Cook Book Naming Contest

Time to put your thinking caps on! Help us come up with a title for the cookbook.  Put it in an envelope with your name.  Place your submission in the Narthex basket.  If your entry is the winner.  You will receive a  free Cook Book. Deadline for the entries is June 30, 2017.

“Serving with Humility”

May 21st, 2017

Philippians 2:1-8, 12 & 13

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 

Scripture:

“Hear now the words from Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, written while he was in prison: Philippians, chapter one verses, one thru eight, and verses twelve thru thirteen.  May God open our ears and our minds, ensuring that we each hear the deep meaning of this ancient text.” 

Philippians 2:1-8, 12 & 13,

2 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

“May our hearts be opened to our message of humility this morning.”

Sermon:

This past week I had the opportunity to buy a nice ‘stainless steel’ gas grill for our home.  Lois and I have wanted one since the day we moved in just after Thanksgiving.  So, it was with great satisfaction when I was able to buy one, and set it up on the small extension to our deck I constructed with paver stones.  Of course, we celebrated with a couple steaks which I cooked on the new grill that evening.  It was with joy and a sense of accomplishment when I served the steaks.  They were good too!  Lois enjoyed them also, as did our little poodle Jamie.  Of course, I ought not take all the credit, although for a moment I did.  But, without our friend Mike, with his pick-up truck and bulging biceps, the grill would still be at Home Depot and the masonry stones would still be stacked there as well!  You see, in all humility, I needed his help in both the choosing, the delivery, and the installing to get the job done.

We could make a parallel contrast with things which we, as a community, are called upon to accomplish here at our church.  As we serve God through our activities, our time, our talents and our financial support of this ministry, how we do so, is as important as the things we essentially accomplish!  The truth is: service is all about attitude!  If I take all the credit for getting the gas grill at my home, then I have missed the point of our scripture lesson this morning.  If we, if you and I miss this same point, as we scurry around and do the work of this church, we will not have served with the correct attitude; and if we are totally lacking in humility as we do so, what we accomplish shall be hollow in its depth.

Hopefully, I now have your attention as we begin to digest the depth, and the breadth of meaning in our scripture text.  Pride, in the context we are discussing it this morning, is a way of lifting oneself up in response to one’s self congratulating praise for a job well done!  Our passage today, on the other hand, is a way of balancing our pride and ego with the attitude of humility portrayed for us in the life of Jesus.  Paul’s words speak to our finding balance and his writing speak of how we might find “a grounded argument against pride”. /From the Geneva Notes/

Let us take a deeper look at how this scripture was written, and perhaps we will get some insights into what the Apostle Paul was trying to put across, to those of us who have now heard what he wrote.  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, written while he was in prison, was addressed to this small community of Christians.  “Philippi ‘is’ a city of Macedonia, a stop on one of the main roads between East and West in the Roman Empire.” /NRSV page 279 NT/ It was a strategic place for Paul to have planted the seeds of Christianity, during his trip into the region, before he was put into prison.  From ‘prison’ is a key thing for us to reflect on.  What kind of an attitude has Paul taken as this letter is written?  Is his writing filled with pride and ego?  No, Paul, humbled by his incarceration uses this writing to put forth a message of humility, as he speaks of Jesus and the life he lived.  With clear intent and purpose the Apostle Paul, “He points to Christ as the example of humility and consecration to the good of others.” /B.W. Johnson/

 

We may want to ask ourselves a question at this point in our discussion, as we need to balance our conversation with at least one other major point which Paul puts across.  How do we serve?  Without question, there are many ways to serve.  As there is also many forms of service.  Most of us have gone out to a restaurant to get a meal.  We go because we want to enjoy a meal without cooking and we go because we are hungry.  In so doing we are seeking a certain level of service.  When the waitress comes to ask us for our order, is she working to sell us on the cook’s special creation of the day, more than she is absorbed in finding out what we are interested in having for lunch, based on our needs and desires?  Most of us are looking for a friendly, but also an efficient server who will help us accomplish our goals in a polite and timely manner.  Don’t you just hate it, when after waiting too long, your meal shows up cold?  Most of us will hold the quality of our experience over the waiter or waitresses head as we calculate what tip we shall leave; and usually this is strongly influenced on the over-all attitude the one serving us takes.

Let us honestly look at ourselves as we ponder these questions.

Do we pride ourselves for tasks accomplished?  Or do we seek out a balanced attitude as we reflect on things which are accomplished each day?  It would be helpful, at this point, if we were to reflect on how Jesus interacted with the setting he found himself in.  How did Jesus handle life as he lived in the realm of humanity?  “How would you describe the “mind of Christ?”  In contrast, “what does it look like for us to have it together?”  Are we finding a balance as we pride ourselves with how we serve others, with how God is involved in helping us accomplish even the smallest of daily tasks, each day?  Are we willing to humble ourselves, just a bit, to give others some credit for their assist in our endeavors?  /Janet H. Hunt/ We need to re-examine our scripture as we seek out these answers.  Let us take a closer look at the thoughts which Paul has placed in front of us today.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” /Philippians 2:5-8/ “It would be difficult to find a more influential passage in all of Scripture than today’s epistle reading from Philippians.” /Susan Eastman/ We know that the man, Jesus, was very human, and yes, we know he was also very divine… having both the essence of humanity and that of divinity.  Yet, his humanness was very apparent in the retelling of his interactions with others in the gospel accounts.  His emotions ran the full range… from anger to sadness and everything in-between just like you and me.  However, he grew stronger and more God like as he neared his destiny and his devotion and obedience to God grew stronger and stronger, as did his attitude of humility.  When we look – seeking to know Jesus – we must see that his mind as-well-as his spirit was focused to being obedient to his ‘calling’ to be the Messiah, the Holy One, the One sent to redeem humankind.  His mind was clearly centered around that of God.

It was also apparent that Jesus had an attitude of humility which continued to mature and blossom, as his road to the cross became more and more clear.  “How can we develop the same attitude that Christ had?” /Rev. Bryan Findlayson/ As we seek to follow Christ we must be gentle with ourselves as the roadway is long and filled with the “all too human” potholes of our destiny.  There are different ways of emptying oneself of the ‘old’ while taking on new attitudes and practices.  We can acquaint ourselves with the habit of prayer and we can seek to mimic and mirror these practices in our own personal lives.  Jesus was often patient with our human weaknesses, while also being intolerant of acts of injustice and oppression of others.  Even now, we need to minister unto ourselves, as Jesus comforted and cared for others around him.  Ultimately, we must attend to one another, as we grow and mature as “Christ-like” disciples.  By filling ourselves with practices and rituals that Jesus taught we will begin to empty ourselves of some of our human faults.  This takes time and effort, which is our modern-day challenge.

Living in the Twenty-First Century, we have found that we suffer from an age-old dilemma.  Sadly, our world problems, although they are unique to our time, the root causes are not.  “Power has been the perennial problem in human history.  The reality of power is complex; and its use and misuse in all human, social and political relations and interactions has been a question of utmost importance for all peoples.” /Kim Yong-Bock/ Power, leads to the problem of ego and pride.  If we are not diligent these can become overfed and disproportionate to our abilities to serve people and usually causes us to set God aside, as we take credit, at every level of our lives, for things which were and are, out of our control.  There is much that we need to give credit to others for, likewise, we need to give thanks to God for those around us.

There are many forms of humility.  On the other hand, some of us have over-functioning egos and our sense of pride has become swollen to the point of boastfulness and even arrogance.  Yes, there are those whom may need to deflate their puffed-up egos, while putting their pride on the back seat.  For those of us like this we need to ‘let the air out’ of ourselves and become ‘right sized’ as we need to ‘let go’ of our self-importance and see more clearly, the value of those around us.  And with a sense of gratitude in our hearts, look for how God’s compassion, love and grace have played a part in who we are and whom we yet might become.  Others of us may find ourselves deflated and feeling incapable of any meaningful levels of service to others, especial when it comes to becoming a productive disciple of Christ.  I had to see how humility meant, for me, to more fully utilize my skills which ‘opened up’ a pathway thereby leading me into my current role in ministry.  If you are like this… now is the time to step forward and ask for guidance from others.  You very well may become, yet another gem in our midst, with talents not yet discovered!

As we take seriously the writings of Paul, we must work toward being more Christ-Centered, taking on an attitude of humility that encompasses all of which Christ offered to others.  As we look to follow the pathway of Jesus, we need to seek out the ultimate goals of humility as we strive to serve God, through our service and devotion to our church and the people of God.  Listen again to the words of Paul: “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.” /Philippians 2:1-4/ All praise be to God.

Amen.

“The Witness”

Scripture:   Acts 7: 55-60,

May 14th, 2017

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

Scripture:

“Hear now these words of scripture from the Acts of the Apostles, chapter seven, verses 55 thru 60.” 

Acts 7: 55-60
55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!”  57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”  When he had said this, he died.

“May God open our hearts and minds to the deeper meaning of this harsh accounting on a day such as this!”

Sermon:

Today, is Mother’s Day!  A day set aside on our calendars as a time to honor the mother’s in our lives, both past and present.  My mother was a very special person in my life.  Not only did she give birth to me, she cared for my every need, as I grew from a small infant… into a young adult.  I have many fond memories of those early years.  Yet, in all fairness to my mom, I suspect she has some slightly different memories than me.  For you see, a child can perceive life only from their limited perspective of life.   Take for instance, my memory of any given meal mom prepared for me and my family, it is rather simplistic.  I remember the hot scrumptious helping of macaroni and cheese on my plate, or the pot roast served with mashed potatoes and green beans.  The hot deep dish apple pie with real Vermont cheddar cheese on the side.  I can still picture the two full roasted turkeys on the banquet tables with all sorts of side dishes to complement that special Thanksgiving dinner for our larger families, as we sat down at the table with my grandparents.  Yes, I have some wonderful memories, I just can’t help wondering, as the adult I now am, how my mom might have experienced those same moments?  If she were asked to testify as to those events, those memories, what kind of a witness would she be?

Mothers, do way more than cook a good meal!  She had to manage the planning of those events.  Six kids, with a husband that worked two jobs as-well-as managing the chickens and the vegetable garden out back of our house.  She also worked a nursing assistance job when she could get the work.  Yup, I suspect she would testify to the long hours, the lack of pay, and the hard work.  In those early year’s there was no cloth’s dryer so she hung the cloths (outside on some type of cloths line) by hand.  And like Pastor Winston’s wife back in Kitwe, Zambia, she often had to wash the cloths by hand before hanging them on her cloth’s line outside.  I have memories of us kids washing some dishes and making our own beds, but I have no memories of helping-out in other ways.  Somebody kept our home spic and span clean.  She cleaned the house, went shopping for the groceries and such.  I believe she also managed the budget and paid the bills.  I even remember my parents having long loud discussions about that as well!  Oh my, what a witness my mother would make if she were to testify to what ‘actually’ went on in my childhood home.

Back when I was growing up, mothers as a group, saw and did just about everything, and most certainly it is the same today, in our current time.  They are witnesses to wonderful things, such as: the baby’s baptism, and / or their first communion, or perhaps their daughters first prom, or their son’s first sports event.  Exciting times!  They also witness to and share in the trepidation at the prospect of their sons or daughters, getting his or her driver’s license… and then being brought home by the local police on one of their first solo drives!  Then of course, many face the ‘really’ hard stuff.  Son goes off to join the Army, then gets stationed in a war zone overseas.  The day comes when the officer and the chaplain knock on the door.  Taking their hats off as the door opens, the look on their faces tell the full truth… “we regret to tell you” they begin.  Mom’s around the world react the same: tears, shock, outrage… losing a child to war is a horribly heavy burden for any parent, mother and father alike!  Or, one of the family is killed in a car accident, drunk driver responsible!  Yes, parents witness a lot!  I suppose it makes them stronger.  Thankfully, not all events are the same.  Much of a mother’s burden is seeing her family struggle with the small challenges in life.  A failed history exam, a bad experience on a date.  Broken relationships fall firmly at the typical mother’s feet.

All told, these life experiences, these opportunities to widen one’s view of what goes on in families and insights on how to deal with every level of relationships; these are the things that being a good mother brings.  We lift-up these mothers and the still struggling and dedicated mothers in our community and in our neighborhoods.  They are the ones that deserve our full attention to and devotion of.  Today, we honor mothers, past, present and future.  Our scripture, I chose for our lesson today, may seem harsh as we also acknowledge that today is Mother’s Day.

Yet, every mother knows life is all too real and sometimes we need to hunker down and discuss the tough realities of life!  Motherhood, parenthood has never been an easy venture!  Those that have taken it lightly are not on that long, long, list of beloved and loved mothers.  No, real parents, real mothers, deal with the ups and downs of life as it comes.  This means, sometimes, it is really-hard to grapple with all that comes at families trying so very hard to make a going in today’s world realities!  As they, as mother’s witness life, their experience and wisdom grows.  How they use the teachings of life, as they ventured into mother hood, will be the truth of how they nurture and teach the ones they are charged to care for.  Witnessing life is one thing… living it is another!

As we turn to our scripture we hear an abbreviated account of the last words of an early disciple of Christ.  Amazingly, he was forgiving of those that persecuted and stoned him that day.  The day I confessed all and asked my mother for forgiveness, soon after I got straight and sober, forty years ago; it was then that I saw the deep pain and sadness in my mother as she broke down and cried.  It was the beginning of my understanding of how she had suffered during my extended adolescence, and surely, she had longed for the day I would come to myself and come home to my right place in life.

She had surely witnessed to all that had occurred in my life through her portal of mother’s instincts and observation skills.  She once told me that she knew the sparkling night light, out in the fields, were not fireflies as one might have speculated at first glance.  No, she knew that my buddy and I were out smoking cigarettes and drinking my friend’s father’s beers, as we camped out overnight by the stream that ran through that area.  Being a parent, being a mother surely, has its ups and downs.

There was a witness to Stephen’s stoning that horrific day.  His name was Saul, a young Pharisee… just finishing his training perhaps, observing the execution of a man simply because he professed a belief in the man Jesus, whom had been executed for his blasphemy against God and the religious elite at that time.  What was going on in his heart and mind as he observed this tragedy that day?  We know, from the scriptures, how Saul was destined to be confronted by the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus to round up even more Christians to be persecuted for their beliefs.

As transformation took place, and he became humbled and accepted Christ as his salvation, thereby transforming his very life, one can only speculate as to the impact, his memory of what he witnessed that day as Stephen died a martyr’s death, had upon him.

It has been said and restated over-and-over-again: “Christ is our strong foundation,” “the cornerstone of our spiritual household as we honor and serve God.”  One theologian goes on with this dialog stating how: “Living into this calling is never easy, which is seen dramatically in the martyrdom of Stephen.  And yet, Christ promises to be with us both now and into eternity, preparing us to serve on this earth, but also preparing a place for us in God’s household when we come to the end of our earthly journey.” /Mary J. Scifres/ Saul was faced with his transformation into the Apostle Paul.  His conversion was life changing.  Yet, he was to live with the burden of ‘remembering’ all of what he had witnessed, as do all who witness the dramas of life.  What we see and observe is just as powerful and profound as what we do!  We cannot separate who we become with whom we have been along the journey! The challenge is to use our life experiences to better form our current choices and decisions.

Today, we grapple with what it means to be a mother in the “Twenty-First Century.”  We as a faithful people, must struggle with the martyrdom of the man Stephen.  As modern Christians, we must accept that the witness to this event, once a participate of oppression by his presence, was to become the foundation of Christianity as the Apostle Paul evangelized and planted Christian groups well into the regions of gentiles, the non-Jews, outside of Jerusalem and Palestine.   A professor of New Testament studies tells us: “If we make this passage only about Stephen, we might neglect to notice the stones littering the ground around us, which either implicate us or cause us to cry out for deliverance from cycles of violence.” /Matt Skinner/ His message is suggesting to us to be careful of how we judge one another.  On this Mother’s Day, we may want to take this to a more personal level, and consequently a more personal meaning.  We need to be careful how we look backwards and perhaps judge even, the choices and decisions and yes, the mistakes, which our parents, our mothers ‘in-particular’ caused, through their response to life’s ever changing challenge and test.  Surely, they, like ourselves and Saul, have had their own burdens, their own memories of life to carry as they journeyed and witnessed to life’s challenges along the way.

Let us pray for mothers across the lands, pray they are not called to martyrdom, nor forced to witness such a tragic fate for their loved ones!  Let us turn our gaze toward God, focusing on the grace and mercy bestowed upon us.  Let us pray that the ‘witness’ of mothers now gone, let us pray their lessons, upon life’s journey, were then turned into wisdom… as it was passed forward to the next generation.  Also, let us seek to grasp the enormity, the depth and breathe of the challenges parents, mothers specifically, face in the current time.  Let us pray that God’s grace and mercy has touched their hearts and their very souls.

Lastly, let us pray the Living Spirit of God propels them ever forward, enlightening their choices as they strive to be the mothers, the very parents, which they coveted to be and thereby have been charged to be!  Remembering always, to love as God loves; to forgive as Christ taught and promised for us.  Likewise, remembering always: our mothers, parents and caregivers, they now ‘have the opportunity to,’ they now can enrich and enlighten others.  This is a gift which they can “pass-forward;’ just as the Spirit has opened-up their hearts and their minds for the pathways in front of them!

Amen.

 

 

“Walking Down the Road”

April 30, 2017

Luke 24: 13-35,

Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard

 

Scripture:

“Hear now the words of scripture from the gospel according to Luke, chapter 24, verses 13 thru 35.”

Luke 24:13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them 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 he 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.

“May God bless our understanding of this ancient account of the Risen Jesus walking with the two Disciples.”

Sermon:

The Easter story is an ongoing one.  Last week we touched on the appearance of Jesus to the disciples and we touched on how hard it was to accept his resurrection, especially by those whom Jesus had not yet – in person – become visible to.  This was captured in the conversation we had about the disciple Thomas’ doubt as recorded in the gospel according to John.  Today, our scripture from Luke’s gospel is an accounting of two disciples walking towards a village called Emmaus, just outside of Jerusalem.  Together, they accompanied each other as they recalled and talked about the events of the last few days.  They were not expecting anyone to join them.

As I began to consider how we might discuss this part of the story together, I decided to call our sermon topic simply: “Walking down the road.”  As we perhaps all have come to realize: “Everybody is on a journey, although we don’t always recognize it.  What kind of journey are you on?” /Alyce McKenzie/ I had felt my sermon topic for today was rather unique, just as our personal journeys are unique.  However, I have since found that it is not, nevertheless this is the theme on which we shall spotlight this morning.  As we view our scripture lesson, perhaps we can consider whom we keep company with, and how and why we make these choices, as we move forward with our lives; walking down the many pathways of life.  Clearly, it does make a difference, whether simply a perceived difference by those that observe us, or a real substantiated one in the life we consequently lead.

In fact, it is so important ‘who we spend time with’ that we begin to seek out the same type of people wherever we go.  Just as baseball fans seek out others that enjoy baseball, as they go to Yankee Stadium or Dodger Stadium, so too do we seek out others who share our common interests… in the areas of our life that are nearest and dearest to our hearts.  Consider this short story by Boyd Seevers, as we reflect on this.

“A traveler nearing a great city asked an old man seated by the road, “What are the people like in this city?”  The man replied, “What were they like where you came from?”  “A terrible lot,” the traveler reported.  “Mean, untrustworthy, detestable in all respects.”  “Ah,” said the man.  “You will find them the same in the city ahead.”

Scarcely had the first traveler gone on his way when another stopped to inquire about the people in the city before him.  Again, the old man asked about the people in the place the traveler has just left.  “They were fine people, honest, industrious, and generous to a fault.  I was sorry to leave,” declared the second traveler.  Responded the wise one, “So you will find them in the city ahead.”

This story strongly suggests that we, as individuals, essentially surround ourselves with a ‘particular’ type of people, thus bringing credence to the reference to the importance of the company we do keep and how our choices shape who we are.  So much so, that we ultimately create around ourselves similar environments wherever we travel to, thus drawing people with parallel traits to our company.

These two disciples were walking together on their way to Emmaus.  They had spent the last three years together with ten other disciples.  Together, they had followed Jesus around the surrounding countryside and in the region near Jerusalem as-well-as within the city itself.  Their teacher, Jesus, had taught them new things and together they saw Jesus minister to the people in every setting.  You see, Jesus was: loving, kind and compassionate.  Jesus was forgiving and tolerant.  Jesus was the kind of man that drew crowds.  His magnetic charisma seemed to touch the very hearts and souls of those he ministered to.  Yet, not everyone felt this way about him.  Jesus intimidated many in the positions of leadership, such as the Pharisees and Sadducees.  They clearly felt threatened by the way Jesus drew together the crowds.

Some were afraid of what Jesus was doing for fear it would destroy the relationships they already had with those of power in the region; namely the Romans.  They were more interested in stopping his popularity from growing.  The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to stop him and disperse the groups that followed him.  Yet, because the people were in the company of Jesus, they were unaware of the danger around them.  Yes, they knew of the oppression from their leaders and they knew of the brutality of the Romans that occupied their lands.  But, Jesus had a way of building up their faith in a special way.

As long as they were together – those that were mounting threats upon Jesus and to this growing movement around him – did not constitute any immediate danger to Jesus or the disciples or to any that followed them, as the enemies of Jesus seemed to be afraid of the crowds.  Together, Jesus and his disciples, surrounded by the crowds, they were making a real impact and effect upon the people in the region, and the crowds seemed to grow larger all the time.

Supporting this concept is this community-building story by Carl Conner.  “In winters long ago, (according to this author) heavy snows hit North Carolina.”  Our author reflects on how: “Following a wet, six-inch snowfall, it was interesting to see the effect along the freeway.  Next to the highway stood several large grooves of tall young pine trees.  The branches were bowed down with heavy snow-so low that branches from one tree were often leaning against the trunk or branches of another.”

He observed further that: “Where trees stood alone, however, the effect of the heavy snow was different.  The branches had become heavier, but without other trees to lean against, the branches snapped.  They lay on the ground, dark and alone in the cold snow.”  Our author ends with this simple suggestion: “When the storms of life hit, we need to be standing close to other Christians.  The closer we stand, the more we will be able to hold up.”

Pastor Amy B. Hunter points out for us how “…Cleopas and his companion are nobodies who have no idea what God might be doing.  They could be any one of us.  Their road to Emmaus is an ordinary road, much like the road each of us are on every day.  This is what sets this story apart from other accounts of Jesus’ Easter appearances.”  The two disciples chose to be together that day as they walked to the small village of Emmaus.  They were supporting each other.  They were seeking to be alone, yet not totally.  They walked away from the now scattered crowds that had followed Jesus.  The shock, the grief and remorse in their hearts must have been heavy, as Jesus had not been gone from them that long.  Apparently, it was soon after what we now call Easter morning.  Together, as Disciples of Christ, they were in good company, and clearly, they needed the companionship of one another.  These two men, two of twelve that Jesus chose, evidently had the same heart for the love and grace that Jesus had offered them.

The Disciples were talking about all the things that had occurred regarding Jesus, his ministry, the trail and his execution and all the events surrounding these occurrences.  Surely, they were also discussing the miraculous accountings given by the women at the empty tomb and their experiences there that day.  As they talked… this man, who we later learn is the Risen Jesus, joins them.  After learning of their conversation, this stranger, Jesus begins to speak at length to them.  He opens for them the scriptures helping them to grasp the fullness of the teachings of Moses and all the prophets.  Their hearts burned as they listened to him, yet, they did not recognize the man as the Risen Jesus!  One scholar asks: “Was there something about Jesus’ resurrected body that made him unidentifiable?” /Carol Howard Merritt/ Would we recognize Jesus in a stranger we meet along the way? As they neared their destination this stranger, Jesus, began to leave them.  They invited this man to come stay with them and at least share a meal.

We are told that in the breaking of bread together and as he blessed the broken bread they then recognized him.  As soon as they did Jesus vanished from their sight and was gone from them.  What an amazing account this is!  It just touches my heart to think of the thrill, the joy they must have felt!  To have been with the Risen Jesus like that – as they journeyed to Emmaus, for at least a few hours, sends shivers down my back as I think about it.  What a blessing they received.

As we receive and review the fullness of this story, of these two Disciples as they travel together towards Emmaus, the importance of the company they chose to keep that day is uppermost in my heart.  Again, one of my colleagues challenge us, saying: “Our experience of life in this world is such that we always have to keep learning what it means to have faith. That doesn’t typically happen well when we try to go it alone.  Faith is something that thrives and grows in the context of a community.” /Alan Brehm/ As we are walking down the road, we would be well advised to not try going it alone.  In faith, we ought to seek out like minded, lovers of Christ.

Three years earlier, when they were invited by Jesus to accompany him on his journey, his ministry, they responded with a resounding yes.  They chose to be in the company of Jesus and to follow him.  They chose to be in each other’s company, rather than totally alone, as they journeyed that day as well.  When this stranger joined them, together, they welcomed him, not consciously knowing they were welcoming Jesus.  This speaks loudly to the importance of the choices we make.  We can only ponder what it was, about the Risen Christ that day, that caused them to invite him to travel along with them… thou his identity was hidden, was shielded from them.

You and I, we can choose whom we associate with.  We make these choices every day, and at every turn of our lives.  If we spend time in a library we meet others who enjoy reading, studying and possibly researching things, or simply the quite setting.  If we spend time at the opera we will rub shoulders with others that find a sense of peace and nourishment in such entertainment.  We can choose whom we listen to.  We can turn on the radio or television, pick a channel and listen to the newscaster or entertainer of our choice; the same goes for our social media choices, like Twitter, Facebook and the like.  We can choose how we shall respond to the words and actions of others.  Some listen to the preacher’s message and immediately go out and change their lives or strive to interact more compassionately and forgiving with others, while many do not.  When we go from place to place, various people around us shall be the people we are drawn to, for bad or good.  These disciples were drawn to Jesus and followed him.  They welcomed him as a stranger along the road.  They invited him to join them for dinner.  This made all the difference!

Our journeys are filled with choices.  We can choose to be alone, and when the weight of the world is upon our shoulders we may fall and break down from the burdens put upon us.  Yet, if we choose carefully, and build a life with a supporting community of friends and like-minded people who trust in God around us, our experiences in the times of crisis and need shall be different then if we had not.  United we stand and divided we fall!  Let our choices be good ones.  When we enter ‘into’ a new place may we gravitate toward: loving, compassionate and faithful people who keep company with the God of our mutual understanding.

How many strangers do you encounter in any one day?  Do you view everyone you meet as possibly being the Risen Christ?  Amen.