Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
April 19, 2015
“Would You Recognize Jesus?”
Our Scripture lesson this morning comes to us from the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 24, Verses 13-32.
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 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?”
God has blessed our hearing and understanding of these ancient and holy words.
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As we look to our scripture this morning we find that we have moved beyond Easter weekend. In this passage we find two of the disciples heading out of town, traveling to “Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem;” /Luke 24:13b/ one can only imagine what’s on their minds as they walk together along the roadway. Our annual observance of Easter is, to us Christians, the celebration of new life and the renewal of faith, and a renewed hope in our Living God; whereas, to the early Disciples it was the traumatic loss of their leader, Jesus, thru public execution. Then testimonies and stories that begin to emerge about the sightings of Jesus: first at the tomb, then at the upper room. Some of the disciples have seen the Risen Christ, and some of them haven’t. And here these two disciples are, by themselves, traveling along the roadway toward Emmaus.
As this accounting unfolds and opens up to us, it becomes quite obvious that the last person in the world that they expect to see is Jesus! These two disciples, they’re not so unlike you and me. We have a lot of hope and expectations, yet amongst those hopes and expectations, not too many of us actually consciously think we’re going to run into Jesus, the Risen Christ! We believe what we have come to believe, and we are always struggling and trying to reaffirm our faith; bolster our faith and find new avenues to grow. Yet, the furthest thing from the minds of the average man, woman or child, believer or non-believer, folks like you and me, we don’t truly expect to run into Jesus. Perhaps if we did, our days and nights would pass differently, especially on those more difficult days.
Just imagine if we can, just imagine what would it be like to actually run into Jesus? I ask “how would we know it was truly Jesus?” Would we be any different than the disciples that worked with him, walked with him? Let’s be perfectly clear about this scripture today; these two Apostles that knew Jesus well, they were with him for most of three years, they didn’t recognize him! They walked with him for hours along the road way. We are told this stranger who joined with them, while they walked, this man, he talked to them at great length. We are told that the stranger, talked with them in depth about the scriptures. Our writing tells us that, this man initiated the conversation: “beginning with Moses and all the prophets.” He helped them; he opened up the scriptures for them to understand, /Luke 24:27a/ and they were clearly mesmerized by this conversation. Yet, they did not realize it was their Lord, until the end of the story!
When we go back and study and analyze the scripture that we have lifted up as our lesson today, we will find clues as to how we can or cannot recognize Jesus when he enters into our day-to-day life. The first is very evident: the Risen Christ did not clearly look like the man Jesus whom was crucified. Surely, if this was so, these two disciples would have recognized him right away. They virtually, lived with him for three years. If they couldn’t recognize Christ based on appearance than surely, no one can! Rather, in hindsight they said to one another: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” /Luke 24:32/ Then when they sat with him and he broke bread with them, then and only then did they fully realize it had been Jesus the Christ, who had walked with them all day! By then, he had vanished from their sight!
So what, what exactly would we expect? What did Jesus look like? Who are we looking for? What specifically are we looking for Jesus to look like? Did he wear white flowing robes, with his hair carefully brushed; clean and fresh looking? Living on the road, traveling with the disciples from town to town, hardly describes a man that has fresh washed robes, let alone the opportunity to stay well-groomed like public figures in the Twenty-First Century! Do you actually believe that Jesus looks like the posters or in the pictures and paintings that have been passed onto us throughout the ages? When were those paintings done? Do you believe that Jesus took time to ‘pose’ for some famous painter? Are there any photographs of Jesus? Did Jesus look like the man in the Mel Gibson version portrayed in the movie “The Passion of Christ”? No, but what about real authentic pictures of Jesus, are there any? Did he look like any of the portraits we have seen of him? I am sure all these authors and painters have done the best they could with the data they have been able to collect about Jesus, but sadly, we still do not know what the man Jesus really looked like, do we?
So again I ask: do you expect to see the Jesus that wears a white flowing robe, and has freshly washed smooth silky clean hair? Or are you looking for a man that has been flogged and crucified on the cross, with scars on his hands and his feet, and a gash in his side where the spear pierced him. Such a man, having suffered much and having lost much of his blood on the cross, would certainly look like something we see on the late, late show. That’s certainly not the Jesus that I look for or would anticipate seeing! Tell me, would you expect to see Jesus look like the one the disciples saw, up in the upper room where the doors were locked? We talked about this last week with doubting Thomas. Think about it, what kind of appearance would you expect Jesus to take? What did the Jesus who came in and went out from a locked room, ‘without opening a door’ what did he look like?
And what was it about this man that walked with the disciples along that road to Emmaus? They didn’t recognize him. Yet, when ‘this stranger, this man’ sat down to eat with them that evening, it was only in the breaking of the bread that in some way, the scriptures declare, Jesus opened their hearts so they were able to recognize him. We are not Apostles; we did not walk with the man Jesus. So how are we going to recognize Jesus in our lives?
Perhaps we are looking at this passage all wrong. I was talking with a fellow pastor this week, Rev. Joel Reif. He was telling me about his approach to this scripture passage. He discussed the lack of clarity about the community called Emmaus. Seems scholars are not sure about where exactly it is. This left Joel speculating about the deeper meaning in this passage. He told me how he lifted up the whole concept about what one would need to do to find the location, where archeologist believe that this community may reside, in this current time period. Thus, you can’t get to Emmaus from here – without help. Pastor Joel speculated that this is much like life today. Joel briefly discussed with me that we cannot get to that ultimate location, I believe he meant that place where we will see Jesus, face to face. He said to me: “you can’t get there from here, not without help.
Are we being advised, are we being guided to realize that we need to stay open to the presence of Christ ‘in others’ along the way? Is it possible that this may be the only way we will find our way?
Are we wrong not to be looking for Jesus when we look at other people? Surely, now and then we are going to recognize some aspect of Christ, maybe His humility, maybe Christ’s compassion, maybe Jesus’ love? Within our relationships, there are opportunities to see the Living God in our midst! Look for God’s love in the actions of kindness that others display. Stay open to the hope that appears when you least expect it. And always make room for healing, even when it comes from the most surprising interaction. Have a little faith that God’s light through the Risen Christ has found its way into the smiles and the laughter of the oldest to the youngest individual you shall encounter this very day. God’s mercy and grace may appear from the actions of the sternest judge in the land, or the power of the Messiah may be displayed in the tenacity and courage of a young cancer patient. Yet, again, we may see new found faith in that person, suffering through what seems like a miscarriage of justice, thus giving others a renewed willingness to be faithful; thereby being the power of example that others can follow and continue to trust God; and to do the best that they can, one day at a time. So let us stay open and allow our hearts to be filled with gladness, knowing that such grace, such mercy comes from God.
When we glimpse the actions and feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, in our lives today, or observe such in the hearts of others, we shall see the Risen Christ. Surely, the Living God walks among us. We shall know the Holy One, when we look into the eyes of compassion, and feel the outpouring of mercy bestowed upon us or upon others that we care about in our lives. Stop looking for some fair haired, handsome guy that wears the best of clothing. That’s not the look of a radical new leader who has the willingness to reach across the boundaries of bias and prejudice! Don’t look for someone with a Masters of Divinity from Harvard University, although there are numerous good theologians, pastors and teachers who have graduated from that school. Look instead for someone that walks like they talk. Look for that person that displays true humility all the time.
Those who come to worship here, those who seek answers about all manner of questions regarding God, ultimately they come to us looking for the answers on how are we, how are they to live today. They are looking for directions to that elusive place Emmaus; they are looking for the living presence of God. To help them we must embody the essence of the Risen Christ. When they look to us as a faith community they need to see tolerance. They need to see compassion. May God give us the grace to live the life that Jesus envisioned for us to live. So many churches fail to show the strangers that come to them the face of Jesus. Instead they show something less, oftentimes the results of petty things. Some churches even create an atmosphere of disharmony rather than pitch in and work with each other as a team, a fellowship. Sad isn’t it? Thankfully, this church has as its core belief, the teachings of Jesus. Every day, I ask myself: “am I living the life that my Jesus, my Savior has ‘called’ me to?” I truly pray, that we as a faith community ask ourselves such questions every day. Let us not forget: the next stranger that walks into this sanctuary may be looking to us to find their way.