Sermon

Sermon

Let us once more turn toward the Lord in prayer . . .

Loving God,

help us to forget everything that we think we know about you, so that we may be open to new possibilities of who you are;

help us to forget everything that we think we know about love, so that we may be open to new understandings of what it means to love you with our whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.

Once more we ask for the presence of your Holy Spirit, so that the word which is about to be proclaimed will be your Word to us, in this time and in this place.

And in all things, Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
__________________

If The Heart Were A Bone... I'd Be Crippled
(Based on Luke 24:13-35)

    I can remember being young and watching the play Peter Pan.  In that play there is a scene in which Tinker Bell, who becomes jealous of Wendy, agrees to betray Peter Pan by identifying the location of his hiding place to Captain Hook. Captain Hook then sends a bomb to Peter Pan which is disguised as a present from Tinker Bell; the plan, obviously, to blow up Peter Pan. When Tinker Bell discovers Hook's plan she rushes to where Peter is an takes the package, saving Peter, but getting caught in the explosion. When Peter Pan realized what had happened, he turned to the audience, pleading them to wish as hard as they could and clap their hands as loudly as they were able, and said that if we believed hard enough, Tinker Bell would come back to life. So like all the people in the audience I clapped and wished as hard as I could and Tinker Bell was saved. That is how life worked in Never-Never Land– a strong wish and a loud clap could perform miracles.

    Since that time, however, I have forgotten my way to Never-Never Land; and, as a result, I spend most of my time residing in the "real world." In the real world we sometimes have hopes that the laws of Never-Never Land apply, but we usually know better. In the real world we sometimes express the hope that the underdog will win out against the ruthless oppressor. We sometimes express the hope that those who do bad things will be punished, if not by civil or criminal law, then at least by some cosmic law. So we speak of concepts such as karma and reciprocity and we remind ourselves that "what goes around comes around."

    Unfortunately, though, when we remove the Peter Pan spectacles from our eyes and view the world for what it really is, we find that the people who do bad things more often than not, act with impunity; and worse, are often rewarded for their actions. We see that the ruthless oppressor nearly always rolls over the underdog, crushing it without the slightest effort. And we realize that, no matter how hard we wish and how loudly we clap, Tinker Bell stays dead. This is the real world; and it is exactly to this world which the Bible speaks.

    The Jews in the first century lived in the "real world." They had been oppressed long enough to learn of the fate of the underdog. They had wished hard enough to learn the futility of that effort. Although they had, for the most part, accepted their condition, they expected God to do something about it. They expressed hope for the Messiah. Now, the reality was that there was very little agreement on exactly who the Messiah would be or what he would do; Yet, in spite of the particular expectation associated with the Messiah, most Jews associated the Messiah with freedom from oppression. God's Messiah would come in and wipe everything clean. The Messiah would throw out all the enemies of God's people and establish a theocracy. The Messiah would restore Israel to its former glory. The Messiah was perceived as being a sort of end-time Peter Pan, who would stand up to the Romans and establish the Kingdom of God.  

    That seems to be what many of the followers of Jesus expected him to do and to be. Jesus was perceived by many as the Messiah complete with whatever Messianic hopes they wished to attach to him.  His followers watched as he triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of  the Lord!” And they watched in horror as he was betrayed, tried, and crucified a few days later. And since they lived in the real world, they knew that no amount of wishing and clapping was going to bring him back. As a result, their Messianic hopes died on the cross with Jesus, whom they expected to liberate Israel.

    Then, out of nowhere, women who went to the tomb of Jesus to make the final preparations for his burial found that the tomb was empty and had a vision in which two angels told them that he was alive. The women went to the eleven and other disciples but they lived in the real world and "these words seemed to them an idle tale and they did not believe them"(24:11). Later that day, two disciples where walking to Emmaus and Jesus himself came up to them and accompanied them, but they did not recognize him. They were the underdog in the real world; they were crushed by people who did bad things. Their hearts were shattered; and the irony is that just when they needed to see Jesus the most, they failed to recognized him.

    It seems that there are times in our lives when Christ is standing right in front of us, probably when we need to see him the most, and we are unable to recognize him. Even more ironic, it is often those who are expected to know Christ the best who have the hardest time seeing  him. These two people were not strangers who happened to stumble upon Jesus on the road to Emmaus, these were two of his disciples. They were people who would be expected to know Jesus the best and yet they did not see him for who he was.  

    As one who has recently graduated from seminary, I can relate to this irony. I do not want to suggest that seminarians or ministers or those with theological training have special privilege in the God department; yet, I like to think that as a Master of Divinity or as a Minister, if God were standing right in front of me, I would notice. But the fact is that I very seldom notice. When talking to a friend about what keeps us from seeing God I stated that I was in seminary and miss seeing God left and right.  She responded by saying to me "Well, I'm not in seminary and I see God everywhere."

    In the Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker traveled to find Yoda to receive Jedi training. During the training Yoda told Luke that the force was all around him and that it flowed through him but Luke was unable to recognize that fact. Luke's mind was on events and happenings around him. He was concerned with the fate of his friends as they battled the Empire and he failed to see the power of the force that was his ally.  

    As a student I have been caught up with papers, tests, and studying; as a pastor, I have been lost in meetings, committees, programs, writing, reading, and I have failed to see the God who is all around me. I encounter people who are so concerned with work, money, feeding their families, and just trying to survive that they never recognize the Christ in their midst. Perhaps that is why the two disciples fail to recognize Jesus when he appeared to them. They may have been so caught up in the events of the past week that they could not see what was going on around them. They may have been worried about the fate of their friends; perhaps they were too concerned with trying to survive what was going on around them to see the Christ who was in front of them.

    Another possibility, is that even if they did recognized Jesus, they were unable to believe what they were seeing. They lived in the real world. In their world dead people stayed dead. They did not have shows such as Sightings or the X-Files to tell them otherwise. On the other hand, it may have been their expectations of who and what Christ was to them that rendered them incapable of seeing him. Sometimes our expectations of God keep us from seeing God.

    Most people seem to believe that an encounter with God has to be some blatantly supernatural event.  We expect to see a burning bush on the way to Burger King. Maybe we will be stopped by a blinding light on the road to Lexington. The expectation is that encounters with God are huge. They are accompanied by angels. Messages from God are delivered by loud, deep, booming voices; God's messengers speak like Charleton Heston's Moses and not like anybody we normally meet. Let's be honest, most of the time, this is how we expect to encounter God; even those of us who allegedly know better. And we fail to see how these expectations blind us to the reality of God in our daily lives; and how we often blind others from recognizing the Christ in their midst. The friend who told me that she in not in seminary and sees God everywhere also told me that "If the expectation is that I am supposed to have something ethereal happen (to see God), then it's not going to happen to me. I don't live up there. I live here."  

    And to be truthful, even the blatantly supernatural encounters with God often fail to get our attention.  In the text the disciples are encountered with an empty tomb, angelic visits, and promises of resurrection and it did not make a difference to them. Even the blatantly supernatural event does not ensure our ability to recognize God.  

    It may be that sometimes we place more faith in our expectations than on the one in whom our expectations are fulfilled. We plan how everything is going to turn out. The disciples had huge expectations for their Messiah. They expected big things from him. They said in the passage, "We expected that he was the one destined to liberate Israel." They expected that he was the one to kick out the Romans. They had the expectation that their country was going to be saved; and it just didn't happen that way. Later Jesus said to them "Here it is in Moses; these are all the prophecies..." and they still don't see it. They don't see it until he breaks bread with them which is such a simple act.

    When we place all of our hopes on our expectations of what will be, we are left with nothing when what we expected does not materialize. Our hopes are dashed. If our hearts were bone we would be crippled. But when all our expectations fail us; when our hope is gone and we are left hopeless; when we are left with that huge hole in our gut that whistles when the wind blows; we just may discover that the hole in our gut is shaped just like God. And perhaps that is when we are ready to recognize the Christ in our midst; and perhaps that is when we are able to see the compassion of God.

    Where do we see the compassion of God in this passage? One friend suggested to me that bearing with people who don't have a clue and trying to sit down and explain it to them demonstrates God's compassion. His brother has a learning disability and just does not get the simple act of reading. In attempting to help his brother "get it" my friend will often just hold his brother in his arms and read for him; or his brother sets the pace by pointing to a word and my friend reads it. That is what he sees Jesus doing in this passage:  Jesus is holding these two people in his arms and he's saying, "You point at the words and I'll read the words."

    Another friend sees this as being just another example of the steadfast love of God. God will follow through until you understand. "Here is how Moses said it...Here is how the prophets said it...Here's how  I'm saying it... Alright, you're still not going to get it?... I'll keep going all night with you until you get it." And then they get it.  

    The compassion of God in our lives is that we don't have to wait for the blatantly supernatural event to encounter God, but that we can see God in the ordinary aspects of our daily routines.  We can encounter God in the ordinary things such as bread and wine. A friend can see God in the fact that she was able to be a decent person to others today. Another friend sees God when he hears that the crime rate is down. Another friend encountered God in the daily routine of going to a restaurant and one day sitting next to a woman at the counter to whom he is now married. And I have recently seen God in a situation of a 18 year old kid who can't go a day without using drugs; and who will die as the result of his addiction. In spite of that fact, I saw God acting in a totally godless situation. I witnessed God in the actions of a small group of people who were willing to do anything that it would take to help this kid, who just can't get it, make it through one night without using.  

    Perhaps it is not very comforting to realize that we sometimes only see God when everything else is stripped away from us; that we sometimes only see God in front of us because God is the only thing that we have left to which we can cling. Perhaps it is not very comforting to know that sometimes, all too often, inside each one of us, there is a God-shaped hole just waiting to be filled. And maybe it is only marginally comforting to know that even when all else fails us, Christ can still be found standing in our midst... staying with us until we get it... holding us until we are able to read the words for ourselves. Then again, that may be the most comforting message some of us will ever hear. It may be the most comforting message that those of us who live in the "real world" are able to hear. It may just be that some of the laws from Never-Never Land apply here after all. It seems that even in the real world death is not the final authority; and with a little faith and a little effort, we just may be able to perform miracles.


Amen.
  


Profession of Faith and Prayer of the People