Sermon preached May 8, 2011
First United Methodist Church, Duluth
Text: Luke 24:13-35
Play the first part of “You’re So Vain” Carly Simon
Do you know people like that, who could walk into a party like they were walking on to a yacht, people who seem to light up a room when they appear, or whose presence changes the dynamic? Carly Simon sings about someone who does that, but knows it and is vain about it. That’s not true about all such people. One can change the atmosphere, light up a room without being vain.
Jesus was like that. When you read the gospels you see a Jesus who changed things when he showed up. People were amazed by his teaching, touching him brought healing, hearing his voice could be life-changing. The text from Luke’s gospel is also a story about Jesus that says when Jesus shows up things happen, things change. One remarkable element of today’s story is that it tells us Jesus showed up after his death. It is an Easter story, a story witnessing to the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is about the energizing Presence of Jesus transcending death.
So what does this story of two disciples of Jesus, one named Cleopas, walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus tell us about what happens when Jesus shows up?
When Jesus shows up hearts burn. This is not to be confused with the experience of eating a bad burrito. Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us? The words are reminiscent of words written by John Wesley, to whom Methodists trace the beginning of this stream of the Christian faith. On May 24, 1738, Wesley wrote in his journal: In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while the leader 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 alone for salvation;
(The Journal of John Wesley, May 24, 1738)
When Jesus shows up something happens in our hearts. A passion for life is kindled. I remember reading in my college days Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road and being taken by this line early in the book: the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” (9). Passion for life – wanting to know and explore and grow – rich life, full life, abundant life. In John 10, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” When Jesus shows up passion for life is kindled. Our hearts burn.
Our hearts also open in new ways when Jesus shows up. Meeting this stranger on the journey, the disciples invite him to stay, offer him hospitality. Even before they know it is Jesus, their compassion kicks in in his presence. We are in the midst of some significant debates in our state and in our nation – debates that on the surface are about taxes and spending and debt, but more deeply they are about who we will be as a state and a nation. When Jesus shows up we must ask questions not only about finances but also about caring. How will the vulnerable be affected by policy decisions? How will children be affected? The Bishop for The United Methodist Church in Minnesota, Sally Dyck, wrote in a letter published in the Minneapolis StarTribune that Mother’s Day might be a good day to remind ourselves as faith communities that “we are called to care for all children, not just our own” (April 16, 2011). When Jesus shows up our hearts are opened up and such questions get asked.
When Jesus shows up, minds are engaged, wisdom and insight are increased. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. One of the telling marks of the Christian faith and Christian life should be thoughtfulness – and I mean that both in the sense of kindness and in the sense of being thinking, reflecting persons. Thoughtful Christian should be a redundancy, but it is, unfortunately, a necessary redundancy because Christians are not always at their best. It took the church hundreds of years to admit Galileo’s science was correct when he argued that the earth revolved around the sun. We have Christians today who argue that only a literal seven-day creation of the universe is an acceptable Christian view of the world, and that the earth is quite young – this in spite of overwhelming evidence that the earth is quite old. I think the Spirit of Jesus is most present when we are thoughtful.
One place I have seen a wonderfully thoughtful Christian faith at work this week is the response most Christian leaders gave to the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. It was a response not of cheering or gloating, but one which recognized that while the world may be a little safer because someone bent on killing and destruction was no longer in it, there is a sadness that we live in a world where the response to violence is more violence, and even when that response is justifiable, there is a tragic dimension to it. Diana Butler Bass encouraged Christians to respond to the news of bin Laden’s death with “reverent prayer and quiet introspection.” A Vatican spokesperson said : “In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.” R. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY: "Without apology, we all sleep better in our beds knowing that Osama bin Laden is no longer a threat. But celebration in the streets is something that falls short of the sobriety that I think Christians should have on our hearts in reflecting on this event." Jim Wallis of Sojourners: “[Osama bin Laden] was truly an apostle of hate, a dedicated purveyor of violence in response to every grievance, a manipulator and distorter of religion for political purposes, and a man responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. Nevertheless, it is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, even one so given over to the face of evil. Violence is always an indication of our failure to resolve our conflicts by peaceful means, and is always an occasion for deeper reflection.” We may not always get “thoughtful Christian” right, but here we did. When Jesus shows up, our minds are engaged, and wisdom and insight are increased.
When Jesus shows up, bread is shared. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Sharing resources is another one of those hallmarks of Christian faith. It is a lesson most of us learned early on from our mothers – share. The lesson needs to be learned again and again in our individual lives and in our politics. I also celebrate where I see it and one moment of celebration this weekend was driving our daughter Beth to the Minneapolis airport Saturday morning at 4 am for her medical mission trip to Haiti. Among the items she was taking with her was a hockey equipment bag packed to the max with dental supplies collected here and at Lake Superior elementary. When Jesus shows up, sharing happens.
Pulling all this together I might say, on this Mother’s Day, that when Jesus shows up something very maternal happens. There is this concept that I first encountered a few years ago and about which I continue to learn – the concept of the holding environment. Here is a description of our earliest “holding environment’: The mother is needed as someone who survives each day, and who can integrate the various feelings, sensations, excitements, angers, griefs, etc. that go up to make an infant’s life but which the infant cannot hold. The infant is not yet a unit. The mother is holding the infant, the human being in the making…. The infant does not start off as a person able to identify with other people. There has to be a gradual building up of the self as a whole or a unit, and there has to be a gradual development of the capacity to feel that the world outside and also the world within are related things, but not the same as the self (D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family and the Outside World, 182-183, 181). We develop as human beings in this holding environment, and in a succession of holding environments (Kegan, The Evolving Self, 116), and when such relationships are good enough, we develop well. There are those who extend this concept of the holding environment to organizations, arguing that leaders are responsible for working with their groups to create holding environments where people can flourish.
Now I have never seen, nor expect to see a Mother’s Day card that says, “thanks for being such a great holding environment” and I am not thinking this is a winner, but it is what we are thankful for in our mothers - that they got us off to a good start in becoming our best selves.
And that’s what happens when Jesus shows up. Jesus creates for us a holding environment in which life can flourish, in which we recognize our gifts, in which our passion for life is inflamed and our hearts burn, in which our hearts are open compassionately to the world, in which our minds are engaged so that wisdom develops, in which we learn to share. When Jesus shows up, there is life in all its abundance. When Jesus shows up there is the open heart. When Jesus shows up there is the wise mind. When Jesus shows up there is the caring hand.
And one final thing, when Jesus shows up, good news is shared. Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread. When Jesus shows up, good news is shared, and here is good news – Jesus shows up. Amen.
Carly Simon, "You're So Vain