The Politics of Jesus III: Hope

kevin-10-23-16

Scripture Reading:
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking to each other about everything that had happened.

While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey, but they did not recognize him.  Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast and sad. The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?” Jesus asked them, “What things?”

The two men replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, of course. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel.

All these things happened three days ago, but we heard more just today:  Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.

When they came to Emmaus, Jesus walked ahead as if he were going on.  But they urged him strongly saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.

In that moment their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road and explaining 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 to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

Friends, these are Holy Words.  Thanks be to God.

Prayer:
Please pray with me.  “Now, O God, take my lips and speak through them;
Take our minds and think through them;
Take our hearts and set them on fire with your love.  Amen.”

Sermon:
I met my good friend Matt Deal on my first day of seminary.  Matt grew up on a dairy farm in Western Pennsylvania milking cows.  Spend any amount of time with Matt and you will soon come to learn he has a farm story for any situation life might throw your way.  Matt is folksy, he possesses an almost-but-not-quite southern drawl and a dry and intelligent wit.  He also has a unique gift for summing up a situation in only a few short words.  Matt’s one-liners have given me with some much-needed levity.

Some of Matt’s best lines came when we had large assignments due in seminary.  In the midst of stress of a looming deadline, Matt would exclaim with deadpan humor, “You know Kev, I just wish Jesus would come right now.  Can’t Jesus just come before this paper is due, wouldn’t that just be great.”

My sense is that Matt’s quote sums up how most of us feel about this election season.  Why can’t Jesus just come right now and end this thing already?  If Jesus would just come now we wouldn’t have to bear another day of this campaign season, wouldn’t that just be great!?

Even for those of you who might consider yourselves political junkies, those of you who enjoy the soap opera-like back and forth of political campaigns, or for those of you who find yourselves satisfied and enthusiastic about a particulate candidate – I’m sure there are some of you out there – you have to admit that this thing just has to end.  This campaign season is casting a shadow upon all of us, affecting our attitudes and in some cases, the way we treat one another.  I’ve heard teachers say they’ve noticed more negativity and less understanding in their classrooms, and I’ve picked up on the same among our youth.  The rhetoric of this election has stunted our growth, as a people and a nation leaving us to wonder, “Are we better than this?”  Outside of Jesus coming, is there any hope?

Our scripture story this morning takes place as two men, one named Cleopas and the other who is not given an name in the story, are returning from celebrating the Passover in Jerusalem.  As they make their seven and a half mile walk back to their hometown of Emmaus, a stranger approaches and begins to walk with them.  Though they don’t know it, this stranger is the Risen Jesus, and he asks them what they are talking about along the way.

Stunned that this man who they don’t recognize as Jesus hasn’t heard the news they exclaim, “You must be the only one who doesn’t know!”  Choosing to keep his cover, Jesus asks, “What things?”  And so the two men begin to tell the story of their dashed hopes.

His name was Jesus of Nazareth, you should have seen this guy.  His teachings, his healings, his miracles, his deeds, his words – he was recognized by God and all the people as prophet – and just last week our hopes had risen to a fever pitch when excited crowds welcomed their Master Jesus waiving palm branches shouting “Hosanna!”  But he had been handed over to be sentenced to death and was crucified.  And now he lay dead in a sealed tomb.  The two men shared that there was a report of some women going to his tomb early in the morning but that didn’t raise their spirits, it only confused them more.  As they journey back to Emmaus, all is lost.  Distraught, discouraged and dispirited, they lament.  “We had hoped,” they say.  “We had hoped”  “We had hoped.”

We had hoped, too.  After electing our first African American president we had hoped our country’s humiliating history with race was behind us.  Slavery and Jim Crow, redeemed through one election, at least we hoped.  Instead, it now feels in many ways like we have regressed, or the stereotypes that have been in our water for generations have sprung a leak,  We had hoped.  We had hoped.

This past summer I preached a sermon where I referenced a survey that pointed out how very little the supporters of our presidential candidates know one another.  The example Jesus sets in the story of the Road to Emmaus begs us to ask the question again.  You see, the last thing the two despondent and confused men walking to Emmaus needed was a brisk “cheer up” talk, or being told to “snap out of it”.  And Jesus knew it.  As the two men talk of their misery and disappointment, Jesus walks with them providing for them a simple listening ear.

And so, what would it be like if we found a way to listen.  To have respectful conversations as we travel this Road to Emmaus that is this dispirited election?  What if we discussed and listened, with sensitivity and with the goal of understanding, to the issues of millennial’s with college degrees who are underemployed, the struggles of black lives, the challenges of police work, the lack of opportunity for non-college whites, the real fear and anxiety that many people of color are feeling as a result of the rhetoric this election cycle?

And what if, instead of driving past yard signs of opposing candidates with rage in our hearts, what if we took a deep breath before thinking the worst of the people who live in that house?  What we resort to our partisan websites and cable channels and instead of being quick to make a point, rushed to understand?  If we did this, most assuredly, we would all have more hope.

I get it.  You’re saying, “That sounds pretty high in the sky, Rev. Kev.  Get real.”  I hear that.  The issues we are talking about are not to shrugged off with just a little wistful hope.  I mean, when I see a video of young boy standing next to his father at a rally shouting profanities at the media, it is hard to just say, “Just be hopeful.”  When women come forward of accounts of being sexually harassed, coerced and abused, it is rude to respond by saying, “Just be hopeful.”  When our politicians go from lying, which we always though was terrible enough, to lying about lying and possessing any lack of ability to take responsibility, it is ignorant for me to say, “Just be hopeful.”

Let’s go back to the Road to Emmaus story again and look at how, after listening to them, Jesus responded?  He reassured them by pointing to God’s promises.  He pointed to God’s Word that contains story after story of the ways in which God stood by them I the past and will stand by them again.  He reminded them of how they are God’s dearly loved children, and how God, throughout history, has had a way of turning despair into hope.

And as the men reach their destination, Jesus is ready to continue walking on when the two men say, “Stay with us,” they say, “It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.”  After Jesus takes the gentlemen up on their invitation and joins them for dinner, there at the table, upon Jesus taking the bread, blessing it and breaking it, their eyes are opened and they recognize it to be him.  It was in that moment when they recalled their walk earlier that day, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us all the while he was talking to us on the road?”  We knew it!

Jesus opened their eyes, restored their vision, and renewed their hope.  Their hearts were on fire, they could not contain themselves.  They got up as soon as they could, running back to Jerusalem to tell the Good News.  Jesus has overcome death, and instead of being angry and bitter that he had been crucified, he came to walk with us in our despair.  There is hope, after all!

As The Church, as people who recognize God’s presence in our lives, God is calling us like he called the two men in the story of the Road to Emmaus, to get up and go.  God does turn despair into hope, but God rarely does it alone…and often uses The Church to help.  With hearts on fire, wholly confident in God’s love, we are to be a force for good in this world.  Separation of Church and State is important and good, but The Church is called to influence the moral arch of our country.  If there ever was a time to be The Church, now is the time.  Now is the time to be peace in our world.  Now is the time to be love in our world.  Now is the time to be joy in our world.  Now is the time to be hope in our world.

In the same way the risen Jesus walked on that seemingly hopeless road to Emmaus, Jesus walks with us through this 2016 presidential election.  And when we recognize him in our midst, we must not be silent, but share with the world that despair will not have the last word. There is hope after all!

The road to Emmaus becomes the road to Jerusalem. The road to despair becomes the road to hope.  The potholed laden that is the 2016 Election becomes The Church listening, seeking understanding, leaning on the promises of God, standing up with hearts on fire to respond, confident in the hope of our Lord.  May it be so.  Amen.

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