May 4, 2014 – Third Sunday of Easter

Luke 24:1-12
But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.

Luke 24:13-35
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 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.

Easter 3   May 4, 2014   Luke 24:1-35   hearts strangely warmed

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Their hearts were burning…and they didn’t know why…

Two disciples are walking and talking with Jesus for seven long miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Never knowing who he is… till the walk is over… Later that same day, they will be saying to each other, Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking with us – opening the scriptures to us?

Meanwhile, they have no idea who their walking companion is…

Cleopas and the other un-named disciple with him had probably heard Jesus teaching, more than once, about how all the law and prophets testify to the Messiah, and how the Messiah would inevitably suffer and be put to death…

St Luke records Jesus saying these things several times. And in our first reading, the angels tell the women at the tomb, “remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.” And the women do remember. And they tell the male disciples what they’ve seen, and what the angels have said. But the apostles considered their report to be just “an idle tale, and they did not believe…” Which may explain the note of irritation in Jesus’ voice as he says–

“Oh how foolish you are – how slow of heart to believe all the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things… then enter into his glory?”

Later these disciples hiking to Emmaus will recall how their hearts were strangely warmed, walking, talking with Jesus…But at the time, they don’t seem to have had a clue as to his identity…

Sometimes I’ve laughed, thinking, ‘Imagine such clueless disciples! Talking with Jesus for more two hours without recognizing him!’

Till I realize – ‘Oh my. That’s me, there with them. Talking with Jesus, and not ever recognizing him…’

When I’m tired, cranky, or discouraged, it can be easy to overlook the presence of God… There are days when I really can’t tell a strangely warmed heart from a strange case of heart-burn…

Some days my walking and talking with Jesus really amounts to little more than me unloading my litany of complaints on him… And I can’t blame Jesus at such times when he reminds me,“oh how foolish you are!”(Oh, how foolish….)

When we’re tired, cranky, hurting or discouraged… it can be easy to overlook the presence of our risen Lord.

It can be difficult to see Jesus….when we aren’t looking for him, and really don’t expect to find him.

So imagine ourselves in the places of those disciples, walking to Emmaus. They’d just seen Jesus crucified-and-sealed-in-the-tomb. All the hopes they’d had, that Jesus would be The Messiah who would do what Messiahs are supposed to do, and redeem Israel from captivity… All those high hopes sure look dead and buried now…

And… the resurrection of Jesus isnot self-explanatory… Jesus has to help us unpack it…

Even the experience of Jesus, burning in our hearts, is not always something we recognize at the time… for what it is…

John Wesley, our Methodist founding-ancestor-of-old, had been giving his all to God for many years, preaching and teaching the word of God… But for a long time he wasn’t feeling the grace of God… His first long-term mission trip overseas to the colony of Georgia was a disaster. Almost nothing went right. When he returned to England in low spirits, many of his friends were having wonderful personal spiritual awakenings… Which made him feel even worse… since that sure wasn’t happening for him…His brother Charles Wesley wrote in his journal that brother John was in a state of “continual sorrow”….

Till one night, as John Wesley described it, “In the evening I went very unwillingly to [a Methodist gathering] in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

Wesley’s so-called Aldersgate experience became one of the foundational moments in the life of the Methodist movement – the prolonged spiritual revival that swept across Great Britain, then to the American colonies, reaching millions, profoundly changing the shape of the church and the culture on both sides of the Atlantic.

And yet, in retrospect, Wesley’s description of his heart-warming experience can sound rather underwhelming…His heart was merely ‘strangely warmed’…This was not an ‘all-afire, blazing – burning brightly!’ kind of experience… No, his heart was just‘strangely warmed’.

In fact, Wesley soon began to wonder if his experience was even sufficient to make him a Christian… He couldn’t see the fruits of the Spirit that he hoped to see happening in his life, so he questioned the meaning and the worth of his own experience. And Wesley went back and forth between feeling strangely warmed by the Holy Spirit… and strangely troubled in heart and mind, for many years…

Only with long, persistent practice of prayer, bible study, worship, service, and small accountability and mutual support groups – the spiritual disciplines taught by Jesus, adopted by the Methodist movement – did Wesley come to eventually feel the presence of God pretty much continuously…

And I’ve been thinking this week about how… Neither Wesley nor the disciples walking to Emmaus realized or understood their encounters with Jesus…at the time or all at once…(and…)

The walk to Emmaus St Luke narrates, and the life of John Wesley alike teach us – our need to experience Jesus in more than one dimension, over more than a little while, to really be able to recognize his presence sufficiently so that his presence can have full effect in our lives… and in the lives of the communities in which God has placed us to be fruitful within…

And here at the end of Luke’s gospel, Jesus reminds us again of our need for persistence in faith… faith working through love…

Reminds us again of our need to keep walking with Jesus, daily listening well as he opens the word of God for us, teaching patiently… Adding emphasis now here, accenting again here and there, his teachings… Reminding us yet again….

We need to walk with Jesus, daily, in prayer and praise… Letting him draw our attention to God in all of our everyday blessings…(What could be more everyday than the blessing and breaking of bread?)… As he reveals for us daily the presence of the Maker of the universe in birds feeding… flowers blooming… fish jumping…. sun, moon, stars preaching the presence of God. As the psalmist says, “the heavens are telling the glory of God, the firmament proclaims his handiwork….

Like the disciples at Emmaus, we too recognize Jesus in the blessing and breaking of bread….Yes, in holy communion – and also in the sharing of everyday meals… Each of which is made sacred… as we notice the presence of God…

And this story of the Walk to Emmaus is written for us… to let us know…

Even in all those times when we don’t notice… still

Jesus is always with us…. walking with us…

Welcoming us into his life… long before we recognize him…

Teaching us so that, like those at Emmaus did, we too may welcome everyone God brings into our lives… as if they might be Jesus…

And as we do as Jesus teaches…

By his grace we come to know him

in the opening of scripture…

in the fellowship of prayer and service…

in the welcoming of strangers…

in the breaking of bread…

in every blessing he gives…

Now we know, more and more…

He is with us…

Christ is with us.

Thanks be to God.

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