31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 30, 2017
Psalm 30:4-5, 11-12
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
We talk a lot about journeys in the United Church of Christ. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” We walk our Christian faith journeys; we nurture each other’s faith journeys; we respect one another’s faith journeys.
We talk a lot about journeys in the United Church of Christ, and so does the writer of the Gospel of Luke. Much of the gospel happens while people are journeying, including this morning’s passage – often entitled the Walk or Road to Emmaus.
Journey, path, road, all are great metaphors for our lives as Christians. All remind us that we grow in faith; we embody and live our faith; we walk the Way of Jesus Christ.
Forty years ago, the United Methodist Church began a ministry to help Christians do all these things. Inspired by this passage, their Walk to Emmaus three-day retreat gives participants the “opportunity to meet Jesus Christ in a new way as God’s grace and love is revealed to [them] through other believers.”
It seems a fitting purpose and name for such a retreat because it was on the road to Emmaus that Cleopas and his companion, came to know the Risen Christ.
It got me thinking about how we each come to know Jesus Christ as we walk this journey of faith.
For many, the ministry of presence, the companionship and support of others, is a powerful way we know God’s love and Christ’s presence in our lives: the person quietly sitting beside us as we wait for news of a loved one in surgery, the loving arms holding us as we cry our anguish out, the warm and welcoming smile greeting us when we are new, the faithful person who celebrates our joys and perseveres with us through the bad.
For many, the care of other people is a powerful way we know God’s love and Christ’s presence in our lives, and yet, not for these two disciples. Jesus was right there with Cleopas and his companion. Jesus was physically walking with them, asking them questions, actively listening, showing his interest and concern as a good companion does, but still “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16). They could not see him. They did not know him.
So if these two disciples did not know Jesus through his ministry of companionship, perhaps his presence would be revealed to them through God’s Word?
For two thousand years, the Christian church has turned to scripture as a way to know God and Jesus Christ.
In their book, Organizing Church, Dan Rhodes and Tim Conder write that one of the marks of a faithful and vital church is the “practice of scriptural study and formation. Such a practice could most certainly include the exercise of preaching and the public reading of scripture, but it should also incorporate the participation of the entire community in the prayerful interpretation and application of biblical teaching.” (Organizing Church, 22)
Hearing God’s Word read, hearing God’s Word interpreted through a sermon or message such as this one, reading devotionals or novels that illuminate God’s word are all ways we can come to know Jesus Christ and his Way.
But we cannot be passive about God’s Word, merely hearing it. I love the words that Dan and Tim use – the entire community, every single believer, is called to interpret, wrestle with, bask in God’s Word and then live it out. To apply God’s Word in our lives, in our ministry, in and outside of this community.
There are those in our community who I know are deeply nurtured in their relationship with God and Jesus Christ by scripture. You email me passages that have inspired you that day. You write God’s Word on index cards and in notes. You come to Bible study. Jesus is clearly being made known to you through the Bible.
But that’s not true for everyone. The Bible and God’s Word too often seem foreign, confusing, irrelevant to our modern lives. Many say, ‘I just don’t connect with the Bible’. And how can we know Jesus through scripture if we don’t know scripture?!
Sometimes, I think the obstacle is more our mindset than the Bible itself. We get this story in our heads that the Bible is boring, that it is confusing, that it does not relate to our daily lives. It’s a story we’ve been told by others, and we sometimes accept this idea without challenging it. Challenge it! Talk to me about a study Bible. Surf Pinterest for scripture passages – there are tons of inspirational memes. Pick up a Daily Bread or Upper Room devotional from the narthex. Sign up for the United Church of Christ Still Speaking email devotional.
For two thousand years, Jesus has been made known to his followers through the Bible. Jesus made himself known to the disciples on the road to Emmaus when he interpreted the scriptures about himself from Moses through the prophets. And still, the disciples’ eyes were not opened to see him. Still, he was a stranger to them.
Scripture gives us the opportunity to know Jesus, to really know Jesus – if we are only willing to read it, sit with it, wrestle and learn from it.
The loving presence of a neighbor and God’s Holy word are two ways Jesus’ presence is made known in our lives, and so is “solidarity with the poor and marginalized” (Organizing Church, 21).
Sometimes, we forget that “Jesus’ career was one of homelessness, marginalization, and poverty….he taught his disciples to see his presence in those wedged under the heels of society and in need.” (Organizing Church, 21)
Service to, solidarity with, the poor and marginalized, the least of society, those who are powerless in the face of economic and racial injustice, is not only the way we serve in Christ’s name, it is the way we meet and know Jesus.
Too often though, when we see a homeless person walking by our church, when we hear about budget cuts for Meals on Wheel, when we are invited to participate in a ministry that nurtures children, we do not think of Jesus’ words ‘whenever you showed love to one of the least of these, you showed it to me’. We think, “I’m too busy. I have plans. I’m stressed out. I need to focus more on myself.” I, I, I.
It’s hard to know Jesus, to have our eyes opened to Jesus’ presence, if we cannot get out of “I”’s way and find time to serve, to be in community with the poor and marginalized, and to see Jesus’ face in their faces.
For the disciples walking the road to Emmaus, Jesus’ presence was finally made known to them in the breaking of the bread. (Luke 24:35)
Professor Eric Barreto ( of Princeton Theological Seminary) in his commentary on this passage writes, “For Luke…. Jesus is most Jesus at a [commonplace] table, at an ordinary meal infused with significance because of the people gathered around the food.….. [Jesus] eats with all the wrong people! So, it’s instructive that it’s not his teaching that opens their eyes. It’s not his presence. It’s his sharing of bread with his friends. It’s his blessing of food. In this sharing of bread at an ordinary table, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ transformative kingdom.” (www.workingpreacher.org, April 23, 2017)
It’s not Jesus’ presence; it’s not Jesus’ teaching and explanation of scripture; it’s Jesus’ blessing and sharing of bread that opens his disciples’ eyes. It is in the communion meal that Jesus is made known to them. It is in the bread and the cup that Jesus is made known to us. It is at this table, where all are welcome, that we connect with the Risen Christ and thus with God and each other.
In the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup, through solidarity with the poor and marginalized, in the love and care of others, through God’s Word, we come to know the presence and the Way, of Jesus Christ.
We come to know our Savior, and our relationship with him transforms us into a new people: a people of peace, a people of hope, a people of compassion, a people of joy, a people called to use our gifts in building God’s kingdom here on earth.
As you walk this road of faith, as you journey through life with God, may Jesus Christ be known to you every day, in every way and may his presence transform your life.