Easter Unfolding

A sermon based on Psalm 116 and Luke 24:13-35 preached on April 30th, 2017

Sermon audio

The ability to see is granted gently.

Throughout scripture, God’s very presence is described as light. The kind of light that overwhelms us, the kind our eyes are not built to withstand or make any sense of.

When God comes to His people, it’s always with a blinding truth that none of us are able to handle. Think of Moses at the burning bush. On fire but not consumed. Think of Sinai, the mountain that only Moses could ascend. He climbed into God’s radiating company. After those mountaintop conversations with God, Moses had to cover his face with a veil, or else the afterglow of God was enough to blind the Israelites.

I imagine every time he stood atop Sinai, Moses shook all over from a reverent fear—an overwhelmed and overwhelming sense of the Holy that not one of us are built to witness. Not many of us could withstand such a sight.

God knows this about us. God was careful with Moses, and God is gentle with us, too. God grants us the ability to see, but He grants it to us gently. Our eyes adjust slowly to new rays of light. That’s why Easter comes not all at once, but over all these days and weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. God unfolds the Truth of Easter slowly. One sign at a time, and only when our eyes and ears, hearts and minds are ready to see it.

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No one has ever found Emmaus. Thousands, perhaps millions, of maps have been unfolded, unearthed, and unrolled from their ancient containers, combed over with magnifying glasses in case its name has faded away, but Emmaus has never been discovered. Perhaps it was never a place—or at least no place in particular.

And Cleopas. Who’s Cleopas? We don’t know really. He wasn’t one of the Twelve, but he was a disciple of Jesus all the same. He and his unnamed traveling companion—they were walking away. Away from Jerusalem. And toward who knows where or what. Maybe they didn’t even know. All they knew was that something they had given their lives to had come to an end. It all had unraveled in the course of the last three days. Along the way to Emmaus, they recounted their time with Jesus to each other. All the places He had taken them.

Wouldn’t we like to know all they were saying to each other. They must have recounted His words. His teachings. They must have laughed at themselves for never understanding any of His parables. What was Jesus trying to say, anyway?!

They must have had conversations along the Road about all the healings they witnessed. The way Jesus talked about God as if He knew God’s own heart—or had God’s own mind. What’s not to be astonished by? How could they ever forget?

They must have recounted that last week with Jesus over and over again while they walked away. The conflict in the Temple. That last meal together. The words Jesus had spoken around that table—this is my body broken;  this is my blood poured. Those sleepy moments in the Garden of Gethsemane when their Master went off on His own to pray. The two of them must have poured over every detail of what happened next. The arrest. The chaos of it. It all happened so fast. The next time they saw Jesus, He was hanging on a cross. Then the burial. How many tears were shed along that road as these last few days unfolded again and again in their memories? How do you walk away from all that?

They were going back to their old lives. They were walking away from the last three years of following Jesus. All of it having unraveled into nothing right in front of them.

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It’s in the thick of their grief, the fog of all this loss, that Jesus comes along. Appearing to them as a fellow companion along their journey away. Anonymous. Just a stranger keeping them company. He walks with them slowly. Nobody’s in a rush here. There’s nowhere specific to go now—nothing left to do anymore, or so they thought. This is slow time along a lost and dusty road. Jesus had so much to share with them. So much to prove to them, but Jesus is patient with them. God grants us the ability to see, but He grants it to us gently. Our eyes adjust slowly to new rays of light. Jesus knows this about us.

It’s along a road like this, with stories shared like these, that the truth of Easter should strike us not as an event that occurred, but a path on which we stand. A journey we take. A direction we walk. Easter, as well as the resurrection that comes with it, they are not one-time events frozen in place along a timeline. They are a constant unfolding of truth that takes place right in front of us. Easter resurrection is a way for us to encounter Jesus no matter when or where we are.

Emmaus maybe be a lost destination so far as maps are concerned, but we know where it is, because we’ve been there before. Emmaus is all the in-between places in our lives. It’s the ground we stand on when we don’t know exactly where we stand or what we stand for. There are many Emmauses. It’s in the middle of these Emmaus moments that Jesus arrives.

What are you discussing as you walk along?

He says.

Jesus companions with us in these places, but He doesn’t reveal himself—not at first, not in any obvious way—because He knows that our faith cannot yet handle a revelation. We aren’t yet ready for that. Faith cannot be forced upon us. It cannot be coerced. Faith—that is, having eyes to see and ears to hear Jesus—does not come all at once. It must be gradually unfolded in front of us. We are brought to sight slowly. As poet Denise Levertov puts it, every step we take is a sort of arrival. God is patient with His people.

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There are moments in our lives when we feel like we’re headed in no specific direction at all. When we lose sight of our purpose and our path. So, we walk away. Away from life as we knew it before. In our grief and hurt, we think that every step forward—away from a life that once was—will distance us from our past.

Jesus knows us better than we know ourselves. That first question He asks the two along the road is Jesus’ way of reminding them of who they are and whose they are. In effect, Jesus comes along and says,

Let me re-tell you your story. It’s God’s story, too.

Jesus won’t let them walk away. God’s story is the biblical story, and we have been a part of it from the very beginning. Jesus won’t let them walk away because first and foremost, this is a story of a God who relentlessly pursues us. Who will not let us go. Who will not let us forget our story. And that’s when Jesus takes over. He tells the two everything that God has been doing. He starts with Moses—all that God has done for His people as God guided them away from slavery in Egypt and into the freedom and abundance of the Promised Land.

Jesus didn’t stop there. He told them about all the prophets who came along after that to guide God’s people in the right direction. Throughout history, those who lose their hope in God—who forget their salvation story—they walk away. But over and over again, God pursued them, retaught them their own story, and set them back on right paths again.

Along the road to Emmaus, as Jesus unfolds God’s story for the two disciples, their hearts are kindled inside of them. Brought to flame. And with each one of Jesus’ words, the two disciples begin piecing back together what they thought was forever broken. Maybe the Jesus story does have a future. Who are we to say that God’s story has an ending? Maybe there’s more.

Easter slowly unfolds in front of these two disciples along the Emmaus road. They start gaining eyes to see some vague notion of a future for themselves. Their hearts are brought to flame as the Holy Spirit speaking into them. But they needed more nudging. We all do. Our eyes are never opened fully. The Easter news of resurrection is too big for us to see all at once. There’s always more that needs revealing. It was only when they stopped and gathered around table, as Jesus broke bread with the two, that something in them was shaken awake.

How many times had they gathered around table with Jesus and shared bread with him? How many times had Jesus hosted a meal with them, inviting the hungry and the lost to be nourished, to recover who they are while sitting around table? This happens over and over again. Countless times. It was around table that their eyes were opened. When bread is shared, all heaven breaks loose.

They recognize Jesus right then. In table fellowship. This should remind us of Communion, of course, but I don’t think that’s the only thing that Luke intends here. After all, it was the two disciples who invited Jesus to stay and eat with them. Jesus was their guest. With hearts burning inside of them, they couldn’t yet let go of this mysterious traveler. They wanted more time with Him. Having been invited to their table, though, Jesus quickly becomes their Heavenly Host, taking bread and breaking it in front of them. It was then, in that moment when Jesus took bread and broke it, that their burning hearts were broken open and they could see!

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Friends, Easter is still unfolding right in front of us. There is no end to God’s story. Salvation is still working itself out right in front us, with every step we take along the Way. Emmaus is nowhere in particular. Emmaus is everywhere. Emmaus always happens. Easter is always unfolding in front of us. In all of our journeys, do we have eyes to see Jesus with us?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.

Observant and Absorbent

A sermon based on Psalm 107:1-7 and 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, preached on November 3rd, 2014

Sermon audio

So, we are planting a tree today.

Joan and Johnny Sharp have donated a Hawthorne tree especially for this occasion. This is our Centennial Tree. Capital letters. Some of our kids will set it down in the ground for us after worship.

We’ve been celebrating our Centennial year all year ‘round, but now is the exciting part where we’re just a few weeks away from the actual date: November 16th. And at this, our 100th anniversary as church, planting a tree is a sign that even after all these years, God still has plenty of growth in store for us.

As we pack this tree in the ground today, and as the next months and years go by, its roots will begin growing outward and downward, sinking deeper into its new home and soaking up nourishment from the soil around it. And as the roots soak into the soil, the tree will grow stronger—more resilient to wind and rain, the coming snow and ice of winter—because it will find its nourishment underneath. This tree will grow from its roots up. It will grow strong because it will find something to connect to—something to attach itself to—and be ever fed by.

Trees seem to know that before they can grow upward, they first have to grow downward and outward—roots before branches. That’s the way to flourish. Roots before branches.

This Centennial Tree will be a sign for us of how God continues to create among us and promises to care for us, His people, all the days of our life as we continue growing together in sacred community.

As we continue growing here at Kuhn Memorial, right where God has planted us. As the roots of this tree grow underground, establishing a solid foundation for itself, so we too as God’s people need to know what’s happening in our root system. We need to tend to our roots or we too we be blown around by any wind or rainstorm that comes along.

You might say, “This church is 100 years old, we’ve spread our roots and they go deep and wide!”

But I’m not talking today about institutional roots—yes, those roots are deep.

This morning, I want you to think about your roots and my roots. How are you and I rooted in God? How far down do those roots go? And are they still growing?

What I’m asking is: How’s your relationship with God? Are you well connected to the Ground of All Being?

How is it with your root system?

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Paul encourages the Christians in Thessalonica to continue pursuing the call of God upon their lives. Paul tells them that God’s Word is alive and growing among them and in them. Paul assures the church in Thessalonica that God is still calling them into stronger relationship with God, and Paul is appealing to them to keep their eyes and ears open to the call of Christ upon their lives.

There’s more relationship yet to come, Paul is telling them.

God is speaking to you. Can you see that God is still working His Word into you?God’s Word continues to work in us who are believers, Paul writes.

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I have been guilty, many times, of making the mistake of thinking that God’s Word is old. When I read the bible, I have a tendency to approach it as if it is a historical artifact—something left over from 2,000 or more years ago. When I do that, I still learn much from it, but I also cut myself off from the life-giving root system of Christ who is the Living Word. I wonder if you’re like me.

Sometimes we have a tendency to kill scripture that way, by looking at it as a record of promises once made—to some people long ago, in a land far from our own. So, I have to remind myself, just as we as a community have to remind ourselves, that the promises we find in scripture are still alive—just as alive as they ever have been before. We follow a God who not only gave us this Word—this book—but a God who sent us Jesus, who is the Living Word. Capital L, capital W.

The Word is alive, friends! God’s Word continues to call to us.

Jesus wants a relationship with you and with me, to be in communication with us. Jesus is calling us into a stronger and deeper and fuller relationship with Him. Jesus wants to be the soil that we plant our own roots deep down into. Jesus is the Living Word in whom we grow, the One from whom we gain our nourishment and strength—roots fed from deep down so our branches can grow strong and we as individuals and as a faith community can flourish.

So, how can we build up our root system? The only way we can expect to grow in our faith is if we connect to God’s Word through devotion to scripture and prayer. Rooting ourselves in God’s Word—personal and daily devotion to scripture—and connecting to God through daily prayer, that’s what makes for a healthy root system. One that will keep us stable in our Christian faith.

Now, God’s Word is of course much bigger than the words we read in the bible, God’s Word, capital W, is the Holy Spirit that blows among us, opening our eyes and our ears to the glimmers of God that shine all around us. But it order to notice God’s Word unfolding in front of us, we need to train ourselves to see it, hear it—we need to be trained observers of God’s work in the world. And the best way to dig roots down that deep is through constant devotion to a life of prayer and reading scripture. That’s how we participate in God’s Word—that’s the way to hear God’s voice among us and in us.

To use Paul’s words, That’s how God’s message continues to work in us who are believers.

It is when we lay ourselves down into the soil of a prayer-filled and scripture-filled life that we will grow.

A root system nourished by prayer and scripture will spread out far and wide and keep us anchored to the rich soil of God’s Word, and connected to each other, the branches of our Christian family tree.

The Word of God is alive, friends! Be observant, be absorbent. God will feed you with it and you will grow stronger and be more rooted, and we as Kuhn Memorial Presbyterian Church will be also when we devote ourselves to knowing God’s Word through prayer and devotion to Scripture.

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Tonight we will gather together to break bread around tables at our annual Stewardship Dinner. The entire evening will about nourishment, really! As we eat our meal together, we will hear from Bruce Boone who is from ECCHO. He will talk to us about the ongoing food and clothing needs in our community. Bruce and others at ECCHO work hard to feed and clothe the undernourished and the underprivileged in our midst, and tonight will be a great occasion to learn more about the people ECCHO serves on a daily basis because they are also the people we serve here.

In essence, that is what stewardship is, it’s the daily awareness of how were are nourished and sustained by God, and a daily thanksgiving—a daily pouring out of gratitude as we respond to God’s goodness in our lives by caring for others.

Stewardship is about being rooted in the life of God, and paying careful attention to our root system, being grateful that we are the beneficiaries of the rich soil of God’s good news in Jesus Christ, the Source of all our living, the Continuously-Blessing Source of all of our blessing. Christ, our very Nourishment and Strength. That is the Ground from which we grow and are being fed. We will come tonight to dedicate our first fruits to the mission and service of this church. To double-down on our commitment to participate in the ongoing work of God’s Word in the world.

God’s Word is alive, friends!

So my question to you this morning is this: How do you expect God to continue to work inside of you? Will you connect yourself—will you put roots deep down into the rich soil of God’s Word, connecting yourself to the Ground of Being through prayer and the reading of scripture? And will you come this evening to our Stewardship Dinner to pledge a part of yourself and a part of your livelihood expecting God to grow something new in you?

God continues to work His Word into us and our life together as His church. God works with what we offer to God. May we come offering our very best to God, because it’s when we come offering the very best of ourselves that God will work in us and transform us into something even better. God will work His Word in us and transform us by it.

And the very best gift we give to God is the gift of ourselves, as we plant our roots deep down into God’s rich soil by devoting ourselves entirely to knowing God’s Living Word. That’s when God will grow something new in us.

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God wants us to be observant and absorbent people—observant in prayer and absorbing the Word. Growing our roots deeper into the rich soil of God’s Word.

If we commit ourselves to that kind of life of prayer and devotion—watching out and listening up for God’s Word in us and around us—we, just like that small sapling out there—will lay down deep and strong roots that will connect us to the Source of all our nourishment and strength. That’s how God will build you up. If we commit ourselves to that work, we will have a whole lot of growing to look forward to.

God’s Word is alive, friends! What do we expect God to do next and how will you participate in it?

All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!

Alleluia! Amen.