Why? and How? and What Now?.  And now today a bunch of women have come forward with an incredible tale.  They claim to have seen a vision of angels who say that Jesus is alive.  Now women are not reliable witnesses in first-century culture.  They aren't allowed to testify in court.  They can't go into the innermost part of the temple.  They can't be priests or scribes or teachers.  So when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women who travelled with Jesus show up on Sunday morning and say "He is risen!" the apostles don't believe it.  They go check the tomb, which is certainly empty but there's no angels or visions.  And they call the women's story "an idle tale".  Which is a very Minnesotan way of putting it.  It's a pointless story, it's gossip, it's garbage.

And so Cleopas and his fellow follower are walking to Emmaus, talking over all these things.  They are talking about the life of Jesus.  About his mighty deeds and words.  How they had hoped he would be the one to redeem Israel.  How he was handed over by their own religious leaders to be condemned and crucified.  And now the astonishing story of the women, that a vision of angels has said that he is risen.

Cleopas and his friend, who has no name -- we don't even know if they were male or female -- are talking over these things.  "Talking," here, in verses 14 and 15, is a verb used very little in the New Testament -- it appears only here, and then twice in the book of Acts.  The root is ὁμιλέω, "homileo," from which we get "homily."  If you grew up Catholic, or Episcopal like me, you know this word as another word for "sermon".  These two followers are sermonating with each other.  But this is no monologue.  They are talking with each other, reasoning things out, trying to understand what has happened in the past few days and months of their lives.  They are homileo-ing -- not talking to or at each other, but with.

And maybe not even nicely.  In verse 15 it says they are "talking and discussing."  "Discussing" is another lesser-used verb, συζητέω, "sudzeto."  Here is it is translated "discuss", which is another very Minnesotan way of putting it.  See Mark's gospel uses "sudzeto" in more confrontational encounters, for arguments and debates with the Pharisees and scribes.  Luke uses it in 22:23, when the disciples "discuss" who it could be that will betray Jesus.  This is not a word for a lighthearted chat.

So they are arguing and questioning and debating and discussing, and this stranger shows up and asks:  "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?"  The word for discussing is yet another verb -- ἀντιβάλλετε, “antiballete”.  Literally, he asks, "What are these words you are tossing about with each other?"  Which is a great metaphor for discussion -- tossing words back and forth.  Just off the first few verses, the story of Emmaus is painting a fascinating picture of what happens when we talk with each other about things.  It turns out that a homily is not a sermon.  It’s a talking over.  It’s discussing.  It’s wrestling with the hard questions.

So what are the hard questions?  Well:  who is Jesus?  What do his deeds and words of power mean?  Is he the one to redeem Israel?  Why did he die?  Is he really risen?   And: what does that mean for us?  What do we do now, living in the days after that astonishing Easter morning?

Luke, the writer of today's gospel, has answers to both of those.  We’re spending some time with Luke for the rest of the summer.  We're going to journey, like these two followers on the way to Emmaus, talking over these things.  We’ll discover some of the answers the gospel of Luke gives us.

Like:  Who is Jesus?

1.  Jesus is the Savior -- today.  Luke calls Jesus “Savior” on the day of his birth -- remember the angels?  "To you is born in the city of David a savior, who is the Lord."  For Luke our salvation is not just about the future but also about today.  “Today” a Savior is born.  When Jesus reads from Isaiah about bringing release to the captives and sight to the blind, he concludes, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  When the despised tax collector Zacchaeus invites Jesus into his home and promises to give half his possessions to the poor and to pay back anything he has stolen four times over, Jesus declares "Today salvation has come to this house."  And on the cross, when the criminal turns to Jesus and says "Remember me when you come into your kingdom," Jesus says "Today you will be with me in paradise."  Today.  Today salvation has come and is here, right here, right now.

2.  Jesus as the Savior is a healer & a liberator.  Especially for Luke, the salvation that comes today is not only about spiritual freedom from sin.  It is about a blind man receiving sight and a leper made clean.  It is about the weary receiving peace and the outcast receiving forgiveness.  For Luke, physical and spiritual and social salvation are all the same.  In fact the Greek word for “to save” is the same word as “to heal”:  σῴζω, “sodzo.”  To bind up, to mend, to bridge, to bring back together -- to save and to heal are all the same.  Grace is about more than the spiritual.  The physical and social need just as much healing, just as much salvation.  Jesus comes to offer healing and salvation and freedom for every part of our broken lives.

3.  Jesus is unafraid of crossing lines.  In Luke's gospel Jesus spends time with people on the edges of society.  Jesus specifically names his mission as "to bring good news to the poor", and he tells stories of banquets and wedding feasts where all get to eat.  Jesus tells the story of a Samaritan, a man religiously and racially outside the people of God who shows radical love and mercy towards a stranger left for dead.  And Luke gives a voice to these "people on the edge" throughout the gospel stories.  Mary sings of a God who looks with favor on the lowly.  Elizabeth and Anna's stories are told.  A sinful woman is forgiven, a widow's son raised.  Jesus eats at the home of Mary and Martha.  In Luke's gospel the people who are usually voiceless get a voice, because Jesus is unafraid of going to the edges of society to proclaim the good news.

So for Luke, Jesus is 1. the Savior, today, 2. of more than our souls 3. and especially of those on the margins and edges.

What does this mean for us?

1.  We pray.  Especially in Luke's gospel Jesus is into prayer.  He prays before his baptism and his transfiguration.  He prays before he chooses his disciples and before he predicts Peter's denial.  Jesus in Luke’s gospel is kind of an introvert -- often going off by himself to pray.  Jesus models a life of prayer, of time for rest and renewal.  And he encourages his disciples -- and that means us, too -- to pray.  To come to God again and again with our hopes and our worries and our fears and our dreams.

2.  We sing.  The first two chapters of Luke's gospel are full of beautifully written hymns -- Mary's song when she visits Elizabeth, Zechariah's song of prophecy at his son John's birth, the song of the angels to the shepherds, Simeon's song of praise in the temple.  It's the Andrew Lloyd Webber version of the gospels.  And in writing down those songs, Luke sets up important themes for the rest of the gospel:  about justice and mercy, about a coming time when God will turn the world around, when all those cast down will be lifted up and all those excluded will hear the radical welcome of God's love.  And so like Luke we come together to sing.  We come together to praise and to tell each other of the mighty deeds and words of God.

3.  We tell the story well.  Luke is a skilled writer.  He takes the stories of Mark's gospel and tidies up the grammar, adding flourishes and making transitions clearer.  When Luke begins his gospel, he makes note of who was in power and where, giving a clear context to the story.  In his writing Luke shows that he is familiar with both Hebrew scriptures and Greek philosophers.  He is a good writer.  But more importantly he knows this story.  He is excited about this story.  So we come together to tell the story, to hear the old stories again and to hear the new story taking place in each of our lives.

4.  We eat together.  Jesus eats nineteen meals in the gospel of Luke, tells parables about banquets, and is even scolded for eating with the wrong people.  Food is important in the gospel of Luke.  And in today’s scripture, back on Easter morning, Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

So we pray, we sing, we tell stories, we eat.  We come together in our joy and our sorrow.  We come together when we don't understand what has happened.  We come together when we wonder what we do next.  We come together to try to understand who this God is.  And the promise is that Jesus shows up.  Jesus shows up in the midst of our talking, and our wondering, and even our grieving.

Jesus shows up.  As a friend.  As a stranger.  As someone who loves us.  As a lucky break.  As a word of forgiveness.  Jeremy Mann has even told me that sometimes Jesus shows up on a fishing boat.

Jesus shows up to be with us no matter where we are.  To set our hearts on fire.  To open up the Scriptures.  To make us long for something more.

Sometimes we have to believe this despite all evidence to the contrary. Sometimes it's the only thing we believe in at all.  Sometimes all we have left is to cling to the promise that right in the middle of this mess is where Jesus is.  This is the audacity of grace:  that in our barrenness, our brokenness, our grief, that is where Jesus shows up.

I don't like this.  I would like Jesus to show up when the house is clean and my life is in order.  But Jesus doesn't show up because we do things right -- or wrong.  Jesus doesn't show up because we deserve it, or even because we need it.  Jesus shows up because that's what he promised to do.  To be with us, every moment, every barren time when we are full of sadness and confusion and wandering down a long and lonely road.

So we come together, over and over.  To tell the story again.  To go back in time.  To sing and to pray.  And then we break bread.  Not because we are hungry for the food, but because this is a place that Jesus promised, over and over, to show up, to be among us, and to feed us with words that would set our hearts on fire.


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