Sunday, April 23, 2023

“Faith On The Road To Emmaus” The Gospel Message for Sunday, April 23, 2023 — Third Sunday of Easter

Our Gospel message comes to us today from the 24th chapter of Luke, beginning with the 13th verse, “Eating with the risen Christ.”

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (Luke 24:13-35)

“Faith On The Road To Emmaus”

It is so easy to pass this scripture about the Emmaus walk-off, relegating it to the shelf of “Nice Stories about Jesus.” We let it go and gather dust for another year when we take it out and talk about it a little. But this story does not impact us. Perhaps we, like the disciples on the Emmaus road, are too caught up in the horrors of the day, the fears and disappointments. We trudge along, looking down at the dirt and seeing that as the sum of our lives. Our hope is gone. We don’t know what to do. Occasionally, someone comes into our lives and gives us a glimpse of the great good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ. But still, we trudge. Jesus would refer to us as “foolish people,” just as he did with those travelers on the Emmaus road. If they knew Jesus so well from traveling with him, why were they having trouble believing in the resurrection appearance reported by the women?

One possible response to this query is that to believe is really difficult. It’s easier to focus on the dirt and darkness than on the light and hope. We do this far too often in our own lives. Christ is present with us, at all times, in the lives of others, in the love that is shown in the reconciliation that comes from hearts warmed and healed. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, once said that he “felt his heart strangely warmed.” We would like that. Right now, they are cold and frightened. Do we dare to believe in the power of God’s love through Christ? Good question.

The other response is the possibility of entertaining the idea that things might work out and that we are called to reach out to others. Those Emmaus disciples reached out to Jesus, still a stranger to them, and invited him to eat with them and stay the night in the local inn, as it was already getting dark. They offered a welcome to this stranger—might we do the same? He stayed with them, and they suddenly recognized him in the breaking of bread.

How’s your faith doing today?

There are times when we are so affected by things of this world; illness, relationships gone wrong, unemployment or underemployment, war, famine, pestilence, death, the coronavirus, that we begin to wonder if God really meant it when He said, “Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”

Most of us know those words were written in the book of Hebrews, the 19th book of the canon of the NT, but they actually had their origin in the OT.

In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses was addressing the people of Israel. They were nearing the end of their wandering in the desert, and Moses was nearing the end of his life. He knew that there would still be struggles and battles ahead for the people whom he had led to the brink of the Promised Land, and he spoke these words:

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Joshua was God’s next chosen leader. He was to lead the people of Israel into the land promised to their father, Abraham. In the first chapter of the account of Joshua’s leadership of this chosen people, God addressed this son of Nun. He said:

“No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)

In the book of I Kings, Solomon had just dedicated the new Temple he had built to the Lord. He then blessed the people of Israel with these words, remembering God’s promise:

“May the Lord our God be with us as he was with our ancestors; may he never leave us nor forsake us.” (1 Kings 8:57)

In the prophet Isaiah’s inspired words, in the first Servant Song recorded in chapter 42, we hear the pre-incarnate Christ say:

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

God has made this promise to those who have faith in Him.

But Chaplain, you may be thinking, you just said that sometimes our faith is weak. What about then?

To answer that, we turn to the words of St. Paul in his second letter to Timothy. He writes:

“Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:11-13)

So I guess that brings us to the real heart of our question that I posed at the beginning of the message: How’s your faith doing today?

How can we know?

To start with, I guess we really have to have an understanding of what faith is.

How do you describe faith?

Faith isn’t something that you can go down to the store and look for on the shelves. You can’t go out and purchase a can of faith. Faith isn’t like Jolt. You can’t drink a bunch of it and expect your faith to go soaring.

Faith isn’t a decision. It’s not as though when you’re having a bad day, a bad week, a bad month, or a bad year in your life. You can sit down and say: “That’s it. I’m just going to have more faith!”

That may work for a little while. Then you start to wonder: “Is my faith strong enough? Things still aren’t working out, God. Come on, Man, how much more do I have to pray, go to church; how much more do I have to give of my wallet or of myself before I can truly feel like I’ve given enough?”

So faith isn’t something we decide we’re going to build upon our own.

So what is it?

We see an excellent example of faith in today’s Gospel text.

This is the famous story of the two disciples who are returning to their homes after the death of Jesus.

Talk about two guys who are down in the dumps.

What a roller-coaster their lives have been during the past week.

Remember, it was only a week ago when they had undoubtedly been a part of the multitude that had witnessed Jesus’ triumphant arrival in the Holy City. People had been cheering Him. They had shouted, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

They had witnessed Jesus’ angry reaction at the Temple, where he had overturned the tables of the merchants and moneychangers, saying to them:

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ’a den of robbers.’” (Matthew 21:13)

Perhaps they had even been gathered in the upper room when Jesus had washed the feet of those who followed him. They had maybe heard Jesus say those words at the supper when he took the bread and said:

“And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:19-20)

Those had been high and glorious moments in their lives. They had faith!

But then, just a few short hours later, their world had been turned upside down.

One of Jesus’ own disciples had betrayed him, and he had been arrested.

They had scattered, just like all of the rest. But it was impossible not to follow the things that had happened next from a distance.

This man they had followed had been put on trial before Herod, the Chief priests, and finally, before the Roman governor, Pilate.

The crowd, which only days before had wanted him to be king, now jeered him and mocked him and, in a final blow, had demanded that Pilate crucify him.

His body had been nailed to a cross, and, with two common thieves, he hung there. He didn’t show any of the miraculous power they had known him to have.

He was just a man. He had died, and they had taken his body to a tomb and buried him.

It had been three days, and now, they were headed home. To what, they didn’t know. It felt as if their lives had ended along with his while he had been hanging there.

Do you know that feeling? Have you experienced the seeming bottom of what life has to offer?

I know I have. I’ve been riding high only to have my legs chopped out from under me. A lot of the times, it’s of my own doing. I’m the one that makes the stupid move that puts me in a hole. It can actually be great for a while. Pity parties can be fun. You can find all sorts of people to blame. You can get mad at God. Heck, you can even sleep in a couple of Sundays and show Him how much He’ll miss you now that you aren’t there.

But soon, reality crashes in, and you realize that there’s really no one to blame but yourself.

There are other times when it’s not your fault. You are an innocent bystander, living life, maybe giving glory to God, and like a punch to your gut, something happens that sucks the wind right out of you.

In times like this, we can relate to the psalmists’ words.

It was King David who cried out to the LORD in Psalm 22:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest.” (Psalm 22:1-2)

And again, in Psalm 69, we hear this plea from David:

“Rescue me from the mire, do not let me sink; deliver me from those who hate me, from the deep waters. Do not let the floodwaters engulf me or the depths swallow me up or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love; in your great mercy turn to me. Do not hide your face from your servant; answer me quickly, for I am in trouble. Come near and rescue me; deliver me because of my foes.” (Psalm 69:14-18)

It is times like this when we, as Christians, begin to doubt our faith. We wonder about picking up our cross. We wonder if we have it in us to “fight the good fight”; to “run the race.”

This had to be the feeling of those two disciples as they walked that lonely road to Emmaus.

But something happened!

A stranger appeared beside them.

They didn’t really want to talk to anybody else. They were doing just fine commiserating by themselves.

But this guy! He had no clue as to what had been going on. One of them finally said:

“Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (Luke 24:18)

So they told him the story.

It was a faithless story. It was a story filled with sorrow and regret. It was a story capped with disbelief.

They told this stranger about reports from the women who had gone to the tomb that morning only to find it empty. They said they had seen a vision of an angel who told them that Jesus was alive. Some of the disciples had even returned to the gravesite. It was empty, just as the women had said, but—no Jesus.

He was gone. He had left them. He had forsaken them.

Suddenly out of the mouth of this stranger came these words:

“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26)

And then this stranger did something that ought to inspire each and every one of us. He took these two men into the Scripture. He taught them (or maybe it was just a timely refresher course) all those things written about the Messiah. From Moses to the Prophets.

Today, we refer to that teaching as the “Golden Thread.” The thread that can be traced back to the Garden of Eden; through Noah and Abraham; through Isaac and Jacob; through Rahab and Boaz and Ruth; through Jesse and David and Bathsheba; through Solomon and Hezekiah; through Zerubbabel and Eleazar; through Jacob to Joseph and his wife Mary who had given birth to Jesus, who is called the Christ.

Do you remember what was said of these two disciples when this stranger first encountered them? “they were kept from recognizing him.” (Luke 24:16)

At first, they must have thought that he was either incredibly naïve or stupid. They were reluctant to share the story of Jesus. Their faith in him had been shaken.

But it seems the more this stranger talked, the more they listened. When they neared their village, the stranger acted as though he were going to go on.

But suddenly, their attitude changed. Our text says:

“But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Luke 24-29)

I really like the KJV of this text a little better. It says: “But they constrained him….”

They didn’t want to let go of this stranger. They wanted him in their presence.

And the stranger stayed.

They gathered around the table to partake of dinner, and the stranger took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to give it to them.

And two miracles happened.

First, their eyes were opened. And then, just as suddenly as he had appeared, the stranger was gone. He disappeared.

But the disciples didn’t fall back into their melancholy state. They didn’t go back into their faithless attitude.

Instead, they looked at one another and said:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

The end of this text is really just the beginning because they got up and headed back to Jerusalem.

They didn’t know anything else had happened but knew they had to tell the Good News. They had to return and let the others know that Jesus was alive. They had seen Him! He had been in their presence.

He had not left them; he had not forsaken them. He is risen!

What had Jesus done to cause this change?

Was it merely in the breaking of the bread?

I remember when I heard this story as a child in Sunday school, I, or one of the other little inquisitive kids, asked this very question. How did they know it was Jesus?

And I remember the very inadequate answer we got. We were told, “it was how he broke the bread.”

My friends, they knew it was Jesus because their faith had been restored. Jesus took them through the Scriptures and showed them that God the Father is a God who keeps His promises. Through the hearing of the Word, their trust in God was restored.

All that He said He would do had been accomplished through the birth, life, suffering, and death of His beloved Son.

And now that very Son of God had been raised from the dead, He was alive and still present with them.

And brothers and sisters, He is present with us still.

He is present in the Word and in the Sacraments.

It is through these God-given things that our faith is renewed, restored, and re-invigorated.

It is through our firm belief in the promises of God, shown to us through the Holy Scriptures, that we can TRUST in all that God says He will do.

Because God keeps His promises.

Regardless of where you are in your life, if your faith is soaring or if you are weak, trust in God.

Know that He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Remember the words, the promise, of our Lord as He spoke to His disciples before He ascended into heaven:

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

So, How is your faith today? Do you trust in God? Do you believe IN God? Do you believe IN Christ?

Are you ready to follow the example of the disciples from Emmaus? Are you ready to have your eyes and hearts opened? Are you ready to share the Good News that the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, has risen? Are you ready to speak of His presence among you?

I urge you strongly…no, I constrain you to open the Scriptures. Read the Word of the Lord and then share it with everyone you can.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, Sometimes our faith life is like a journey in which we have four flat tires, no change for the thruway, and children crying, “Are we there yet?”. We just try to get through it. Be with us on these journeys. Bring us hope and comfort. Remind us that we will be “OK” and that God is walking with us. This week so many things have happened in our lives. Some of these things have been wonderful and cause our hearts to rejoice; other things have torn at our spirits, seeking to bring us down. Lift us up, Lord. Open our eyes to you. Help us to see your presence in all your world. Give us courage and strength for all the journeys ahead so that even flat tires and fussing children will not deter us from our destination. Amen.

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Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. Sermon contributed by Rev. Bruce Hindenburg.
A look at faith: What it is and what it isn’t; and where it comes from.

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