May 4, 2014
Texts: Luke 24:13-35
Bread, “If” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTsaixdX4f8 O.K. so this song just sounds like the 1970s. This song evokes both warmth and terror. It was the kind of song you dreamed of dancing to with that cute girl from your math class, and the kind of song that created sweaty palms as you stood there at the Ordean Junior High dance too terrified to actually go ask that girl to dance. Worse yet, you may have finally screwed up the courage to ask, and she said “no,” then you had to make your way back across the cafeteria floor to the other side of the room feeling really awful.
The name of the group was “Bread” – another echo of the 1970s. This sermon is a companion to last week’s sermon and not just because it is also named after a band. Last week I spoke about blind faith, how our Christian faith is not a blind faith in that it does not ask us to believe without questions or doubts. Yet Christian faith is a sort of blind faith in that it asks of us trust – trust that the most important things in life cannot be seen, but are matters of the heart and soul; trust that the good we do is never lost, but that God is one who acts with “a tender care that nothing be lost” (Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, 525 old edition).
I trust that the most important matters in life are often unseen. I trust that with God, nothing good is lost. At the same time that we affirm this, we also affirm the importance of the invisible becoming visible. While what matters most in life is unseen, we trust that the unseen can, in fact, be seen sometimes. We may not see kindness, but we see how kindness becomes visible in the world. Justice is not something that we can take a picture of, but we know something of justice when historical wrongs are made right, when oppression is overcome, when people are set free. We may not see love, but we see people in love and how they live with each other.
If at the heart of Christian faith there is this trust in the importance of the unseen, there is also a trust that this important unseen stuff can and does become visible, we might say “incarnate.” At the heart of Christian faith is God - unseen Spirit. At the heart of Christian faith is Jesus – God made visible, “the side of God turned toward us, the face of God” in the words of Marcus Borg (Meeting Jesus Again For the First Time, p. 137). In the Christian faith we celebrate “sacraments.” Today we will share in communion. The sacraments are “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” While we don’t call marriage a sacrament in The United Methodist Church, there is something sacramental about it. When I hold up rings during a wedding, I say, “These rings are an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace signifying to all the uniting of this couple in marriage.”
We trust in the importance of the invisible. We also trust that this important invisible stuff wants and needs to be made more visible.
There is this story in the Gospel of Luke. Two disciples of Jesus are walking toward a village, Emmaus. While they are walking and talking about the event of Jesus’ arrest and death, Jesus himself joins them, though they did not recognize him. The conversation is lively. They arrive and urge the stranger to stay with them. 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.
This Jesus, who appears and disappears mysteriously, wants to make himself visible. He becomes visible in the breaking of bread. When we share communion, we trust that Jesus can be real to us in an important way as we eat the bread and drink the juice. Communion is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. When we baptize, we use ordinary water, but that water becomes a visible and tangible expression of God’s love, and of the love of God’s people for the one being baptized.
God’s love in Jesus, may not be visible, yet it wants to become more visible in sacraments, in actions. We trust the importance of that invisible love becoming visible, and we trust that all our efforts to make that love of God more visible in the world are worth it, and that with God, none of our good is lost.
Another aspect to this is that in Jesus, God invites us to be sacramental people. We are ones through whom God wants to love the world. We may be the Jesus people see. We are to be outward and visible signs of the inward grace and love of God. The theologian Edward Schillebeeckx, in his book Church: the human story of God writes: Where good is furthered and evil is challenged in the human interest, then through this historical practice the being of God… is also established (12). In other words, our actions in response to God’s call in Jesus Christ to be more loving, compassionate, to do justice and care for creation, are outward and visible signs of God’s presence in the world. We help make God more real, in the words of Schillebeeckx, “in and through acts of love” (12)
Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch priest, went to Syria in 1966 to minister to the people there. He worked in the city of Homs. In recent years, as Syria has deteriorated into a situation of civil war, Father Frans refused to leave his community. Homs became part of rebel-held territory, blockaded by the Syrian government. Earlier this year some 1,400 people were evacuated, but Father Frans stayed on, ministering to the area’s remaining Christians and helping poor families, particularly through the distribution of bread. Father Frans told reporters, “I don’t see people as Muslims or Christians, I see a human being first and foremost.” In early April, a gunman came to Father Frans’ house, took him outside and shot him twice in the head, killing him.
Thankfully most sacramental acts don’t end in death.
Sometimes loving can be dangerous. Sometimes the work of justice is difficult and complicated. Sometimes compassion is challenging. Father Frans, in his ministry in Syria was a sacramental person, giving bread to the poor, reaching out to people regardless of whether or not they were Christian of Muslim.
God’s love in Jesus, may not be visible, yet it wants to become more visible in sacraments, in actions. We trust the importance of that invisible love becoming visible, and we trust that all our efforts to make that love of God more visible in the world are worth it, and that with God, none of our good is lost. God invites us to be sacramental people.
Take this bread, so you can be bread for the world, a sacrament of God’s grace and love in Jesus. Take this cup, so you can refresh the world with the grace and love of God in Jesus. Turn to your neighbor, and say, “the Christ in me greets the Christ in you.” Amen.