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Easter Sunday 16 April 2017: Eyes opened and hearts burning…

READING: Luke 24:1-12; 28-35.

MESSAGE

Friends of ours in Montana have new babies in the family. Seven in all. They are missionaries and have been for years – having once been part of the church family here.

Seven babies. Trying to catch up with a lady in our church who now has 16 great grandchildren? I think not. They are puppies.

I started off as a Methodist and became a Presbyterian along the road when my dad died. Years back I remember a joke about puppies that were born Presbyterian – and when their eyes opened they became Methodists. Or was it the other way around?

These days no-one cares what kind of Christian you are. As long as your eyes are opened – to the truth!

On the Emmaus road, the two followers of Jesus had listened to him explain what had happened in Jerusalem at that time. This is the bit we missed in the reading. It fits best here in the sermon:

15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 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?” 19 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.  (NRSV)

That’s where we picked it up in verse 28. It’s a powerful moment. It’s a moment that happens in our lives – or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t – then our eyes are still shut tight. Look at verse 28 and 29:

Luk 24:28  As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if he were going farther.Luk 24:29  But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

Why does he act as if he were going farther?

Come on – for an Easter egg – answer this one. It’s your test for the day. And that’s a hint for the answer. Yes – he’s testing them. How?

Think about it. What is their response when he pretends he is moving on into the night?

Yes! Hospitality! I think he was testing them to see if they had got the right idea from all his teachings and example. Listen again:

But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

If our eyes are still shut, it may well me that Jesus has given us that opportunity too. He’s been right there. And we’ve not invited him into our lives to carry on the conversation.

You see you don’t have to understand it all. You’ve just got to open the door of your life – your family – your world. Not just your heart. We limit Jesus if we only talk about him coming into our hearts. It’s very individualistic.

In fact the only scripture that makes sense when it come to having Jesus in our hearts is this one. It’s part of a prayer:

I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 2:16-19)

If your eyes are to be opened –  then it’s pretty close to having the eyes of your heart enlightened! The lights come on or at least shine brighter!

The one bible verse that people use when encouraging people to invite Jesus into their hearts is this one from Revelation 3 – written to the church in Laodicea who are being chastised for being lukewarm. Jesus says this to them:

Rev 3:19  Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Rev 3:20  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

 Open which door? Great question. It’s not their hearts – because when they open the door he says he will come in and eat with him and he with me.

That sounds like Jesus in the centre of their lives – at a meal table – like the two on the road to Emmaus who “strongly urge” Jesus to stay with them because of the approaching perils of the night.

The implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus for us far exceed our individual inner life – the matters of the heart.

Like Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:11-10) – he wants to get us off our tree branch (our perch if you like) and come talk with us about life.

The gift of Easter through the cross and resurrection of Jesus is not just a ticket into heaven or Jesus in my heart. It’s a new community of reconciliation and unity in Christ – even though we are so very different from one another (Jews, Gentiles and the rest).

It’s a new family and community seeking first the Kingdom – because Jesus is king – he has defeated the dark side, and rescued us from its consequences – bringing us into a kingdom of light. When you read the rest of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 2 it suddenly makes sense:

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)

When our eyes are opened, we find ourselves in a new relationship and power source.

It’s like changing electricity supplier from one which fails most days to the most reliable and consistent one.

Resurrection life – like eternal life – begins now. (Remember Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 3 -“Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”)

Paul says this in Romans 8:

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. (Romans 8:9-11)

HAVE YOUR EYES BEEN OPENED THIS EASTER?

  • Yes – you saw the yummy Easter eggs on the shelves.
  • Yes you knew about Jesus dying on the cross, and what happened on the 3rd day.

What matters most is that you have discovered the reality of the cross and resurrection’s power in your life now.

I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,  and his incomparably great power for us who believe

For the two on the road- they recognised him when he broke the bread. This wasn’t the institutionalised communion service we celebrate today.

It was the evening meal – in the context of hospitality – when despite their own disappointment and confusion they still urged this stranger to stay with them at the end of that long day.

He did for a bit. And was gone. But they were not to be the same. They realised that He was the one who through word and spirit transformed lives. Listen to what they said afterwards:

…”Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

The reading today ends with this:

Luk 24:35  Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

May you recognise him and have your heart burning within you as speaks into your life.

Amen.

 

 

Sunday sermon 27 December 2015 – So what happened between Christmas and Easter?

Readings: Colossians 3:12-17;  Luke 2:39-52

MESSAGE

I was telling a story at a special service recently. Really getting to the high point in the saga. And there are two adults having a conversation right in the front row of the chapel. Quite loud really. It reminded me of my teaching days.

Teaching is fascinating. Especially if you’re an old school teacher trained in the chalk and talk method – you talk and write on the board, they take it all in and write it down, and Bob’s your uncle. Well if it doesn’t work – they will end up with Bob as their aunty if they don’t get the right message.

So new teachers are trained in all this cooperative learning – we find things out together. No experts – just constructivist learning and making your own meaning.

Well these two were making their own meaning alright – and I could feel my concentration lapsing. And if you are telling a story – that’s bad.

So I stop and do what I used to do in the classroom – you know that teacher’s kind of question: “have you two got something you want to share with the class today?”.

Well I did it in a nice way with these two: “I’m interested in what you have to say. Tell me more”.

‘We’ve just been talking about what happened to Jesus between his birth and when he was about 30,” one of them says to me.

Great question!

Not much to talk about really – if you’re looking in the Bible.

We speculate of course – because of John 1:14 which we talked about on Christmas day (read from the CEV):

John 1:14  The Word became a human being and lived here with us. We saw his true glory, the glory of the only Son of the Father. From him all the kindness and all the truth of God have come down to us.

If he really became a human being – he would have been through it all – experienced everything. Hebrews 4 contains the verse which are most famous in this regard: Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. (Hebrews 4:14-15).

About the details – well we have to guess really.

The Christmas Carol, “Once in David’s Royal City,” for example, contains the stanza,

Jesus is our childhood’s pattern,
Day by day like us he grew.
He was little, weak and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us he knew.
Thus he feels for all our sadness,
And he shares in all our gladness.

(Cecil F. Alexander, “Once in David’s Royal City,” Chalice Hymnal [St. Louis: Chalice Press, 1995) 165

My two front-row congregants last week raised a reall interesting issue, as you can see.

My answer on the day: “he probably did a job – his dad’s trade – as a carpenter. We know little about him after the birth story apart from the time he went with his parents to the temple at age 12 and he stayed behind”.

It so happens that this is the gospel reading set for today. About Jesus on one of his trips to the temple with his parents – the one when he is left behind.

It’s a great end to two great chapters in Luke.

When you list all the people that feature in Luke so far – you get them all – all ages and stages:

  • A king called Herod
  • A priest Zechariah who gets silenced for 9 months
  • A barren woman who falls pregnant
  • An Angel called Gabriel
  • A teenage mum – a remarkable young girl
  • The birth of a cousin of Jesus called John
  • An emperor called Augustus Caesar
  • More angels
  • Shepherds of lowly esteem
  • A righteous man called Simeon – spirit led
  • A prophetess called Anna – 84 years old – who never left the temple but worshiped with fasting and prayer all night…
  • And then today’s passage: parents and parenting issues.

There is no one really left out in the story.

  • This event matters to us all.
  • This baby who is the word – who speaks still.
  • And the twelve-year-old Jesus –  who still speaks to us.

The story speaks to us.

Do you remember how safe it used to be back in the day, to let your kids walk home from school? I caught a bus to school at 5. Okay I left my things on the bus often and my dad had to go to lost property and pay the huge sum of 2 ½ cents to get my cap or bag back. But it was safe.

How come Jesus’ parents leave him behind? I know someone who was once left on a station in her pram and her parents went off down the tracks – in the train. It is a concern when that happens.

It’s been suggested that this story, like the one of the disciples on the road to Emmaus which we will read at Easter (quite soon really) be titled:

“On finding the Jesus you’d thought you’d lost”. (Tom Wright).

In both stories there is a time interval of three days.

In both stories there is a key phrase:

Luk 2:49:  “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”

Luk 24:25-26:  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?”

Both lines use a little word in Greek that means “it is necessary”.

There is a plan afoot that is bigger than parents trying to blame Jesus for not staying with the crowd – apparently not respecting his parents.

He’d been going to the temple each year with his parents.

By age 12 the real issues would have become apparent to Jesus. The Temple was where his father’s business was to be discussed. This was his Father’s house.

Later on he would warn people that if they didn’t do what the Father really intended them to do in the temple – not only would he have to cleanse it – but he would prophecy that it would be taken away from them.

  • In Luke 2 his parents are looking for Jesus.
  • In Luke 24 on the Emmaus road two disciples are looking for Jesus too.

Jesus is never lost. We can be though.

A good thought as we enter the new year. Maybe our story in 2016 will also be called “On finding the Jesus you’d thought you’d lost”. (Tom Wright).

There may be something new for us too. If we look hard enough.

Maybe like Jesus we too will grow in wisdom , and the grace and favour of God will be upon us – if we position ourselves for that in the year ahead.

Amen.

4 May 2014 – Emmaus Road Reflection

Eyes opened and hearts burning 

Reading: Luke 24:13-35

Luke 24:31  Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. Luke 24:32  They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

In a small Catholic seminary, the dean asked a first year student to preach one day in chapel. This novice worked all night on a sermon, but still came up empty. At the appropriate time, he stood in the pulpit, looked out over his brothers and said “Do you know what I’m going to say?” They all shook their heads “no” and he said “neither do I, the service has ended, go in peace.”

Well, the dean was angry, and told the student, “You will preach again tomorrow, and you had better have a sermon.” Again, the novitiate stayed up all night, but still no sermon. When he stood in the pulpit, he asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” All the students nodded “yes” so the preacher said “Then there is no need for me to tell you. The service has ended, to in peace.” 

Now, the dean was livid. “Son, you have one more chance. Preach the gospel tomorrow or you will be expelled from the seminary.” Again he worked all night, and the next morning stood before his classmates and asked “Do you know what I am going to say?” Half of them nodded “yes” while the other half shook their heads “no.” The novitiate said “Those who know, tell those who don’t know. The service has ended, go in peace.” 

This time, the dean just smiled. He walked up to the novice preacher, put his arm around his shoulders and said “Hmmm…those who know, tell those who don’t know? Today, the gospel has been proclaimed. The service has ended, go in peace.”

Those who know, tell those who don’t know…

That is the gospel in a nutshell. The problem is that on the road to Emmaus it is Jesus who appears not to know, while the two disciples are the ones who do!

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast.  One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (vv17-18)

There is this ironic twist. The disciples claim to be “in the know” and seem amazed by this stranger’s ignorance!

The problem was that they only had half the story!

When you pass on the news with only half the story, that’s more like gossip.

The stranger is the one who puts them right of course. It is Jesus who unpacks the whole story. It’s rather nice really.

And the crunch comes when their eyes are opened in the breaking of the break.

They see.

And they acknowledge that their hearts were burning when he spoke to him and opened the Scriptures to them.

Remember Jeremiah writing about this? (Jer 20:9)  But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.

Eyes opened and hearts burning.

It doesn’t matter what order that happens in really.

For John Wesley – it was after some years of religious discipline that his heart was “strangely warmed” – there was this inner experience or reality which arose really out of a searching and his leadership of what was called “The Holy Club”

Listen to this account:

In 1729 he joined with a small group of students at Lincoln College who met on Sunday evenings to talk about religious books and engage in prayer together. John became the natural leader of this group which expanded: it became known as ‘The Holy Club’, and they extended their activities to pastoral care including prison visiting.
John began to set down rules for himself. When dining in hall he would only drink one glass of wine or ale and he would never taste more than three dishes of food. For the Holy Club he laid emphasis on (1) the central importance of Holy Communion; (2) the responsibility of doing good to all, and (3) the importance of the written word for developing the faith.

On 24 May 1738,  (frustrated and) depressed, he opened his bible at random and read ‘ Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.’ Later that day he heard Luther’s anthem ‘Out of the Deep have I called unto thee, 0 Lord,’ And during a society meeting in the evening, where Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans was being read, he records:  ‘while he was describing the change in the heart through faith in Christ I felt my heart strangely warmed … I felt an assurance was given to me that He had taken away my sins … and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

DIFFERENT JOURNEYS

There are different journeys. The Emmaus road was the journey that those two disciples took while pretty depressed too. They only knew half the story. The death of Jesus was the precursor to the real event that was to change the world – his resurrection!

Wesley’s journey was as a religious person – a missionary working in America – who read hundreds of books and tried to follow a religious life. His heart was warmed when he HEARED a reading from Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans.

I don’t think that the two disciples or Wesley were actually expecting such a revelation! They were in a bad space emotionally when it happened.

HOW ABOUT YOU?

When our eyes are opened and our hearts warmed, it all fits into place.

Those who know tell those who don’t know – that the resurrection of Jesus changes things in a remarkable way.

And there is no resurrection to share with others without the amazing story of Jesus’ death.

It’s that death and resurrection that we remember at the table. We do this in remembrance of Him. We partake in His life! We accept the privilege of his grace – forgiveness, and the promise of new life.

AND we enjoy the power of the resurrection NOW. The same spirit which raised Jesus from the dead lives in us!

Our lives are transformed now!

LET’S TALK ABOUT THESE PEOPLE FROM THIS POINT OF VIEW: They are standing there with downcast faces. Gloomy. In the darkness of loss and depression. And there is John’s Wesley – depressed after all his religious discipline and his missionary years.

Jesus is the one who opens our eyes to the whole truth – and warms our hearts.

His light shines.

Those who know tell those who don’t know. Sometimes we’re like those who have forgotten. The gloom of our lives has blocked out the light of the Son of God who shines in our hearts.

I’ve been there. Some of my darkest days have been in the past five years. It has been impossible to claw back – except for the grace and love and warmth of God.

May our eyes be opened and our hearts burn within us – may there be a quickening of our spirits as we remember again the whole story.