On the Journey
Luke 24: 1-35
This is a fascinating passage for me.
For a start it is a passage I have rarely spoken on as usually I am on holiday when this passage is used.
Some of you will remember a reader called Alan Kimmet, he eventually became a minister himself but when I first came to Alva he was a reader.
One year Alan took me aside and complained that he had over seven sermons on this passage because I was always away on holiday just after Easter and he had to preach on it. And because I kept on asking him back here he couldn't use the same one. The real irony is that now he is a minister he will probably take this time on holiday. So he has all these sermons on this passage and won't be able to use them.
So what can this passage teach us?
I found this passage wonderful as it taught me two really simple lessons.
One about us, and the other about God.
The passage about us is just basic.
Here we have a couple of the disciples facing a really traumatic event.
According to the disciples themselves they are facing the death of Jesus. That only happened a couple of days ago. They are still trying to get their head around that. And as they are trying to get their head around that they have heard, that very day, some women of their group talking about seeing visions of angels, and these angels told the women that Jesus is alive.
So let us unpack what we can tell from that.
We can tell that the disciples and others were still meeting as a group.
We kind of know the disciples were still meeting, but the way these two men describe the group, it is bigger than just the disciples, it includes other followers, both male and female.
So we know that this group is still in Jerusalem.
And we know they are supporting each other, probably still worshiping together.
And we know that the women were out to the gravesite of Jesus.
And according to these men they have seen something.
Now to be fair to these men, they haven’t worked out whether the women have seen something, or just think they have seen something.
I’ll just be honest about this.
If the choir came up to me and said, ‘At our last practice we all saw an angel who came and talked to us.’
And if then you lot came up to me and said, ‘Did you hear about the choir? They said they have seen an angel. Do you think they saw an angel?’
My stock reply would be, ‘I don't know, Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. It does seem strange. They certainly think they have seen an angel.’
What we do know is this...
The two men then did the wrong thing.
How do we know that?
Well because of the journey they took.
Jerusalem was the centre of worship for the Jews.
If you wanted to get closer to God then you went to Jerusalem.
If you wanted to seek greater understanding of God then you went to Jerusalem.
If you wanted to find solace or comfort or give thanksgiving then you gave a sacrifice, and where did you do that?...in Jerusalem.
Where are these two men going? They are going away from Jerusalem.
In all kinds of ways they are doing the wrong thing.
They are going through a traumatic event...and the people that could support them, help them, encourage them...they are all in Jerusalem. The community of God’s people are in Jerusalem. The disciples are in Jerusalem.
Everything is happening in Jerusalem...and they are going in the opposite direction.
I just think that that is us.
We face a traumatic event and we head in the wrong direction.
Instead of moving towards God and God's help, we move away from it.
Here is a conversation that I have had so many times.
After a long and happy marriage one of the couple has died.
And the grieving widow or widower then stops coming to church.
And when I ask them why, they tell me that they find it too hard to come to church. that maybe they will break down.
And I can understand that.
But in cutting ourselves off from the church, we cut ourselves off from the community that cares about us.
In cutting ourselves off from the church we cut ourselves from the comfort that God gently offers us in the readings and the prayers.
In cutting ourselves off from the church we cut ourselves off from the messages that God may give us in the sermons or the children's addresses.
I sometimes get so annoyed at my messages.
Like a couple of weeks ago...the Easter service I was talking about a Japanese shogun called Ashikaga Yoshimasa and how he invented Kintsugi. How he had a broken tea bowl and fixed it by mixing gold with the glue so that the bowl became even more valuable.
And how God looks at us that way. How God fixes us with love and compassion and those cracks that are healed are what make us more valuable.
I know of other ministers that have now heard that story and can’t wait to use it...that’s how inspiring that story is.
And you know what is really, really annoying to me...I know of people in this congregation, that really needed to hear that message, and they missed it because they couldn't be bothered to come that week.
Those two disciples journeying to Emmaus were cutting themselves off from the help they could have been given.
But what might be even worse, they were cutting themselves off from the help they could give.
What if the women who thought they had seen an angel were really delusional? What if those women were just so distraught with what they had seen and watched over the last few days that they had just cracked?
What if the very people that could help them the most were those two disciples...and they had just walked away?
When we walk away from the church, we walk away from the help we can get, and the help that we can give. The world is the lesser for it.
And again I say, I understand that when we face a traumatic event sometimes our instinct is just to walk away.
When a bomb goes off, the instinct is to run away as fast and as far away from where the danger is.
When an emotional bomb goes off in our life why would we not think that our instinct is to do the same. Run way from where the pain is coming from.
Maybe if we move far and fast enough then the pain will just go away.
But it never does, because the emotional pain isn’t out there, it’s in here, in our heart and soul...and wherever we go, we take it with us.
So that’s the thing I learnt about us from this passage about us.
But...the encouraging thing that I leant about God is that he still walks with us.
These disciples have walked away from Jerusalem, from the disciples, from the temple, from God...but Jesus still walks with them.
Now, because they don't expect to see Jesus there, they don't recognise him, but he is still there, still trying to communicate, still trying to help.
That’s a God that I have experienced.
The number of times I have been in the wrong place at the wrong time doing the wrong thing.
And someone says something, or does something...and I know it is a God thing.
Of God saying to me...time to turn around.
I have been thinking a lot about Charles Colson.
It’s about five years since he died so there are a lot of talks and articles about him.
Charles Colson was a special advisor to President Richard Nixon and was heavily involved in the Watergate Affair where Nixon illegally wiretapped the phones of political opponents. Colson was Nixon’s ‘get-done’ guy. When there was dirty work to be done, Colson was the guy to get it done.
At one time Colson suggested firebombing the Brookings Institution and stealing politically sensitive documents while the fire-fighters were trying to put out the fire.
Well Colson was one of the people sent to prison for what happened.
He walked down a very dark road.
And while he was walking down that road Jesus was walking with him.
A close friend gave him a Christian book by C.S. Lewis called Mere Christianity. He read it and found faith. He then decided to plead guilty to charges involving Watergate instead of just pleading the fifth amendment.
He went to prison and when released set up Prison Fellowship in 1976 which is now the largest outreach organisation to prisoners and prisoner families.
There also grew from that Prison fellowship International which reaches out to prisoners in 120 countries.
Colson himself said
“But all at once I realized that it was not my success God had used to enable me to help those in this prison, or in hundreds of others just like it. My life of success was not what made this morning so glorious -- all my achievements meant nothing in God's economy.
"No, the real legacy of my life was my biggest failure -- that I was an ex-convict. My greatest humiliation -- being sent to prison -- was the beginning of God's greatest use of my life; He chose the one thing in which I could not glory for His glory.”
This simple passage tells us two simple things.
One, that we have a tendency to run way from the very things that can help us when we are struggling. Maybe we think that if we can pretend that everything is fine, that everything will just become fine.
Two, that God still walks with us. No matter where we go. He still walks with us. Hoping we will hear him, hoping we will turn around and head back to His help, back to the path we should be on.
I’m going to finish with another quote from Chuck Colson.
One that maybe the women who had seen the angels would appreciate.
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it.
Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren't true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn't keep a lie for three weeks. You're telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
That God that can defeat death, that is the God who is trying to talk to us, that is the God who is walking with us.