So, we’re in this series, “Journeying Together,” looking at stories of people journeying with God or toward God or even away from God, and trying to discern, from these stories, where God might be calling us as we journey together, as a church and as people.
It’s funny, it may seem to all of you that I’m just jumping all over from story to story, without any real plan. First we had the story of the Wise Men, then we had the story of the woman with the bleeding who touched Jesus, then we had an Old Testament story last week about Elijah in the wilderness, and now we’re jumping to a story that takes place right after Jesus was raised from the dead. Well, the truth is there is a method to my madness…or there was. I had themes that seemed to progress and tie these different stories together. But, as I said on the first Sunday of this series, I don’t have an agenda. I don’t know exactly what God is going to reveal to us. So every week I’ve gone in thinking I know what the take away from the story will be, and – surprise! – every week the Spirit has led me in a different direction. So, as Jesus says in John 3, the Spirit is like the wind that blows this way and that. I guess we’ll just enjoy being along for the ride.
Let’s quickly recap what we’ve gathered so far, and I invite you to add anything you think I might be leaving out.
1. The first week we read about the Wise Men, and we talked about how they had it all – wealth, education, and wisdom – and yet they found themselves drawn to Jesus, and that when they got to Jesus they brought the gifts they had and offered them to him. From this, we gathered that we also are drawn to Jesus. Only in relationship with the Divine, who Jesus revealed, can we find fulfilment. All other attempts at a meaningful life will fall short. And when we come to Jesus, we simply bring the gifts we have. We shouldn’t feel bad because we bring different gifts or talents or skills or passions than other people do or other churches do. We aren’t other people or other churches, we are who God has made us to be, and God wants us to be fully ourselves. God wants us to bring our full selves.
2. The next week we read about the woman with the hemorrhage, who reached out in faith and touched Jesus and power went out from him and she was healed. Meanwhile, other people in the crowd had been bumping into Jesus all along with no such result. The takeaway from this was that Jesus is always in our midst, but are we reaching out with intention, expecting that power actually can come from Jesus and make a difference in our lives? So, as people and as a church, let’s 1) reach out, and 2) actually expect Christ to work in our lives in real ways.
3. And last week, we read the story of Elijah, and also talked about MLK Jr. Both of these prophets came to the “end of their powers.” They were following God’s leading, and it was more than they could handle. But, when they were ready to give up and throw in the towel, they cried out to God and God sustained them. From this we discerned that we should be doing hard, prophetic work – work that seems impossible to us, and leads us to the “end of our powers,” and that in order to do this work, we must create moments of solitude in our lives, so that we can come in contact with the Divine and be sustained by the One who has called us to the difficult work we have before us.
Now, let’s get to our passage for today. As I read this passage this week, I thought, “Wow. This is the perfect picture of what the Church is…or at least should be.” I probably should have preached on this either at the very beginning, or at the very end of the series because it’s got everything. But, as I said earlier, the Spirit is leading and we’re just along for the ride.
In this story, two disciples of Jesus’ are walking together, discussing all that’s happened recently – namely Jesus’ death and the recent, dubious claims that he’s risen from the dead. Jesus shows up, begins to walk with them, and strikes up a conversation, though they don’t recognize him. He explains the Scriptures to them, so that they see that everything that happened to him was as it was supposed to be. While he talks, their hearts burn within them (though they don’t really realize that until later), then they invite him into their home. They all share a meal together, and in their sharing a meal with one another they suddenly recognize Jesus. But this recognition lasts only a second, then he disappears. But they know it was real. They get up and travel back to the other disciples and share how Jesus appeared to them, ate with them, taught them, and caused their hearts to burn within them. By sharing this with others, they’re able to strengthen and encourage those who haven’t met the risen Christ yet.
Isn’t that also what we hope happens today through our shared life in Christ? We are all journeying together along the road of faith. As we walk, we discuss what’s going on in the world – current events and personal experiences – and we try to figure out what Jesus has to do with all that. Sometimes he seems very relevant, other times he seems inconsequential, and we wonder if we’re just wasting our time with all this Christian stuff. But as we walk and talk together, we pray that Jesus will come along side us as we open the Scriptures searching for answers. We pray that he’ll open our eyes, make our hearts burn within us, and show us that God is, indeed, with us.
As we walk and talk and read Scripture together, we also invite each other into our lives. Hopefully, we don’t let people simply come and go and then carry on in another direction, but we invite them in to break bread with us. According to our reading today, that’s where the miracles happen, not in formal settings like church services, but in one another’s homes, while we live life together. And often that’s when we encounter the Divine – when we least expect it. We glimpse Jesus for just a second, and though it doesn’t last long, we know we’ve seen him. And as we look back, we realize that he’s been with us all along, though we didn’t know it.
Then when we come together again – on Sunday mornings or throughout the week – we share how we’ve seen Jesus working in our lives, because not everyone has had that experience recently. And, maybe, some of us are starting to doubt. But, by hearing other’s stories, our faith is bolstered. That’s what we do when we have our time of sharing during our service, or when we have “Sharing Sundays” when people can share how God has worked in their lives.
There’s a lot we could take from this passage, but what stands out to me, and what I’d like us to focus on, is the prevalence of sharing in this passage. At no point in this story are the two disciples separate. In fact, they’re so inseparable, that they almost function as one unit. One of them is never named, and the one who is, Cleopas, is only mentioned independently once. For the most part, they do everything together. They are walking on the road to Emmaus. They encounter Jesus. They listen to Jesus interpret the Scripture for them. They invite him in to have dinner with them. They recognized him in the breaking of the bread. They remember that their hearts burned within them. They get up and travel back to Jerusalem. They tell the other disciples all that had happened.
The journey of faith is one we do together. When you’re baptized, you almost always become a member of the church right afterward, because baptism is dying with Christ and being raised to new life in Christ, and Christ’s body on earth is the Church, so to be in Christ is to be in the church. The work of God is the work of joining lives – our lives to God and our lives to one another. To be baptized is to be bound to a messy, quirky, broken, sometimes beautiful, sometimes ugly, sometimes gracious, sometimes judgmental, body of misfits all doing their best to follow Jesus. I’m sure you’ve had that experience, where you meet someone at church, and you think, “Only in church would I hang out with someone like this.” If everyone in our church looks or talks or believes the same thing, we’re doing something wrong. Our world divides people up by age, class, race, interests, politics, and all kinds of other social markers. And, unfortunately, many churches follow this pattern, but it’s not supposed to be that way. In churches, we’re supposed to be thrown into the mix with people we never would have associated with otherwise.
But for too many, church has simply become something we do for one hour a week on Sundays. We follow the pattern of Emmaus to a point: we walk and talk and open the Scriptures, praying Jesus will come alongside us, but at the critical juncture, the point where Jesus will be revealed – in hospitality, in sharing life together – we diverge from the Emmaus story. We say, “Ok, see you next Sunday!” and we let one another go our separate ways, and we return to our homes alone.
But, in the story this morning, Jesus is just a random stranger, albeit an educated and engaging one, until they invite him in. It’s in the breaking of the bread, the sharing of the meal, that they come to know him. It’s in sharing our lives with one another that 1) we come to know one another and 2) we come to know God better.
The real life-giving conversations don’t happen on Sunday mornings, they happen late at night around the dinner table, around campfires, at coffeeshops and breweries. They happen on car rides and walks and hikes. Real conversations happen when we are our authentic selves, which, unfortunately, usually isn’t on Sunday mornings. Or, at least, it doesn’t start with Sunday mornings. Maybe we’ll learn to be authentic on Sunday mornings, but it isn’t going to happen until we learn to be authentic outside of Sunday mornings.
In November we had a conversation about what Grant Park’s strengths are, and also what some of our “growing edges” are. One of the primary areas people said they wanted us to grow in is this one right here: we want to know one another beyond surface level greetings on Sunday mornings. In a time when people in our society are so disconnected from one another, where we primarily know one another based on our social media accounts – which isn’t really who we are but who we want people to think we are – people are starving for real relationships. We want to know and be known by one another. In my end of the year letter for 2018, I named this as one of our two goals for the coming year: for us to know one another better.
After that meeting in November, I thought about making a sign up and trying to coordinate people eating dinner with one another, but that won’t work. The last thing any of you want or need is me imposing another obligation on you. I can’t orchestrate something like that. It’s up to us to follow the lead of the two disciples when they got to Emmaus, to invite one another into our homes and into our lives.
For the last few weeks we’ve been exploring where God is leading us as a community and as individuals, and this is where the two come together. If we don’t, as individuals (or as families or as couples), begin to invite one another into our lives, we won’t be able to journey as a community. Instead, we’ll be a bunch of individuals doing our own thing, coming together once a week for an hour, and then leaving again to continue our separate lives.
If we’re going to be a church that flourishes, we need to be a church who knows each other and loves each other. When new people come we need to invite them to grab lunch afterward, or come over for dinner later that week. Otherwise, they may continue on down the road as Jesus was going to, and if so, we’ll have missed an opportunity, possibly a life-changing one.
Homework: invite one person/couple/family to spend time with you in the next month.
The breakthroughs in our faith probably aren’t going to take place when we hear the Scripture or even when we hear the sermon on Sunday. They’re going to happen when we sit down with others and share our lives with one another, when we share where the Scripture and the church service and our own personal times of prayer and everything else intersected with our own lives. And when those we’re with also share how God has spoken and is speaking to them, we’ll suddenly see Jesus there, sitting at the table with us, and we’ll realize he was there all along. We just didn’t recognize him. And our hearts will burn within us.