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The Road to Emmaus
May 2, 2021  Luke 24:13-35

In order to learn more about Jesus’ post-Resurrection priorities, we’ve spent the past three weeks walking through the closing chapter of the Gospel of John.

Among other things, we found that Jesus met his disciples on their own turf, whether it was behind their locked doors or fishing back in Galilee.

Lesson one is that Jesus didn’t expect them to come to him; he went to them.

He didn’t insist they meet him in Jerusalem; he didn’t expect them to be filled with faith before approaching them.

He met them on their own turf.

There is universal agreement that the post-COVID church is different than the pre-COVID church.

Things have changed, and as elsewhere in life, there’s no going back.

This has been a serious and in-depth conversation among absolutely every church I know as we enter a church landscape that has been permanently transformed by COVID.

Where is the balance between in-person worship and fellowship and the increased reach and participation of social media worship and fellowship … and how do we make that happen?

Back in John 21, we found that Jesus was personal, comforting and encouraging to his disciples who were struggling about how to move forward in their new reality.

Lesson two might be that despite his post-resurrection glory, Jesus didn’t fill a colosseum with a mega rally or spark a political revolution.

He took time to listen to and care for individuals he loved.

Then we found that Jesus sent them, the ones he had cared for, into the world to carry the word and continue the work he had shown them.

Their joy and wellbeing were important to Jesus, but that wasn’t the end of the story.

Lesson three is that we have a calling – you and I and our church – to continue what Jesus began.

Every day of life is a gift, and Jesus’ parables make clear God expects what economists call ROI – return on investment – for what He’s entrusted to us.

We’re going to spend one more day looking at what Jesus did in those few days between his Resurrection and his ascension to heaven – this time from the closing chapter of the Gospel of Luke.

As we saw in the Skit Guys dramatization of this passage, Cleopas and another unnamed follower of Jesus were getting out of Dodge and heading for their safe and familiar home in Emmaus.

As we continue with Michael Barrett’s class, we’ll realize that it is no accident that the first place the Risen Jesus shows up in Luke is on the road because journeying is a prominent motif in this gospel.

Jesus repeatedly meets people along the road.

In fact, the middle section of Luke – chapters 9 through 19 – is often called the “Travel Narrative” as Jesus is on the way from Galilee to Jerusalem.

And Luke’s second volume – what we call the Book of Acts – goes so far as to say that the first self-designation of the early Jesus movement was not “Christian” but “The Way”.

Today’s short passage encapsulates Jesus’ ministry: Jesus meets us on our way (often when we are scared or discouraged), walks beside us even though we may not recognize him at first, and then calls us to follow in his footsteps.

Last Saturday, Michael and I attended the Ecclesiastical Council of Donald Shenk.

An Ecclesiastical Council is where a ministerial candidate is questioned and it is determined if they are qualified to become an ordained minister.

Donald has an interesting journey.

As an actor and musician, he was active in church but only reluctantly answered God’s call to ministry, and when he did, he saw himself leading worship but not so much in caring one-on-one.

That’s why he had to be dragged into what is called CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education, where you work under the supervision of a chaplain, often in a hospital setting.

The Committee on Ministry insisted that he complete a unit of CPE, and (like most of us who had the experience) was profoundly changed by it.

Chaplaincy requires that you sit with people, often strangers, during the toughest moments of their lives.

Death, auto crashes, heart attacks, cancer diagnoses … the very things we naturally cringe at.

We don’t need pastors who are just showmen … Jesus modeled a caring style of being up close and personal.

Cleopas and the other were pretty rattled by what had happened back in Jerusalem.

Jesus was their hope, and in the days leading up to his arrest, the hype and expectations had grown intense.

There was his theatric parade into Jerusalem, his dramatic confrontation with the Sadducees, and all the fantastic prophesies of the liberation he would bring his oppressed people.

They went to bed one night hardly able to sleep in anticipation of the mighty things they might see the next day, but they were jarred awake by news that one of Jesus’ inner-circle had betrayed him, that he’d been arrested, that the other disciples were running for cover … and therefore that their own lives were at risk.

As they were getting themselves out of town, a stranger straddled up beside them and asked what things they were talking about so intensely.

Luke 24:19-21 “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.  The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”

“We had hoped.”

Where have you narrowly placed your hope?

For some of us, we had hoped that the new job or promotion would change us.

We had hoped our hard work and burning the midnight oil would win people’s respect.

We had hoped the new car would boost our self-esteem.

We had hoped a child would save our marriage.

We had hoped that the election would cool everyone’s anger.

For Cleopas and his friend, the disappointment had become too much and they needed to get away, and so they fled to what they remember as safe before everything had changed.

Emmaus might be any of the places you flee when life feels confusing or overwhelming.

For some, Emmaus may be a cocktail (or two or three), a weekend of Netflix binging, or an afternoon shopping spree.

It might be burying yourself in work to shut out a soured relationship.

Maybe your Emmaus is nostalgia.

Have you noticed that the more the world changes, the greater the stream of “remember when” posts on Facebook?

Remember when kids could roam the streets until called for dinner, when there was little crime, when dad came home to the newspaper and a cooked meal?

If we could just go back to simpler times is a seductive fantasy based on highly selective memories and distorted half-truths.

But, if that becomes our yardstick for our wellbeing, then our world will look frighteningly out of control.

If that becomes our yardstick, then we become driven by distrust of the present and fear of the future.

If that becomes our yardstick, then you start looking for a strongman to protect you rather than for Jesus who will walk with you.

Luke 24: 15-16 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

Cleopas and his friend could not recognize Jesus.

Who or what “kept their eyes from” recognizing the truth?

British author Karen Armstrong’s observation is right-on for our journey into a post-COVID world:

“One of the conditions of enlightenment has always been a willingness to let go of what we thought we knew in order to appreciate truths we had never dreamed of.”

So, I wonder if the disciples could not see Jesus, at least in part, because they thought they already understood what was going on?

They had narrow expectations for what a Savior would be, what he would do with his divine power, and what life would become for his faithful followers.

Now, unknowingly talking to the one who knew the most about what had happened on Calvary, they essentially say in verse 18, “Are you totally clueless?”

If this stranger doesn’t know what happened to who had been the central person in their life, then he’s a total outsider.

If he’s such an outsider, why even listen to the man?

Just maybe that’s why they couldn’t recognize Jesus.

Maybe we get so comfortable in our circle of friends and so set in our political views that we can’t recognize the value of strangers … in fact, we see them more like enemies.

To move from that polarized blindness, we need to really listen and hear others.

I heard of a church that changed its roadside sign from “We Welcome Strangers” to “We Need Strangers”.

Often it is when we look back that we see God has been walking with us all the way.

But I can do two things:

First, I can remember that God is here whether I recognize Him or not.

Life has to be lived forward, although we often do not recognize God’s hand in our situation until we look back.

So, I can live in this transition out of the pandemic with the assurance that I am not alone – even if, like Cleopas, I don’t recognize Jesus’ face in this time.

Second, I can ask, “What is God up to in this situation?”

We may feel alone or consumed by hopelessness.

We may feel lost in our brokenness … like Cleopas, longing for a Savior.

Moving forward from this pandemic we must let go of old expectations of how things should be so that we are not blinded to Jesus’ presence with us because God’s love for us is unstoppable and His grace is unbreakable.

Jesus gave his all because of his unending passion for you and for me.

 

Video: Mercy is Here (edited at 1.00 mins)

Cleopas and his friend had just had a personal tutoring session from Jesus Christ, but they didn’t get it until they invited the stranger into their home for dinner.

Luke 24:30-32 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 

Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him.

Looking back to Luke 9 when Jesus fed the 5,000, Jesus used the same words: Takes, thanks, breaks, gives.

 

Jesus left this Sacrament for us so that we could remember that he is with us now and always.