“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.

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