Mount Olive Lutheran Church
Home About Worship Music and Arts Parish Life Learning Outreach News Contact
Mount Olive Lutheran Church

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sermon from May 8, 2011 + The Third Sunday of Easter (A)

“Open the Eyes of Our Faith”

Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: Luke 24:13-35; Acts 2:14a, 36-41

Sisters and brothers, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

I keep coming back to one compelling moment in this Gospel story. Two disciples of Jesus have spent 7 miles walking and talking to him on the day of his resurrection, but somehow they don’t yet recognize their companion. As they come near their home, Jesus keeps walking, continuing his journey. And they stop him: “Stay with us, for it is almost evening, and the day is now nearly over.” They invite him into their home for a meal, and when they offer him the hospitality of asking him to say the customary prayer over the bread, their eyes are opened, they recognize him. And then he vanishes.

But what if they hadn’t invited this erudite and conversational stranger into their home? What if they hadn’t asked him to stay for dinner? What if they’d simply said, “It’s been very good to talk to you; God be with you on your further journey”?

I only wonder this because I suspect that’s what I might have done. I don’t easily welcome strangers into my home, I’m too private. I’ve had interesting conversations with people I’d only just met, but I don’t know if I ever considered inviting them to dinner. And it’s not just this scenario that troubles me. I am sure there have been times when if I had done something, or acted on something in my heart, I would have seen Jesus in a new way. But I didn’t.

So that’s my question this morning: what happens to this story if the couple from Emmaus simply sends Jesus on his way with a blessing? And what happens to us when we miss our opportunities for seeing Jesus in a deeper, more powerful way?

There’s an interesting thing about two of our readings this morning. In Acts and Luke people are moved in a deep spiritual way – and then something else deeper happens when they act.

Both these readings are by the author we know as Luke. And the language is even the same. As Peter finishes his sermon on the Day of Pentecost, his hearers are “cut to the heart,” Luke says. Something about what he has said has driven to the very center of their being. And they ask Peter what they can do about this.

As Jesus speaks to the Emmaus couple on the road, their hearts are also deeply affected. Luke says they describe it as their hearts burned within them as Jesus explained the Scriptures to them. They were set alight at the very center of their being. And they invited this teacher to have dinner with them.

Both of these encounters powerfully moved the hearers, who heard something that changed everything about how they looked at themselves and the world. And in both cases, the hearers act on this new sense that has riven them at their core. And as a result both experience a second reality as transforming as the first:

In Acts, 3,000 become new believers, baptized into this brand-new church Jesus has created. They receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Luke, the believers see alive before them, sitting at their table, their beloved Lord and Master whom they knew was killed. And they begin to understand what he is all about.

And this is the part I fret about: how often has God spoken to my core, my heart, and I have not followed where that led? And what have I missed as a result? What have you missed?

The problem seems to be in the seeing, and that’s something we just considered in Lent.

In the healing of the man born blind, Jesus uses that occasion to reflect on seeing – on understanding – what God was doing. And this couple from Emmaus has similar vision problems.

First, they don’t recognize Jesus in their midst. Though their hearts are burning as he teaches, they don’t realize who is with them. But they also don’t see what Jesus is really about – which is closer to the Pharisees’ problem with the healed blind man.

The Pharisees expected the Messiah would be completely obedient to the laws of God, to the Torah. Jesus was not, therefore he cannot be the Messiah. This couple says it this way: We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. And clearly that’s not the case since he allowed the oppressive Romans to crucify him.

In fact, Luke reminds us again in Acts chapter 1 that the disciples in general hoped for political redemption from Jesus. Or at least that in Jesus God had come to help, to make a difference. That the Romans would be driven out and Israel restored to its proud glory by Jesus, the Son of God with so much power. That the difficult life of suffering and privation that so many led would be changed by Jesus, the Son of God who healed and fed in miraculous ways. Then evil destroyed him. “They stood still, looking sad” might be the understatement of this whole story.

The question becomes this: what do we expect Jesus will do? Are we, too, disappointed, standing around looking sad? And does that keep us from acting, and so seeing Jesus? Are we disappointed because it’s been 2,000 years and the world still seems a mess? Disappointed because Jesus’ way of self-giving love sometimes seems impotent, and the powers of evil and strength dominate the world? “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel” they said. What did we hope from Jesus?

In some ways modern faith has become completely individualized – if we hope for anything it’s personal enlightenment, personal salvation, personal strength of faith. We want to see Jesus for ourselves. It sometimes takes a great deal of effort to remind ourselves that Jesus did not come, teach, suffer, die, and rise just so we all could have peace in our hearts and hope for eternal life. The witness of the Church is that Jesus’ coming and all that Jesus did and does were for the sake of the restoring of the world – that he did come to redeem all. And since the world still isn’t looking very restored, if we do recognize that was the goal we find ourselves in the same camp as the couple from Emmaus.

But what if we act in faith, like they did? They didn’t see Jesus, but they did what I might not have: they responded to the burning in their hearts. They invited him into their home, into their lives.

If the problem is that we don’t see as Jesus sees, if we misunderstand what his call is, what his goal is, what he hopes for from us and from the Church, and how he will redeem the world, then the only solution is to invite him in and ask him to teach us. Those Emmaus disciples might have struggled to believe, and struggled to see Jesus, but they did the right thing inviting him in.

And when we do this, when we respond to the times he’s touched our hearts and invite him in, we discover he is willing to teach us, too, and open the eyes of our faith just as he opened theirs.

Luke says he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread, which we rightly see as what happens to us when we eat of the Eucharist. But there is more to Jesus’ being known here than just this. It isn’t just that we know Jesus is there, that we receive his real presence. It is in the breaking of the bread that he reveals his plan to redeem the world, and when we eat and drink we begin to see that as well as Jesus himself.

We are called the body of Christ by Paul. The being of Christ, the very existence of Christ. As he breaks the bread in our Eucharistic meal, we see Jesus with us. But we also find that he breaks us for the sake of the world.

He takes us, breaks us – opens our lives to all the pain and suffering of the world – and then gives us to the world saying, “Take, eat, this is my body, given for you.” When we eat of this bread and drink from this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death, yes. But we also proclaim our own. That we do not live for ourselves at all anymore – that we are broken and sent into the world to be the food for the world.

And we begin to see that this is all part of the gift – as God is given to the world in Jesus, God is given to the world in us, too. And that’s what Jesus means by redemption – not necessarily political, though as we are broken and shared with the world, politics might change. Not necessarily the ending of all suffering and pain, though as we are broken and shared with the world we will be a part of the easing of suffering and pain where we are placed.

But in this: there is no need for us to stand there looking sad, saying “we had hoped.” Because as we are broken and shared with the world, as we are the body of Christ, we are part of God’s salvation, part of God’s self-giving life for the world. And we see Jesus before us, and in us, and among us. And we know.

Here’s the hard part. We might not want this job.

If we know that Jesus’ plan, Jesus’ redemption, involves breaking us and sharing us with the world, we might rather stay away. Let Jesus keep walking down the road and not invite him in, not ask him to come and stay with us because it is evening. We might insist on not seeing Jesus, if that means sacrifice and loss for us, even if it is for the sake of the world.

But here’s the truth we cannot avoid: it is only with Jesus that our hearts burn with joy and life and understanding, only with Jesus that we see and know true life, only with Jesus that anything makes sense. We can send him on his way, close the door, and breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve dodged something. I suppose if our goal is to lock the door and keep to ourselves, that’s an option.

But if we want to live, truly live, and know the joy that God is working to redeem this world after all, we’d do better to invite Jesus in. He’ll do what he usually does, and insist on changing us completely, for the sake of the world. But we will see him. And we will know what life really is.

In the name of Jesus. Amen

No comments:

Post a Comment


Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Reconciling in ChristRIC

Copyright 2014 Mount Olive Lutheran Church