April 30, 2017

Pastor Tammy Sharp

Luke 24:13-35
There is a skit that used to be done at camp and youth activities a lot. It is often used in reference to Matthew 25 parable of the sheep and the goat, but it really is perfect for today. It goes kinda like this…
A man is told that the Lord will be visiting him that day. Excited and anxious, he runs home to get his home ready for someone as important as the Lord to visit. As he is working a person knocks on the door asking for some food because they are hungry. He says he is sorry, but he simply doesn’t have time to stop and give them food.
A second person interrupts his work by knocking on the door, this time it’s a homeless person asking if the man has some clothing or even a blanket to spare. Again, the man says he is too busy for that and sends the stranger on his way.
A third person comes to the door. It is a woman who is lonely and deeply sad at the loss of a loved one, wanting only to sit and talk for a minute in order to find comfort. Again, the man doesn’t have time and sends her away.
Now he is impatient, because it is getting late and still the Lord has not come. Finally the phone rings. It is the Lord. “Why didn’t you come to visit me today?”
The Lord responded, “Three times I came to your door but you did not have time for me.”
A short time before my Grandpa Mort(ensen) died, he gave me a binder because he thought I might get some use out of it. It was filled with stories and poems that he had collected over the years that he used when he had to give speeches. One of the first things I ever read in that binder was a poem called Unawares. It tells the same story as the skit but in a poem.
The point of both the skit and the poem are that it is so easy for us to get wrapped up in our day to day lives that we fail to see Christ in our midst. We fail to see the needs he places before us, and we fail to see the great blessings he has in store for us.
When we read the story of the Road to Emmaus, I think most of us ask the question, “How could these disciples not know that this was Jesus?” Oh I have wondered the same thing. The scripture tells us that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him?” One way or another, the very person these disciples were talking about as they walked along was standing with them; engaging in a conversation with them, and they had no clue who it was. Before we address the issue of not recognizing the Christ in front of them, lets first take a look at their reaction…..
They are walking along, sharing in their grief and likely fear from the events that had occurred. Maybe they are even sharing some stories of when they had been with Jesus before his death. That is one of the ways we deal with grief. We remember the great things about someone in order to keep them close to us. But this was a personal conversation. This was a shared moment and this stranger walks up and buts in.
What would your response be if you were having a deeply personal conversation with someone close to you, and a stranger popped up and said, “hey what are you talking about?” You want to say that you would welcome them to the conversation because you heard the opening story and you are in church…. BUT. Let’s be honest. Most of us would say “Excuse me, but this is personal”. Maybe not even that nicely. But these men have a story to tell. They had seen the Lord in action. They had witnessed the crucifixion and, it seems, they were around or at least close by for the initial visits from Jesus after the resurrection. The conflicting emotions in them of grief and jubilation had to be intense.
They did not shut out the stranger. They couldn’t believe that there was anyone who hadn’t heard, but they stopped and shared their story. Jesus heard the story and was going to go on his way, not wear out his welcome, but they stop him; still a stranger to them; and invites him to eat with them.
That is evangelism. It isn’t knocking on doors and throwing Bible verses around. Evangelism isn’t frightening someone with the fear of hell in order to make them believe. Evangelism; actually, the entire Christian life; is all about relationships. People getting to know, and truly care about others and simply living out the faith and sharing the stories of what WE have seen and heard. Evangelism is all about meeting people where they are, no matter where that may be, and inviting them into your life. Evangelism is setting aside your own stuff in order to step into the stuff other people. It is genuinely caring enough to be there for the needs of someone else. It is accepting people as they are and loving them unconditionally. But it all starts with a welcoming heart and a willingness to share what you have seen and heard. These disciples had every reason in the world to brush off a stranger. Their heads were full of what had happened and their hearts were broken and likely confused. But they set aside their need in order to care for a stranger. And they invited him to dinner.
Recently I saw a news story about a Muslim couple who have sent out an invitation to strangers to come to dinner. The hope was to give people who know nothing about the Muslim religion, or the Arabic people, to come and share their feelings and ideas with each other. The response has been incredible….
When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years in South Africa, labeled a terrorist because he fought against the white South African oppression known as Apartheid. 27 years! All for wanting to be treated as an equal and respected as a human being. When Apartheid ended, Nelson Mandela was freed. He then became President of South Africa. Now he had the power to get even with those who had held him captive all those years. Now he could make those people pay for the way they treated him, and anyone else who happened to be black. He COULD have gotten even, through very legal, and what most people would consider justifiable actions. But what does he do instead? He invites one of his jailers to dinner. He invited a prosecutor that tried to have him executed to dinner and serves him a kosher meal. Having faced unimaginable persecution, Nelson Mandela shared forgiveness over dinner.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus showed us what it means to share the story of Jesus with people. It isn’t violent or mean. It is simply telling the story and listening along the way. And look what happens to the disciples when they set open up their broken hearts to a stranger and show him hospitality. The real presence of Jesus is revealed. All of a sudden, as Jesus blessed and broke the bread, they saw Jesus. The recognized the Christ before them.
It is amazing what you can learn about someone over dinner. I think perhaps Jesus and disciples were Lutheran. Lutherans can’t get together unless there is food involved. As we sit at a table and share our stories, and listen to the stories of others we gain an understanding that we could not find any other way. To break bread is a metaphor but, it is also a very real way to bring people together. And when we can invite people into our lives with openness and concern for what they need and what they believe, Christ is revealed in the midst. It often comes in very unexpected ways through people you never imagined but spending time caring about people is where we find Christ.
Our country is a mess. We are divided and people are very quick, on both sides of the fence, to point fingers and to find ways that people who we disagree with are wrong. We are in a time of deep anger. It is both democrats and republicans, gay and straight, male and female. Everyone seems to be driven by what they don’t like; what they don’t want; by what they don’t know. It feels that there is simply no way out of our current situation in life. But now is the time for us to be like the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Now is the time to stop and listen to the stranger in our midst. Now is the time to invite the very people who concern us the most to dinner. Now is the time to step out of what we feel is safe and RIGHT and simply have some conversations. Listen, even if you don’t agree. Accept people as they are without requiring them to change. Start where you are, where they are, and build relationships by understanding.
How many times do we say to God, “Just let me see you like the disciples did. Then I will not waiver in my faith”. We want to see the scars and feel the love of God in Christ Jesus. We want real experiences of faith to guide us. The problem is that we are so busy with life stuff that we are missing the Christ right before us. Jesus comes to us every day in the people in need around us. What is our response? Are we so worried about protecting what is mine that we miss the gift of the savior?
I pray that you will find the opportunity to share welcome and hospitality with someone who is different than you and that you see Christ as He comes in those moments. I pray you slow down enough to see the Christ in others. And I pray, that your words and your deeds reflect the deep, self-sacrificing love for others that comes through Christ our Lord.