On the Road (to Emmaus?)

In these Great Fifty Days of Easter, one of the gospel stories we read is of two disciples of Jesus walking to a village called Emmaus. (Luke 24:13-35). The resurrected Jesus meets them on the road, and walks with them. But they do not recognize him until they urge him to share a meal with them. When Jesus breaks the bread, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” (Luke 24:30). The two disciples never make it to Emmaus. Instead, they turn around and return to Jerusalem to share this experience with the others. (Luke 24:33-35).

Every Sunday at Christ Church we recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread of Eucharist. We meet him on our way. But what are we walking towards? Do we know? Is it a labyrinth? A circle? Or are we walking a road to nowhere?

Management theory tells us we should have a vision, a mission, and plans. “What will the church look like in five years?” We in the leadership group have some goals, and some plans, like the two disciples had a destination. But, more important, we have faith that if we invite Jesus along with us, where we end up and what we pass on the way will be better than any plans we can make.

We are just walking along the road with Jesus, one step at a time. Inviting the people we meet along the way to stop and have a meal with us. We don’t know if the future includes Emmaus – or Jerusalem. We know that, wherever it is, if we stick with Jesus, it will be very good.

the future is certain
Give us time to work it out
. . .
We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Taking that ride to nowhere
We’ll take that ride
I’m feeling okay this morning
And you know
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go”(partial lyrics to “Road to Nowhere,” by The Talking Heads)

Avengers

Impending Doom

This is a reconstruction of the sermon delivered at Christ Church on March 18, 2018. The Scripture texts were Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 119:9-16, Hebrews 5:5-10, and John 12:20-33. It is a week before Palm Sunday begins Holy Week.

This time of the church year reminds me of an episode from an old TV show, The Avengers. If you are my age, you may remember it – it starred John Steed, very sexy in his bowler hat, and Emma Peel, in a sleek jumpsuit. In this episode I remember, Steed was tied to a table, and a large circular saw was gradually moving closer and closer. There was a strong sense of impending doom – until Peel rescued him.

The gospel passages for Lent have been bringing us closer and closer to Jerusalem and Jesus’ death. He has been telling his disciples for some time that he is going to be put to death. They don’t want to believe him. They don’t want to hear it. You remember Jesus rebuked Peter, “get behind me, Satan.” I want to change the channel; turn away.

This is a common sentiment in our culture. This week I have been reading a book by Kate Bowler, a professor at Duke Divinity School who is living with Stage 4 cancer. [Everything Happens for a Reason, and Other Lies I Have Loved] She writes of going to church during Holy Week. In this time when the church is walking with Jesus to the cross, surely she will find companions for her walk as she, a young woman, who after many years of trying has a baby whom she loves, who is loved by a wonderful man, who has published a book – and who is living between life and death. In the church service, she writes, Jesus stayed dead for about three songs before they jumped to Easter. We don’t want to recognize the pain and unfairness of death.

There is a strain of belief that if we just do the right things – live right – trust God – we will be given good things. The author if this book has received lots of mail from people saying that if she does the right things, she will be healed. If she eats right, or prays right. But it isn’t true.

If Jesus’ life and death tell us anything, I think, it is that this belief is not true. Jesus was without sin, and yet died. This man of peace died violently by torture. This carpenter from a small town ran into the pitiless self-interest of empire. God loved his son with an infinite love – and yet Jesus died. Right belief, right actions, are not rewarded with good health or material things. We don’t get signposts of blessings to tell us we are on the right path.

How, then, do we know if we are on the right path? As the Psalm says, do we spend time each day with God through scripture or prayer? Do we seek to do good to our neighbor and, when we hurt someone, make amends? When someone is ill, do we reach out a hand? Will we walk between life and death?

In that walk, we may sometimes be given the gift of awareness of God’s love. Kate Bowler writes of that gift, in the time immediately after her diagnosis. The feeling of being loved. I felt it at the bedside of my dying brother. It is a gift, and it is transitory and uncertain. But it is a glimpse, that we can hang onto, of the reality that neither death, nor life, nor powers, nor principalities, can separate us from the love of God.

bishops against gun violence

Thoughts and Prayers

“ I have to say, I’ve never been one much for religion. There’s so much darkness and hate in the world. How could there possibly be some divine entity watching over it all, letting it all happen? Never stepping in to say, “Hey everyone, I’m here. Maybe you shouldn’t do that stuff?”” Abram Cressman, 9th grade student.

But that is the point of Christ. God stepping into the world to say, “Hey everyone, I’m here. Maybe you shouldn’t do that stuff.” Not only “you shouldn’t do that stuff,” but “when you do that stuff to other people, you do it to me.” “When you let people starve, you are starving me.” “When you torture people, you are torturing me.” “When you kill people, you are killing me.” I believe that God stepped into the world and let himself be tortured and killed, to show us the true consequences of our cruelty and indifference and greed and fear.

Abram didn’t write his letter in a vacuum, as a theological statement. His letter was directed to preachers, to say that we shouldn’t just offer prayers for the victims killed by murderers in schools, but should urge people to action. To say that it is just not acceptable for children to wonder, when they go to school in the morning, whether they will come home that night. To say that we are voters as well as pray-ers, and that unless our civic actions are congruent with our prayers, our prayers are simply empty words.

During Holy Week, we will be dramatically confronted with the question of what we would have done in the conflict between Jesus and the armed and powerful people of his day. Would we, like Peter, have denied him to save ourselves? Would we be roused up to demand his death? Would we, like Pilate, pretend that there is no difference between truth and falsehood, but only power and lack of power?

But we don’t have to wait until Holy Week, or put ourselves into a far-off context, to answer these questions. What is done to the students of Parkland is done to Jesus. Do we deny them? If not, how do we act?