I’ve been behind on posting sermons for the last couple of months as I’ve been preparing to move. But, here’s one from Sunday, May 5th, when we explored the Emmaus text. It also happened to be the sermon I preached before the vote to call me as the new pastor of The Congregational Church in Exeter and it contains some of the journey to this new call:
24:13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
24:14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
24:15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,
24:16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
24:17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
24:18 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?”
24:19 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,
24:20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
24:21 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.
24:22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,
24:23 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.
24:24 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.”
24:25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
24:26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
24:27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
24:28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
24:29 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.
24:30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
24:31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
24:32 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?”
24:33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
24:34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
24:35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
When I was in college I had a really close friend who I spent a lot of time with. We played rugby together, we were in some of the same clubs together, and we would hung out in the same group of friends. She was someone I thought I would have recognized anywhere.
After college we went off in different directions. She went off to law school in Washington, DC, and I stayed in Atlanta and went to seminary. And, we were both so busy that somehow we lost touch. And a few years later I was visiting Washington, and I was on the Metro, and I was wondering how she was doing and trying to figure out how I could reach her to let her know I was in town.
And as I was thinking about it all we pulled into the Metro station I stepped off the train, and headed up the platform in one direction. And I walked past this woman in the crowd going the other direction, and I looked right at her, even made eye contact. But I just kept going. And I got about ten steps past her when it clicked. We turned back around at the same time. And, of course, there was my good friend standing right there in front of me.
I was thinking about that story in relation to this week’s lectionary reading. Because here we have another story of missing what’s right in front of you. The disciples are walking down the road to Emmaus talking about Jesus, and you have to remember that we are still in the season of Easter and this story takes place on that first Easter Sunday. They haven’t seen the resurrected Christ yet, and really everything at this point is just rumors. They have heard the women went to Jesus tomb and found it empty, but they don’t have any idea what that means yet.
And so when a third person joins them and starts walking down the road with them, he asks “what are you talking about”? And they say, “are you the only person who hasn’t heard about this?” They tell him about Jesus, and how they had pinned all their hopes on him only to see him arrested, and dead and buried. And they tell him how some of the women had found the empty tomb and how the angel had told them that he was alive, but how there was no confirmation yet.
And when they are done telling the man this, he begins to teach them. As they keep walking he talks about Moses and the prophets and Messiah. And when they get to Emmaus the man starts to walk off, and the disciples beg him to stay for dinner and eat with them. And it is only when they get to the table, and only when the stranger takes the bread and breaks it, that Scripture tells us their eyes were opened and they realized that they had been in Christ’s presence the entire time.
I like this story because it makes me feel better to know that there are others who miss the obvious sometimes. Because, I like to think I’m perceptive, but I nearly missed that reunion with my friend in Washington, even though I looked right at her. And my guess is that the two disciples who were walking down the road in this story were no slouches either. They knew Jesus. They probably thought they would have recognized him anywhere. And yet, their eyes may as well have been closed. They were looking right at him, but it took them a while to really see Jesus.
I think this happens more that we like to admit. We think we see what’s right in front of us, but our vision is a little off. We think we know exactly who God is, and what God expects from us, but it takes a little extra nudge for us to really get it. And, we think we would know if God was walking with us on our journey, but sometimes we just don’t see it.
That last part is sometimes the hardest. Because the reality is that we are all on a journey. None of us, no matter how much we want to, gets to stay in one place forever. New things happen, unexpected things happen, hard things happen. The disciples walking that road knew about that. Their lives had been turned upside down, and they didn’t know what was going to happen next. They were afraid, and anxious, and they weren’t sure whether they could let themselves be hopeful. And so when Jesus joined them on the road, they couldn’t, or maybe they wouldn’t, see what was right in front of them.
This story reminds us that a large part of the Christian life is learning to see where Jesus is, and what he is calling us to do. And part of that is learning to see the world in new ways, and sometimes in ways that we would
There’s a story of a man who was blind and who decided to sail across the ocean. And he was interviewed by a news program by a pundit who believed he was foolish and that he was so limited by his abilities that he didn’t even understand what he was doing. And the sailor replied to him, “you are a lot more blind than I, because you cannot see” what is possible.
I think about the times in my life when I have been blind to the possibilities. And I think about the times on my journey when Christ has chosen to open my eyes, and when I have finally seen. We Christians call ourselves “Easter people”. Because unlike these disciples walking down the road, we know how the story ends. We know Christ is risen.
But that day, on that first Easter, those disciples became Easter people too. And I believe that that day, they finally had Easter eyes. They finally were given the gift of being able to see the resurrected Christ, and it changed everything.
After Jesus reveals himself they say to one another “weren’t our hearts burning within us when he was talking to us”? They finally recognize what they’ve been guided to all along, and they finally have the vision that only Easter eyes can give to them.
Now, you may be saying “when did I ever physically walk with Jesus, and see him face to face”? The disciples at least got the chance to see him. Why don’t I ever get that? And you’re right, I’ve never found myself sitting down to dinner with Jesus there in the flesh right across the table from me. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been there. They key is trusting the burning in your heart, and having the eyes to see it.
The Congregational Church in Exeter, NH
That’s a little like what the search process was like that brought me here today. Your search committee and I were walking on a journey together for months. We were getting to know one another, and we were opening our hearts up to new possibilities. We were discerning, and learning to see each other. And in the end, we all had this sense of call, this sense of burning in our hearts, that God was calling us to this place today. Now, I’m not saying that the search committee is Jesus, and Lord knows, literally, that I’m not. But I am saying that I truly believe Jesus was there with us on that road, opening our hearts up to one another, and opening our eyes up to the possibilities.
And I believe God does that every day, in a hundred different ways, for all of us. I believe we see through Easter eyes, because we as followers of Christ, we as believers in the Resurrection, are people who believe that the impossible happens.
And we are people who keep looking, and who keep meeting others on the journey, and who keep helping others to open their eyes to those possibilities too.
I’ll close with this. There was a story about a few years ago. you may have heard it. The Washington Post reported on a violinist who played in a Metro station in DC. He played for 45 straight minutes. Only six people stopped. He made about $32 and packed up and went home
The violinist’s name is Joshua Bell. He’s one of the most renowned classical musicians alive. Seats for most of his shows average $100. And he was playing one of the most complicated pieces ever.
And yet no one realized. Because no one was looking for it, and no one was ready to believe that an extraordinary musician would just come and play in the Metro station. And so he became just another guy trying to make a little money playing in the subway.
What if the kingdom of God is already surrounding us, and we just have to have eyes to see it? I believe it is. I believe the kingdom of God exists in many places in this world, and I believe Exeter is one of them. And I believe Jesus is giving us the vision to know how to serve this place, and love our neighbors and our world. And I believe Jesus is already with us on this journey, and has been for many years. And I believe that we will never walk alone. Amen.