Monday, April 7, 2008

We Are Easter People…So We Receive


(A sermon for the third Sunday of Easter based on Luke 24:13-35)

We talk a lot at church about what we are supposed to do, about what we need to do, and even sometimes about what we must do. I am very much aware that over the last few years I have emphasized the need for Christians to be servants who care more about loving Christ by loving others than they do about being served themselves. I don’t apologize for that—it’s the biblical and Christian way to live. Once you enter into Christian faith, life is about giving rather than getting, it is about serving rather than being served, and it is about dying to self rather than grasping for self. We serve a Savior who came not to be served but to serve. We are called to live the same way. The truth is that we have so much to give and we need to give it.

Still, we have so much to give only because we have received so much. We have such good gifts that God has given to us for his sake, for our sake, for the sake of the world, and for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Today I want us to celebrate those gifts. I want us to celebrate the fact that because we are Easter people—because we are people who live in the light of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection—we have received and continue to receive great gifts from God.

We learn something about what we receive from the Emmaus Road story.

Two followers of Jesus, one named Cleopas and the other one unnamed, were on Easter afternoon walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, “talking with each other about all these things that had happened” (v. 14). They were of course talking about the crucifixion of Jesus and the mysterious words of the women who had found the empty tomb. Can you imagine their wonder and confusion? Then, the resurrected Jesus came into their presence and broke into their conversation. The resurrected Jesus broke into their lives.

The breaking of the resurrected Jesus into our lives—that is the greatest gift of all! Some other gifts are associated with it.

The Gift of Scripture

People are always looking for a code that will decipher life. Some get overly fascinated with stories like The Da Vinci Code, thinking that maybe there is some deep dark secret that will somehow unlock the mystery of life. Some get overly fascinated with esoteric readings of Scripture, thinking that there must be some secret knowledge beneath the surface. For instance, a popular book of a few years ago called The Bible Code claimed that computer analysis of the Hebrew Bible revealed hidden messages. Such thinking is faulty and unnecessary; the main and plain teachings of Scripture offer us enough help and challenge to engage us in positive and productive ways for the rest of our lives.

The Bible does not tell us everything that we need to know about everything there is to know. But the Bible does tell us everything that we need to know about the most important thing there is to know: how to live in a saving relationship with God. The message of the Bible is that God always has been and still is working to reconcile his fallen creation to himself. Ultimately, the Bible points us to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was the Word made flesh and in whom “the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” If we want to know who and how God is, we need look only to Jesus Christ.

So Scripture points us to Jesus. In turn, Jesus shows us how to read and understand the Bible. And so, when the Emmaus Road travelers talked about their experience with Jesus and expressed their disappointment in the way his life had turned out (“We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel”), Luke tells us that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures” (v. 27). Jesus is the key to seeing what the Bible says about Jesus—and about us.

How do we meet and know the resurrected Christ? Last week I said it was by hearing the Word of God. This week I am saying that we meet him in Holy Scripture. It is not saying too much to say that we meet Jesus in Scripture and that he meets us there, too. The main thing that happens to us in salvation happens because we come to know him in the sense of having a personal relationship with him, but that in turn opens Scripture up to us. Jesus is the interpretive key to Scripture. He is the lens through which Scripture is read and understood. It is the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that open up for us what the Bible is all about and what God himself is all about.

And so those two disciples said, after realizing that it was Jesus who had been talking with them, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (v. 32).

John Wesley, telling of his journey toward salvation, reported,

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate-street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death. (http://www.umcworship.org)

Interesting, no? Wesley’s heart was “strangely warmed” as he listened to someone read what Martin Luther had said about what Paul had said about “the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ.” Our hearts burn within us—our hearts are strangely warmed—when we meet the Christ who saves us. The fires are kept burning as we grow in our knowledge of God’s way through Christ and for us that Scripture opens up for us.

We are Easter people and so we receive the gift of Scripture. In the gift of Scripture we receive the gift of the resurrected Christ.

The Gift of Fellowship

The resurrected Jesus draws us into community. He welcomes us and he prompts us to welcome others. Cleopas and his companion were just walking down the road, talking, when Jesus came alongside them and began walking and talking with them. Two were gathered—and he was there with them. He helped them to understand what they needed to know, even while they did not know that it was he.

Last week I said that we know the resurrected Lord in the hearing of the Word of God. A few minutes ago I said that we know the resurrected Lord in Holy Scripture. Now I am saying that we know the resurrected Lord as we receive the gift of his fellowship—he gladly comes to us and talks with us and communes with us.

The two travelers exemplified Christian hospitality when they asked Jesus—they still did not know it was he—to stay with them because it was growing late. Travel was very dangerous in those days and inns were disreputable places so travelers depended on the kindness of others for shelter. They also invited him to share their meal with them—few kinds of intimacy exceed that of table fellowship. Cleopas and his companion welcomed this most interesting stranger to their table.

It was, of course, Jesus Christ that they were welcoming and to whom they were showing hospitality. But they didn’t know that. They were literally fulfilling what Jesus had said when he said that those who took in the stranger were doing so to him. We entertain Jesus when we welcome each other and when we welcome those whom we don’t know or don’t quite understand.

Isn’t it interesting that their eyes were finally opened to the identity of Jesus when he “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them” (v. 30)? Or, as they later testified, “He had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35).

In other words, we receive Jesus when we practice hospitality, when we welcome one another, and when we engage in fellowship. We receive him when we receive one another.

We especially receive Jesus when we share in the Lord’s Supper. The echoes of the Last Supper are unmistakable in this episode. God has given us a special gift in the sharing of the Lord’s Supper. In the breaking of the bread we encounter the resurrected Christ again; we are made aware of his presence with us. We are made aware that he is present with us not just in the moments of the Lord’s Supper but in all the moments of our lives.

We are Easter people and so we receive the gift of fellowship. In the gift of fellowship—be it our welcoming of him as we welcome others or our meeting with him in the Lord’s Supper—we receive the gift of the resurrected Christ.

The greatest gift we have received is a relationship with God through his resurrected Son Jesus Christ. God has given us other great gifts, too, among them the gift of Scripture and the gift of fellowship, within which we continue to meet and to know the resurrected Christ. The only question is this: are we taking full advantage of the wonderful gifts that God has given us?

1 comment:

Progressive Faith said...

I found your comment about the Emmaus road story to be rather interesting.

Do you feel this story should be understood as a literal event?

Personally, I think it tells us so much more about the nature of the entire gospel account of resurrection. It shows us clearly that the resurrection stories are parables with deeper meanings. Jesus was walking with them in "spirit" but not seen by them until they gathered and broke bread together. They could Jesus only when they interacted with each other. They were, as Paul described, the body of Christ. Jesus lived in them and still lives in us. We “meet him” in each other as we embody Christ for one another. How else could we explain the inability to recognize him in the story? This story makes the case for a non-literal view of scripture and specifically the non-literal view of his resurrection. For me, the story is true in meaning but not a historical event. This understand is allows faith and science to coexist.

Does a non-literal view of the resurrection story exclude someone from Christianity?