Saturday, May 3, 2014

Seeing Jesus

Luke 24:13–35

This story of the disciples on the road home to Emmaus is one of our favorites; two disciples, Cleopas and his companion, are walking home after the Passover celebrations, depressed because Jesus was dead. I like to think they are husband and wife, since they invite the stranger into their home at the end of the story.
This is the third day after the burial, but they have given up hope. They do not believe the story the women told, of having seen the risen Jesus. Instead of feeling joy at having a Messiah who entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey just a week before, they grieve the death of Jesus and all they had believed he represented.
As they walk along, discussing their grief, their anger at the Romans, and their dashed hopes, Jesus shows up and asks what they are talking about. Somehow, they are prevented from seeing that the man who had joined them was Jesus. This stranger helps them reflect on scripture and the concept of the Messiah as a suffering servant. They have plenty of time to explore all of scripture, since it’s a seven-mile walk, a couple hours at least.
When they reach home, Cleopas and Mrs Cleopas invite the stranger to join them for supper. The table is set, the stranger takes the bread and breaks it. Suddenly, they are able to see that the stranger is really Jesus, and he disappears. Cleopas and Mrs Cleopas hurry back to Jerusalem, to tell the other disciples that they have seen Jesus!
Jesus shows up when we are least expecting him, in surprising ways. We often don’t realize Jesus has been with us until we look back and reflect on the experience. Let’s see how Jesus shows up in other ways and times.

When she was about thirty years old, in the year 1372, Julian of Norwich became extremely ill. She was in a fever for a week, and close to death. When the crisis passed, she had a series of visions of the passion of Jesus. She saw his suffering in many different ways and spent the next 20 years writing about her visions.
These writings were compiled into a book called Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love, which is now a classic of medieval mysticism. The visions declared that love was the meaning of Julian’s religious experience, provided by Christ who is love, for the purpose of love.
When Julian was ill, Jesus showed up for her to be present in her suffering. When she was on the mend, he revealed himself to her again and again so that she could share him with others. Six hundred years later, we still marvel at her visions and her reflections on them. This week, we commemorate her witness of Jesus’ presence in her life, and her insistence that the cross was about love.

There’s an email story, listed as not true by Snopes, but it works here, just to make my point about Jesus showing up in surprising ways.
One dark and stormy night in the 1960’s an older African American woman was standing on the side of an Alabama highway. Her car had broken down and she desperately needed a ride. Soaking wet, she decided to flag down a car, any car. A young white man stopped to help her, which was unheard of at that time, especially in the south. The man took her to where she could get a taxicab, since she was going in the opposite direction to where he was going. 
She seemed to be in a big hurry, but wrote down his address and thanked him. Seven days went by and a knock came on the man's door. To his surprise, a giant console color TV was delivered to his home. A special note was attached.
It read: “Thank you so much for assisting me on the highway the other night. The rain drenched not only my clothes, but also my spirits. Then you came along. Because of you, I was able to make it to my dying husband's bedside just before he passed away. God bless you for helping me and unselfishly serving others.” Sincerely, Mrs. Nat King Cole
There are lots of stories like these, many with at least a grain of truth in them. They all tell about someone who went out of his or her way to help a stranger. Those of us old enough to remember the 1960s know how unusual it would have been for a young white man to stop to help an old black woman, and take good care of her. This young man was Jesus, showing up to help a person in need.

In last week’s episode of the TV show NCIS, a man who called himself Blue was a homeless veteran. He was known in the homeless community for his passion for helping others. Blue has a dog named Dave, and everyone in the community knew Dave. Emma was a runaway girl wishing she could return home, but not wanting to return to the anger-filled home she left. When Blue went missing, Emma found Dave and took care of him.
In the hunt for Blue and the effort to discover what happened to him, Abby – the NCIS team researcher – met Emma. She figured out who Emma really was, and also found a video of her parents asking her to come home, and promising things would be different. Abby gave Emma a pre-paid phone card so she could call home. A day or two later, Abby visited the camp again, and Emma said her parents had sent her bus money, so she was going home.
Blue was Jesus for Emma; Emma was Jesus for Dave; Abby was Jesus for Emma, suddenly showing up in her life and helping to put it back together.

When I broke my ankle a number of years ago, two families were Jesus for me. Mike and I had planned to go out of town to a conference. I encouraged him to go, told him that I would be fine at home; I assured him people from the church would bring in food and keep me company. But he refused to go unless I was somewhere with people all the time. For one week I lived in an assisted living home run by church members; the second week, I was the guest of some friends who also had their grandchildren for the week. Both families made sure I was safe, well-fed, well-cared for. They were Jesus for me when I needed them.

When has Jesus shown up for you? Was it a surprise that Jesus was there, or were you aware at the time that Jesus was with you? Did you only put it together when you looked back at the experience?
When have you been Jesus for someone? When have you sat at a bedside and prayed with someone? When have you brought food or offered a ride? Do you reflect on the money you put in the offering, considering the many people who will be touched by your gift? Do you think about how your offering brings Jesus to others?

Please pray with me: Lord Jesus, you show up in our lives in so many ways. Sometimes we are expecting you: when we share your meal each week, and when we pray. Sometimes we are surprised and only notice you were with us when we look back. Help us to see you in each other, and help us to be you for each other. Amen

Wednesday, April 30, 2014


Just remembered I never posted this on Saturday.

John 20:19-31
[A drama in two voices]
To congregation:
The light in this room is really bad. It is crowded smells of too many bodies, too little ventilation, and the scent of silent human misery. … It’s perfect.

The man at Table 3 is not a regular, but I've seen him before. … Oh, yes, he’s not usually here by himself... he usually hangs around with a handful of other guys, but tonight he is here by himself, looking for numbness in the bottom of a cup.

I guess his friends won't be joining him, so I’ll make my way over to him.  …
“Keep your hands to yourself, Josh!” “Not now, Matt!” 
"Mind if I sit down?"

"Suit yourself.”
"What are you having?"

"Something wet, in a cup.”

"What a coincidence -- me too."
“Zach, (motions to invisible bartender) bring me something. … Thanks.”
"So, you look like a man who could use some company."
"They tried to make me feel guilty. They told me I was wrong, and they tried to make me feel guilty."

"I understand," (reaching out, touching his hand.)

"Believe me, plenty of people have tried to make me feel guilty over the years."
"You don't want to feel guilty, do you?"
I refuse to have anything to do with that kind -- they're more trouble than they're worth.

"You know how they say you should never miss a meeting?" he asked.
"Sure, I guess I’ve heard someone say it, once -- but my meetings are generally pretty short and don't happen if I’m not there.”

"They aren't kidding. Miss one meeting and suddenly you're the bad guy. Everybody's got it in for you. They tell me that I don't believe -- that I don't have faith. They tell me that I don't understand what the Master was teaching us. They try to make me feel like I'm not one of them now -- like I'm not quite as good."

"That's not right!"

"They're my brothers! They're my brothers. How can they do that to me?"

"Family can be the worst. With you one minute and against you the next."
“They all ran -- we all ran -- when they arrested him. They arrested him, they beat him, and they put him in front of some phony court and not one of us stayed by his side. Even his favorite, Peter -- when somebody asked him if he was a student of the Master, he denied knowing him! Right there, in front of God and everybody, he lied and said he didn't know him."
"Hard to believe, but some people are like that. Just looking out for themselves."
"I spent the rest of that night holding Peter's head while he wept. Do they remember that? And when they took the Master out and hung him on a cross, young James was the only one there. Where were the rest of them? Where were they when I was talking to the Arimathean, to convince him to lay the Master to rest in his tomb, since the Master's family tomb was in Galilee? Where were they all?"


To congregation:
I can tell this isn’t going anywhere. My eyes begin to wander, traveling around the room to pick out other likely customers. … (pause)

I sigh to myself, turn my attention back to him, and I am startled to find that he is staring at me intently. I realize he asked me a question, and I think frantically, trying to remember what he'd said while I wasn't listening.
Something-something-something-dead... something-something-something-guilt... suddenly the words materialized, and I felt a chill.
"Your brothers, your friends, they're telling you this man came back from the dead?"

"Yes -- that he appeared to them a week ago, as though he'd not been laid in the grave just days before, and they expect me to just believe them! I don't know what they take me for, what kind of gullible fool, but I'm not. I'm not some country bumpkin impressed with ghost stories. I'm one of them -- back in Galilee, when the Master found us --"
To congregation:
I stop listening again.

Back in Galilee, when the Master found us...

I am transported back in time, suddenly, to a moment not that long ago when my life had hung in the balance. It was one of those moments carved in rock in my memory, unshakable and unforgettable, no matter how hard I tried. A man, a quiet man, tracing words and symbols in the dirt... a soft voice that could cut through stone and hard hearts with equal ease, with the unmistakable burr of Galilee to it.
"This man, this Master of yours -- he was Galilean?"
"Yes, yes he was, of course. Didn't I say?"

"I don't think so -- but I remember him anyway. I think I know your teacher. We had... an encounter, once."

"No... I'm sorry, but no, he would not have -- (pause, remembers) You are the woman the Pharisees brought before him -- the adulteress. … He saved you, kept them from stoning you. ... I'm pretty sure Jesus told you to go and sin no more."

"He did. But I soon realized that he may as well have said, 'Go and eat no more.' When you sin... when all you know is sin, and it keeps you alive... what recourse do you have? ...  So he was the man executed last week -- the false prophet?"

"The teacher. The Master. We thought maybe the Messiah. But he was no false prophet. You didn't see the wonders I saw, hear him teach the way I heard."
"Oh, I heard. And I tried. But here I am. … Now your friends are telling you he's not dead, but alive?"

"That he has come back. He was dead, no doubt about that. The Arimathean told me there was no doubt that he was dead. But they say he's come back and lives again. As though I would believe such a thing! I don't know whether they're mad, drunk, or just tormenting me."

"But if he could come back --"

"He can't. Dead is dead."

"But if he could -- if he could leave this life behind, and come back with a new life, somehow... if he could turn away from what had happened, and start new... maybe there would be hope for the rest of us. Maybe it would mean the rest of us could somehow die and leave our old lives behind, and come back new."

"They're wrong, I tell you! It can't happen."

"But if it did... wouldn't it be a wonderful thing?"

"It would. It would be a miracle of the highest order. And I suppose it would mean all those things you said. But let's be realistic. Let's be practical."

"Yes, let's be practical. Your friends claim he comes to them. You claim he doesn't --"


"-- can't. So there are two possibilities, and you can prove which is correct. Go to your friends and wait for him to come. If he does, you prove that it's this teacher... this risen teacher. Look for the wounds in his hands and feet. Nobody lives through that. If he has them, and he's walking among you -- you'll know who's telling the truth."

"It seems like a fool's errand."
 "Look, my customers tell me they have money, but I don't accept their word. Before anything happens, I need to see coins. Proof. It sets my mind at ease. Proof -- one way or the other -- is what you need to set your mind at ease. Because no matter what you say, there's a part of you that wants to believe your Master returned."

"I do. You're right, I do."

"Then I'll tell you a secret. I want to believe too. Prove it to both of us... prove it, and maybe both of us can move on to something better."

To congregation:
We talked for a little longer, and I drank his wine -- I needed it. After a while he stood up and said he needed to go meet with his friends... it was the meeting they had set for the evening of the first day of the week. When he left, he walked with purpose he had not had when I first saw him, and my heart stirred.

And now I wait, and I wonder... will he get his proof? Will I get mine? Is it really possible to die to an old life and come back to a new one? I wonder...

In the mean time, what are you having...?


[Adapted from Guilt, by Keith Hewitt; StoryShare, April 27, 2014, issue. Copyright 2014 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio. Used by permission.]