April 30, 2017

Surprises Ahead


Luke 24:13-35


13 On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15 While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16 They were prevented from recognizing him.

17 He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.

18 The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”

19 He said to them, “What things?”

They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20 But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22 But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26  Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.

28 When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29 But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”

33 They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35 Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.


Being a pastor is a weird job. I exist in your spare time or when emergencies come up. In the modern world, church life takes a backseat to most everything else. I know that, because some of y’all feel a need to tell me why you aren’t in church. “My kids had a game.” “We got in late last night.” “It was hard getting everyone up and ready.” If I were literally anyone else in your life, would you tell me those things? I’m not fussing – I promise. I’m pointing to the weird place church lives for people today.


My goal is to get you to do something good with the time you aren’t at work or sleeping. Even then, I could encourage you to live as Christian people at work, too. So, in reality, my job is to influence all the hours you aren’t asleep. It’s selling Jesus, except that’s kind of disrespectful, but it is as close as I can get to explaining it. People who sell stuff only want to change one small portion of your day. Buy a better car or a blender to upgrade minutes in your day. I’m selling the reason you should care about God. In addition to that, I am promoting a way of life that changes how you act and what you do. It’s a step up from those people who promote health products on Facebook and Instagram.


I internally refer to this placement as “living in your margins.” I am in the place where you have limited time, even though I want more of that time to be devoted to Christian service and helping the church grow.


Thankfully, today’s passage reminds me that, even though it sometimes feels this way, it doesn’t mean it is true – at least, not for everyone.


Sometimes, the feeling of our reality sinks in like that so much we get lost in ourselves. My reality feels like I need to make God matter more. Before I was a pastor, my reality was a miserable job and no idea what I would do if I didn’t have that job. I imagine many of you have felt or currently feel the same way. Or maybe you are happy with your job but feel like your personal life is lacking. Maybe you feel like you don’t spend enough time with family or friends. Maybe your reality is you want your yard to be prettier than your neighbor’s.


How we feel about our reality – how we choose to understand it – is a powerful motivator for our actions. If we feel good about life, we tend to act and do more that will help us to continue to feel happy. If we feel sad or bored, we tend to lock down. I want you to feel good about your reality, so then you’ll feel good about the margins.


Even though I and the church exist in the margins, I am well aware that you might not be in your margins when you are here. The weight of the world is not easily checked at the door, so my job here and now is to remind you that God pushes through your busy-ness, grief, anxiety, and your spare time and says, “I am here.”


In Scripture, God likes surprising us with sudden entrances to remind us that God is here. In the Hebrew Bible, or what we call the Old Testament, God shows up in a burning bush, in powerful dreams, and in pillars of smoke and fire. God often speaks when biblical characters are at some sort of crucial moment. The tradition of surprising appearances extends to the Son of God – Jesus – to his disciples after his death and resurrection. Today’s passage is one such appearance on the road to Emmaus.


This story is a familiar one. Two people are traveling along a road and are wrapped up in a conversation about what had happened to Jesus in Jerusalem.  They are living in their reality which is fraught with confusion and anxiety and maybe a little bit of hope. The seven mile walk would have taken them a couple of hours to talk it out. Eventually, they meet a stranger who causes them to feel invigorated. The one they realize later is Jesus himself.


They walk and talk with Jesus not knowing who he is. They do feel a sense of excitement about him. The passage said their hearts were on fire. It wasn’t until they actually stopped to rest and he broke bread that they were surprised with his sudden appearance as the resurrected Christ.


In churches, we like talking about moments when Jesus seems to show up out of nowhere. It is almost always a surprise and usually when we need it most. People usually find him when they are in desperation – when reality is just too heavy – and I think that is where he does some of his best work.


How many of you have experienced a Jesus moment when you least expected it? I’ve been talking to some friends this week who have had low moments about a variety of things: their calling, their job, their problems, etc. Some of them showed a change of pace – something changed. If I were to name it, I think God showed up in some way in their lives. Maybe it wasn’t explicit in the “I am God” moment, but a big change in circumstances or attitude showed that we are not walking this road alone.


The same thing goes for the church. I love seeing churches dig in to the Fresh Expressions program with the UMC and find new ways to reach people outside the normal worship hour or fundraisers. Churches longing to figure out who they are are having Bible studies in bars and bowling alleys. Some are offering services that help their community like a community garden and a barber shop.


In our first Vision meeting in our church last Wednesday, some really big ideas came up. There is no question – we are called to reach our community – but reaching people requires commitment of our time and money. Those are details that usually lead to a bogged down reality. As we seek to unfold and implement the plans God has laid on the hearts of those who come, and you are welcome to come to the next meeting on May 15, we will likely start hearing phrases like, “well that is too big for us. We’re a small church.” Or maybe “we just can’t do it.”


But then, somehow, I believe, God will surprise us. Whether it’s a big check at just the right time or someone with the right words, that’s where God will show up in our work. Being a Christian means always being ready for God to fill our lives with surprises.


I believe, if our hearts and minds are on Christ, he will walk with us along the way. It may be that we get deep into ministry ideas and start thinking, “what have we done?” Those are the perfect moments when Jesus surprises us by showing up.

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