Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chosen to Proclaim

May 14, 2017 - 5th Sunday of Easter

Made my me using an image by Swinx on

1 Peter 2:1-10
Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander. 2Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— 3if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
4Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and 5like living stones, let yourselves be built* into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6For it stands in scripture:
‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
   a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him* will not be put to shame.’
7To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,
‘The stone that the builders rejected
   has become the very head of the corner’,
‘A stone that makes them stumble,
   and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people,* in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
10Once you were not a people,
   but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
   but now you have received mercy.

Sermon: “Chosen to Proclaim”

“You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people.”

Now doesn’t that just feel GOOD?  We’re chosen by God.  Take a moment, turn to your neighbor, and tell them, “You are chosen by God.”

Chosen.  Hand-picked by God.  Do you remember playing as a child, and having to pick teams?  Oh, the horror of being the last one picked.  Standing there awkwardly shuffling your feet, praying that someone, anyone would call your name.  The shame of being too short and being the consolation prize for the last team to pick someone.  Or remember a time when you were going for that promotion you’d worked so hard for, only to not be the CHOSEN one.  It’s not a good feeling. 

But 1 Peter this morning tells us that we are chosen by God.  We’re God’s first choice for the heavenly dodgeball team.  The first pick for a promotion into heaven.  A chosen race.  A royal priesthood.  A holy nation.  God’s own people.  Ah.  It feels good to be chosen. 

A lot of Christians have talked about how good it feels to be God’s chosen people.  Here are some examples:
“I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.”

“Who says I am not under the special protection of God?”

“But God knows he has given us an extremely difficult, complicated mission.  I have seen his hand in history, and I see little miracles everyday.  He loves his people so much he came to earth and walked among us and sacrificed himself for us—to redeem his people.  He will preserve his people.”

We might say these same statements.  They sound pretty good.  These people knew what it meant to be chosen. 

But before we shout our (inner) Presbyterian “Amen” to these statements, I have to tell you the whole story.  The first two statements were made by none other than Adolf Hitler.  The last, by a member of the Klu Klux Klan.

Do you see the harm caused by wrongly interpreting being chosen by God?  Dwelling on the idea of chosenness is dangerous. History has shown us this again and again.

So that we can safeguard against doing this, let’s look at the 1 Peter text again: “But you are a chosen race (which means “family” in the Greek, by the way), a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who brought you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
So much meaning in three little words.  We are chosen in order that we will proclaim God’s great acts.  We are chosen to proclaim the One who chose us.  So you see, if we stop at the ‘being chosen’ part, focusing only on that, we miss half of the equation.  We end up sounding very much like Adolf Hitler or the KKK. 

The writer of 1 Peter doesn’t just tell us we’re chosen; he also tells us what this chosenness should look like.  Who’s the first person who is said to be chosen?  The one “rejected by mortals, yet chosen and precious in God’s sight.” Jesus Christ. The chosen one is rejected by people, suffers and gives his life for all.  The chosen one dies.  So chosenness, then, doesn’t look so much like a mighty victory or sense of superiority. Chosenness looks like self-sacrifice.  It looks like giving entirely of yourself for others. 

We see this in scripture through those chosen people of Israel.  Their chosenness led them to hardship and wandering in the wilderness, longing for home.   Their chosenness gave them such an accountable and intimate relationship with God that God demanded great faithfulness of them, and even punished them when they fell short.  Their chosenness meant that if they oppressed the needy in their midst, or the foreigner, or the widow or the orphan, they themselves suffered for their actions.  So, we have to ask ourselves a very honest question: do we really want to call ourselves chosen, with all that demands?   
Perhaps it would be more comfortable to have less demanded of us, to simply be tolerated by God, or enjoyed even, but not chosen. But our chosenness never was of our own choosing – God chooses to be in relationship with us flawed people, again and again. And if God makes that risky choice, we too must take a risk. We must risk proclaiming what this relationship with God means. We must risk naming that we are not little gods in little worlds of our making. We belong to God and to this one world family. We are chosen to proclaim this.

 So, how do we do this?  Another look at 1 Peter reminds us that we are to “rid ourselves of all malice, guile, insincerity, envy and all slander.”  So a good start is choosing to hold ourselves to a higher standard, God’s standard. We do not descend into the bickering, malicious tactics that are so seductive and prevalent these days, but instead practice sincerity, contentment, kindness, and honesty (whether we’re shown that or not).

From that place, we can proclaim who God is with authenticity and relevance. And who would you say God is? How would you proclaim God’s mighty acts in your life? I’m betting none of you would name God as hateful, or bitter, or spiteful. And yet, sometimes we people of Christian faith have done just that: proclaiming a God very unlike our own through acting exactly opposite to how we should.

It’s not enough to say we’re chosen. We have to say we’re chosen for something: for proclaiming. But it’s also not enough to proclaim any old thing: we have to proclaim the God who chose us first. Not our pride, not our superiority, not our rightness, not even our most deeply held political convictions. We proclaim the God who gave us a voice in the first place.

It’s scary stuff, this proclamation work. You won’t often find us Presbys on a box on a street corner with a megaphone. But we don’t need the props – we’re proclaiming all the time, whether we mean to or not.

How we treat the person who pulls out in front of us in traffic is a proclamation.

Whether we bother to make eye contact with the waiter who refills our coffee is a proclamation.

How quickly we react to one another with impatience is a proclamation.

How much of our time and money we give to those in need is a proclamation.

The value we place on women in our society, and the histories we teach our children is a proclamation.

Just as we’re chosen all the time, out of God’s grace and not of our own doing, so we are proclaiming all the time.

Let’s proclaim the mighty acts of the One who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Let’s proclaim that we were once scattered, divided and alone, but God made us one family. Let’s proclaim that our faith is not about perfection, or racial or political superiority, but about God’s mercy for all of us in Jesus Christ.

We’re chosen – but that’s only the half of it. We’re chosen to proclaim. So, I suppose the question really is: what do we have to say?



Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Promise

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April 30, 2017 - 3rd Sunday of Easter
Acts 2:14a, 36-41

14aPeter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them,
36“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added.

 Sermon: “The Promise”

Teach your children how to forgive, make your homes places of love and forgiveness; make your streets and neighborhoods centers of peace and reconciliation.  It would be a crime against youth, and their future, to let even one child grow up with nothing but the experience of violence and hatred.”

These words were spoken by Pope John Paul II at mass in Drogheda, Ireland on September 29, 1979. They are a challenge for all adults to not pass on the hatred of the troubled past to the next generation. But even more than that, they are a promise to those children, that they will know a kinder, less violent world than those who came before them.

As I read and re-read our text from Acts this week, one line from Peter’s sermon kept coming back to me: For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” These words are especially wonderful, because in the Greek it doesn’t just say ‘sons;’ Peter is careful to use the word for both genders of children: girls and boys alike are equally entitled to this promise.

But what is this promise? In a word: forgiveness. Peter begins his sermon by "cutting people to the heart." His delivery is blunt, speaking of Jesus’ murder by saying, “this Jesus whom you crucified.”

He’s not allowing them to gloss over their complicity in the death of Jesus. But – and this is really important – he’s not denying his own complicity, either. History has taken these words of Peter as an excuse for incredible hatred and harm. Blaming Jews for Jesus’ death has been used a theological rational for everything from distrust to prejudice to the Holocaust.

What a twisting this is of Peter’s words! After all, he was a Jew, speaking to his own people, not an outsider condemning another racial and religious group (a very important distinction).

And he didn’t just name complicity – like Pope John Paul II would later do, he also named a promise, not just for them, but for their children, girls and boys alike. The promise of forgiveness, freely given and received from God.

Now, there are some preachers who would at this point make this a sermon about praying a short prayer and accepting Jesus into your heart. But here’s the thing: Peter wasn’t just preaching to the hearts of people. His Lord had been killed by a collusion of state and religious power. So, he was also preaching to the heart of systems of injustice. To neighborhoods ravaged by violence. To households in which children grew up hating and fearing the other just because they were other. Yes, he may have wanted people to personally accept the promises Jesus had for them, but this is much farther reaching than any individual: 3,000 people were baptized. That’s even more people than live in Cameron!

Just as violence and hatred are a communal act, so forgiveness and repentance are, too. Let us never think the gospel is just about my “personal relationship with God.” It is also always about my relationship with my neighbor, especially the neighbor I have a tendency to label, judge or hate.

When power is wedded to that hatred, we all know what happens. History has shown it, though it’s been downplayed and hidden. But the truth always prevails.

Such is the case in the film The Promise. It tells the story of the Armenian Genocide in the early 20th century, a period of 3 years in which 1.5 million Armenians were murdered by the Ottoman Empire and its successor state, Turkey. Turkish authorities have denied this genocide, calling the death of so many Armenians mere collateral damage in a civil war.

The Promise is a love story by nature, but its deeper purpose is to viscerally depict a terrible historic reality: that Armenians were exterminated by their own government. It might come as no surprise that this movie was written and directed by Terry George, a Belfast boy whose been a part of numerous films about the Troubles, as well as Hotel Rwanda, shedding light on that conflict. His mission is to tell the ugliest parts of human history, and he did it again here. It seems odd to name such a movie The Promise.

What promise could there be in the face of genocide and violence? The same promise Peter spoke of: repentance and forgiveness. A wound that is constantly covered up or ignored will never heal: it must be exposed to the light, given air, and treated directly.

While most documents the Ottoman had relating to the Armenian Genocide were destroyed or hidden away, a telegram has been discovered by Turkish historian Taner Akcam from July 4, 1915. On official Ottoman letterhead, it asks whether deported Armenians have been ‘liquidated’ yet.

In an interview[1], Akcam was asked a blunt question: You are Turkish. You are not Armenian. Why have you devoted your life, your career, to studying the Armenian genocide?” He replied,  “I'm an historian. It is my job to educate [a] new generation on violence in the past so that this should not happen again in the future.”

I have a good friend and colleague, Rev. Julie Hoplamazian who is Armenian. For her, denial of the Armenian Genocide is denial of her own story: she lost much of her family. Medz Mayrig, her great-grandmother survived through the kindness of a Turkish family who took her as a slave girl, and later she was able to escape to the States. Most were not so lucky. Despite warning after warning from journalists and missionaries, the world failed to respond.

My friend writes, “Sadly, the lesson was not learned; this mistake of history was repeated just a quarter century later. In a speech authorizing the invasion of Poland and the ruthlessness with which his soldiers were to act, Adolf Hitler said[2],  'I have issued the command...our war aim does not consist in reaching certain lines, but in the physical destruction of the enemy...Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?' Justifying his evil genocide with the assurance that history would not speak of it, Adolf Hitler succeeded in killing 6 million Jews during World War II."

We have to speak of it, to remember in order to forgive and be set free from our patterns of violence, because genocide still happens[3]. In Syria. In Sudan. In the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Ethiopia. In Burma.

If this season of Easter is anything, it is a promise that just because crucifixion is the way of the world, we don’t have to ignore it, or be complicit in it. Peter named Jesus’ violent death that he could then name the promises of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus didn’t rise again because he was bored in that tomb. He rose because he refused – and refuses still – to let violence and hatred reign. He rose because he wants better for the children of this world than genocide. (After all, he was nearly a victim of it through Herod.)

If we claim to be an Easter people, as we should, then our faith can’t just be about our private souls. It has to be about communal salvation as well – doing all we can to ensure that every child is saved. Because it’s not enough to say the promise is just for us…what a cheapening of God’s grace that would be!

This promise is for every child of God, to know a life without threat,
a home of peace and forgiveness, 
and a church that never forgets them.  
Alleluia! Amen.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Weight of the Wait

"History" by Sue Gough
April 23, 2017 - Second Sunday of Easter
“The Weight of the Wait”

John 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not be unbelieving, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Sermon: “The Weight of the Wait”

Punctuality has never been my strength. I think it all started at the very beginning of my life: I was born a twin, but even then I was late, arriving several minutes after my brother. And I kind of feel like I’ve been trying to play catch up my whole life. I suppose I should introduce myself: I’m Thomas, sometimes called “the Twin”, always called “the doubter.”

Here’s the thing: I don’t actually mind being called a doubter. What I mind is when people say it as if it were an insult. Doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. I wasn’t asking for more proof than the other disciples…they’d already had it. I was simply asking for what they’d been shown already. And, it might be good for you to know that Jesus didn’t even say the word “doubt.” That word is distazō and doesn’t actually appear in this story in its original language. Jesus used another word instead: apistos, meaning “unbelieving.” This word is a much kinder one than doubt…after all, how many of us, on hearing incredible or shocking news, involuntarily gasp, “I can’t believe it!” Unbelief is the valid response to the unbelievable, the incredible. That word is also not an insult.

Now, after getting that doubt elephant in the room addressed, I’d like to share with you a part of my story people seem to miss because they’re way too fixated on that “D” word.

After Jesus was killed, all the other disciples were locked in a room, afraid that what happened to him would happen to them. I wasn’t. I didn’t care about what might happen to me (after all, you may remember that when my friend Lazarus died, I told everyone we should go, that we might die with him). What I cared about was finding Jesus (you’ll also remember that when Jesus said he was going away, I pressed him, saying “we don’t know the way to where you’re going” and he said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”). I wanted to find Jesus, and so I didn’t go and lock myself away like the other disciples. I suppose I should have known that Jesus would find us first.

And so, I was late to the resurrection party, surprise, surprise. When I did get there, the faces of my friends were glowing with a holy joy: “He’s alive!” they said. “We’ve seen him!” I was so tired, I just slumped down right there and cried. I felt a perplexing mingling of relief and deep sorrow. Thomas, the twin. Too late again.

Then comes the part of my story everyone seems to miss, a part that has shaped my faith in significant ways: I had to wait for a week before Jesus appeared to us again. 

I want you to just for a moment picture the person you love most in the world. Now imagine that they were stolen away from you. You finally get word that they’re okay, but you can’t see them. You can’t touch their face, or hug them, or hear their voice. All you can do is wait.

Knowing Jesus was likely to appear again around us disciples, I stayed in that locked room for a week straight. I ate there, I slept there, I barely looked after myself in brief snatches, rushing back into the room in case I missed him again. The weight of that wait was excruciating.

But you know that, don’t you? You’ve waited, too, I can see it. Some of you wait for a child or grandchild to come back to you, emotionally or physically. Some of you wait for healing, for life to feel whole and normal again. Some of you wait for things to get just a little less hectic, so you’re not flitting from crisis to crisis. Some of you wait to be shown God’s purpose for your life, a reason for getting up in the morning. Some of you even wait for the eternal glory of heaven. The waiting time is excruciating.

But time is a funny thing. Even against our wills, time works the waiting into a rhythm all its own. We begin to form patterns, like I did (check the door, water the plants, sweep the floor, pray) and through what I can only call the grace of God, the waiting becomes a holy thing all its own. Now, don’t mistake my meaning here – holiness is rarely comfortable and cozy. The waiting is still excruciating, but even in that anxiety, holiness creeps in, surprises us.

What I mean is, Jesus’ resurrection hope started coming to me, even before he appeared in the flesh. I began to find joy in my little routine everyday, to feel that even though there were so many things beyond my control, I could keep that plant alive, that floor swept, my friends safe.

The ache of grief in the pit of my stomach softened, and though it was still there, I could breathe. The waiting taught me patience. Not some super pious patience towards time itself; no, it taught me first to be patient with myself, with others, too. In the times of waiting, we have to be gentle with ourselves and others, extra kind, and celebrate those small victories of doing the best we can with what we have.

Perhaps waiting is so weighty because it’s actually the best thing for our faith. It’s our best spiritual exercise for a healthy soul. (And like most exercise, we’d really rather not have to do it!)

By the time Jesus did come, a full week later, it didn’t shock me. I knew he would come when he was ready. He came straight to me, seeing the toll the waiting had taken on me, and without me even asking, said, “Thomas, see, touch, believe.”

I did, and could see that though he was alive in every sense of the word, he, too bore the wounds of waiting. Waiting for humanity’s lust for violence to stop. Waiting for his followers to get out from behind their locked doors and actually do all he told them to do. Waiting to be reunited with the Creator and the Spirit.

Unbelief left my vocabulary for a time, though of course it creeps in every now and then. But it wasn’t just touching him that did that; it was also the waiting that did that. Because life doesn’t just come in the grand moments of glory and delight; it mostly comes in the small, less glamorous moments of waiting.

So, friends, let me, Late Thomas, encourage you: you can never really be late for the resurrection party. It’s never too late to experience life. And no wait is too weighty for God to come and meet you in it, to form your faith through it, yes, faith in God, but mostly, faith in yourself.

Whatever it is you wait for, embrace that holy, uncomfortable time. Seek out and create small signs of resurrection even in the waiting. And cling to the promise that, eventually, when he is ready, Jesus will come to you, perhaps when you least expect it. He probably won’t apologize for taking so long (though we wish he would). But he will instead say this, “Peace be with you.” And it really will. Alleluia! Amen.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Resurrection Road

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April 16, 2017 - Easter Sunday
Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of the disciples were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.

18 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?” 19 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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.”

25 Then Jesus said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Sermon: “The Resurrection Road”

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”

It’s fun to start a sermon on such a nerdy note: I could tell which of you lit up at this little Tolkien poem. I’m in good company.

The Road goes ever on and on…roads are so important, and not just in this book (Tolkien), but in this one too (Bible).

Especially in the New Testament, we find that some of the most significant events happen on a road.

Of course, there’s the road to Jericho. We’ll call this ‘The Violent Road’, a place Jesus used to answer that question we should always be asking ourselves: “and who is my neighbor?” We know it as the parable of the Good Samaritan, making it about the hero of the story, when of course, that road was really all about the victim: that man who was mugged, beaten, and left for dead. Few people ever discuss the road itself, asking what conditions have created such a violent path. Martin Luther King, Jr. did speak about this road, though, the day before his own violent death, saying, “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life's roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway.” 

From the Violent Road to Jericho, we journey onwards, coming to another in scripture, famously termed the Via Dolorosa, the Sorrowful Road. This is, of course, the road Christ walked to Golgotha, to the cross. This road has been a place of great significance for Christians, especially for our Catholic friends. The fourteen stations of the cross are found upon it, two with their roots in scripture: Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross for Jesus for a time, and Jesus addressing the mourning crowd to weep not for him, but for their children. The other stations of the Sorrowful Road have more mythical roots, but that doesn’t mean they’re insignificant. It’s a good time to draw on the wisdom of Mark Twain who wrote, “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.”

We have such powerful stories of Jesus’ stops along this Sorrowful Road: from Jesus’ mother Mary embracing him, to a woman Veronica wiping his sweat and tear-stained face (and the handkerchief that is said to miraculously still bear the outline of his face), to multiple falls under the weight of that sorrow, to his state execution on the cross, and finally, to the tomb.

After walking this heavy road, we might want to just cozy up in our hobbit holes with a cup of tea and a comfy chair, and not journey on any further. But other roads beckon…

There is the Damascus Road, what we will call “The Salvation Road,” where Saul meets the blinding grace of God. Jesus took his sight to help him see for the first time his own hypocrisy and sinfulness. He was not the pure soul he thought he was; he was a persecutor, with a heart full of violence and malice. Jesus made him utterly dependent on those he had persecuted, needing the help of a former enemy – Ananias a follower of The Way – to bring his sight back (showing how reconciliation really is the heart of the gospel). Saul became Paul, and was baptized with the grace of God, and the grace of forgiveness from his former enemy. You might just say that Christianity as we know it wouldn’t have happened, had it not been for that road.

But then, we’ve left out the most important road of all, our final journey this morning: the road to Emmaus. We’ll call this “the Resurrection Road.” Two disciples walked that dusty road to Emmaus. We know one of them was Alphaeus, also know as Clopas or Cleopas, father of James. The other isn’t named, but some[1] have surmised that the second disciple was a woman, Alphaeus’ own wife, Mary, who on that first day of the week, a work day, would have traveled back to Emmaus with her husband, rather than be left behind. This also fits with their later reporting to “the eleven.” For the sake of a good story, let’s say it was Alphaeus and Mary.

They walked that Resurrection Road, but they didn’t know that was its name. You see, they thought they were still on the Via Dolorosa, after all, tears kept them from clearly seeing the stranger who suddenly walked along beside them. They didn’t realize that the resurrection had happened, that even the dust clinging to their weary sandals had been already redeemed by the life-giving work of their Lord. 

The risen Jesus patiently walked with them, listening to their grief and sorrow. Finally, unable to wait any longer, he explained to them all that the Messiah had to endure. But grief doesn’t always listen to logic; grief listens instead to another language: hospitality. (You see, there’s a reason casseroles hold such healing power in churches!)

These disciples were heartbroken, yes, but they weren’t rude. They invited this wise stranger to stay with them. Then it was Jesus’ -- that holy guest’s -- turn to return the favor, and he blessed and broke bread with them, as we’ll soon do. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and recognized that they’d been walking on the Resurrection Road all along, without even knowing it.

What roads are we walking on today, I wonder? Maybe you feel like you’re trudging along on the Violent Road, watching helplessly as people get hurt and oppressed again and again.

Maybe you feel like you’re painfully plodding along the Sorrowful Road, that Via Dolorosa, and barely able to continue carrying your own cross of illness or financial worry or grief or loneliness.
Maybe you feel like you’re blindly blundering down the Salvation Road, unable to see what’s ahead, but trusting that Jesus is guiding you as real as a hand holding your own.

…Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Whatever road we’re on, they do all join a larger way, where many paths meet. That larger way is the Resurrection Road, and like Alphaeus and possibly Mary, we don’t always recognize that we’re walking on it. But there is a way to clearly plant our feet on that Resurrection Road, and that way is hospitality: to invite the stranger in, even and especially in times of threat and violence, like what the disciples had just witnessed. We welcome the other, not because they’ve earned it, but because there is only one answer to that Emmaus Road question, “And who is my neighbor?” Everyone.

If we long for our feet to find the Resurrection Road, as we should, it begins and ends with hospitality. That road beckons to us, never ending, continually calling us from our distracted, destructive wanderings onto a better path that leads to life and redemption for all, even the dust beneath our weary feet.

No matter how lost, no matter how sorrowful, no matter how blinded by hatred, no matter how numbed by violence, we can always step onto that life-giving road.

We take that first step as those first followers of The Way did, by saying to the stranger, the wanderer and the refugee, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.”

And, just like that, the road goes ever on and on. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.