Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Sermon from Sunday, April 30, 2017

Reading:  Luke 24:13-35

It makes such a difference when we feel part of something bigger than ourselves that’s alive and full of hope. 

I can only imagine how good it feels to belong to Leafs Nation right now, because even with the first-round loss to the Capitals there’s a lot of new life and hope.  I’ve long believed this also is one of the reasons people line up in their cars every morning at the Tim Horton’s window – that it’s not just the coffee, but also the feeling of belonging to something bigger, to a community and a family that as long as you’re faithful to it, will take care of you. 

And I wonder if we still feel the same way about the church – about being part of the body of Christ here in Winona and in the world.  Do we feel part of something bigger than ourselves that’s alive and full of hope and takes care of people, or are we, like the two disciples of Jesus in our story this morning, questioning what we used to believe, and on our way from the holy city of Jerusalem to the lesser village of Emmaus?

I tried finding out about Emmaus this week -- where it was and what it was like, and found there is no record of a village matching the one the story describes.  There are several candidates, but none really fits the story as it's been told.

So it’s either disappeared, or the story is metaphoric rather than literal – and the meaning is not hard to see.

Jerusalem is the holy city.  Remember Palm Sunday?  The disciples come there with Jesus, with deep faith in God and God’s Christ to be able to heal and save the world.  They are part of something good, bigger than themselves, to which they make promises of undying commitment.  They expect God’s good will to be done in the world through Christ and through them as his disciples.

Then, after the defeat, death and interment of Jesus on Good Friday, Emmaus becomes their Plan B – a place of doubt and disillusionment, of shaken faith and weakened commitment, of a more limited view of what Earth is to be and of their role in it.

Perhaps Emmaus is their home town, and they’re going back to pick up and put back together the pieces of the life that Jesus’ message and their belief in the kingdom of God encouraged them to leave behind.  Probably they will never forget Jesus and what he taught them.  Probably they will still try to put into practice what they learned from Jesus about being kind and loving, and being nice people and good neighbours.  But when they get home and find shelter in their own little space, never again will they give themselves as fully as he asked to the life, the truth, the hope and the community of the kingdom of God on Earth.

Fortunately for them they are touched, they are changed inside and in what they understand, before they make it all the way home – all the way back from the eternal city of Jerusalem to the lost village of Emmaus.

They are met by a stranger on the way and to their credit they share with this other, the deep and hard feelings they carry.  They share their discouragement and disillusionment.  Instead of keeping their hurt and loss locked up inside and turning it into their secret treasure, they let it out and let it be known and looked at.

Then they listen as the stranger puts what they feel into perspective.  He patiently and lovingly relates the powerlessness of Jesus and what his kingdom suffers at the hands of the world, to what has always happened to God’s servants and God’s kingdom of God.  It’s just part of the story.  And they listen.  What he says sounds true.  It warms their hearts to know they’re not alone in what they have suffered and what they feel. 

When they reach a stopping-place for the night, they invite the stranger to stay with them.  Even in their moral and spiritual exhaustion they practice the most basic rule of spirituality and faith, which is hospitality to a stranger.  And as they share a meal as equals, allowing the stranger to break the bread for them, they suddenly see who he really is, the way things really are, and what they are capable of still being – of being again.

Then the stranger vanishes and despite the lateness of the hour and all they have suffered, they pack up and make their way back as fast as they can to Jerusalem, to tell the others Jesus is not dead but alive, not defeated but raised, that he has healed their hurt and brokenness, and that all they believed and gave themselves to, is still true, still meaningful, still alive and healing and full of hope.

The story of retreat to Emmaus when Jerusalem seems to let us down, and of our need for help in turning the journey around, is as old as the Gospels and as current as our own lives.  It’s always part of the life of faith, and it’s part of our life today.

Did you notice, for instance, the little shock of electricity, the little jolt of excitement and maybe a warming of our hearts, when in the announcements last week before our worship Joan shared with us the news that the family we are helping sponsor from Syria is expected to arrive in Canada sometime in the next few weeks?  It was noticeable how we suddenly felt a little surge of excitement, a renewal of hope, and an immediate feeling of recommitment to the call we heard a year-and-a-half ago to be part of this work of God, to do our little part in the global vision of saving as many as possible from the hell that is Syria.  It was like we were waiting for it, hoping it would be there, and when it was I honestly think we wanted to applaud; it felt that good to feel again that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves that’s alive and good for the world.

And why do we doubt it?  This week I was at the CityKidz Thank-You Breakfast for pastors and members of churches that are part of Miracle Sunday.  And maybe we get a little blasé about our involvement and support.  We’ve been doing it for nine years, when it first started.  We start to take it for granted.  Maybe even start to see it as just one more drain on our own resources.

But at that breakfast I heard Todd talk movingly about the struggles that he and CityKidz face, and also about the profound and miraculous effect that they see in the lives of the kids they have contact with.  Their slogan of transforming lives, one child at a time really is true to the power of what they do and how they do it.  And we are part of that – more important and necessary than we sometimes know. 

Because I need to tell you about a new wrinkle they have added this year.  At the breakfast they always prepare information packages for the churches to take home, and this year their staff and volunteers took time to include in the packages a bunch of CityKidz bus symbols with the names written on them of all the kids on the bus route that that church prays for.  It’s a new way of inviting churches to be involved in their love for the kids.  And do you know where they got the idea?  From hearing about Barb this year making up little hand-written tags and Wes making a bus-shaped billboard to hang them on, that was part of our Miracle Sunday and our invitation to all of you to share in praying individually for the kids on the route we support.

We’re part of CityKidz in more ways than we can know.

And those are only two little things from the past seven days.

I wonder how many other little signs there are,
how many hundreds of reminders
that we really are part of something bigger than ourselves
that is full of life and hope for the world –
that even with all our own and other people’s sorrows,
we can see again and again
the resurrections of God’s promise
of love for us and for all the world. 

And when we see this,
when we feel our hearts warmed,
when we find ourselves encouraged back to Jerusalem,
are there ways we too can share the good news
with others who may also be struggling
with doubt and disillusionment? 
Are we willing to proclaim as those first disciples did,
that he is risen and still with us,
that the kingdom of God still lives on Earth,
and that hope, faith, love and commitment still make sense,
because we are part of something bigger than ourselves
that is alive and full of hope for all the world?

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