First United Methodist Church
April 23, 2023
Rev. Lauren Hall
A Life-giving Faith
Isn’t Creation great? When I look outside, I see a lot of green out there, the flowers are coming out, the trees are in bloom, and the birds are singing!
It’s Spring. It’s Easter. It’s the beginning of a new year. I know most of us believe that New Year’s Day is on January 1, and we make resolutions and try to live better or live differently this year than we did last year, but Easter actually gives us a second chance to rethink how we are living our lives in light of the resurrected Christ. I keep saying that it is Easter because our liturgical calendar calls the 50 days following the resurrection “Easter” and recognizes this particular Sunday as the third Sunday of Easter. In fact, the term, “Easter,” is a variation of the name “Eastre,” which refers to the Goddess of Springtime. As Christians did so many times in their early years, they took a common festival and transformed it. By the power of the resurrection, Christ has fulfilled and displaced the longing for life that the goddess of springtime once represented.
Let us pray:
Lord, today is the last Sunday of April, and you remind us that life is happening around us, and that you are there even when we can’t see you. Open our hearts and minds to your word and spirit and grant us peace so that we can simply celebrate that today is the last Sunday in April, and it’s an exciting time to be alive, because we live with you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
As we move from Lent into Easter and beyond, we begin to embrace the idea that living as an Easter people in God’s realm carries with it the concept of New Creation. The Gospel of John uses the garden as a metaphor for what Christ has done. In Christ, God is renewing all creation. He is restoring creation. In the resurrection, we are back in the garden with Christ and we are participating in the restoration of all things in Christ, which is an extraordinary thing.
Our Scriptures once again take us down the path of new life/new creation. Peter reminds us that new birth grows from the seed of God’s enduring word. Our Gospel reminds us that when we recognize Christ’s presence in ordinary things, we are able to embrace life. Before the resurrection, we understood Jesus in human terms only; now we get at least a glimpse of something that is much grander!
If we are to fully understand what it means to live as an Easter people, we have to realize that the resurrection of Jesus is not primarily about some change in Jesus, but about the change that God works in the world and wills to work in us. The resurrection is restoration, not innovation: No glory could be given to Jesus after the incarnation that did not first belong to Christ before the incarnation. The resurrection is not something newly added to Jesus, but something newly made evident to us. The resurrection is a means by which God reveals another dimension of existence at work in our midst.
Think for a minute about the world that we live in. It is competitive. Society has figured out ways to include almost everybody in some form of win/lose situation. Whether this competition involves sports, music, speech, robotics, politics, reality shows, or any number of art forms, competitive events result in one winner, and several people who don’t win. The one thing that all these competitions have in common, however, is a support network that rallies around a particular favorite right up to the very end. When our team, or some candidate, or project doesn’t win, we all go home, disappointed, even though we offered our very best. We rarely hang around and celebrate 2nd place. We often experience a sense of loss, although this loss varies for each individual person. Occasionally people are devastated, and even if they weren’t the ones involved in the actual competition, they spend hours, sometimes days, discussing and trying to figure out what happened, what went wrong. Imagine the stillness in the campaign headquarters of a close political race, when your candidate receives the call that informs him or her that he or she didn’t win.
Today’s scripture takes us into this kind of environment. However, this story in Luke begins several weeks before we join it. The good news about Jesus has been spreading among the Jewish people for quite some time. People are excited because it seems that finally something is going to happen to free them from this Roman occupation. Remember that a large percentage of the Israeli people have lived in exile for several decades. The last time that happened a young man named Moses led the people to freedom. We don’t know how close these two friends were to Jesus. We don’t even know how long they supported Jesus. What we do know is that once they learned that Jesus had died, they lost all hope. “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
Imagine that you are these two friends walking along discussing the events of the previous week. It all began with Jesus riding into town, being hailed by the crowds as they waved their coats and tree branches, shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest!” These disciples thought Jesus was coming home. They thought Jesus was going to redeem them. But they were expecting a King, not a martyr. Jesus was supposed to ride into Jerusalem, rally troops together and defeat the Roman Empire. In less than a week, however, they not only saw their King betrayed, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and crucified (which is quite a bit faster than our justice system works), but they had all their hopes and dreams destroyed as well. They were bummed out. My guess is that they felt a lot like many of us do whenever we have to change or cancel our plans because of an illness or an unexpected cancelation.
These friends had things to work out. They still had their agenda, but they had no leader to help make it happen. How often does this happen to you? These disciples were so consumed with their own problems that they didn’t recognize Christ when he was right there with them!
So Christ takes the initiative and asks them, “What’s up, Guys? What are you talking about?” And they stop, and look at him as if he is crazy. How can you not know that our world was completely overcome by Covid 19? Or that we have been out of our church building for almost four years? Or that another school was devastated by a violent shooting? Or that inflation is out of control? Or that my rent or mortgage is due? Or that you fill-in-the-blank?
“Are you the only person in town who doesn’t know what happened these past few days?” And Jesus asks, “What things?” So now the two friends review the events for this complete stranger, and in frustration they reveal to him, “We hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. But now, three days later, some women claim that they went to the tomb and Jesus was gone and they saw a vision and now they claim that Jesus is alive. Some of us went also, and we didn’t see him.”
“And we didn’t see him.” Those are certainly words to ponder over. The disciples from Emmaus were counting on Jesus to rescue Israel from its enemies. Most Jews believed that the Old Testament prophesies pointed to a military and political Messiah; they didn’t realize that the Messiah had come to redeem people from slavery to sin. And I think this is where many of us fall short. We want Jesus to cure us of our problems, not deal with our sin. But Christ redeems us from our sins which lead to meaningless life and death, and quite often result in problems. And Christ, with the power of the Holy Spirit, deals with the root causes of our sin, enabling us to live our lives in relationship with God, which offers us hope. Jesus’ death offers the greatest hope possible.
These disciples knew that the tomb was empty, but didn’t understand that Jesus had risen. Despite the women’s witness, which was also verified by other disciples, and despite the Biblical prophesies of this very event, they still didn’t believe. Today the resurrection still catches people by surprise. In spite of 2000 years of evidence and witness, many people refuse to believe.
When I began my Christian journey, I had marginal faith. I knew a lot about Jesus, but I really didn’t recognize who Jesus was. I had read the Bible, I knew the basic stories and people, and I did know that the New Testament was primarily about Jesus. But to me he was a great teacher and healer; I didn’t understand the rest of it. I didn’t deny it, but I didn’t see Christ in light of the resurrection, and therefore I missed seeing him completely. Over time I would realize that there is a huge difference between knowing of Jesus and actually knowing Jesus.
God often speaks to us in ways that have to be received in faith. That’s what revelation is. Christ shows us in this passage that connecting Scripture with experience enables us to make sense of the reality of our world. The disciples experienced through the sharing of the bread and the wine that the Passover meal that once connected them with the past now connected them with a future. Christ is alive! What happened in the Upper Room has been drastically and permanently altered in its significance as a result of the resurrection.
The disciples recognized that Christ was in their presence through this transforming experience, but this revelation never would have happened if they had not extended to this stranger the hospitality that Christ taught them to do. Christ is present and continues to guide us. Christ’s teachings in light of the resurrection model for us life-giving faith.
So even though we may find ourselves in situations that we would rather not have to deal with, Jesus Christ is still very much a part of our everyday lives. Our challenge is to take the risk to discern and participate in what God is up to in the world so that we can experience personally Christ’s presence in our everyday lives. For it is in the fruit that results and the subsequent exchange that there is a revelation of our new identity. Let us pray…
Gracious Lord, we too have heard your voice and know your presence with us. Give us the confidence to trust your grace. Help us change our hearts and lives, so that we may walk with you always. Amen.
Invitation to Discipleship:
As you go back into the community this week, know that Jesus is with you, blessing you with his presence, and guiding your steps. God is planting the seed of new life within you, so allow your roots to grow deep and wide. Go in peace.