Year A: The Third Sunday of Easter (May 4, 2014)

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Teaching the Text
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
Verse 39 is one of the Bible’s beautiful promises: “For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Repentance, baptism, forgiveness of sins, the presence of the Holy Spirit — these are each and every one gifts of the promise that we receive from God in Christ.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“I love the Lord, because….”

The psalmist participates in giving testimony to God’s goodness, a feature of the worship of God’s people for countless generations. We are invited to do the same. How long since you (or the people in your pews) have taken the time to fill in the blank?

“I love the Lord, because ….”

1 Peter 1:17-23
There is, from time to time, considerable dialogue over just what it means to be “born again”… or, as the NRSV has it, born “anew.” 

No need to revisit any of that ground here; much to be preferred are the descriptors that Peter employs in vv. 21-22. To wit: trust in God, set your hope and faith on God, and love each other deeply “from the heart.”

There is the bit about obedience to “the truth” — another phrase that evokes seemingly endless discussion throughout the church (just whose “truth” does this mean? God’s? And who is the arbiter of said truth?) I don’t know when we will all agree on “truth”…but that still leaves faith, hope and love.

To paraphrase the great American theologian, Meat Loaf: “three out of four ain’t bad!”

Luke 24:13-35
Jesus could certainly be a little coy, couldn’t he?

Here are the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, all abuzz with their visit to Jerusalem and the spectacular rumors emerging from the Passover situation. We are told that they “were kept from recognizing him.” 

By whom, or by what, I wonder? Is this divine intervention in order to set up the tale? Or are we supposed to read something in here, something along the lines of “they were just so caught up in their own concerns that they couldn’t see Jesus right in front of them?”

I have certainly heard the latter interpretation; if I think hard enough, I could probably recall preaching it.

Anyhow, Jesus saunters up and asks, quasi-innocently: “What’cha talking about, guys?” 

Which, of course, gives an excellent opening for the story to proceed and for Jesus to get in a few of his final theological licks before his impending ascension. Somebody has got to understand all of this, after all. Peter and the gang back home weren’t handling it so well at this point!

There’s a lot of stuff we’re still trying to figure out, ourselves. We, too, are “foolish… and slow of heart to believe.” But Jesus is with us, nonetheless, whether we recognize him or not. 

In word and sacrament, the Christ makes himself known as we break the bread and remember. Open our eyes, Lord; open our eyes!

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton

A pastor friend of mine played basketball in high school.  He made all conference several times.  He was good.  Didn’t get recruited or given a scholarship, but he was a good basketball player.  He went to the major basketball playing university in his state.  This was back in the day when they all had freshman teams.  He tried out and made the team.  He played quite a bit on that freshman team, he continued to work on his game over the summer, spending almost every day in the gym as he had since he was 12.

About six weeks into his sophomore year he went to the college gym for the announced try-outs for the varsity team.  He knew that most of the spots were taken by the scholarship players, he knew there were only two places for walk-ons, he knew there were a lot of people trying out.  But he thought he could make it, he had made the freshman team without a scholarship, surely the coaches had recognized his talent.  He told himself hey had not offered him a scholarship because they knew he had an academic award.  And 30 minutes into that ry-out, an assistant coach came over, patted him on the shoulder, said “Thank you for trying out,” and pointed him to the door.  He found himself standing outside, sitting on the steps with the other rejects; dazed and confused and disappointed and wondering to himself, “What do I do now?”  Like the two men on the road to Emmaus, my friend had had his high hopes dashed and was left to wonder not only what might have been, but also where do I go from here.

Our Gospel lesson today leads us into a consideration a basic question. Where do we turn when things fall apart?  Fall apart not only for us personally, but also for the world.  What do we of when the things we have trusted in, believed in, hoped in, seem to have failed us?

The men on the road to Emmaus are disheartened by the death of Jesus.  In verse 21 they say “but we had hoped that he was the one who would redeem Israel.”  What’s interesting is that they say this in the midst of a recital of the basic facts about Jesus.  They knew the story – they just had no idea what it really meant.  Jesus uses the Hebrew Scriptures to explain their experiences to them.  The facts were not enough, the Word of God gave meaning to the experiences they had had with Jesus.

Though the men had begun to understand the connection between the crucified Jesus and the Risen Christ, they still did not make the connection between the Risen Christ and the person in their midst.  Talking, speaking, reading, words alone did not make that happen.  That was something that had to be experienced, and all mystical experiences are in some ways beyond words.

Somehow, when Jesus played host at the meal in their home, the universe shifted. “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.“ (vs. 30-31)

What follows is fascinating.  First, the men were able to look back on their experience and see Christ in it. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”  Word and sacrament, scripture and experience, work together to bring us into the presence of the Christ, and one is not complete without the other.  They weave in and out; word explaining experience, worship and ritual both underscoring and heightening the meaning of the word.

Secondly, they feel compelled to witness, to share with others what has happened to them.  They hustle back to Jerusalem to tell the others of their encounter with the risen Christ, of how “he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

The promise to us today is that the Risen Christ does come to us in the midst of our dashed hopes and shattered dreams.  The risen Christ comes to us in the Written Word, the Risen Christ comes to us in the Proclaimed Word, the Risen Christ comes to us in the Lived Word of worship and sacrament, the Risen Christ comes to in in our moments of hospitality and generosity with others, both friends and strangers.  The Risen Christ comes to us, and never leaves us alone.

Amen.

2 thoughts on “Year A: The Third Sunday of Easter (May 4, 2014)

  1. I love your comments and the sermon. My favorite Native American theologian, Black Elk, says that when the bad roads of life and the good roads of life intersect that is the holy ground where we meet the Great Spirit. Christians call it the nexus, or the Cross. No matter what our discipline happens to be, and no matter how hard we try to prove the existence of the Great Mystery we call Divine, when we get to the end of the road Jesus is there waiting for us all.
    Les+

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