Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Never Ending Story

Luke 24:13-35   (NRSV)
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.

Nancy and I have been doing lots of reminiscing as we near the end out our time serving together in active ministry.

And as I was pondering my sermon this morning I recalled a story that took place just about 26 years ago.

It was the spring of 1989 and Nancy and I were serving at Pretty Lake Trinity United Methodist Church on the West Side of Plymouth Indiana.  Really, it was out in the country, but I didn't want to admit to that then.

The youth led the Easter Sunrise service each year and that Saturday afternoon we had run through the service ---- It was a beautiful spring day --- warm enough that after the run through we could walk over to the Parsonage and play a little basketball.

The NCAA tourney was heading to the final four the next weekend.

Easter evening Duke would beat top seeded Georgetown in the East Regional Final to propel them to the Final Four.

Duke) lost in the National Semi-Final and Michigan won it's only NCAA Men's Basketball championship, in a thrilling overtime game.

I had set up a basketball goal at the house, so a few of the youth came over and we started playing basketball.

I was 29 at the time, and thought I had all the right stuff.

I remember this as if it happened yesterday.

I was driving to the basket, doing one of my best Michael Jordan moves

I did a little shake and bake and went in for the easy basket

As I soared for the basket --- out of nowhere --- Clyde, a gangly teenager in the youth group --- came out of nowhere and blocked my shot --- stuffing the ball in my face.

And I will never forget --- as I was picking my embarrassed self off of the ground --- Clyde turned to me and said:
"You know --- if you had jumped I don't think I would have ever blocked it."

Heck --- I jumped as high as I could

So why have I embarrassed myself telling you this story of my athletic prowess?

To make a point ---
And that point is that sometimes things happen right in front of us and we don't even notice them

Clyde assumed I had not jumped!
          While the reality was just the opposite.

It reminds me of my favorite phrases that my mother always used to say about losing things in plain sight
If it were a snake (she would say) --- it would have bit you

Too often our lives become:
Too busy
too complicated
so confusing
that it becomes easy to fail to notice all that is going on around you

Many of you know my friend Mark, the pastor at Crown Point UMC, he tells a great story about a time when he was spending a semester of college in Germany

During that semester he had been having a great time --- but he says he remembers becoming very homesick
During the semester he had to have his appendix removed and he spent quite a bit of time in the hospital

He had the opportunity to visit East Germany (for those of you who don't remember --- this was before the wall separating the East and the West existed and Germany was reunified)
That visit made him long for the USA and home

During a break from school his parents decided to come and visit him

His parents flew into Brussels and Mark had to take the train to meet them

He recalls that he got there a couple of hours after their plane was set to land, so he went directly to the hotel they were staying at to meet them

When he arrived at the hotel he found that they had yet to check in, so he left a note with the front desk that he was going to go across the street to a little cafe and have some breakfast and that they should come and join him when they arrived.

As he turned to head to the cafe --- he saw his mother and father walking into the hotel
Mark says that he dropped what he was doing and ran over and embraced his dad

His dad, so startled by the experience called out:
"Please let go of me --- I am just a tourist --- I just arrived"

His dad failed to recognize who it was that was embracing him

I know --- you are all telling me that story is ridiculous --- that it would never happen --- BUT IT DID

If you remember our Easter Gospel story from last week it is virtually identical

Do you remember the story?

Mary Magdalene has come to the tomb early on that first Easter
She finds that the stone which had blocked the tomb had been rolled away

While standing there perplexed she meets a man at the tomb who asks her
"Woman, why are you crying?  Whom do you seek?"

Mary was certain that it was the gardener and so she asks him what has happened to the body of Jesus --- for she wanted to go and prepare the body for burial

Mary FAILED TO RECOGNIZE that the person she was talking to was actually Jesus

But that NEVER happens

Our Gospel story this morning --- Two men are walking home after the death of Jesus.

There wasn't any reason to hang around in Jerusalem any longer --- and it was probably dangerous to do so if you were one of Jesus' followers
          So they were heading home
No doubt --- disappointed

As they were walking along a stranger begins to walk with them

They talk about everything that had been going on in Jerusalem the past week

Only when they broke bread together did they realize it was Jesus.

Do you think you would recognize Jesus if he came alongside you today?

How would you know it was him?

One year when I was working with the confirmation class I asked that question and I loved their answers
          They were of course all over the place

But my favorite of all time has to be when one of the students replied:
"That's easy, I would recognize him because his clothes would be old and look funny."

But seriously --- how would you recognize Jesus today?

Frederick Buechner in his book The Magnificent Defeat writes about finding Jesus when we fail to recognize him:
. . . it is precisely at such times as this that Jesus is apt to come, into the very midst of life at its most real and inescapable. Not in a blaze of unearthly light, not in the midst of a sermon, not in the throes of some kind of religious daydream, but . . . at supper time, or walking along a road. This is the element that all the stories about Christ's return to life have in common: Mary waiting at the empty tomb and suddenly turning around to see somebody standing there—someone she thought at first was the gardener; all the disciples except Thomas hiding out in a locked house, and then his coming and standing in the midst; and later, when Thomas was there, his coming again and standing in the midst; Peter taking his boat back after a night at sea, and there on the shore, near a little fire of coals, a familiar figure asking, "Children, have you any fish?"; the two men at Emmaus who knew him in the breaking of the bread. He never approached from on high, but always in the midst, in the midst of people, in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks. . . . The sacred moments of miracle, are often the everyday moments, the moments which, if we do not look with more than our eyes, or listen with more than our ears, reveal only . . . the gardener

Somehow we have to open our inner eyes
          The eyes that touch our heart
so that we will not just see a stranger, not just see a simple gardener
But so that we might see Jesus

During World War II a Christian woman in Germany did all that she could do to help save the Jews from persecution (and often death)

Because of her efforts she was arrested by the Nazis and found herself sent off to a concentration camp.

While in the camp she begged the guards to let her hold an Easter service for the other Christians in the camp.

After a great deal of debate she was finally allowed to hold a service --- but was told that it could only last 5 minutes

They spent the five minutes singing hymns and reading the Easter story --- and when the five minutes were over --- the guard came and whisked the prisoners off to their cells

She too was thrown back into her cell --- and the door was slammed behind her

As she lay on her cot in the bare cell --- there was a noise at the window and a guard passed an Easter lily into her cell.

Jesus was real and present in that moment

          Where do you see Jesus?

Do you miss him, or do you find him in the little things?

In a few moments, I am going to invite you to come and share in the Eucharist.

One of the things that I am convinced of --- is that Easter was not a one and done experience.

Nor is it just a once a year celebration

Easter is WHENEVER we encounter Jesus.
at the tomb
walking along the road
at the grocery store
at work
in the midst of our family

whenever we break bread together

As you come to receive these gifts --- ask yourself --- can I see Jesus? 
          Is Jesus real to me --- here and now?

And if the answer is NO? 
          Open your eyes --- for Jesus is all around you

And if you can --- don't keep Jesus to yourself --- share Jesus with as many as you can

The good news --- as we journey through life --- is that the story of Jesus is NEVER ENDING

Jesus is always with us --- if we will just open our eyes and embrace his love

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