14 May 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
1 Peter 3:13-22
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of the Province of West Africa
St. Matthew’s Church, Orlando
St. Michael’s Church, Orlando
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Jesus the perfect traveling companion, invites us to open our hearts.
But we had hoped that He was the one to Redeem Israel...... but we had hoped...
This morning, Cleopas and the other disciple disclose to a mysterious stranger their deep hopelessness the Passover Festival is over...Jesus is crucified and dead, the women’s story about Jesus is unbelievable besides themselves they trudge slowly, sadly up the road home to Emmaus. But we had hoped how often have you or I heard or uttered these same words 2000 years later.
When we’ve packed up a loved one’s belongings, leaving the ICU alone, exited the oncologist’s office after hearing there is nothing else we can do, heard from an adult child or ex-spouse I never want to see you again!!
Even in the midst of a seasonally joyful Eastertide life events can shatter our faithful, break our hopeful and damage our loving hearts.
We can find, like Cleopas and the other disciples walking away from Jerusalem to Emmaus feeling like a defeated army, disconnected from our faith. wanting to find a safe place to hide, lick our wounds, cry our tears and nurse our doubts. We wonder, as the disciples must have, where is Jesus in the midst of all of this?
Even today, Easter III, as we know Christ is risen- Risen indeed!!! life can be filled with great disappointments, feelings of hopelessness, a time to walk our own trail of tears and grief over losses in our families, world, and even in our own abilities.
But Luke’s Gospel lesson reassures us this morning we never travel alone. The Risen Christ, the perfect fellow traveler always with us, inviting us to open our physical eyes
and the spiritual eyes of our hearts to transform the hopelessness in our world to hopefulness in Him.
Once again, this morning in Luke’s Gospel we are on the road again. Since the earliest days of Abraham and Sarah God invites believers to travel both physically geographically and to the ends of the earth, to proclaim the good news AND spiritually in our hearts from the wilderness of Sin to the Promised Land where God lives. The heart in the Judaic tradition, is the “crucible of a persons’ true essence whether the essence is noble or wicked or in transformation” writes author Gail Godwin. Godwin goes on to say that evident from the first chapters of Genesis God has a heart very much like ours, able to feel deeply and to be softened and changed.
God has desired believers beginning with Abraham (Gen. 16: 17) to become whole hearted, that is sincerely devoted, committed without hesitation to our life with God.
But as you and I clearly know, and experience every day our hearts are often pulled away from a prayerful relationship with God by desires of the flesh, social pressure and at times pure pride and rebellion.
Over Biblical history Abraham and all his descendants in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible) struggled to learn and teach others how to walk with God wholeheartedly. Moses exhorted the Jewish people just before they entered the Promised Land without Him “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart and be no longer stubborn”. (Deut. 10: 16)
To circumcise our hearts is to allow God to cleanse and prune away our hearts’ cold, calloused, rigid, and dead parts opening and transforming our hearts to live, move, and more fully have our very being in God.
But about a century after Moses, after the Golden Age under Kings David and Solomon the Israelites rebelled again, ending up in exile. God created yet another covenant heard in Ezekiel’s prophesy to the Jewish Remnant in Babylon (Ezekiel 36: 26-28) A new heart I ...will give you and a new spirit will I put in you and I will take the stony heart out of you and give you a heart of flesh.
God became for the Israelites, and for us a God we cannot see but we can walk and talk with heart to heart no matter who we are, an insider or an outsider; where we are, at home or in a strange land or how we are spiritual close to or disconnected from God. God promised then, and promises us today, our hearts can feel the feelings we need to feel we to be convicted, repent, and return to God just as the crowd was “cut to the heart” hearing Peter’s testimony on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 repented and were baptized.
Today’s story on the Road to Emmaus is a story about spiritual transformation. How Jesus, our fellow traveler, invites us to open our hearts to him to move from despair and hopelessness to hopefulness in Him.
There are several ways that Jesus invites us to be transformed, to light a fire in our hearts to worship and serve Him. First of all, Jesus is a fellow traveler who walks beside us, he comes near us, inviting us into conversation, meeting us where we are, waiting for us, just as he did with the two disciples, to invite HIM to join them in a more personal, private space.
Just like the disciples we may see but not recognize or be able to identify him as Jesus until our hearts are opened more fully. Sometimes we don’t recognize Jesus because we are blinded by the sun as the disciples may have been on the Road to Emmaus or distracted by our own agendas and self-focus or we don’t expect Jesus to be with us.
As the Greek translation “their eyes were kept from recognizing him” suggests God may be working on us it isn’t God’s time to open our eyes and we are to be patient as God is always right on time.
Secondly Jesus is a fellow traveler invites us to open our hearts by building a relationship with us. As he demonstrated with the two disciples Jesus is interested in what is on our hearts and in our minds, what we are wrestling with, what makes sense in our lives, how we feel, all the rainbow of feelings we have.
And even the times when we question Jesus like Cleopas did “Are you the only one in Jerusalem that’s been out to lunch and doesn’t know these things?” Jesus doesn’t get distracted and defensive or shift the conversation to himself. Jesus relates to us with compassion, care, and positive regard. He wants to explore with us further and deeper to hear and clarify our understandings of His Story, God’s story so we will have His wisdom, compassion, and understanding.
And Jesus recognizes in the disciples and us we need to hear His story and God’s story multiple times to understand our Judeo-Christian history, to see and believe the prophet’s words and to avoid judging others with prejudice due to our own fear or pride just as the disciples disregarded the women’s testimony Jesus knows that transformation is a lifelong process, a process that takes time, energy, and commitment. His and ours his openness to us empowers our openness to Him
Thirdly Jesus is the perfect fellow traveler because he invites us to deepen our relationship to open our hearts broader and wider, he is not afraid to know the deepest darkest places in our hearts for he is already there.
Perhaps most powerfully, Jesus invites us to the most intimate of spaces through Holy Scripture, at the Table and in prayer. And for all of us who were brought up to be independent and pull ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps regularly seeking Jesus and Jesus’s guidelines is a habit takes time and daily practice to build.
Jesus wants us to understand The Story.. His story and he is willing to teach us again and again and again. We can trust if we ask Him Jesus will be present and enlighten us in new ways in prayer, how many times when you have become quiet and heard God’s story, has your heart been touched in new ways catching your attention to new details, peaking your curiosity with new themes, generating new questions in your hearts, all which you can share with others.
And most poignantly Jesus reveals himself, as he did with the disciples, at an ordinary evening meal where Jesus guest became the host taking bread, blessing, breaking, and giving it to the others reminiscent of the Last Supper, reminiscent of Jesus’s life himself taken, blessed, broken, given.
Having sensed their hearts burning on the road Jesus knew they were ready to recognize Him, breaking apart the bread he broke open their hearts to see Him as he truly was a fellow traveler and guest, the Risen Christ and the Host....to see their lives and future with Hope once again.
In this series of deepening experiences with Jesus from the road to the table the disciples and our hopelessness can be transformed to hopefulness once again.
As theologian Frederick Buechner writes...
“Jesus is apt to come into the very midst of life
at its most real and inescapable moments. …
He never approached from on high,
but always in the midst, in the midst of people,
in the midst of real life and the questions that real life asks.”
And so this week I encourage you to look for Jesus on the road of your life, in the midst of you and the ones you love listen for Jesus inviting you draw near to him as He draws near to you and open your heart to let Him transform your spirit from hopelessness to hopefulness in Him.