Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sermon for Easter 3

An amazing thing happens….

An amazing thing happens
on a dusty road from Jerusalem to Emmaus.
Some very disheartened followers of Jesus
find themselves traveling with a stranger,
a man they do not recognize or know.

These followers of Jesus feel their whole world has just collapsed
yet this stranger, this man,
who now travels side by side with them,
seems ignorant and oblivious
to all that has happened.

In many ways they are taking a risk,
talking so candidly to this stranger.
But the strong ethic of hospitality overrules any hesitations,
any gut-level fears.

As the Gospel tells the story, their eyes finally open
when they break bread with this mysterious man
and suddenly recognize the face of Jesus.

From that moment on,
their journey is changed.
The journey to Emmaus is transformed
into a lifelong journey of faith.

Even though we convince ourselves that we are the ones in control,
our journeys are constantly being transformed right before our shut-tight eyes,
so that we, too, might be transformed.

An amazing thing happens
on a winged airplane ride from Charlotte to Vancouver.
I, a follower of Jesus,
find myself traveling with a plane full of strangers.
(Well, except for one---my husband—he’s not a stranger!!)

I am on my way to a conference sponsored by the Episcopal Church.
The title of the conference is Start Up, Start Over.
This conference is about energizing congregations for change and growth
to make them more vibrant and alive and prepared
for this 21st century of ministry.

With a grant from the Diocese, I am ready to go.
Ready to learn.
Ready to absorb.
Ready to take notes and come back and share.

An amazing thing happens on this airplane ride.
Ready or not we have a little mechanical failure
and have to make an unplanned stop in Dallas
and then miss our connection and have to spend a night in Las Vegas.

This was not the journey I planned.
This was not the journey I was ready for.

But on that road to Emmaus,
I keep meeting people that bore a strange resemblance to Jesus.
Calm flight attendants. A reassuring pilot.
The funny young woman from Birmingham—madly in love—
who has the window seat next to my middle one—
on her way to meet her boyfriend.

There is the couple from Wilmington, NC--
who on the surface appear to have everything money can buy--
until standing in the lobby of the hotel in Las Vegas,
waiting to check in at the Hampton Inn,
the man tells me about sitting with his mother when she died.
and then less than a year later
holding the hand of his daughter
when she died of a rare blood disorder.
What this man does not know
Is that our son almost died of that very same blood disorder
when he was 17 years old.

When we begin to pay attention,
the face of Jesus reveals itself over and over and over again.

An amazing thing happens
on a Sunday morning in Vancouver
when Tom and I go as strangers
to worship at Christ Church Cathedral.
We experience radical hospitality.
We are welcomed--not once, not twice, but over and over.
The greeter at the door welcomes us
and makes certain we know how to find our way to the sanctuary,
where the restrooms are, where we might hang our coat.

The person who hands us our bulletin welcomes us.

The usher who walks with us to our pew and suggests where we might like to sit—
“…if you’re music people,
you might like to sit here
so you’ll have a view of our new organ and the choir…”

The bulletin welcomes us.
A guest card in the bulletin welcomes us.

The Senior Warden—called the Rector’s Warden in Canada—
welcomes us and everyone that has gathered for worship
at the beginning of the service.

And then God welcomes us—
with beautiful liturgy and music and fine preaching
and the blessing and breaking and sharing of bread and wine.

At the conference I attend
the research presented says
that from the time a newcomer enters the door of a church,
they will make their decision as to whether they will return again
in the first three minutes.
Those first three minutes.
Before we sing one hymn or pray one prayer or preach one word.
The first three minutes.

An amazing things happens on a bus in Vancouver
riding to a museum at the University of British Columbia
to see the totem carvings of Canada’s First Nations people.
A mother and a little girl pull the cord to get off the bus
but as they step off,
and before the bus pulls away,
the little girl, not more than 5 years old, shouts to everyone,
Good bye! Thank you! Have a great day!
An everyone on the bus smiles---
REALLY smiles!

The little girl wears the face of Jesus
and for a moment we all recognize that face
and smile.

An amazing thing happens at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Asheville.
Two women,
one from Ireland, one from Scotland,
miraculously show up at our door
to bring us the face of Jesus
in their music—
in a concert on Saturday evening,
in worship on Sunday morning.

This story of the Emmaus road is important for all of us .
It reminds us we never travel alone.
Jesus is ALWAYS traveling the road
right here beside us.
Jesus often steps out just at the moment we least expect it.

Even when we can’t see or believe or even begin to understand
this holy mystery of presence,
Jesus is here.
We are never left alone.

That does not guarantee us an easy road.
For most of us,
the road is long and winding and dusty.
There are switchbacks and detours and dead ends.

Much of the time we feel
like we are traveling, not in some luxury stretch limo,
or even in a Subaru wagon,
but in one of those boardwalk bumper cars—
bumping and crashing and spinning around
quite chaotically.

Yet, an amazing thing happens on this bumpy journey,
on our road to Emmaus—
We begin to get it.
We become more willing to risk everything for love.
Our eyes start to open.
Our hearts start to open.
And suddenly we know…
Jesus is everywhere. Absolutely everywhere. Just look around

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