First Congregational Church
April 30, 2017
3rd Sunday after Easter
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Sam, a business man was driving home after a long sales trip and saw a hitchhiker with a cow. Sam finally stopped and the hitchhiker approached the window and said, "Will you give me a ride to Denver Sir?"
Sam said, "I don’t mind, but you will have to leave your cow here.” "No Sir," the hitchhiker said. "I will just tie her to the back of the car, and I promise you sir, she will not slow you down. I Promise."
The business man was reluctant, but he was dying for company, so he agreed. The hitchhiker was elated and tied the cow to the back bumper. They started out and Sam took the car up to 10 miles an hour, he looked in the mirror and the cow seemed to be trotting along, just fine. 20 mph, 30 mph, 40 mph: didn’t phase the cow. The hitchhiker looked over to Sam and assured him that the cow would be fine, not to worry.
Sam took the car up to 55 mph and still the cow was looking very comfortable. Now Sam was getting a little frustrated by this cow who could keep up with his car. Sam watched the speedometer go to 65, 75 and finally 90 mph.
Sam looked back and finally the cow seemed tired, “Yes! Finally.“ said Sam. "What is the matter?" the hitchhiker asked. "Your cow seems tired, her tongue is sticking out," Sam said. "Is it sticking out on the left, or the right?" the hitchhiker asked. "The left side," Sam said with a smile. "Well," the hitchhiker said, "You better pull over, she is trying to pass you.” And the hitchhiker had kept his promise.
It’s always fascinating to me when I read a scripture passage I know I’ve read before, and how in this present reading, one word seems to stick out more than others. When I read the passage from Luke 24, the word “kept” seemed to come right off the page.
It’s an interesting word, kept, and there is more than one meaning for it, although we may not often think of them in that way. One of the definitions I came across said that as an adjective, having the expression of principles, ideas, etc., controlled, dominated, or determined by one whose money provides support: a kept press; a kept writer. There is the negative connotation of a “kept” woman, although we never hear of a “kept” man, and the opposite of “kept” is “release.”
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 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.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” 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?”
19 “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. 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.”
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.
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.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 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?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, 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.
We don’t know who the two men were, except the name of the one called Cleopas, and maybe their identity isn’t so important. But what is interesting is that in all four gospels, all 89 chapters, only five chapters give us post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. 5.5% of the most sacred of our texts deal with the most miraculous part of our faith. And in that 5.5%, at least 514 men - not counting the women - witnessed this most miraculous, most incredible, most important hinge of our faith, and somehow, I’d suspect, we spend far less than 5.5% of our time thinking about those appearances. Hmm.
When the description begins, and Jesus came up and started walking with them, Luke says that the two walkers were “kept” from recognizing who he was. I wonder if there are any others here that find that a somewhat disturbing phrase.
If they were “kept” from recognizing Jesus, then it implies that “someone” was preventing them - had a control over them, and that doesn’t seem very much like how I’ve come to understand God; maybe you, too.
One of Christianity’s foundational theological tenants is that of free will. God gives each of us the mind and the heart to discover who God is and the freedom to determine to what extent we are willing to live our lives for that very same God. Being “kept” from seeing Jesus doesn’t seem like God was giving the two walkers much freedom that day. And if that is true, then would God be doing the same with us, keeping us from seeing certain things? The answer has to be yes, but the reason behind it, the cause of the “keeping” makes all the difference.
The reason that God would “keep” us from seeing or understanding falls into two basic categories - in my mind - to be a mean bully or a wise educator. The Bible - and life - seems to paint a lot of pictures of God as a mean bully - allowing innocent people, righteous people to die or suffer horrible things. If this is one’s perspective of God, there is little room for grace and mercy, not mention things like deep understanding and ownership of faith.
But if God were being a wise educator that day, and God “kept” the walkers from initially recognizing Jesus, what would the purpose be? Likewise, if God keeps us from recognizing Jesus walking with us, what purpose would there be in that?
I think a part of that answer lies in what took place later that day, when they were at the bed and breakfast, and Jesus broke the bread - so like he broke the bread on his last night with the disciples. Jesus’ revelation could have happened in so many other ways, but it took place in the coming together of action and understanding - in the walkers’ own minds and hearts. And once understanding like that takes place in us, it changes our world view.
We can explain and explain and explain how to tie a shoe, but slow demonstration makes it last forever. Memorizing multiplication tables usually takes a fair bit of time. But once it happens, we discover endless ways that they effect our lives - from restaurant tipping to gas mileage to figuring out the percentage of gospel chapters given to accounting Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. ;)
Another important part of this passage lies in what was “unkept” - the disappointments. The walkers had hoped that Jesus would be the one who was going to redeem Israel. They and a vast number of other people had put all their bets on this one guy, Jesus. And it seemed as if he had failed them all.
He’d been dead for three days - the almost “other worldly” number of days dead that meant really dead - no hope of coming out of a coma - if that would have been the case. And the cherry on top? The tomb was empty! Not just one bad piece of news, but three pieces of bad news - three pieces that really said failure, disappointment and utter loss of hope.
At the Ministerial Association meeting the other day, we were talking about the idea of doubt - and that doubt was not necessarily a bad thing - especially when it results in greater faith. In many ways, disappointment is not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it results in greater faith.
Jesus doesn’t automatically wipe away disappointment, and it will always be a part of our lives as long as we live on this earth. But Jesus walks with us, as he did with the walkers that day, even if we aren’t able to recognize him as such. And when we do recognize Jesus walking with us - from the depth of ingenious complexities of ants and body cells to the breadth of human diversity to the height of galaxies and systems so beyond our ken - then we come to understand that God is truly not a mean bully but the wise teacher that allows us the freedom to learn and embrace such a God of complexity, extraordinary, intimate relationship.
When we sit with all those dimensions of greatness, words can seem a little diminutive, but we need to end this time of unparalleled eminence, so let us pray.
Holy One of Truth and Love, we thank you for your walk with us, when we are cognizant of it, and most especially when we forget it. We ask for your forgiveness for those times when we let disappointment overtake your presence, for when life seems too big and too heavy. We know that you understand how we feel and the reasons for our actions, but still, we do our best when we are honest with you. So help us, lover of our souls, to hold on to your hand, even when we can’t see it, even when we forget it’s there, reaching out to us. Thank you, too, for keeping things from us that could hurt us or hinder us from fully realizing the wonderment that surrounds a life permeated with your concern and care, love and grace. For these and all your blessings, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.