Saturday, May 3, 2014

Walking, Listening, Teaching, Transforming

Ordination of Jacquelin Lawson
Eventide at Sheyenne Crossings, West Fargo, ND
May 2, 2014
Luke 24:13-35

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

This lovely short story is about two things for sure.  

First, it’s a Resurrection story…

But second, it’s also a ministry story.   It reveals what lies ahead for Someone who has put death behind him, once and for all.

There are some things worth noticing here about the ministry of Jesus, after he has passed through death into resurrected life….things that carry over into our lives and ministries as people who in baptism have also passed from death to life, with our Lord Jesus.

First, the ongoing ministry of the Resurrected One is all about moving out into the world.

In none of the four gospels does the Risen Lord Jesus hang around the Empty Tomb for long.   Later, followers of Jesus returned to the Empty Tomb, made pilgrimages there, built basilicas on that sacred site (with gift shops attached!)

Some of Jesus’ followers have returned to the Empty Tomb over the years.  But Jesus himself, alive forever in the power of the Spirit--Jesus is out and about, always moving ahead, ardently pursuing his mission of restoring the whole creation.  

Whatever else it means, the Resurrection is about God set loose in the world.   It’s about the Risen Jesus who (in the words of a hymn)  is “no longer bound  to distant years in Palestine, but saving, healing here and now, and touching every place and time.”  (ELW #389)

And what does this ministry of the Risen Jesus look like? 

Here things get real interesting, because the Risen Lord’s ministry seems rather unspectacular!   Rather than dazzling folks, Jesus simply goes walking, sidling up to two travelers who’re escaping from Jerusalem, heading to the village of Emmaus.

Here in this gospel lesson Jesus travels with them for quite a while.  As he accompanies them he draws them out, asks questions, hears what’s bugging them. 

The Resurrected One walks, asks questions, listens, and walks some more.

In this gentle, subtle way Jesus comes to know the broken hearts of his fellow travelers—how they are in deep grief and confusion, trying to make sense of the Cross where their Lord died—little knowing that the One who had now joined them on the road knew everything they wanted to know—and then some!

The restraint of the Resurrected Jesus is what catches our attention here.   The willingness of Jesus to walk with doubters, questioners who desperately want answers—that’s what’s striking here.

Jacquelin,  your baptism joined you to this Crucified and Resurrected Lord Jesus.  So your ministry is now an extension of the Risen Christ’s ministry.   You are being ordained this evening for a ministry of walking with others, listening intently to them, bearing with them in their joys and griefs and confusion…taking their questions seriously and accompanying them on their journey toward God’s future.

Please notice that the Risen Jesus here in Luke 24 isn’t on the lookout for folks who’ve already caught on, gotten their acts together and are doing great things in the world.   No, here on the road to Emmaus Jesus accompanies doubters, questioners, grieving souls trying to make sense of the senselessness of life.    That is now your ministry, too, Jacqquelin in this place of sheltering care.

But the Risen Christ’s ministry of accompaniment is about more than just commiserating with his companions.   Jesus walks and listens—true!—but when the time is right Jesus also speaks to his companions, sharing the best he has to offer.
And here, once more, we’re surprised.   Because—even though he has first-hand information to share—Jesus starts by taking his travelers back, into their own Scriptures, and opening those Scriptures in a way they’d never experienced before:   “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”

What does the ministry of the Resurrected Lord Jesus look like?  It begins with accompaniment, coming alongside the doubting and the troubled, listening to them genuinely and patiently….

….but this ministry continues, it unfolds only as Jesus opens up God’s Word for his fellow travelers.   Jesus starts doing here what the church has spent centuries doing---relearning everything in the Bible with the lens of the Cross and Empty Tomb now bringing it all into focus.

In short, the Risen Jesus does Bible study out on the road to Emmaus.

Sound familiar,  Jacquelin?   Your ministry here at Sheyenne Crossings surely involves lots of listening….and  I know you’ll  give yourself to that.   But your listening will lead you into bold speaking of the Word, too—which is what these residents long for you to do.

In my work as a synod bishop, I occasionally receive complaints about some of our pastors!   It’s not uncommon for a frustrated parishioner to critique the way her pastor does hospital visits: “He came to my bedside, which was good, and he made some small talk and  nodded his head and listened sympathetically, but he never got around to reading scripture to me, praying with me, or proclaiming  Jesus’ promises to me.”

There came a time on the road to Emmaus when the Risen Jesus went beyond walking and listening.  There came a time when he had to speak, to share what he knew, to point his fellow travelers back to the promises of God.   And that speaking of Jesus, that opening of God’s Word, that willingness to give voice to the hope that we have—that, too, will mark and must mark your ministry, Jacquelin—as you already know.  

These folks want to hear more from you than the latest Twins score, or how your tomatoes are doing, or how awful the weather happens to be.   They want to hear about Jesus and his love and the purpose he bestows on every chapter in our lives!

But there is even more here in this rich Emmaus story…for as crucial as it was that Jesus shifted from listening to speaking….what “sealed the deal” was his willingness, at the end of a long day, to stay with his fellow travelers, to sit at table with them, and to share a simple meal with them.

If Jesus had stopped with his Bible study on the road to Emmaus, his two fellow travelers might have mistakenly concluded that this is all some kind of “head trip.”

Because whatever was preventing them (two of Jesus’ followers, we learn!), whatever was keeping them in the dark fell away only when Jesus, the Guest, became Jesus the Host who “took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.”

Jesus’ listening prepared the way for Jesus’ speaking, and Jesus speaking of God’s promises led him to actually performing, actually “doing” those promises—making  God’s Word  visible, touchable, “taste-able,” and consumable!   Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him…”

And that didn’t just feel good for these two travelers.   They experienced so much more than a momentary spiritual “high.”
No, they were changed, they were transformed.   All the loose ends and dangling threads of their lives were suddenly re-woven together, and they realized why their hearts had been burning on the road while Jesus spoke to them.

The “proof of the pudding” is that those two disciples did something very foolish and risky.   Instead of hitting the hay for the night, they braved the darkness to run the whole seven miles back to Jerusalem, so they could share with their fellow disciples the Great News that had overtaken them on the road to Emmaus:  “That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Jacquelin, this too will mark your ministry—the awesome opportunities you will have to act out, to “do” God’s promises in Jesus Christ, in baptismal water, with bread and wine, by way of touch and presence that bears the light of Christ wherever you go.

And this good ministry to which you’ve been called will make a difference in peoples’ lives, in the power of the Holy Spirit.   Cold hearts will be warmed, puzzled hearts restored, doubting hearts assured that in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God truly does forgive sins, deliver us from death and the devil and give eternal life to all who believe.

God has richly gifted you for this ministry, Jacquelin.   Amidst the twists and turns in the winding journey that has brought you here—Jesus has been accompanying you every step of the way and God, speaking through his church, has called  you to this ministry, even as God promises to sustain you in it.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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