Monday, May 05, 2014

Easter 3 A: Standing Still and Looking Sad

Sermon  20140504
St. John’s Church, Downtown Yonkers
Easter 3 a

Luke 24:13-25

In the name of the Father….

When Jesus meets the disciples on the road to Emmaus he asks the disciples what they had been discussing walking along the way.  The text says, “They stood still looking sad”.  They were walking forward, but they stood still and looked sad.  After their astonishment that Jesus did not already know the disturbing events they told him the whole story, and in the midst of their speech they said, “We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.”

What did the redemption of Israel mean to the disciples?  What exactly were they hoping for?  The reality is the disciples held on to the very same hopes, ideas, and agenda that they had before they ever met Jesus.  Their expectations were unaffected even after listening to the teachings of Jesus for three years.  They never allowed his words to challenge their expectations, their ideas, their desire, and their image of goodness.  His disciples are still focused on their own vision, their own expectations, and their assumptions of what is good.  They were standing still.

The disciples were not bad people.  The problem with our broken world is not just with bad people.  Our problem is when good people withdraw; when they cease to engage;  when they cease to allow others into their hearts; when we allow our ideas to be fixed, and rigid.  When we think we are good people, we are often closed to outside voices and other people.  The saints teach us that whenever we think we are good people, beware.  We might have taken a break from the work of growing in faith, and being open to God, and we are in a perilous place whether we realize it or not.

As long as our hearts are closed both to other people and to ideas other than our own we will stand still and we will be sad.

God does not simply give us what we hope for.  God is not a wish fulfiller.  God gives us what will exceed our imagination.  God gives us what will well up in us to eternal life.  We still hold on to futile dreams and hopes and expectations, but Jesus wants us to follow him along a better path.   It is said that Steve Jobs was a successful inventor at Apple because he did not ask people what they wanted, he used his creativity to figure out the very thing they did not yet know they wanted.  God has greater knowledge of our true spiritual needs than we do.

Jesus walks with them and opens for them the scriptures.  He shows them that their reading of scripture had been shallow.  They had not paid attention deeply.  The expectations they had were not the expectations he had tried to create in them through his teaching.   And now, in order to recognize him, their hearts must be open.

The life of blessing is not the life of comfort, it is a hard life, but one focused on love, peace, compassion, mercy, openness and welcome.  And that hard life, the one where no good deed goes unpunished, that is the life of blessing.

Jesus asks us to live a life of the beatitudes, being poor in spirit, meek, to mourn for sorrow, to have mercy, to be peacemakers, to hunger and thirst for a world where all are reconciled to God and all truly care and serve one another.  He asks us to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to visit those who are sick and in prison, he asks us to reach out to those others cast out, and to have patience with each other, to turn the other cheek, forgiving one another.  He asks us not to think highly of ourselves and not to think others are less worthy.  He asks us to give God the opportunity to use our lives and bodies to serve the people all around us.

The problem is that when we are so fixed on our own expectations we cannot even see the resurrection right before us.  The disciples are listening to Jesus.  He is right in front of them.  God incarnate is right in front of them.  Something stirs.  They even reflect later,  “Were not our hearts burning within us”.  But they did not recognize him.  The most wonderful person and the most wonderful event in the history of the universe was right in their presence, talking to them, and they did not see it.

When did they recognize him?  They recognized him in the Eucharist.  When they remembered him in the words this is my body, this is my blood; when they realized that Jesus is the one who shows us life; when they remembered that Jesus is the one who asks us not to live for ourselves, but to live for him, and to meet him in the face of every human being.  They recognized him when they remembered him saying, “I am your strength, I am your sustenance, I am what gives you life: take eat”   He will feed us with his very body, with his very life.  He IS our HOPE.  He will send us what we need to embrace the life of the beatitudes.

The disciples knew the Lord Jesus in the breaking of the bread.  And at that point they realized a life with him as their true friend, and a life like his, is what their heart truly desires.  That is the redemption of Israel.  That is the redemption of the fallen universe. Everything else pales in comparison to Jesus, his friendship, his love.

They did not get what they had wanted… they got something else that was more than they were able to imagine.  That same hour they got up and went to Jerusalem and told the disciples about their encounter.  This was for them the first moment of a changed life and they had to go tell someone.  They got up and went to Jerusalem.   They are no longer standing still.  They are no longer sad.

What shall we do?  What do we want Jesus to do in our lives? What are the assumptions we make about our lives that Jesus wants to challenge? Where do our hearts need cracking open? What beatitude is Jesus asking us to embrace? We can delay joy, we can delay love, we can delay life as long as we want to.  We can stand still and be sad.   But do we want to?

Or we can give in.  We can say “yes” to Jesus in new and more wonderful ways in our life.  It will come at a cost, true, but the cost will seem like so much nothing compared to the greatness of saying yes to Jesus.  The cost is irrelevant when we feel our hearts warmed.  The cost seems so small when we recognize Jesus, as we greet him, as we love him with all our hearts, and as we take his love into our world.   And I do not need to tell you, brothers and sisters, do I, how the world longs so very much to know his healing, his compassion, his love.

In the name of the Father…