Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Speak to us now with your Holy Spirit-- through our worship-- through this meal-- and through this sermon-- that we may be filled with your endless love, now and forever. AMEN.
I like facts, and I assume most of you do, too. Not necessarily hard, cold, statistical facts, but ordinary facts— concrete truths. The sorts of facts that we learn from our five senses. What I can see, hear, feel, touch, smell and taste.
Pretty much everything we know, we have learned through our 5 senses.
But today our Gospel texts points us beyond these to something more powerful and concrete than these: God’s love for us, revealed to us in the crucified and risen Jesus.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking from Jerusalem to a town called, “Emmaus.” Over the past few days, their senses had overwhelmed them with things they wished weren’t true.
The sights, sounds and smells of a city in upheaval— of a population turned into a lynch mob; The sight and the smell of blood, and of Jesus being crucified. Of friends who were afraid and confused.
What they had learned over the past several days was what occupied them now as they walked and talked along the road. And this is where Jesus meets them.
We know almost everything we know from our 5 senses. But on this occasion at least, their senses let them down. As Luke puts it, “Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
As they walked along together, Jesus spoke to them, too. They not only saw him, they heard him— but still didn’t recognize him. “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Luke makes it clear to us that we won’t know Jesus by looking for the facts. And we won’t know him by getting a good education. Putting the facts together in the right order isn’t the essence of our faith.
It isn’t until Jesus breaks bread with them that they recognize him.
It’s a simple act— and in itself there is nothing special about it. People break bread all the time. But in this case, the breaking of bread represents all that Jesus has done to draw us together.
It’s reminiscent of the Last Supper when he broke the bread and said, “this is my body.”
It represents his body broken for us on the cross.
It represents the nourishment and life we receive from him. “I am the bread of life.”
It foreshadows his promise that, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I will be there.”
And encompassing it all is the reality that God loves us. Jesus loves us, and because he loves us he continues to give to us. Jesus loves us, and because he loves us he gathers us to himself and he gathers us together.
If we base our lives on only those things we can grab hold of as “a sure thing,” then much of the meaning of life will escape us. There are good things we cannot lay hands on-- powerful things which we cannot prove.
What sure things are you building your life upon? And how sure are they? On that day in Emmaus, Jesus invited his friends to decide that something they couldn’t make “sense” of USING their senses, is the greatest of all sure things: love.
Do you believe in the power of love? Specifically, do you believe in the power of God’s love for you?
When Jesus broke the bread before his followers, he was saying to them, “Believe in me. Believe in my love for you.”
When he comes to us, he says the same thing. In the waters of our baptism; In the bread and wine of Communion— Jesus meets us.
We see the elements.
We hear the words.
We feel the water.
We smell and we taste to the bread and wine.
He blitzes us using all of our senses to show that he is here, and then he invites us, “Believe in me. Believe in my love for you.”
Because the water and the bread and the wine and all the Sunday School in the world won’t amount to anything if we don’t believe in the power of his love.
Luther’s cabbage soup— Christ is everywhere, but in the bread and wine of communion, he comes with promises.
Cleopas and the other disciple came to see that Jesus’ love for them changes everything.
They left Jerusalem with heavy hearts and they returned in joy to share their good news.
It didn’t happen because Jesus was with them.
It didn’t happen because they had received a good theological education.
It happened because they believed that Jesus loved them still.
That will be true for us, too.
The essence of our faith is not in tangible “proofs”— although we can look at all of creation with eyes of faith and see that God is here.
The essence of our faith is not intellectual— although countless volumes have been written about the ways and workings of God.
The essence of our faith is relationship.
God’s relationship with us.
Our relationship with God.
And our relationship with each other and the world as a result of God’s love.
You and I are the body of Christ.
That makes no sense scientifically, but when our lives are shaped by our faith in God’s love, we become instruments of God’s love in the world. Faith in God’s grace shapes who we are and what we do.
In seminary I did my internship at Emmaus Lutheran Church in Orange City, Florida. I don’t know if its true today or not, but back then it was only one of two congregations in the ELCA named, “Emmaus.” It’s not a very familiar story.
One day while I was in the parking lot, a woman drove up, rolled down her window and said, “I was looking at the name on your sign and wondered what religion this is.” I told her that we are Christians. “Oh,” she said. “I’ve never heard of it before.”
We’ve got some great theology as Lutherans. But that doesn’t make us Christians.
We can build nice buildings, too, and that won’t make us Christians, either.
When that woman came to Emmaus Lutheran church, she didn’t recognize us as Christian by either of those things. The only way anybody will know who we are is by how we love the world.
There is a saying that you likely know. The first time I ever heard it was from a biology teacher in eighth grade. He said, “Don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.”
History is a hard teacher— and history has revealed many times that those who profess to be Christian have done a lot of terrible things— many of them in the name of Jesus.
Nice buildings, big congregations. Lots of religious language and quoting of Bible passages. And then falling in step with actions and beliefs that are the very antithesis of everything we experience in Jesus.
Our senses can betray us.
In our corner of the world, when people see a cross and see “saint” written on the sign, they know this is a church.
But if their eyes were kept from seeing these things— if we took down the sign and the cross, would anyone know who you are?
When you are away from this place—
In your neighborhood
At your place of work
At your school
At a store
Driving down the street or at a stoplight.
Would anyone know who you are?
How is the love of God shaping your life individually— and your lives as a congregation together?
How is he calling you to love the world in his name?
Because believing in his love for you defines who you are.
And Believing in his love for you determines what you do.