“Jesus makes himself known…” – Sermon for April 23, 2023
(This sermon was in response to Luke 24:13-35, which is commonly known as the Road to Emmaus reading.)
Verse 1 of the hymn “All Are Welcome” by Marty Haugen goes like this:
Let us build a house
Where love can dwell
And all can safely live
A place where
Saints and children tell
How hearts learn to forgive
Built of hopes and dreams and visions
Rock of faith and vault of grace
Here the love of Christ shall end divisions
All are welcome, all are welcome
All are welcome in this place
Most of you are probably familiar with this hymn. It is a hymn of hospitality, openness, inclusivity, and grace. A hymn that offers the message, good news really, that Jesus welcomes all and offers grace. It’s a hopeful hymn – pointing to the future of what can be – What Jesus talks about as the Kingdom of God, where we are all part of the household of God and what that means. It’s a hymn that offers a stark contrast with the world.
Let us build a house where love can dwell, and all can safely live. A 16-year-old boy went to the wrong door in Kansas City. He was looking for his siblings. And he was met at the door by bullets that flew through the glass. He ended up being shot in the head. No words of warning, no asking what the he was there for or needed help with. Just shots fired.
A place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive. Two high school cheerleaders in Texas mistakenly got into the wrong car at a supermarket parking lot. They noticed the man in the passenger seat and realized it wasn’t their car. So, they left the vehicle and went to a friend’s car. The owner got out of the car and walked over to them. The girls rolled down the window to apologize and were met with bullets causing one of the girls to be in critical condition at a local hospital.
Built on hopes and dreams and visions. Rock of faith and vault of grace. Here the love of Christ shall end divisions. Some young children were playing with a basketball in North Carolina and it rolled into a neighbor’s yard. The neighbor was known for yelling at children for being on his lawn. They went to retrieve it and the owner of the house went inside, got a gun, and came back out shooting at the children. One bullet hit a 6-year-old in the cheek. The parents rushed to get their children and the 6-year-old’s father was shot in the back. And another woman was shot in the incident.
All are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place. A group of young adults were trying to find a party in rural New York State. They turned into a wrong driveway and when they realized it, they began backing out to the road. The owner of the property came out and fired two shots at the vehicles – hitting and killing one of the passengers – a 20-year-old woman.
These are four stories that made the news this past week. Look, this isn’t easy. And I certainly don’t even pretend to have the answers. So much gets shortened down to sound bites and people staking out sides in an ongoing and never-ending ideological war that helps no one and leaves so many exhausted and hopeless.
Life is difficult, uncomfortable, and often has more questions than answers. It is messy and full of fear. Good News isn’t needed when life is just wonderful and great and full of certainty. Good News is needed when life is difficult, uncomfortable, and full of unending questions that have no easy answers.
Too often we miss the humanity that we are dealing with. These are real people – both the victims and perpetrators. Real people that Jesus loves. And we can ask some questions to help us sort out and make sense of what’s going on and what do we do in response. Do we see Jesus in the midst of such terrible events and how? How is Jesus interrupting our discussions and arguments about how right we are so that we can see the humanity of the people? How are our hearts on fire for Jesus that causes us to go and share Good News in the midst of such things? And what is Good News in this?
In his book “Rethinking Church,” theologian Ron Highfield makes the following claim about the church, “The church works to manifest on earth what is going on in heaven and to embody in the present the future kingdom of God. The church teaches, proclaims, worships, and lives to make known the character and will of God.” (Pg. 17-18).
Even just a surface reading of our Gospel points out these things for us. We see Jesus interrupt Cleopas and his traveling partner, who have suffered from the trauma of Jesus’ crucifixion and death and are still trying to sort things out. We see Jesus talk with them, offer them hope in the midst of their obvious hopelessness. We see Jesus in the breaking of the bread, where they can finally see Jesus for who he is. And it impacts them. They are fed in body, mind, and spirit. And they get up and go and proclaim that Jesus is risen! They have hope and it is contagious.
And as exciting as all that is, this Gospel story gets more interesting when we dive deeper into the story.
Luke tells us that Cleopas was the name of one of the disciples walking on the road. Cleopas’ name has a meaning. It means all is glory. Jesus lives into the fullness of Cleopas’ name by talking about the glory of God. He lays it all out. We’re told that Jesus walked them through all of the Scriptures beginning with Moses and the prophets, and how it all points to him and his entering into glory.
And they are heading to Emmaus. That’s not just some random place that Luke picks out of thin air. There’s a deeper meaning to Emmaus.
Approximately a century and half before the encounter of Jesus with these two disciples takes place, there was a battle at Emmaus – a very important battle. Judas Maccabeus, known as the Hammer, led his troops against the Seleucids who were occupying and controlling Israel. The Maccabean victory ended the worst persecution and slaughter of the people as well as the desecration of the Temple. This victory will lead to Israel becoming an independent nation for the first time since the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE and destroyed the Temple.
The cleansing of the temple by the Maccabees involved burning of incense and burnt offerings. Bread would be placed on the altar. And the people rejoiced at the rededication of the temple – so God could have a home again.
Throughout the Gospel narrative we see that Jesus isn’t bringing down the hammer to save Israel. He doesn’t bring troops. He doesn’t kill his enemy. He isn’t even interested in political nation building and independence.
Jesus a different kind of liberator than what Israel was used to and desired. While the nation wanted blood of their enemies, Jesus offers his own. While the people desired a forceful overthrow of their oppressors, he willingly suffers at the hands of the oppressor to show what love endures. While the people believed in salvation through redemptive violence, Jesus conquerors death by putting a stop to the cycle of violence in the crucifixion.
And here he is showing up with these two disciples – showing how all is glory through Christ’s resurrection and conquering of death and rewrites what Emmaus is known for. In Jesus, Emmaus is where violence has no place and hospitality, glory, the welcoming of strangers, and the breaking of bread is what brings true freedom.
The cleansing of the temple that would come as a result of the battle becomes Jesus showing that God is present in the world beyond the temple. The only thing burning is the disciples’ hearts as they talk with Jesus and he opens the Scripture to them. And the bread that is on the table is broken and shared – making Jesus’ known. It is Jesus living into his name Emmanuel, God with us. The disciples aren’t rejoicing because the temple has been cleansed and God can reside there again. Instead, they themselves have been cleansed, making room for God within them. And they rejoice and go and tell. They are mobile temples of God that will go to the ends of the earth.
In this story, Jesus builds a house where love can dwell. He makes a space where all can live safely. Jesus shows how hearts learn to forgive. He walks and talks with the two disciples on the way and it builds their hopes and dreams and visions up from the pit of despair. And in the breaking of the bread, Jesus reveals himself in love. All are welcome in Jesus.
I’ll close with this story. During my time as pastor at St. Stephen, Jesus pointed us towards a very special ministry. We had found out that there were people living in their vehicles in the parking lot of the truck stops in the area and we felt compelled to do something. And so, we got permission, and showed up in the middle of the night when people would come in to use the facility. We kept showing up and started to build trust with people. We got to know them and their stories.
We did laundry with people and made sure they could get showers. We cared and offered a listening ear. We saw their humanity and in so doing, we saw our own and the limitations that we have.
The best part was that we took people to Denny’s to share a meal together. Eventually people desired to worship together as we ate. We prayed together. We talked. We cried. We celebrated. And we broke break together in the Eucharist. It was a foretaste of the feast to come. And it was always in the breaking of bread that Jesus revealed himself to us.
Jesus revealed himself in people like Sandy who was trying to get to New York City to get her daughter and believed that aliens were attacking her mind. It is burnt into my memory of Sandy looking right into my eyes and saying, “You probably think I’m crazy, don’t you?” The Spirit gave me a response in that moment, “No. I think you really care about and love your daughter and are willing to do anything to get to her.”
Jesus revealed himself through Charise, a woman who had been released from prison with no place to go and initially didn’t trust us. She sat at the end of the table far away from everyone else. But over the months she came to know us and trust us. We were finally safe for her. And she gradually moved to the middle of the table. She was sitting in the middle of the group one time and said to someone else who was sitting at the end of the table away from everyone – “Hey, you should move down here. These people are like family.” I had tears in my eyes.
Jesus revealed himself through Ron, an older homeless man who was continuously scammed out of the little money he had and would not listen to our pleas about these scams. Jesus revealed himself through Ron by showing us that all he really wanted was to feel loved and how important love and being accepted really is. Jesus changed how we talked with Ron from that point forward.
Jesus certainly revealed himself through Shelly. She was the waitress who changed her schedule just so she could be on when we were there. During one meal and worship, I needed an assistant to help with the distribution of the cup. She volunteered and I taught her what to do. She followed me with the cup and offered it to people. And afterwards, she said through tears, “Wow. I’m not a church person. But I felt compelled to help. That was powerful. I could feel the hope coming through that cup.”
Jesus revealed himself through so many people that we broke bread with. Single people, couples, and families with children. People who were stuck and people just traveling through. It was in those meals, in the breaking of bread, that Jesus revealed himself. At a truck stop, Jesus built a house where love could dwell. Jesus made it possible for all who gathered to safely live, even if just for a couple of hours. Jesus made a place where Saints and children told how hearts learn to forgive. Jesus gave those gathered, hopes and dreams and visions. Jesus brought people from a wide range of beliefs and life experiences and ended divisions. It is because of Jesus that all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome in this place.
Where else is Jesus making himself known? Amen.