Third Sunday of Easter
April 14, 2002
The Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
Sermon: "God comes to us in unexpected ways"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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 and discussing, 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 he 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.
God comes to us in unexpected ways
Third Sunday of Easter - April 14, 2002
In 1987 I was working for the wildlife department for the state of South Carolina in Charleston. I was also involved in a volunteer prison ministry in Columbia. During the winter of that year an event would occur that forever melded the two together in my mind. I cannot think of the one without automatically thinking of the other.
My job with the wildlife department was based on a temporary federal grant. In other words when the grant ended, the job ended. We recently learned the grant would not be renewed. The first option for continued employment with the wildlife department was for Ellen and I to move. However, if we moved there was a better than even chance we would be bankrupt within a year. So, I was looking at no job in a few months and leaving the department. Or I could stay with the department, move to a new place, and declare bankruptcy within a year. I felt trapped between a rock and a hard place.
Before all of this turmoil began I had decided to serve on a prison ministry team. I was to help with music for the weekend event. Just before I left for the event, my boss told me there was going to be a meeting on Tuesday when I got back. This meeting would be the final word on my employment. Needless to say I was disheartened, upset, sad, and confused. I even thought about not going to the prison. However, with this news and all of these depressing feelings I left Charleston with guitar in hand to sing with prisoners and share how much God loved them. I was in a great frame of mind.
The ministry team would be in the prison from 8:00 am to 8:00 p.m.. We spent the nights in a nearby camp. Every night we had a team meeting that closed with prayers. We would gather in a circle and pray for the inmates, the team, our families and friends. I had shared with some members of the team my situation. After the prayers on Saturday night one of the team members came over to me. I did not know this man well. He stands in front of me, puts both his hands on my shoulders and says, "God told me to tell you not to worry about your job. Everything is under control." He gave, me a hug and walked off.
Needless to say I was dumbfounded. What do you say to something like that? "Excuse me, what proof do you have it was God who spoke to you? Could I have that in writing?" The next two days were kind of a blur. On Tuesday I went to the meeting about my position. There was no hope of any more funding for my job. Also, another person was going to take the job that would have required me to move. However, a third position had just opened. This position was on hard money, a permanent job and I would not have to move. I accepted the position immediately. That night I called the man who delivered the message to me and told him the story.
I went to the prison with sadness, confusion, and hopeless, God came to me in an unexpected way.
The two men on the road to Emmaus had an unexpected encounter with God. They too were down and out. The NRSV said they were sad. The NIV of the Bible says their faces were downcast. These two men were low. They had followed Jesus. They thought he was the Messiah. They believed in him and saw in Jesus the fulfillment of all their hopes. Yet, he was killed and buried. They are deep in conversation when they realize there is a stranger with them. We know it is Jesus, but they do not recognize him. He sees their condition. He knows they are confused, upset, and saddened by the events. He knows they do not understand the trial or the crucifixion. He knows they do not understand the burial. He is absolutely sure they do not understand the empty tomb. For them Jesus is gone. Even his body is missing now. They have lost all hope.
Yet, it is while these men are in this state that Jesus comes to them. They are so distraught they do not even recognize him. Ironically, they tell Jesus about the events of the last week. In telling the story they show how confused and lost they are. They share their sadness and their sense of hopelessness. Then Jesus teaches them. Jesus reveals to them how these recent events in Jerusalem were part of God's plan since the time of Moses. As he speaks to them confusion is replaced with some understanding. Their sadness and hopelessness is replaced with a sense of wonder and a glimmer of hope. Their sense of being lost, away from God, is replaced with the knowledge that God has been with their ancestors from the beginning. Finally, all of their doubts are replaced with faith. When Jesus joins them at the table, takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, their eyes are fully opened. They now know God is with them. They have seen the risen Lord.
Yet, isn't it fumy that they didn't recognize him on the road? Maybe they were so wrapped up in their discussion they didn't recognize him? Maybe they were so distraught they didn't recognize him? Perhaps they were so certain everything was over they didn't recognize him? We do not know why they didn't recognize him. The miracle is God came to them. Even in their despair, their confusion, their hopelessness God was with them.
Have you ever felt like these two disciples? Have you ever felt things just could not be worse? Have you ever had one of those days when no matter what you do everything seems to go wrong? It could be a bad day at school or the office. The car dies in the middle of traffic. We have a fight with our best friend, our soul mate or our spouse. The computer crashes in the middle of a major assignment or project. We find out someone we love has cancer. Whatever the reasons, we feel confused, lost, alone, hopeless. In these moments God is with us. God is always there to support us, comfort us, and love us. The two disciples met Jesus on the road. I got a message from an unexpected source. Someone comes to us and gives us a hug, we feel the presence of God. We see a rainbow and we see the presence of God. We talk with a friend and we hear just the words we need to lift our spirits. We hear the voice of God. In those moments when we feel lost or confused, God is present. God will come to us. More than likely it will be in ways we do not expect. Like the visit to the men on the road we can be sure God will come. God's presence with us is God's promise. Jesus is our Emmanuel. God with us.