Monday, May 1, 2017

Sermon: Is Jesus Coming?

"Is Jesus Coming?"
Luke 24: 13-35; 1 Peter 1: 17-25
by Rev. Carson Overstreet
Van Wyck Presbyterian Church
Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.

While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’

They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’

Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
- Luke 24: 13-35

If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.

Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.
- 1 Peter 1: 17-23

She was sitting in the sanctuary. Glennon Doyle Melton was sharing Chapel Time with a preschool class. This sweet group of four year olds waddled down the aisle in single file like geese. Their faces looked up and around at the bigness of God’s house. Their eyes were wide with curiosity and wonder.

The class sat down with legs criss-crossed like applesauce. One little boy happened to make eye contact with Glennon. His name was Ryan. Glennon gave Ryan that wink – saying I’m glad you’re here. And Ryan just gave her back a shy smile.

The children, teachers and Glennon sang songs and did a little dance to the tune of Jesus loves me. And then Ryan looked at Glennon again but this time nudged his head with that “Come sit next to me” nudge.

After she sat down Ryan tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Miss Glennon, is God coming?” And then he looked over the pews and around the sanctuary again wondering what door God just might walk through.

I have always told my daughters since they were in preschool “If you have a question, chances are that a few others have that same question too.”

Sure enough the disciples had a similar question. They were having a hard time understanding what had happened to their Lord. Jesus’ life and ministry had changed their lives and countless others. They knew Jesus loved them. But Jesus’ death made no sense to them. It had ended all wrong. They had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).

The craziest part was the women. That very morning the women told the disciples the tomb was empty (Luke 24:10-11, 22-24). The disciples thought it was just an idle tale. It was now the third day since Jesus’ death and even though Peter verified the tomb, the question was there – Is Jesus coming? Will we see Jesus again?

Cleopas and another disciple took their question on a road trip. They picked a place from point A to B; they walked from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The Greek says they were not just chewing the fat, but they were debating and reasoning. They walked and talked to get a new perspective to their question.

I love Luke’s Emmaus story. Jesus did show up but in an unexpected way. Jesus came as a fellow traveler – a stranger – on the journey. At first the disciples saw the stranger’s difference. The disciples were stunned this stranger had no idea about the current talk of the town.

It is captivating that the Stranger in disguise was the One who opened a new perspective for the disciples. As they walked and talked, the Stranger opened God’s Word to them from His context and interpretation. This journey opened a door for the disciples to share table hospitality with the Stranger.

There is something about table fellowship that breaks down our barriers. When the bread was broken and the cup was shared then the disciples no longer saw a stranger or just a fellow traveler. They saw Jesus Christ and their eyes were opened and their hearts were burning.

Last Sunday evening we took a journey with Stuart, Jake, Camille, and Laine. Just weeks ago, these four traveled along their own Emmaus roads. The decision to participate on a mission trip comes about in funny ways; the Spirit nudges us all differently.

Whether we travel to another country, another state, or within our own community – our road to Emmaus leads us to walk and talk with those we might not ordinarily. We take this road trip with our question in hand – Is Jesus coming? Will Jesus show up?

Stuart’s mission team went to Honduras to build latrines and wash rooms for future homes for families in need.

Jake’s mission team went to Panama to work on a medical facility to finish a roof, a kitchen interior, and to paint window panels.

Laine’s and Camille’s mission team went to Beverly, Kentucky to build a handicap ramp and assess basic needs within homes that were without working stoves and toilets.

Mission trips open our eyes to economic and social hardships that communities endure daily. We struggle with the hardships that poverty brings. We even struggle with the differences that exist with our respective cultures and how we do things.

Each team worked alongside strangers - both the team members from various churches and the local residents receiving help. From Honduras, to Panama, to Kentucky - each team saw something amazing happen. These strangers began to see beyond their differences. Relationships began to form in all their walking, talking, and working together. Meal times became sacramental as food and lives were shared. And then eyes were opened and hearts were burning as Christ was seen in the stranger.

Stuart saw Christ in the families and children of Honduras. God’s love allowed these families to rise above their hardships and find joy in the simple things. God’s love was central in families as they cared for one another in community. God’s love provided all they needed as well as hearts that poured out gratitude.

Jake saw Christ in a disabled young adult in Panama. This young man had the biggest smile as he helped paint window panels and anything else his paintbrush found. God’s mercy brought great joy in this young man. Jake discovered that when we show up - no matter what our abilities are - God shows up too. We each have a gift of faith to share in a way that no one else can share.

Camille and Laine saw Christ in their host who was the son of the local minister in Kentucky. This host offered the church to the mission team in such hospitality. Camille and Laine saw God’s generosity and abundance flourish in the midst of scarcity. They saw life-changing events where Christ was bringing new life through one another.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go on mission trips. Some will say they have never felt the call to go. Nevertheless we come to church on Sundays with a hopeful trust to see God by some mystery of grace. The bigness of God’s house is filled with songs, God’s Word, prayers, and sometimes a loud “Amen!” if the Spirit hits us just right.

We are then sent out into the world to pick up the journey between Sundays. We go back to school, back to work, back to our projects and back to our unfinished places. We walk along our own roads to Emmaus, the in-between places of life, and we wonder where Jesus might show up. The Gospel of Luke assures us that the risen Christ is our constant companion in faith.

Faith is God’s classroom to open our perspectives with curiosity and wonder; that classroom reaches from our hearts and homes to all the way across the world. We might get stuck on certain aspects of the exploration of faith, like the crucifixion and resurrection. But God is at work in mysterious ways to reveal a bigger picture to us.

The sacrificial love and resurrection of Jesus Christ has brought redemption and salvation to creation and humanity. And yet God chooses to work through each of us to continue reconciling the world. The risen Christ is on the move to work through you and me to bring new life.

The fact that the risen Christ was revealed as one of us is an act of God’s mercy. Anne Lamott says it like this in her new book, “Hallelujah Anyway”: “Mercy means compassion, empathy, a heart for someone’s troubles. It’s not something you do – it is something in you, accessed, revealed, or cultivated through use, like a muscle. We find mercy in the most unlikely places.”[1]

Jesus’ faithful presence and mercy bless friends, neighbors, and strangers alike with a tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. Blessed be the tie that binds because we need each other. We need each other’s differing cultures, interpretations, and uniqueness. We need one another’s mercy and compassion. We need to see Christ in one another to gain God’s perspective on our journeys of life and faith. God’s perspective connects the dots of our lives and moves us to take the next right step.

As we continue on the journey between Sundays, may the Spirit move us to see the stranger as our companion in faith in unexpected places. As we work together and see Christ in one another our eyes are opened more and our spirits are moved in life-giving ways.

The writer of Hebrews says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers for by doing so some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13: 1-2).

This week someone will be asking “Is God coming? Is Jesus going to show up?” And they just might see the risen Christ through you.
In the name of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sources Referenced:

[1] Anne Lamott, “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy” (New York: Riverhead Books, 2017), p. 51.

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