Saturday, April 5, 2008

Hanging Out With Skeptics

Bethel and Zion Lutheran Churches, Bagley, MN
April 6, 2008
Easter 3/Luke 24:13-35

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

One of the things that the four gospels all agree on is that when Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter morning, he didn’t stay put.

No, when Jesus was resurrected, he was up and out and on the road. And he didn’t just trot a victory lap around the cemetery, either. No--Jesus took off. With death behind him and nothing but life—nothing but God’s future—ahead, Jesus was running in the power of his resurrection.

And what’s even better is this: Jesus doesn’t run alone—He runs with us—Jesus leads a whole pack of folks who have been caught up by God in the power of the resurrection.

What exactly does this Resurrection Road Race looks like, though? What is this post-Easter marathon Jesus is running, with you and me in tow, trying to keep up? What is this race all about?

This morning’s gospel fleshes that out, suggesting at least four ways that connect powerfully with God’s mission for us.

1. First, in this Resurrection Road Race, Jesus hangs out with seekers and searchers. He goes looking for doubters, walks with the confused, takes time to listen to skeptics.

I love how this Emmaus road story begins. It starts with two bewildered disciples, “getting out of Dodge,” leaving Jerusalem to travel to nearby Emmaus—trying to figure out all the things that had happened to Jesus in the preceding week.

And as they walk, a stranger falls into step with them, asking questions, listening to what they have to say—hearing them, really hearing them—not just the words they speak but the deep emotions that surround those words.

Imagine that. Jesus who knows better than anyone how the story ends—Jesus doesn’t just blurt out what he knows. Jesus doesn’t “butt in” and take over the conversation right away. No: he walks, he asks questions, he listens FIRST.

I think that’s why more and more congregations are seeing themselves as places where doubters can get their doubts out in the open. As we run with our Risen Lord, we don’t shy away from skeptics or seekers. Indeed—we treasure them, we make room for them, we open up safe spaces for them to scratch the itch that stands between them and faith.

2. Second, as Jesus runs with us and ahead of us in the power of the Resurrection, he is always cracking open the Scriptures. The risen Lord Jesus leads Bible study! Jesus looks back (to the Old Testament) to interpret current events and to point to God’s future. You could say that Jesus points “back to the future.”

When Jesus, the stranger on the road to Emmaus, has listened for a good long while, he speaks—but not on his own authority. Rather, our gospel lesson says that “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, [Jesus] interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.“

Along the Resurrection Road-Race we also follow Jesus “back to the future,” taking our cues from the Scriptures, drenching ourselves in the world of the Bible, developing among ourselves a kind of fluency in “Biblese” as if it were our first language.

Our church, the ELCA, is involved in something called the Book of Faith initiative. Its goal is very simple: to get us all reading the Bible, every day, for our strengthening in Christian faith, life and witness. For the next five years you’ll be hearing about all sorts of ways you can become “fluent” in the first language of faith, the language of the Bible.

3. Third, just as he did before his crucifixion, burial and resurrection….the Risen Jesus lets his actions do the talking for him. This is a nice counter-point to leading Bible study which, important as that is, always runs the risk of becoming a “head trip.”

So, in addition to cracking open the scriptures for them, the Risen Jesus grants the two disciples, after they arrive in Emmaus, an experience of his real presence. When evening comes “[Jesus] took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…”

Jesus speaks the Word—but he also re-enacts the Word, he does the Word! Jesus utters truth, but he also grabs visual aids that were handy—a loaf of bread, a cup of wine. Jesus communicates both symbolically and concretely—wedding syllables to elements, message to means, word to sacrament.

We Lutheran disciples believe that the preached Word is best accompanied by actions, experiences that bring Christ home to our hearts. So we regularly wash babies, children and adults in baptismal water. And we routinely fall to our knees (as we shall do this morning) to eat the Bread and drink the Wine, to “take in” Jesus our risen Lord.

4. Fourth, as a result of rubbing elbows with Jesus, people are changed. Jesus never leaves folks the same way he found them. Persons don’t stay “onlookers” or “inquirers.” Jesus runs the race in such a way that others can’t help but be caught up in the excitement—they strap on their own running shoes and get moving, moving with Jesus.

Even though darkness has fallen and Cleopas and the other disciple were ready to turn in for the night—even though the road between Emmaus and Jerusalem (like most roads through open country back then) was hardly safe—they cannot contain themselves. Once Jesus was revealed to them—they set aside all ideas of hitting the hay! Rather, they put their traveling clothes back on, tie on their sandals and run all the way back into Jerusalem yet that evening—because they have been altered, changed—they aren’t the same “Sad Sacks” they were earlier in the day.

So also, we today expect Jesus never to leave folks the same way he found them. We anticipate that Jesus will matter in our lives. We expect change, transformation, and yes, even growth in God’s grace.

So—that’s what the Easter season marathon—that’s what the Resurrection Road Race looks like. It’s not “holy smoke” or “smoke and mirrors.” This race has a shape, a content, a direction, an itinerary to it. As Jesus the Risen One catches us up in running with him, he leads you and me
To hang out with skeptics and doubters
To go back to the future by cracking open our Bibles
To do the Word in Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and
To expect change and transformation as God goes to work in our lives and the lives of others who have gotten caught up in Jesus’ Resurrection Road Race.

So--have a good run!

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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