First Congregational Church
April 26, 2020
Third Sunday of Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
When Ole vas a young boy, he vas walking down a gravel road with his grandpa, Sven. Ole accidentally took a misstep and fell to the ground, cutting his knees. Grandpa Sven gently bent down and began to clean the wound, removing the little pebbles now embedded in Ole’s skin as he cried. Ole had alvays heard adults talk about it, but he finally knew vat dey vere talking about. It vould be de day dat Ole never forget the pain of his first kid knee stones.
Lena and Katrina were walking through the park. Lena says to Katrina, "Awww. Look at that poor little dog with one eye!” Katrina covers an eye with her hand and says, “Where?"
Normally, I try to read scripture passages from an actual Bible, because it lends a bit of credence that is rather valuable. As I read through this morning’s passage from Luke 24, it just begged for interaction, so I’ll approach is as if you were in my brain. (For some of you, this could be terrifying. For others, it may bring a level of insight you might have suspected for a while.) And just so you’re clear, when it is my thought, I’ll use a hand gesture to clue you.)
Scripture Luke 24:13-35
On the Road to Emmaus
13 Now that same day (Now just a minute. Which day? The day Jesus fed 5,000 plus? The day Jesus rode into Jerusalem? No - a much more nonsensical day - the day Jesus revealed himself to disciples after his three days in the tomb!) Now that same day two of them (not pharisees or scribes, but disciples) were going to a village called Emmaus (which means “warm spring”), about seven miles from Jerusalem (just a little 2.5 hour walk). 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. (Disastrous hearings, excruciating crucifixion, horrendous grief, days of silence, miraculous empty tomb, Jesus’ appearance to women) 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. (Who or what kept them from recognizing him - God? Their own absorption in their situation? How often is that true for us? If we are brothers and sisters with Christ, then a little piece of him walks along side us - all the time.)
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” (Paranoia part of brain: Was this going to be a trick question? Why did he ask - to get one or both in trouble?) They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Seems that they forgot about the rule of not talking to strangers.)
19 “What things?” he asked. (One would wonder why he asked that question, except that it 1. could help Jesus understand what they knew and perhaps fix any misconceptions, and 2. helped them articulate something that could therefore become more real. You learn the most about a subject when you have to “teach” it to someone.)
“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. (It has been said that these three words are the saddest in all of scripture: we had hoped.) And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.” (Actually, that’s a really good synopsis of the previous week. How many of us could do that well - even with a little time to think about it and not off the cuff as it seems here?)
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (How foolish you are…. What is the worst thing someone could say to you - and why? For the uber sensitive, Jesus going on to explain the prophecies meant that he wasn’t so upset with them in particular, otherwise he would have kept on berating them. How often do we take things to be more personally than we should?)
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. (As the risen Christ, was he more God than human at that moment? If that were so, isn’t it an interesting thought that plain, everyday, hurting men could change the Divine Christ’s mind with a mere question? Or did he know they would ask?)
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. (Before going on with the reading, what does that action say to you? What memories does it conjure up for you - taking bread, giving thanks, breaking, giving it?) 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. (I wonder how long they were silent and frozen still?) 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Two thoughts: hearts burning within us? = heartburn? and, Seriously? It sounds like such an intellectual question, almost indifferent. Okay, since Luke was a doctor, maybe he was used to highlighting facts over emotions. But still! If Mozart, or Buddy Holly or Prince showed up at dinner, how many of us would be able to resist picking up the phone to call someone - anyone - to tell them after the guest of honor left?)
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. (At once - there’s Luke’s emotion.) There they found the Eleven and those with them, (how often do we focus on what we think we see in our mind’s eye, rather that what is really in the picture, that is eleven vs. a small crowd?) assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.
After all that thinking and wondering, my brain was drawn back to that line, “we had hoped.” Frankfort’s Trinity Lutheran pastor, Rick Stieve, made a powerful connection. “We had hoped Benzie County could have been spared - of the virus…. We had hoped to have our wedding in May. Just a thought. Where does our Hope lie now that our expectations have been crushed?” Great question.
The passage doesn’t actually say that the disciples had crushed expectations, aside from the part where Luke wrote: “They stood still, their faces downcast.” Even so, it’s not hard to “see” them as broken-hearted. They were hoping for a redeemer, and it looked like they got a ghost. Except, looking back on all of it, we all know that that’s not exactly the way it was - or still is.
They say that good vision is 20/20. Why aren’t those numbers 50/50 or 67/67, I don’t know. But they also say that hindsight is 20/20, and boy, if that isn’t true! Hindsight, while leading itself to lessons learned and good for instructional purposes, it shouldn’t be given too much time. We only glance at the rearview mirror - we don’t keep our eyes on it - unless we’re parked. Glancing back keeps us from getting stuck. And time is surely ripe - to get stuck.
With acknowledgement to my best-internet-friend-guy-whom-I’ve-never-met, Steve Garnaas-Holmes, this past week he wrote, “It’s early spring in these woods, bare trees like quiet old women wearing little girls' green things. But in the cities, silence, and grief. Some days I want to lie down in ignorance, deep in the not yet green grass, bury my face in the cold unknowing dirt, not seeing more than a foot or two, that's all I want to see.
I get down there just to look and the brook flows on, I can hear it, and overhead long haul geese passing by on their way north, farther north than I imagine, where spaces open out in a different kind of quiet, and even the small birds nearby in the shifting trees above the prayerful grass sing on and on.”
And while you’re down in the grass, and rolling over onto your back, looking at the clouds and blue skies and occasional birds, you get to thinking. In another of Steve’s poems this week, “Only afterward do you know it was the Beloved, who draws near so silently, invisibly, so much - not about God’s self - but you, it was hardly God there but the empty space of a divine loving gaze — until after, when your heart speaks, burning
with a Presence, and you know, and learn to say each moment, especially the most abandoned ones: Welcome, Beloved, whom I do not see, even whose very absence is full of your presence.”
Welcome, Beloved, whom I do not see, even whose very absence is full of your presence. In the middle of making dinner, or working on taxes or cleaning up the yard, see if you can give that one a whirl this week. “Welcome Beloved, whom I do not see, even whose very absence is full of your presence.”
Times can be tough - and this Beloved presence can still be recognized. Times can be long and lonely - and this Beloved presence is there, in this very, precise moment, and this moment, and this moment.
The disciples that day were not in a classroom or a designated Zoom meeting, but on the road, walking, talking, wondering about the future, reviewing the past, and as they did so, Jesus doesn’t come in with a white board and laser pointer or even a power point presentation, but a conversation. Not a pronouncement or discourse, but a conversation.
Senior pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, David Lose, said it so well. “Sometimes, it’s enough just to see Jesus, or to hear of his resurrection, or to be promised his presence. And sometimes it’s not. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes the move from doubt, fear, and grief to faith, hope, and love takes both the time it takes to walk from one town to another and the opportunity for an open and honest conversation.”
As with any relationship, our relationship with God can go for long periods of normal discourse. “What do you want for dinner? I don’t know. You decide.” That sort of normal discourse. But sometimes, we have opportunities for more directed, more candid conversations. “So, about that thing last week. You know, the one that just sort of floated by? It got stuck. And I’d really like to talk about that.” That sort of directed, candid conversation.
If ever there was opportunity for us to have candid and direct conversations with God, this is certainly one. This time, when so much can seem bleak and uncertain and anxious, this is a good time for taking a few minutes and a box of tissues - just in case - and have a good heart-to-heart with God.
Let God have it all: the pain, the sorrow, the grief, because there has been pieces of that all over the place, even if we haven’t realized them as such. And let God have all the frustration, anger, or all the good stuff, like gratitude and regard. And here’s the secret: then just sit there. Let the tears fall, if they want to. Let the heart slow as it needs to. And then listen. Above the geese discussing their long-haul trip and the cardinals wooing their intended, listen to what you know God would say to you. Or if someone came to you and deeply needed to hear some good advice - whatever you would say to that person - hear it as God’s words to you. So often, we’ve seen what we need to see, we’ve heard what we need to hear. We simply have to recognize that which God has for us. As it is right in beginning anything, let us pray.
Holy and Spectacular God, thank you for the absolute gift of renewed hope. Thank you for trees wearing green things and flowing brooks and divine glances. Give each of us the space this week to set a spell with you, to have good conversation and to recognize the truths that we need to hear. Whether we converse in sunshine or within a dry place of warmth, adjust our vision in that way that only you can, that we might have 20/20 vision - of you and this world and this life - regardless of the condition of the lenses or frames. For all your moments of quiet and contemplative conversation - however they transpire, all your people thank you with our great, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.