Monday, May 05, 2014

3rd Sunday of Easter: A Closer Look

Luke 24:13-35

“Jesus’ resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about.” N.T. Wright (retired Anglican bishop)

So what good does it do us to be "born again" if we do not earnestly turn away from our old lives?  Why are we not immediately whisked away to Heaven?  How much hope can there be for, say, a 10-year-old who is "saved" or confirmed in the faith but will most likely live to see the age of 80 never having been offered religious education and worship only sometimes?  There is a lot of temptation in those ensuing years, temptations that will challenge us, test us, and often overwhelm us to the point of surrender - and our lives are changed ... but not for the better. 

If we think this is somehow not true, we need only to think back to the last time we cursed or helped spread gossip about a neighbor, an enemy, a preacher, a fellow church member, or even someone in our immediate family.  Or when we had an opportunity (and, undeniably, we always do) to help a stranger but chose not to.  Or we could take a second look at the first few verses of Luke's gospel reading.  These two guys were on the road to Emmaus when a "stranger" suddenly joined them.  They seemed to be having a private conversation when this "stranger" walked in uninvited. 

How would we respond to a total stranger who came to us as we were on an afternoon walk with a friend and having a conversation, and this stranger got near enough to dare ask what we were talking about??  How likely would we be to share the details of our conversation rather than to say something like, "This is private if you don't mind." 

And if this "stranger" persistently tagged along after he had also told us how "foolish" we were for not seeing what perhaps should have been obvious (vs 25), would we welcome this "stranger" to join us - or would we change directions?  Or just stop talking?  Or might we feel threatened?  It is a safe bet that, at the very least, we would not be asking this stranger to stay with us in our homes!  And we think we are "saved" from sin and death?  Who's going to save us from ourselves??

We have been conditioned over time to be leery of strangers, and we have certainly taught our children not to talk to strangers.  We have every reason to be cautious when dealing with people we do not know, but how do strangers become acquaintances who become friends?  It happens the same way "enemies" become friends (we talked about this last time) - when we not only allow them in but actively engage them in a hospitable and Christ-like way as if they are of truly "sacred worth" - just as we are; created in the same Divine Image as we are. 

We are being shown something in Luke's passage we often overlook because we become focused on the presence of the Resurrected Messiah.  Jesus has a clear role, of course, but we forget we have a role in this story as well.  Often in this particular passage and its wording we have become a little too fixated on verse 16; "their eyes were kept from recognizing Him" (NRSV). 

There has been a lot of thought and discussion on why our Lord would have deliberately "kept" them from seeing Him (and it is strange how this is so written), but becoming too focused on something so insignificant has caused us to look past what really matters.  We may be a little too concerned about why Jesus cast a "spell" on these two men without realizing these men could easily be us today under similar circumstances - only we would not likely be quite so hospitable.

Being witnesses to the resurrected Messiah who is very much alive is huge, of course, but I also wonder how this matters to us.  The grave is no longer a threat to the faithful but is still not quite the point of what it all means.  That we have the hope of "going to heaven" is compelling, but it is still not quite what is being revealed in the Scriptures. 

Notice the singular focus on those two simple observations (the grave, and going to heaven)?  No matter how we slice it, it is still a conversation about ... death!  Even if we say there is Life beyond the grave - and this is indeed our hope! - we are still being forced to first think in terms of death.  It is as if Messiah has no real meaning for us ... until we die; because this is largely how we live.

For all we think we know or believe about Messiah and Heaven, we cannot escape the current reality; and contrary to secular opinion, the Bible does not compel us to think about Messiah and His Resurrection strictly in terms of death - as if a life worth living and leading in faith and hopeful obedience does not matter until we are dead - if it matters at all as in our arguments about faith vs. works.  Why this is important to the Church is often overlooked or downright ignored: while the Bible is written for particular audiences or communities, the Church is established primarily for non-believers who are not yet a part of a faith community!  "Pre-Christians", some say. 

And this is how we must change the way we think and the way we work - IF Christ matters.  We may consider this to be "our" church that is established and funded primarily by us and for ourselves and our own purposes; but the Truth which is Christ (John 14:6) must necessarily insist that we look closer - for the Truth is often illusive especially when we are not looking for it!  And for all the talk that was going on while traveling on the road to Emmaus, the Truth virtually bit them on the nose and they did not see it - until well after the fact!

In The Wisdom of Solomon (10:6) it is written, "Wisdom rescued a righteous man when the ungodly were perishing; he escaped the fire that descended on the Five Cities".  The author went through a whole discourse throughout the Redemption Story, beginning with Adam, in illustrating how YHWH was actively engaged in the life of His people - NOT so they could "get to heaven" but so they could move with purpose and with dignity from Tuesday to Wednesday - and SEE the Lord so engaged! 

I think the reason a lot of "pre-Christians" do not "get" Christianity is because we Christians do not quite "get" what a life of discipleship is about.  We get a little too fixated on wrong things, distractions that do not quite measure up in terms of what is truly important in the here-and-how. 

It is good that these two men on the road to Emmaus finally had their eyes opened, even if what they were seeing had already been removed from their presence; but their conversation was focused almost strictly on death and not on the Promise.  It is not unlike what we witnessed in this latest round of tragic storms when surely the God of Life was being called upon to spare those in the storm's path.  It is not unlike the constant yammering about the issue of human sexuality when we are being challenged and tested - and all we can see is the "devil" in the details.

 I think maybe we take too much for granted and assume too much as "given" - because Christ is not primary in our day-to-day lives.  This is perhaps a greater challenge to those who work and those who still have small children, for instance, when we consider the mad morning dash to get ready for work and get the kids ready for school.  How busy we truly have become!  So busy to the point of distraction that all we see and all we hear - and consequently all we are focused on - revolves around death and destruction  ... and the devil!  This is when our attention is solely focused on the Lord.

No wonder the Church today is running on empty!

It is time to fill up our spiritual tanks.  Some say running a car's fuel tank so close to empty for too long can wreak havoc on a car's engine; imagine the potential damage to the soul running on empty for too long!  So just as the car's fuel tank cannot be filled unless we get right next to the fuel pump (gasoline is not going to jump in the fuel tank only when we need it!), so much more so that we get up close to our Lord through Prayer and Worship and Fellowship and the study of the Written Word and through our neighbors.  It is only when we dare look closer will we find the Truth starring us right in the face! 

And we will find He was there all along.  

No comments: