31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
April 26, 2020
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Years ago, long before I was a parent, I was walking with a friend and her two little girls. The four year old kept getting in and out of the wagon we pulled along. She would stop; she would dawdle; and her mother’s response was “Walk with purpose.”
Walk with purpose. It’s an expression I continue to use because sometimes, we all need to be reminded to have purpose, and sometimes, we all just need that reminder to keep walking and moving forward.
Last week I read you a passage from the gospel of John where we heard that after Jesus was crucified, his disciples shut themselves in a room out of fear.
For three years, Jesus had been teaching them and nurturing them to go out and share the good news of God’s love. Three times, he straight out told them his suffering and death was a part of the plan, the plan to show God’s power, God’s power over even death– and yet, when it all came to be, exactly as Jesus told them, the disciples did not get it. They became paralyzed with fear. They literally locked themselves in a room.
Not all of the disciples though. Two of them went walking. The gospel writer tells us that they were going to a village, about seven miles from Jerusalem, called Emmaus; however what was their purpose? Was there a purpose?
Maybe, maybe not. Maybe, in their worry and anxiety, they simply needed an outlet for their restless energy. So they walked. They walked to Emmaus.
And while on the road, a stranger joined them, asking them what they were talking about. So they told him, told him “about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how [their] chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified” (Luke 24:20).
They told the stranger how they “had hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel.” (Luke 24:21)
And they continued their tale by telling the stranger about the odd things that had happened that very morning. Some women from their community had gone early to the tomb and “when they did not find [Jesus’] body there, they came back and told [the disciples] that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that [Jesus] was alive.” (Luke 24:23) Some of their group went to the tomb and they too found it empty – but they did not see Jesus.
We know that the disciples’ eyes were kept from recognizing Jesus. Still, imagine their surprise when this stranger did not respond to their story with “how amazing!” or even “how strange!” No, this “stranger” used words that in any translation are hard to hear: how foolish you are, how thick headed and slow-hearted.
While harsh, the words are true. Three years Jesus spent teaching them. Three times Jesus told them what would happen – and when it did, they still did not get it. They did not understand Jesus’ purpose. They did not understand their purpose. So Jesus explains it to them again. Jesus begins at the beginning and interprets all of the scripture for them – and guess what? They still do not see. Only when Jesus acts- blessing the bread, breaking and sharing it are their eyes finally opened. Words were not enough for this pair of disciples. They needed action.
Some of us are word people. The Bible, the prayers and message we hear in worship, devotionals we read in books and online. These words speak to us of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. For some of us, words ground us more deeply in God’s love. They nurture us on our Christian faith journeys.
For others of us, though, it is actions that help us see Jesus in our world. The spiritual practices of singing, service, stewardship, prayer, the actions of blessing our food at meals, taking care of a neighbor in need. It is spiritual practice, acting out our faith, seeing others live their faith, that opens our eyes to Jesus and deepens our commitment to the way of Jesus Christ.
I wonder if any of my young friends might draw a picture to show one way we act or practice our faith as Christians.
Words and actions, both are good. Different people are nurtured by words or actions. At different times in our lives, we are nurtured by words or actions. They both have the ability to open our eyes to Jesus’ presence and get us walking with Jesus.
The Christian faith journey though is not simply about having our eyes opened to Jesus’ presence, nor it is only about being nurtured by Christ’s spirit. It is not even about walking a faith journey. It is about walking that faith journey with purpose.
It’s this purpose thing that has been a hang up for many churches in the past few decades. Anxiety over the way society and thus the church are changing has led many churches to becoming even more committed to the ways of ministry that worked so well fifty and a hundred years ago – even when they are not working all that well in 2020. Essentially, those churches aren’t walking with purpose. They are running in place in a locked room. Busy, busy, busy with tasks however not actually fulfilling Jesus’ calling.
Other churches are responding to these changes by running after any and every idea that seems to be bringing people in church doors. If our church community followed every latest and greatest five step easy plan to get new participants, our walk might look like someone was tilting the floor underneath us.
Our Christian faith journey, our walk with Jesus has a purpose. The words and actions of faith that open our eyes to Jesus’ presence in our lives also open our eyes to the truth that Jesus is calling us. Jesus is calling us as Jesus called those first disciples and every disciple after that. Jesus is calling us to move from disciple, student, the one who is nurtured to apostle, messenger, the one who nurtures.
As Christians and the church, we aren’t perfect. We understand that. We own it. There are times on our Christian faith journeys when we feel paralyzed with fear, locked in old ways and the past. And there are also times when in our anxiety, we are seeking but not seeing Jesus, aimlessly on the move, but not walking with purpose.
This pandemic is certainly opening our eyes though. Opening our eyes to the known and unknown injustices of our society. Opening our eyes to what is essential about our lives in Christian community. Opening our eyes to Jesus’ calling, that we are called to be apostles, messengers, the ones who care for and nurture others. And opening our eyes to the new ways we can fulfill our purpose as messengers of the good news.
Regardless of what moves us forward on this Christian faith journey, regardless of whether we are nurtured by words or actions or both, our purpose is the same. Our destination is the same. We are called to move from disciple to apostle, from student to messenger, from nurtured to nurturer. We are called to share God’s extravagant and unconditional love with all.
If you are feeling stuck right now, emotionally stuck, physically stuck, spiritually stuck, take a step with Jesus and be nurtured on your Christian faith journey. Share in the spiritual practice of 50 days of prayer, which is posted on Facebook and sent out by email each Sunday. Go for a spiritual walk and notice God’s blessings all around you. Read three verses of the Bible, a story from a Children’s Bible, or a spiritual devotional that nurtures your spirit.
Be nurtured on your Christian faith journey, and then do not stop there. Remember there is a purpose to our Christian faith journeys – to share Christ’s love with others. So shop for items needed by Zion Lutheran Meals for Neighbors and other pantries. Bake individually wrapped items to donate to Agape House and Brian’s Angels. Pray for those receiving these gifts. Share faith nurturing from our church Facebook page to your Facebook page. Call someone up and listen to them, offering to pray with or for them. Invite someone to worship.
Life right now feels hard. It feels especially easy to get stuck, to wander aimlessly. Jesus is with us. Jesus walks with us. Jesus nurtures us with word and deed, and Jesus calls us to walk this journey of faith with purpose, with word and action, to love, to serve, to share, the good news of God’s unconditional love.