Sermon preached by the Rt. Rev. Robert Thompson – Suffragan Bishop of Kingston – Wednesday in Easter Week at the 148th Synod

“Intentional Disciples: Called and Empowered”

Text: Luke 24: 27

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself”.

 

According to our Gospel it is Easter afternoon and we are introduced to a pair of travellers, one named Cleopas, the other is not named. Nor, for that matter, do we know much about their destination, Emmaus, just that it is seven miles from Jerusalem. They had been in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, word had begun to spread that this Jesus whom many thought might have been the Messiah ended up, not on a throne, but a cross; condemned by religious jealousy and political expediency. There had been a moment of confusion earlier that Easter morning, when some women had gone to the tomb and started the rumour that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But most people were not taking this news seriously.  So, discouraged, Cleopas and friend headed back out to the suburbs where nothing much ever happened, to take up their lives again and try to put out of their minds the terrible memory of what HAD happened.

They barely noticed when a stranger began to walk with them and joined in the conversation. Of course, we know who this stranger is, the risen Christ. But Cleopas and company don’t. “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and have no access to all that has happened?”……Are you the only one who does not know about Jesus in whom we had such hopes?”

Jesus listened patiently, until finally He said to them: ‘’How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? ” And Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, the risen Christ explained what was in the Scriptures concerning himself.”

When we read and hear again the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus we already know how it will end.  We easily move from disbelief to recognition and affirmation without a pause.  From out text it is quite obvious that this was not so for the two disciples.  Though they were part of the faith tradition, and were familiar with the Scripture, recent events created a situation of disbelief and doubt. The question is; how the two disciples were able to move beyond their questions about Jesus to an experience of personal recognition and trust?  What made it possible to move from a world of despair to the possibility of newness and hope? As we pause in this place where the two disciples found themselves, we must ask ourselves what is it we will have to do in order to make it possible to move from a place of blindness to sight; from despair to hope, and from sadness to joy. What adjustments are we prepared to make in order to claim again our call to discipleship?

Yes! We know that the number of persons claiming association with the Anglican Church far exceeds those who are counted on our ecclesiastical returns.  But what changes are we prepared to make in the way we think about the church and its mission, in order to reach out to those on the margins? 

The FIRST thing our Gospel points to is the need for a new approach in reading scripture.  And beginning with Moses and the Prophets he opened their eyes to the scripture.  Easter is an invitation to intentionally and prayerfully listen for God’s call to new life.  That call is already embedded in the Scripture that the disciples and we ourselves are familiar with, but cannot receive because often we are stuck in a mind-set that prevents us from entering freely into the text.  I believe if we are truly intentional about discipleship, we will have to find new ways of helping those on the margins of our congregational life to read the Bible again as if for the first time.  

The way we read scriptures is closely related to how we see not only God, but also the world and ourselves. What we bring of our context to our reading affects how we read. So often we discover that new experiences with transformative effect can indeed emerge from our reading of Scripture, once we are prepared to allow the text to interpret our lives within our social and cultural context. Good Friday and Easter had changed the religious and social landscape of the two disciples to the extent that the old interpretive constructs of the Jewish Rabies had to make way for new ones.  That was the task of the Risen Christ.  This is very much the Anglican approach to reading the Bible.  It demands a lot more work from the reader than just answering questions. It leaves us open to be surprised by God’s Spirit.

Notwithstanding we must confess that our knowledge of the Bible has grown rather weak and is in need a significant revival.  And so we must continue to explore the exciting discoveries many congregations encountered during the Lenten Bible Studies.  As scripture was read in the context of prayer and within the worshiping community, new and exciting things were discovered about ourselves and our personal call to discipleship.

 

THE SECOND Thing I wish to draw from our Gospel is the gentle and patient manner of the Risen Christ, as he entered the pain and disappointment of the disciples.  Notice that even though Jesus knew the story and the external activities that the disciples are wrestling with, better than they knew it, he validated their voice by his patient listening. To be “Intentional Disciples: Called and Empowered”, we will have to pay attention – stand with and listen to others with the same kind of commitment.  In verse 17 Luke states, “And he said to them, `What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”  Jesus listened intently, carefully and patiently to their story and to their heartfelt disappointments. When they are done, he began to tell them about Moses, the prophets and the necessity of the suffering of the Messiah. This act of listening is foundational to the making of disciples.  when like Jesus we walk we walk along-side the one whose voice is seldom ever heard and for the first time is allowed to give his or her opinion, old assumptions are challenged and new horizons bursts forth to serve the Gospel. If Jesus had pre-maturely injected his answer to their questions, without first listening, who knows whether their hearts would have been mysteriously transformed?

 The space created by Jesus so that the two disciples could be affirmed in their journey.  The commitment of the Risen Christ to the immediate context of the two disciples made all the difference between disappointment and doubt, and a life once again infused with fulfilment and joy. That patient conversation began the healing process that led the disciples back to Jerusalem to tell what they had experienced, and, likewise for us, it can make all the difference in restoring hope for the disenchanted and those who have left the church.

The THIRD thing our Gospel suggests is that God knows where to find those who are genuinely searching.  Diana Butler Bass in her book, Christianity After Religion, asks; “Who provides trustworthy answers to difficult questions today? Once upon a time Americans would have deferred to the clergy, a teacher, or a parent on issues of belief.  When it comes to questions of meaning and purpose, however, it no longer seems adequate to say, “The church teaches”, “Christians have always believed,” or “the Bible said it, so I believe it”. External authorities, she wrote, do not carry the weight they once did. “In the early twenty-first century, trustworthiness is not simply a matter of an expert who holds a degree or a certain role in an institution.  Rather, authority springs from two sources: One, relationship, and two authenticity. Jesus formed disciples, not just by what he taught, but because he was good to be with.     

Perhaps the greatest miracle in the story of the Road to Emmaus is that God knew where to find the two disciples that afternoon. So often we assume that we are the ones who are searching and hunting for God – however, the good news of the Gospel is that God is looking and searching for the “lost sheep”.  And today the invitation is for us to join him, though our personal investment of building relationships through trust and accountability among those who feel they no longer belong.

FINALLY, what had begun as a gloomy day of confusion and doubt ended as a day of affirmation, hope and witness to the gift of God’s redeeming love.  As a diocesan family we have painfully struggled for the past decade and a half over what we have lost.  Some have characterized this as a lost in congregational status, others see it in terms of membership and still others in the erosion of financial capacity.  When we simply let the facts speak.  When everything we feel and do, is overshadowed by our losses there will always be enough to convince us that, life in the end, leads to nothing but futility.   That I suppose was how the two disciples felt that evening. But the voice that spoke to them is the same voice that ask us to have a completely new look at our lives, a look not from below where we count our losses, but from above, where the Risen Christ offers new life. 

I believe that from start to finish, Luke’s story of what happened on the road to Emmaus is the perfect formula for our efforts in intentional discipleship. It begins with the two disciples not knowing and the kindness of a stranger who is prepared to listen and to pay attention to their anxious pain.  Then there is the way their hearts burned within them when he opened the scriptures to them, and how they knew him in the breaking of the bread. – Fellowship, hospitality, word and Sacrament – all the ways Christ has promised to be present with us, which are the gifts you and I are given to share week after week. It is the place where our hearts will again begin to burn within us because we too have met the Risen Christ, who opened our eyes a-fresh to the things that will shape and empower us for the work of discipleship. So let us count our gifts, not our losses and today and celebrate that which God has given us to be empowered for the work of discipleship.