Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 18, 2013
Mike Turgeon “A walking theology, a practical faith” April 11, 2010
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, 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 Jesus 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. Luke 24:13-35
I remember a professor in seminary being once asked, “how long does Easter last? She said, “Easter lasts forever if you’re doing it right.” With this answer she had turned Easter into a verb: “Are you Easter-ing well?”
You see, as followers of Jesus, we worship a Living God, one who conquered the grave, so we answer to the highest standard possible. Do we always hit that target? Is your life of faith always a journey of ascent?
I can’t answer for you, but left to my own devices, without a dailywalk with Jesus, my own life invariably goes astray. Without inviting Jesus in daily, I am as lost as our friends here on the road to Emmaus seem to be.
“What are you two talking about?” Jesus asks.
“They stood still, looking sad.”
You won’t find a consensus among scholars as to whether the town of Emmaus really existed, or if it did exist, then just exactly where it was located. That’s why I like Frederich Buechner’s take on Emmaus as “that place we go to in order to escape--a bar, a movie, wherever it is we throw up our hands and say, “Let the whole darned thing go hang. It makes no difference anyway.” (From Listening To Your Life, page 193.)
It does seem to be what is happening here. Confronted with the utter joy of Easter in the form of Jesus himself, Cleopas and his companion cannot contain their grief. Despite the reports of the women at the tomb, they were not yet seeing with the eyes of faith.
“their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
This is the most puzzling part of the text. It doesn’t say who kept their eyes from recognizing him. No explanation. Is it merely a plot device, or were they recognizing him in some other way than with their eyes?
This journey on the road to Emmaus appears only in Luke’s Gospel. Each Gospel has a certain ‘theology’ about it, a way of talking about God.
John’s Gospel is mystical, harder to understand than the other three; very metaphorical and lofty in its language.
Matthew’s Gospel is considered the most Jewish Gospel, concerned with understanding how Jesus fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Mark’s Gospel is messianic in nature, stressing Jesus as the “Anointed One.”
But Luke’s Gospel is, if nothing else, the practical Gospel. Maybe sometimes Luke is guilty of stating the obvious, like when he says “They stood still, looking sad.”
Of course the friends of Jesus are grief-stricken, who wouldn’t be under those circumstances. But there is Luke’s Jesus, revealing himself right out there on the street. How practical is that? Luke’s Jesus meets people where they live.
For Cleopas and company, the journey from grief to joy took three steps. Jesus had to walk them there. Jesus met them, he taught them, and then he revealed himself in the breaking of the bread.
Just like Luke’s Gospel is a practical Gospel, our faith is a practical faith. The more you give of yourself over to Jesus, the more you get from Jesus in return. Isn’t that true of the best relationships?
And the practicality of the matter is that you can accept Jesus in your mind, but unless you surrender your heart, your journey will be stagnant, it will not have an upward trajectory.
This may sound simplistic, but a practical faith takes practice. To get from where you are to where you want to go, you need a down to earth walking theology. And it just so happens that is what Jesus practiced, a walking theology. In fact, it is the centerpiece of God’s plan for humanity, that God came down to walk the earth with us.
We shouldn’t be surprised that on that very first Easter, Jesus is to be found not in the Temple, but ‘on the road.’ This walking theology took hold and rooted itself among ordinary people doing ordinary things.
In Luke in particular, you are more likely to meet Jesus on a dusty backroad than in a tiered Temple. Luke’s Gospel has ‘curb’ appeal to the ordinary parts of our nature; the places where even if we’d prefer not to, we mostly live there anyway. The practical, the mundane.
But, that aside, it’s important to remember that we are spiritual beings having a human experience, not the other way around. And when we allow ourselves to view life through Jesus‘ eyes, not secular eyes, then we gain a closer walk with Christ. And we get to choose our view.
Our souls need not stay buried in our grief, or in our dysfunction, or sinfulness or spiritual stagnation. Though we live at the level of the ordinary, we can choose to elevate our lives to a higher standard. And we don’t have to be saints to do it. Just keep walking with him.’ It doesn’t matter where you are in the ordinary, Jesus will turn it into the extra-ordinary.
Just invite him in, that’s what Cleopas and his friend did. During an absolutely ordinary event, a simple meal--offered because that is what you did with the stranger in that culture, you invited them to break bread--Jesus lifts the ordinary into the extra-ordinary. This is why our faith is a practical faith, it does not deny the human condition, rather it sustains and lifts it up for holiness.
How long does Easter last? According to the church calendar, Easter continues on for 50 days. On paper, Easter ends when the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost. But, as a practical matter, Easter is always with us.
Easter lives with us in every moment, if we let it live.
A walking theology is an inclusive theology. Back in Jesus’ day, you had to know someone to even get close to the Temple. The message of Jesus did not play well there, it was too upsetting.
The powers that be, no matter what age, will never back away from the control levers willingly; but Jesus wasn’t interested in control anyway. He invites us to get ‘out of control,’ to go with him to a place where he can exercise his true power through us. Because Jesus took the ordinary ones and the below ordinary ones that he found out on the road and transformed them, certainly he will do the same for you and me.
Remember blind Bartimaeus? You could count him as ‘below ordinary.‘ A blind man reduced to begging to secure his essentials. Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus was ‘out in the streets’ around the ancient city of Jericho.
When he learned Jesus was approaching him, he cut to the chase. The Rev. Bruce Robinson tells it his way: “He first calls out as the party comes by, and when Jesus asks him what he wants he gets right down to business. No bargaining for position and status, like James and John. No trick legalistic questions, like the Pharisees. No playing to the crowd, like the Rich Young Man—the guy who wanted to be sure that everybody knew that he had kept all the commandments since he was young.
Bartimaeus isn’t trying to impress anybody, not seeking a gold star at the top of his spelling test. Not wanting to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom, or to sit at the right hand of Jesus in his glory.” —The Rev. Bruce Robison
He just wanted to be healed. And when Jesus gave him back his sight, he leapt up and joined Jesus on his way. Bartimaeus invested all he had in Jesus.
From the Book of Acts, after Jesus was gone, we hear about Philip, one of the original twelve Apostles, putting the walking theology of Jesus into practice. Philip was called to travel on the ‘wilderness road’ that leads south from Jerusalem to Gaza. On the way he encounters the royal carriage of the Queen of Ethiopia. God’s spirit calls him to approach the carriage and speak to the Queen’s treasurer, who sat there reading from the prophet Isaiah.
We hear this: “the man had come to worship in Jerusalem, but upon his return home, he found himself confused by the teachings.”
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asks. An angel of the Lord told him to say this.
“How can I, unless someone guides me?” He says.
The Ethiopian accepted Philip's offer to sit with him and explain the passage that he was reading, which he used as an opportunity to proclaim the gospel. The man upon learning that the scripture he read spoke of a savior who suffered on his behalf, asked to receive baptism and 'went on his way rejoicing.'
And in the most dramatic of all ‘road’ stories, we remember the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus.
Ordinary? Maybe not. In fact, one could argue that there is nothing ordinary in this account. Saul, not yet Paul at the time, was out to eliminate the followers of Jesus. That is not an ordinary occupation. Saul is converted nonetheless, taken down off his high horse by a jolt from the heavens, blinded for three days until he is lead to a complete spiritual makeover.
This may not have been an ordinary street encounter, but it does tell us that if there was hope for Saul, then surely there is hope for me...and you.
Our journey with Christ is a journey of revelation. Christianity itself is a revealed religion. It is not passive, it is active. The more we test out the empty tomb in our lives, the more we experience the power of Christ.
No, not everything was revealed to Cleopas and his friend all at once, but their time is coming. One step did indeed lead to another, and they eventually do the the right thing; they welcome the stranger in their midst. Just like Jesus instructed us--be hospitable in your heart.
The act of hospitality leads directly to their revelation. Their eyes are opened, and it is not too late for them to do something with their new understanding.
‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
Jesus came listening, then Jesus taught them, and then Jesus revealed himself to them. But that’s not always the sequence.
Take John Wesley, for instance. The founder of Methodism was not out looking to ‘found’ anything. He was seeking a renewed spirit, both for himself and for his church, the Anglican Church of England.
He was disillusioned, spiritually stagnant. The wind had been taken out of his sails.
According to his journal, Wesley found that his “enthusiastic gospel message had been rejected by his Anglican brothers.” Apparently, as the old country song says, he was “looking for love in all the wrong places.”
Fortunately for us, he didn’t pack it in and quit seeking. Like Cleopas and friend, Wesley’s walking theology kept him moving just enough, though his heart was bursting with grief.
In 1738, almost 300 years ago, Wesley very reluctantly went to an evening ‘society meeting’ on Aldersgate Street in London. Probably just an ordinary Wednesday night. Society meetings were mid-week gatherings of followers who came to pray, study, and hold each other accountable in their faith.
It was there, while someone was reading from Martin Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to the Romans of all things that Wesley felt his heart was “strangely warmed.” In his journal he wrote:
“...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.”
Jesus listens, teaches and reveals; or sometimes he reveals, teaches and listens. How is it for you? Maybe you can’t quite claim a ‘conversion experience‘ like Wesley, or Cleopas and his friend. Some super-Nova shooting star moment of assurance. That doesn’t mean that God is not speaking to you.
Wesley kept moving from that evening at Aldersgate. His strangely warmed heart burst into flame, so much so that he was eventually thrown out of the pulpit in his own church. His message was too radical; just like Jesus, he threatened the powers that be, the ones who thought they controlled the empty tomb. That’s the thing about the empty tomb--you can’t explain it, and you can’t control it.
When you test out the empty tomb, like Wesley, the next thing you know, you’re doing crazy stuff. Like preaching out in the fields. Wesley was known to deliver 5 sermons a day to anyone who would come out to hear him, going around England on horseback.
Wesley would go on later to say how utterly content he was to ‘catch on fire for Christ’ if he could witness to people when they came out to watch him burn.
Without Wesley’s strangely warmed heart, without an ordinary moment gone extra-ordinary, would we even be in this room today?
In the final scene between Jesus and Cleopas and company we learn up close and personal that where two or more are gathered in his name, there Christ will be. We are gathered here in his name, can we start practicing a ‘walking theology?’