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Sermon for April 29 and 30

The Gospel according to 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 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 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.

Did you ever wish that you could have lived during the time when Jesus walked on the earth?  Did you ever think it would be just way too cool to be friends with one of the disciples?  To be close to the insiders?  Have you tried to imagine how you would have behaved or how you would have shown your faithfulness?


And did you ever think that if YOU had been on the road to Emmaus you wouldn’t have been so doggone dumb?  


I mean, really – what’s wrong with these guys?  They were THERE – they saw the arrest, they saw the torture, they heard the cries of agony.  They hid out with the others in those awful hours when no one knew what to do.


And now – here they are, face to face with Christ Incarnate and they treat him like a stranger.


To be fair, they had to be shaken – they saw some awful stuff.   Have you ever experienced a natural disaster?  A hurricane. a typhoon, a tornado an earthquake?  Have you watched the skies around you grow horribly dark while everything around you shook and shivered?   We have been told that when Jesus died, the veil of the temple was torn in two, there was a terrible earthquake and it became as dark as night.  And of course this man who was intensely loved by these very friends had just died a long and brutal death.  I’m guessing I would have been numb and dumb myself under the circumstances. 


But here is what makes me feel so sad about these fellows . . . somehow, some way in the midst of the horror, they forgot whose they were.  They had been so close before, so certain, so secure, but suddenly – frightened – yes, frightened out of their wits – they lost touch.  They forgot the resurrection promise; they forgot how Jesus had promised to love them always.  They forgot that he had named them all as his own.  Now, on the road he gently chides them; he reviews all the prophesies and promises from the scriptures. But still they do not recognize him.   It is only when in loving wisdom Jesus sits at table with them – then suddenly in the breaking of the bread they remember.   They know Him – and they remember that they are His.


Tornados and earthquakes don’t come to our city all that often, but that doesn’t mean that we are not prone to becoming overwhelmed by our own personal terrors.  Sometimes in our distress we forget to do things that once held great meaning.  We lose track of traditions and often we are tempted to shirk responsibilities – because we are anxious and fearful.  My task this day is to speak through the din of stress and worry that threatens to overwhelm us.  It is my privilege to remind us all of whose we are and how we are called to serve.


Each one of us has their own story about how we happened to come to this place.  Some of us were brought to church as infants.  Some of us had to find our way all by ourselves.  Mostly we came through those doors to GET something.  We were seeking comfort, counseling, companionship, a sense of belonging.  All good stuff.   But in time we learned that our gratitude for these gifts tended to call for a response.  We need, we really need, to give back as we were given.  And so we come to realize that our time – and yes, our money – are important gifts which we can give back – to this parish – to the community – to God.  


The name we have given to this act of “giving back” is STEWARDSHIP.  Stewardship is a word that has been bandied about over the years to the extent that it is lost some of its original meaning – and acquired other meanings it was never meant to have.


Some folks have taken to interpreting stewardship in ways that bring it into alignment with their own particular passions.  The ecologically minded focus on the stewardship of creation.  Advocates of exercise and healthy eating define stewardship as care of the body.  Those who are dedicated to strong relationships and great parenting will speak of stewardship of the family.  And . . . some like to think that faithful citizenship is “stewardship of the common good.”


Of course, each of these passions has its own prescriptions and regimens.  You must decrease your carbon footprint!  You must walk at least 40 minutes a day!  Cut down on red meat.  Don’t forget to have a date night with your spouse.  Spend more quality time with your kids.  Allow your faith to inform your politics.  Cultivate your spirit of service.


These are good and admirable things to do, but they tend to miss the mark.


Let me share a secret with you.  Stewardship is using everything – everything – to the Glory of God.    It is not just what we share or do at church.  It’s what we do with our time and money and abilities in all of our life.  We best carry out our responsibilities to God when we use everything entrusted to us in ways that honor God.  It is to be a way of life.


So what are the practical ramifications?  How do I do this?  After all, we are talking about time and money here.  This is a pretty personal conversation.


There are options for us as we consider how our time and money can be given.  One can tithe; one can give from the first fruits of their labors; one can give proportionately; one can intentionally grow their giving so that it increases with each passing year.  Quite frankly, we commend any and all of these approaches to you.  The method, the style, the amount of time and money is between you and God.  It is not my place, nor shall it ever be, to suggest how – or how much – you should give.


So – you might say – if the options are so many and so liberally given, why should one be concerned about giving at all?


Well . . . some of this is tied up in that faith-hope-love thing that scripture talks about.  These gifts of the Holy Spirit teach and tug at us in ways that impel us to respond in gratitude to the great and incomprehensible love of God.  God invites us to respond.


And so, our hope, fed by our faith, nourished in love, becomes more than a dream; it becomes action which then helps us to nourish the neighbor.  It’s what we do.


I’d like to tell you a story about my Dad.  He’s been gone for a long time now, but I still remember this incident like it was yesterday.  To be honest it was nearly 70 years ago.  I was thirteen and stepping out into the social life of our local junior high school for the very first time.  Dad’s warning lecture about my possible behaviors was short and most definitely to the point.  “Just remember whose you are.”


Succinct?  Yes.  Uncomplicated?   Not so much.  This was definitely both charge and challenge.  I was to remember absolutely everything that I had been taught by my parents about how to behave; manners, morals, everything.   And that “remembering” was to govern my choices and actions wherever I went or whoever I was with.  Period.  This was never about thinking myself better than others It was not about arrogance or false pride.  It was about remembering.  “Just remember whose you are.”


It was good and helpful advice, and I took it to heart. 


Later that year during confirmation class something else took place.  As a part of completing our two years of study with the pastor, all confirmands were required to memorize Luther’s Small Catechism – in its entirety.  That meant the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Creed, along with definitions of the Sacrament of Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar.  Seems pretty straightforward.  But you see, we also had to learn all of Martin Luther’s explanations for these catechetical components.  The words “What does this mean?” felt downright threatening as we tried to master the words, to say nothing of the meanings, so that we could recite all of this aloud.


I shall never regret that process.  I couldn’t recite the entire Small Catechism today, but there are certain bits I do remember – which have served more than once to hold my faith together.


The second article of the Creed and its explanation is one of those well-remembered pieces.  Maybe, just maybe, because it often reminded me of my own father’s decree.


The second article of the Apostle’s Creed goes like this (depending on which translation is currently in use): I believe in Jesus Christ, the only Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to the dead.  On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.


And then you are to say: What does this mean?” 


Okay – now I want you to please listen very carefully, because this is my own personal, most favorite part of the entire catechism.


I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father before all worlds, and also true human being, born of the Virgin Mary is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature from all sin, death and the power of the devil, not with silver and gold, but with his holy and precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, in order that I might be his own, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.


This, dear friends, is why we are here.  To hear God’s charge and challenge.  It is not because we think God will love us more if we give more. It’s not because we might feel guilty if we don’t take part.  It is because we know whose we are.


We respond to God’s love by caring for the neighbor because we are redeemed.  And because we know this to be most certainly true.


The time is here – for us – all of us – to remember everything we have ever been taught in this place – about loving, giving, sharing, sacrificing – and then – to remember – remember whose we are.