The Gospel Lesson is Luke 24: 13-35 about the Journey to Emmaus. The sermon for this week centers around faith journeys as well as the journeys of our soon to be graduating High School Seniors and their Families.
When I decided to go to seminary and become a deaconess, I had to write an essay about my faith journey. In fact, I had to write a lot of papers about my faith journey throughout the 4 years! How did my journey lead me to seminary – how has my journey changed after seminary – what journey led me to discern word and service opposed to word and Sacrament –I even had to justify my decision for my particular journey to many people outside of seminary who asked that fateful question– why didn’t you go all the way –meaning being a Pastor. I assured the questioner that I did go the whole way, graduated with a Master of Divinity just as Pastor’s do, but have a different call from God, which again led to the follow up question – but you could be a Pastor if you wanted to be right? (which I usually answer snarkily- no way-after working at a church for several years before seminary, I know more than I ever wanted to know about Pastors!)
Our Gospel lesson for today begins with a journey as well. We learn about two men, one named Cleopas and another man who remained unnamed, who were disciples of Jesus, walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. The day is Sunday, the day Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty – but these two men must have left before her announcement…. Or maybe they didn’t believe her and decided to return home. Now historians do not know exactly where Emmaus was located, but it is predicted that it was about 6 miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. So that is about a 2 hour walk.
Maybe their journey began at sunrise. We assume they were in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and probably were looking for a miracle at the crucifixion. After all, if Jesus was truly the son of God, wouldn’t he have just hopped down off that cross? As the gospel states, they hoped he was the one to redeem Israel and now he was dead – their hopes dashed!
Their journey had ended in failure. It couldn’t have been a pleasant walk home – we have all been there – had to travel a long distance after losing the championship game or driving home from a doctor’s appointment only to have been given devastating news. Journeys that started out with hope and anticipation that ended in despair.
Our faith journeys can be like that walk to Emmaus – We expect to come to worship and hear the Gospel or the Good News! We sing uplifting hymns, are forgiven our sins and are given spiritual rejuvenation to go back out into the world as Disciples of Christ, ready to make a difference. We expect the church to be different, a place of sanctuary that shelters us from the storms of life. But we are directed instead to the church that meets a very ordinary world, a world marked by human loss and suffering. We pray for those who are living in poverty, those who are abused, those who are sick and those who mourn. We pray for creation that is being neglected or harmed by pollution. We pray for a world in turmoil. The world in all of its chaos enters into our sanctuary each and every Sunday. Like those on the road to Emmaus, we too may wonder where God is. If Jesus is our savior, certainly he has the power to change these things.
Perhaps it’s time to evaluate our journeys with Jesus; evaluate our own expectations of Jesus. We do have a road map to help us – it’s called the Bible. Now I know that navigating the Bible can be about as easy as folding a map, but believe me when I tell you its well worth the time. As Lutherans we tend to shy away from the Bible – we love our music, we love the sermon and of course we hear the scriptures each Sunday, but do we really use the Bible for our faith journeys? The scriptures give us clues to who Jesus is and what Jesus expects from us. It helps us navigate our journeys as Disciples of Christ. It can help open our eyes to Jesus.
Our own Gospel lesson for today tells us that Jesus is present at the breaking of the bread – he is present in with and under the elements of bread and wine. He is present when we come to the table together during Holy Communion. Jesus also used the Scriptures as a means to open their eyes to Him as they continued their journey to Emmaus.
The Bible tells us that our faith journeys will not always be smooth. We know that in the Beatitudes Jesus tells us that we will mourn and we will be persecuted. He tells us if someone strikes our cheek, to turn the other cheek to be stricken as well. As Christians we will have enemies, illness and we will suffer the consequences of other’s negative actions. Our world will continue to have the poor. In other words, our individual and communal worlds will include sin.
Author Tim Keller who wrote the book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering had this to say:
Suffering is actually at the heart of the Christian story…..While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.” …(The) resurrection is not just consolation — it is restoration. We get it all back — the love, the loved ones, the goods, the beauties of this life — but in new, unimaginable degrees of glory and joy and strength…
The disciples on the road to Emmaus began their journey home in despair but when they began to see and understand the resurrected Jesus, their hearts began to change. I am sure they still had bumps along their journeys, but now had the knowledge that death did not stop Jesus from being their companion – Jesus was still with them and would continue to be with them, but in a different way. There had to be a reason that they didn’t recognize Jesus – we know that Thomas didn’t recognize Jesus nor did the other disciples – so there was something different about him or at the very least something different than their expectations.
Not many of us I am sure expect to see Jesus in the faces of the homeless or those in prison. But that is exactly what the Bible tells us – Matthew 25:35 states “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me”. Jesus is present in the breaking of the bread, in the person sitting next to you this morning, and in the stranger outside these doors. Jesus is and will always be present in our journey towards our ultimate home. We can choose to embrace our journey with a positive attitude or we can choose to take a defeatist approach. I found a quote by Joyce Meyer, a famous TV preacher – “Being negative only makes a difficult journey more difficult. You may be given a cactus, but you don’t have to sit on it.” In other words – we will still have the cactus, but what we choose to do with the cactus can make all the difference.
Today we are honoring our soon to be graduating high school seniors. They are embarking on a journey from high school to adulthood that may include higher education, entering the workforce……It’s a time of transition not only for them but their families as well; a transition for these students who will no longer be dependent on their parents to get up on time, to do their laundry or to nag them about doing their homework. A transition for the parents who no longer have control over the activities of their sons or daughters and pray each night that they make good choices. Now I could stand here and tell these students that since you are considered an adult, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t attend worship, even at college. Or am I naïve enough to know that the Bible will be on their top reading list for the next several years. And Parents, especially those who no longer will have children at home, I could tell them that being involved in church without children can be a very enriching experience, a chance to take that Bible study that you never had time for, to make new friends with some of our smaller groups. No, I am not going to take anyone on a guilt trip – but choosing to be absent from church doesn’t mean that your faith journey will end. Every experience you encounter will help to form your faith, including the negative as well as the positive experiences.
But I will offer some advice – remember your baptisms – where by the water and the word you have been raised to new life in Christ. Remember your Confirmation, a time when you made public profession of your faith – to live among God’s faithful people, to hear the word of God and share in the Lord’s supper, to proclaim the Good news of God in Christ through word and deed and to serve all people following the example of Jesus. Remember the scriptures, a book in which you can turn to again and again to understand who Jesus is in your life – the good news that no matter how close or far away from St. Peter’s you travel, that He will always be your companion on all of your journeys. Amen.