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Sermon for Sunday 26 April 2020

First Reading                              Acts 2:14a, 36-41

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:

36“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 116:1-14

1I love the Lord, because he has heard the voice of my supplication, because he has inclined his ear to me whenever I called upon him. 2The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. 3Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I pray you, save my life.” 4Gracious is the Lord and righteous; our God is full of compassion. 5The Lord watches over the innocent; I was brought very low, and he helped me. 6Turn again to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has treated you well. 7For you have rescued my life from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from stumbling. 8I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. 9I believed, even when I said, “I have been brought very low.”  In my distress I said, “No one can be trusted.” 10How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? 11I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. 12I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. 13Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his servants. 14O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant and the child of your handmaid; you have freed me from my bonds.

Second Reading                                   1 Peter 1:17-35

17If you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, 18knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, 23since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you.

Gospel                                             Luke 24:13-35

13That very day two of {Jesus’ followers} were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 16But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. 18Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 21But 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 happened. 22Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, 23and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” 25And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 28So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, 29but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” 33And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, 34saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Distracted by Disappointment

There’s an old tale about a king who decided to set aside a special day to honor his greatest subject.  When the big day arrived, people from all over the kingdom gathered in the palace courtyard.  (You can picture the scene, there were lines and Xs all over the place to ensure proper social distancing guidelines were strictly adhered to of course.  I was thinking, isn’t it amazing how the stories of old so often times speak to our current situation?  Even our Gospel lesson for this morning is a great example of this.  But that aside for the moment, we need to get back to our king of old.)  After much debate and consideration, four finalists were brought forward, and from these four, the king was to select the winner.  The first person presented to the king was a wealthy philanthropist.  

The king was told that this man was highly deserving of the honor because of his humanitarian efforts.  He had given much of his wealth to the poor.  He had provided housing for orphans, fed the hungry and employed a good many people in his businesses.  The second subject was a celebrated physician.  The king was told that this doctor was highly deserving of the honor because he had rendered years of faithful and dedicated service to the sick, oftentimes at great risk to his own health.  He had constructed his own medical research facility and from his research came many advancements in the field of medicine.  The third individual was a distinguished judge.  

The king was told that the judge was worthy because he was renowned for his wisdom, his fairness, and his brilliant decisions.  Because of his verdicts from the bench, a good many people had been given a second chance and the majority of those had gone on the becoming productive subjects in the kingdom.  The last person presented was an unremarkably looking elderly woman.

As she was brought forward for consideration, almost everyone gathered was amazed to see her there; her manner was quite humble, as was her dress.  There were whispers in the crowd: she hardly looks the part of someone who would be honored as the greatest subject in the kingdom.  What chance could she possibly have when compared to the other three who had given and accomplished so much?  Yet, there was something about her; there was a look of love in her face, the understanding in her eyes, her quiet confidence.  The king was intrigued and puzzled by her presence.  He asked who she was.  Her representative answered, “You see the philanthropist, the doctor, and the judge?  My king, she was their teacher!”

This seeming anonymous woman had no wealth and no title to speak of, but she had unselfishly given her life to the instruction and preparation of great people.  There’s nothing more powerful or more Christ-like than a lifetime in service to others.  Unfortunately, the king failed to recognize the value in that humble lady.  With all that was in front of him, he couldn’t see the significance of the teacher.  The funny part is, so many of us are like the king; we too, often we miss what’s right in front of us.  Many times, we allow the current circumstances to cloud our eyes and judgment.  The old adage is true, oftentimes we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Karl Barth, one of the twentieth century’s most famous theologians, was on a streetcar one day in Basel, Switzerland, where he lived and lectured.  A tourist to the city climbed on the streetcar and sat down next to Barth.  The two men started chatting with each other.  “Are you new to the city?” Barth inquired.  “Yes,” said the tourist.  “Is there anything you would particularly like to see in this city?” asked Karl.  “Yes,” the tourist said, “I’d love to meet the famous theologian Karl Barth.  Do you know him?”  Barth replied, “Well as a matter of fact, I do.  I give him a shave every morning.”  The tourist got off the streetcar quite delighted.  He went back to his hotel and told his wife, “guess what?  I met Karl Barth’s barber today.”

That tourist was in the presence of the very person he most wanted to meet, but even with the most obvious clue, he never realized that the man with whom he was talking was the great man himself.  This reminded me of Mary’s reaction on Easter morning.  In her grief, she thinks the man she’s speaking to is the gardener.  It, of course, wasn’t.  That is, until Jesus called her by name, only then did she realize that she was speaking with the risen Christ.  All this leads us to our gospel lesson for this morning.  Two of Jesus’ disciples were headed to Emmaus on Resurrection morning, engrossed in the events of the past 3 days and unbeknownst to them, they were joined by the resurrected Master Himself who engages them in conversation.

Each of the Gospel writers tells the Resurrection story in a different way.  Here in Luke’s account, on that first Easter Sunday, the women took spices and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away but they didn’t find Jesus’ body.  Two angels ask them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?  He is not here; he has risen!”  When they returned from the tomb, they told all these things to the disciples, but, as Luke reports, the disciples didn’t believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.  So, except for the testimony of the women, things weren’t completely resolved that first Easter morning.

This is why today’s gospel reading is so important to Luke’s description of the first Easter.  Evidently the two men were among those to whom the women shared their story of the empty tomb.  These men were now on their way to Emmaus, a village about seven miles from Jerusalem.  They were talking with each other about everything that had happened.  We don’t know why they were headed toward Emmaus; Perhaps that was their home.  

Maybe, in their disappointment, they had concluded that their grand adventure of following Jesus of Nazareth was over, so they were packing it in and heading back to the lives they had before they met the Master.  Or maybe they were running from the Jews, Luke doesn’t say.  What Luke does tell us, is that as they walked and talked about their experiences, Jesus Himself came up and walked along with them; but they were both kept from recognizing Him.  This is the part of the story that has always intrigued me.  

They’d been followers of the Master, but now He’s walking along with them and they don’t recognize Him.  One possibility is, that maybe, as with Mary, their despair stood in the way.  Their disappointment with the way things had turned out kept them from seeing what was right in front of them.  Oftentimes we get caught up in the present situation and we lose hope, we discard our dreams, and we’re blinded to the good things God is doing all around us.

Pastor and author Leith Anderson grew up outside of New York City.  Growing up, he was an avid fan of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.  One day his father took him to a World Series game between the Dodgers and the Yankees.  Anderson was excited; he was certain the Dodgers would trounce the Yankees.  Unfortunately, the Dodgers never got on base, and his excitement was shattered.  Years later, he was engrossed in a conversation with a man whom he describes as “a walking sports almanac.”  Leith told this man about attending this World Series game and added, “It was such a disappointment.  I was a Dodger’s fan and the Dodgers never got on base.” 
          The man said, “You were there?  You were at the game when Don Larsen pitched the first perfect game in all of World Series history?”  “Yeah,” Anderson replied, “but uh, we lost.”  He then realized that he had been so caught up in his team’s defeat that he missed out on the fact that he had witnessed a far greater event, the first perfect game in World Series history.

Pastor Anderson writes, “I wonder how often the same thing happens to us.  We get absorbed in the ‘defeats’ in our lives, caught up in the times when things don’t turn out the way we want them to.  We become depressed because an illness continues to linger, or when people don’t treat us the way we think they ought to, or when we face financial difficulties.  We’re often so blinded by the pain and disappointment of our ‘defeat’ that we fail to appreciate the fact that we might be witness to something far greater that God is doing in our lives.”  These really are profound words.

We shouldn’t let the temporary disappointments blind us to the good God is doing in our life.  We can’t assume that any disappointment is God’s last word on any situation.  Those early followers of Jesus certainly thought their dreams had turned to dust.  The last thing they expected was to discover that Christ was alive and in their midst.  Perhaps this is why they didn’t recognize Him.  They were blinded by their disappointment.  Or maybe it was deliberate on the Master’s part.  Maybe He wasn’t ready to reveal Himself to them at this point.  Again, we don’t know.  But it’s evident this stranger was preparing these two men for an astounding revelation.

Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?”  They stopped, their faces downcast.  Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor who is unaware of the things that have taken place over the last few days?  Jesus said, “What things?”  They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth.  How our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him.  We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.  All these things happened three days ago.  But there’s more: women from our group amazed us this morning. They went to the tomb but didn’t find his body.  They came back saying that they had seen angels who told them He is alive.  Some of us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. 

Then Jesus said, “You foolish people!  Your preoccupied minds keep you from believing all the prophets talked about.  Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then Jesus interpreted all the things written about himself in the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.  As they came to Emmaus, he acted like he was going on ahead.  But they urged Him to stay.  So he went in to stay with them. 

At the dinner table he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them and their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight.  They said, weren’t our hearts burning when He spoke to us along the road and as He explained the scriptures to us?  At that they got up and returned to Jerusalem.  Finding the eleven the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as He broke the bread.

It’s a wonderful example of how two men who were in Christ’s presence didn’t realize it until He revealed Himself.  The same could be said for many of us today.  We get distracted by a great disappointment or defeat.  Maybe we get blinded by our circumstances.  Maybe, because of the circumstances, we forget that Christ is always with us.  That no matter where we go or what we’re doing, we’re never alone and the risen Christ walks with us.  This is especially true at times like these, when we cannot gather as a congregation, but must worship in our homes.  We need to remember Jesus’ promise, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”  (Matthew 18:20)

John Calvin once said that the Bible is like a pair of eyeglasses.  The Bible isn’t a spiritual encyclopedia where we go to have all our questions answered.  There is no doubt that God purposely doesn’t provide all the answers, if we had all the answers there’d be no reason for faith.  Even with years of studying the Bible, we may never come to a full understanding of why we have disappointments and defeats.  There’s a great deal in our world and much in our faith that we still struggle to understand.  However, understanding isn’t the key to life, faith is.  Faith in God is vital.  God don’t always fully reveal why we’re going through a certain situation, or why certain things happen, but He does allow us to see what step we should take next and then assures us that whatever the future holds, the One who holds the future will never leave us nor forsake us.

You’ve heard the expression that “seeing is believing.”  Most of you have also heard the converse of that, that there are some things that must be believed to be seen. There are two ways to look at life.  One is through the eyes of skepticism and doubt.  The other is through the eyes of faith and hope.  The only people to whom Jesus appeared after His resurrection were His followers, people who already believed in Him.  In other words, you had to believe in order to see.  This is a powerful lesson about the nature of faith.

Author Nelson Searcy tells of visiting Disney World with his son.  What they didn’t realize until it was time to leave the theme park, was that the people who first designed the Disney theme parks did something quite creative.  They hid discreet images of Mickey Mouse throughout the park and various attractions.  The images are simple three connected, intersecting circles that look like the outline of Mickey’s head and ears; they’re literally everywhere.  They’re etched into pavement, painted on the walls of rides, built into the fences, and arranged in the landscaping.

Disney World is jam-packed with these subtle images of Mickey, but most people don’t see them because they don’t know to look for them.  Searcy and his son didn’t: they learned about the subtle Mickeys just as they were leaving.  The point is, simple awareness is a powerful thing.  When Searcy and his son were headed toward the parking lot, they started seeing these subtle Mickeys everywhere.  They’d been at the park all day and failed to notice them, but as soon as they became aware of their existence, they realized they’d been surrounded by them all along.  There are some things that must be believed to be seen.  So it is with the life of faith.  

When something happens, either good or bad, some people see a mere incident, or perhaps, a remarkable coincidence.  Others, however, see the hand of God.  It makes a difference whether you’re seeing through the eyes of faith or the eyes of skepticism.  When we look through the eyes of faith, we see God’s handiwork all around us.  And once seen, it in turn increases our faith and our awareness of God’s presence.

I don’t think it was a mere accident, that Jesus had the two men on the road to Emmaus recount all the events of the past week.  He wanted them to focus on all they’d been through together and all He had meant to them so that they would be prepared for Him to reveal Himself to them.  I believe this is the value of worshiping each week, whether we’re together or, as we are now, forced to do so at a distance.  We gather to support each other, to remind ourselves of what God has done and is doing in our lives and to strengthen our faith.  In order to see Jesus, we must, by the power of the Holy Spirit believe in Him, and we need to be in His presence regularly.

In order to put on the glasses of faith we must first put aside our skepticism and doubt.  By doing so, life will take on new meaning and new wonder.  Even those who were closest to Jesus didn’t recognize Him until they moved past their disappointment and despair.  When we look out at what’s going on around us in faith, we can then see Jesus in our midst, and our hearts can burn within us in joy and peace knowing that Jesus is alive.  And for all who live by faith, the words Jesus spoke to Thomas are even more of a blessing, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” 


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