May 4, 2014
1 Peter 1:17-23
We’ve heard a lot this week about the botched execution in Oklahoma. The three drug cocktail didn’t work as planned, but the man finally died of a massive heart attack 45 minutes later.
Crucifixion as done by the Roman Empire was supposed to take hours to kill, so everyone would be traumatized and remember that the empire holds the power of life and death. Certainly the two walking to Emmaus are traumatized by the brutal death of Jesus.
When the stranger asks them what they’ve been talking about on the way Luke says they “stood still, looking sad.”
They say, “We had hoped that he was the Messiah, who would set Israel free.”
We had hoped….
One day our expectations give us energy and hope and then the next day our failed expectations give us a paralyzing despair.
We had hoped….
We had hoped for that job promotion. We had hoped the medical tests would have not found any cancer. We had hoped our son would outlive us.
One of the hardest displays to look at in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC is the enormous pile of shoes that belonged to the Jews murdered in the death camps.
We had hoped….but the Nazis came to power and death won.
Once challenged to write a short-story in six words, Ernest Hemingway supposedly replied by writing on a napkin: “For Sale: Baby shoes, never used.” David Lose on Working Preacher.org
We had hoped Jesus was the one…but obviously he wasn’t!
So they are walking away from the scene of the disaster. How could they have given three years to this powerless Messiah?
The Stranger walking with them, however, unveils God’s view of this powerlessness.
“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.”
They couldn’t imagine a failed, suffering Messiah until the Stranger reminds them the Hebrew Scriptures are full of people failing and falling, only to have God pick them up and accomplish God’s purposes.
Probably the Stranger focused on the Suffering Servant passages in Isaiah 53 that we read during Holy Week:
“He was despised and rejected by others;
4 Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.”
Later they would say, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
Where do you go for hope when you’ve lost hope?
Most Americans now are Biblically illiterate so they have no place to go but to try harder at the same old strategies that got them in this mess in the first place.
The people of God go to Holy Scripture.
In our tradition one of the most famous accounts of this is from the18th century Anglican Priest John Wesley. Shortly after his ordination in 1725 Wesley and his hymn-writing brother Charles were part of a group called the Holy Club that sought God’s peace through rigorous spiritual practice. But by 1738, after a failed ministry in the colony of Georgia, Wesley feels like giving up on his priesthood.
On May 24, 1738 Wesley reluctantly attends a Moravian service in which is read Martin Luther’s commentary on the Letter to the Romans:
He describes the event this way:
“In the evening, I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
John Wesley becomes a great force for the gospel in England, riding up to 20,000 miles a year on horseback to preach to whoever would listen, poor and rich alike. The Methodist Church is birthed out of his ministry.
But even after the Stranger interprets Scripture to our two on the road, they don’t recognize him. But they remember the training of their dead Rabbi and impel the stranger to eat with them.
At supper the Risen Christ takes the bread, blesses, breaks, and gives it to them and their eyes are opened. He vanishes from their sight but now nothing can shut their eyes to the truth of resurrection and the power of God in their lives and in the world.
Now they can hope again…this time in Christ alone.
But their experience isn’t complete until they run back to Jerusalem to tell the others that Jesus has been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
In this story we have an outline of worship:
Gather–Gather together sharing hurts and hopes.
Read–Read the Bible in order to enter the only worldview that is big enough to handle sin and death; that can handle despair and depression over failed expectations.
Eat and drink—Take bread and wine to make present the Risen Christ who gives his own life and energy for us.
Witness—Witness to the world the good news of God in Christ.
At clergy conference this past week our new bishop-elect Alan was asked how he taught evangelism in his parish. He said recently they had a workshop in which members practiced composing a 3 minute “elevator” talk about how God had touched their lives. He said when people showed up for the event they expected to be given a script for the speech, and were surprised to find that they were expected to develop their talk out of their own experience.
It is a powerful moment when we find we do have our own story to tell about how God has touched us.
According to Luke’s Gospel the Risen Jesus stops appearing to the disciples after 40 days. You and I are not expected to encounter the Risen Christ in his glorified body.
But each Sunday we are expected to listen to the Scriptures being read and to take part in the fellowship meal. That is, we are to look for Jesus where he promises to be found.
It’s like playing ‘hide and seek’ with my 3 year old granddaughter, Ellie: she hides in plain sight so I will be sure to find her.
Attending to Word and Sacrament week by week is how we exercise our faith.
But some will say, “I don’t have any faith. My heart is cold when I read scripture and my eyes don’t see Christ when I take Holy Communion.”
At this point people may give up and drop out of church and start drinking the world’s Kool-Aid again.
This is how John Wesley felt before his experience in Aldersgate. He told the Moravian pastor Peter Boehler: “Immediately it stuck into my mind, “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?”
I asked Boehler, whether he thought I should leave it off or not. He answered “By no means.” I asked, “But what can I preach?” He said, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”
Just like the two on the road: they have no faith but they invite the stranger to join them for supper anyway. And God does the rest.