Sunday’s sermon: Wherever Two or Three Are Gathered

Christian community

Text used – Luke 24:13-35

  • The Walk to Emmaus – a passage that is chock full of meaning and nuance and lessons and insight into our relationship with God, with Christ, and with one another. For a lot of pastors, this is a favorite passage to preach on because there are so many layers of meaning through which we can dig.
    • Passage can teach us about how to walk with Christ
    • Passage can teach us about communion – about breaking bread and encountering the risen Christ at the table
    • Passage can teach us about opening our eyes and hearts to what (and who) may be right in front of us, especially when we least expect it
      • For that matter, it can teach us about God upending and resoundingly surpassing our expectations
    • Passage can teach us about the way that Christ continues to act in us – to “warm our hearts” – as we walk beside our Savior
    • As you can imagine, this was a topic of discussion on a few of my Facebook message boards this week, and the messages that people were describing were as different and varied as the pastors preaching them. So I started thinking about where we are as a community right now – what we’re going through, what we’re facing, the crossroad at which we find ourselves. And the thread that emerged from this story for me this morning – in this particular time, in this particular place – was a message of being in Christian community.
  • Certainly no shortage of examples of Christian community given by Jesus
    • Mt: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself.”[1]
    • Mk: [Jesus’] mother and brothers arrived. They stood outside and sent word to him, calling for him. A crowd was seated around him, and those sent to him said, “Look, your mother, brothers, and sisters are outside looking for you.” He replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Looking around at those seated around him in a circle, he said, “Look, here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does God’s will is my brother, sister, and mother.”[2]
    • Jn: “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.”[3]
    • Again, Mt: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I’m there with them.”[4]
    • Not to mentions examples that he set
      • Eating with wide variety – rich people like Zaccheus, sinners, women, Pharisees, tax collectors → Way more types of people than the disciples themselves felt comfortable with!
      • Welcoming “the wrong people” into his presence → lepers, an unclean woman who had been bleeding for more than a decade, Samaritans, children
      • Even going so far as to heal the servant of one of the Roman oppressors![5]
        • Roman centurion had a servant who was dying → centurion sent some local Jewish leaders to ask Jesus for help → at his request, Jewish leaders tell Jesus that centurion doesn’t even feel worthy for Jesus to visit his home but that his faith is so strong that he knows all Jesus has to do is speak and his servant will be healed (no presence necessary)
        • Lk: [Jesus] was impressed with the centurion. He turned to the crowd following him and said, “I tell you, even in Israel I haven’t found faith like this.”[6]
    • And all that community stuff was all well and good … while Jesus was still with the disciples – teaching them, leading them, dazzling them with his ability to heal the sick and calm storms, shocking them with his audacious in-your-face approach to the Pharisees’ challenges and verbal traps. When Jesus was still with them, they could move mountains! When Jesus was still with them, they could conquer the world! When Jesus was still with them, they could take on those horrible Roman oppressors because they had the Mighty Messiah, Savior of the People of Israel, Son of God at their side!!
  • But then Jesus was arrested. Then Jesus was put on trial. Then Jesus was found guilty. Then Jesus was tortured and humiliated. Then Jesus was hung on a cross like a common criminal – literally between two common criminals, in fact! And then a few of the women in their group started coming up with some crazy story about an angel and Jesus’ tomb being empty and the once-mighty-now-fallen-Messiah actually being resurrected. … And that was the last straw. That’s where the two disciples from our Scripture story this morning just had to draw the line. It was time to cut their losses, time to get the heck out of Dodge. So before things got any worse – any sadder, any stranger, any more dangerous – they packed up their stuff and left Jerusalem.
    • Back to old lives – family, friends, hometowns, occupations (probably fishermen)
    • Back to what they knew, what was safe
    • Back to “the way it used to be” because they were uncertain and afraid of what lay ahead and because they didn’t know what else to do → This Jesus thing was over. It was time to get back to “real life.”
    • Can imagine them plodding down that 7-mile stretch of road together
      • Dusty, hot, and dry
      • Dragging their weary and dirty feet
      • Alternating between talking about all of the things that they’d been through (past 3 yrs, past week) but also walking in silence
        • Silence thick with memories
        • Silence rough and jagged with broken hopes and shattered dreams
        • Silence heavy with sorrow, disappointment, grief
        • Silence burning with frustration and resentment: Why had they let themselves be swept up by that Jesus guy? Why did he have to go and let himself be captured like that? Why did such a great story have to have such a brutal, terrible ending? What was the blasted point?!
        • Scholar: Though Luke spends only a sentence on the conversation between the disciples before a stranger joins them, we know that this conversation can last a lifetime.[7]
    • And in the midst of all of this, these two disciples are approached by a stranger – a stranger who has apparently been living under a rock [PAUSE] because he doesn’t seem to know anything about the events that have rocked their entire world over the last few days. – text: He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”[8] → And so as they continue to walk together – in this little ragtag community that they’ve formed – they talk together. They talk about all the things that have been, the disciples describing the events of the past days. And they talk about things both past and to come, the Incognito Jesus “interpret[ing] for them all the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.”[9]
      • Important lesson in this interaction: OPENNESS → They talked about everything, including the most recent, most horrible things that they’ve been through. Yes, this was Jesus that the disciples were talking to as they walked along that road to Emmaus, but they didn’t know that. And still, they were real. They were honest with each other and even with this newest member of their community. They were genuine – in their struggles, in their learning, in their need, in their broken places. And that is how the strongest relationships are forged.
        • This congregation = in a place of uncertainty → What does the future hold for us? Where are we going? Who are we as Christians? As Presbyterians? As Oronoco-ans? To figure that out together, we’re going to need to be open with one another: about hopes and dreams, about ideas, about struggles, about our needs and our broken places.
  • They actually spend so much time talking and sharing and listening to each other – the disciples and their new, unknown friend – that they suddenly find themselves at Emmaus.
    • Jesus’ actions when they reach their destination are interesting – text: When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.[10] → Jesus’ little charade: “Who, me? Where am I going? Well, I’m just gonna keep on walking. You folks have a good night now. It sure was swell meeting you. What? Stay? No, I couldn’t possible. I don’t wanna impose. … Well, gosh, if you insist.”
      • Have to wonder if Jesus was anything like a Minnesotan – how many times did the disciples need to invite him before he said “yes”? Three times, perhaps?
      • We have to wonder why Jesus put on this little show. Was he testing the disciples? Was he giving them the opportunity to extend that radical hospitality that he had so desperately tried to model for them? Was it to keep up his disguise so they wouldn’t suspect his true identity too soon?
        • Only time in all the Scriptures that this Gr. word “pretend” is used → makes this a moment of distinctiveness and mystery in the text – something to remember: Jesus pretended.
        • I don’t think there was any malice in Jesus’ pretending here. I don’t think he was putting on this show to try to trip the disciples up or make them look dumb or make them work for their own personal resurrection appearance. I think that Jesus may just have been having a little fun with them – drawing out the charade.
    • Lesson to learn here: HUMOR/IMAGINATION → We have a lot of work ahead of us, and at times it may feel daunting. It may feel intimidating. It may feel scary. It may feel exhausting. Those are the times when we have to remind each other that our God is a God of creativity and joy, kind of like we did with Holy Humor Sunday last week. Our God is a God who laughs and creates and pretends with all the joy and commitment to character of a child. That humor and that sense of imagination and wonderment and fun are things that this congregation is really good at! And they are things that we can’t lose sight of in the weeks and months and years ahead.
  • Lk text: After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?” They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together.[11] → Friends, this passage is all about community.
    • Disciples start off in community → met by Jesus on the road
    • Travel in community
    • Find a place to stay in community
    • Share a meal together in community
    • Encounter the risen Christ in community
    • And when they’ve had that miraculous, eye-opening, strangely-heart-warming encounter, what do the disciples do? They rush back to their larger community – the rest of the disciples – to share their experience. They hurried back along those same hot, dusty, dangerous 7 miles of road that they had just spent all day walking because they couldn’t wait to share their experience with their friends, their brothers and sisters in faith, the family that had been forged and so radically tested over the past 3 years and especially the past 7 days. Because that’s the power of a community of faith.
      • There to mourn with you and celebrate with you
      • There to listen as you share your greatest joys and sorrows, ready to lift you up with a smile, a giant bear hug, or a prayer
      • There to remind you to be open, to be imaginative, to have fun, and to have faith … because God knows sometimes we need a reminder.
      • To put it simply, the power of the community of faith is that it’s there … period. Whether you’re walking or skipping or dragging your feet, it’s there. Whether you’re sharing your story or learning about someone else’s, it’s there. Whether your eyes are wide open or you need help to see, it’s there. When you’re being challenged, when you’re being tested, when you understand and when you don’t, it’s there. Wherever two or three, twelve or thirteen, twenty-two or twenty-three or a hundred and three are gathered, the risen Christ is there in community. Alleluia! Amen.

[1] Mt 22:37-39.

[2] Mk 3:31-35.

[3] Jn 15:12-13.

[4] Mt 18:20.

[5] Lk 7:1-9.

[6] Lk 7:9.

[7] Cynthia A. Jarvis. “Third Sunday of Lent – Luke 24:13-35, Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Year A, vol. 2. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 421.

[8] Lk 24:17-18.

[9] Lk 24:27.

[10] Lk 24:28-29.

[11] Lk 24:30-33.

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