How many of you are perfect?
Of course not. We are all human.
Our core affirmation as a church is that God loves us just the way we are and that God is not finished with any of us yet.
And yet, while we are very good at showing grace and forgiveness to one another, we often fail to show it to ourselves. When we bump up against our humanity, we can get discouraged in our walk and even be tempted to give up.
We spent the season of Lent exploring how we can incorporate spiritual practices in to the patterns of our lives, last week we celebrated Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter and everything in-between.
But when I look in the mirror and see my flaws, I am sure of God’s unconditional love for the other seven billion people on the planet, but not so certain for myself.
So for the next six weeks we will be looking at different characters of the Bible and how God worked through their flaws. We see our brokenness as things that are wrong with us, but perhaps it is in the cracks of those spaces that God’s Spirit has the freedom to move. Last week Pastor John shared how God loves using the foolish in the world. In the same way, God often works through our flaws to increase our faith.
Today we hear the story of the Road to Emmaus. It is the story of two people returning home after all that has taken place in Jesus’ last week, the resurrected Christ appears among them, and yet their flaw is they can’t see it. They can’t recognize God’s presence among them.
But let’s back up a little bit.
I want you to imagine something.
Imagine the excitement that you feel when you are preparing to go on a trip.
Perhaps you are driving to visit a beloved friend or family member you haven’t seen in a long time.
Perhaps you are going to a concert to see a favorite musician you’ve never seen before.
Perhaps you are getting on an airplane to go to a different country.
There is an anticipation in that moment. You’ve been telling people about it, preparing for it, you can’t wait to be there. You can see endless possibilities. On your way there, you post pictures to facebook to tell the whole world about it.
I imagine this was the feeling that Cleopas and his companion had on the way to Jerusalem.
They were going to celebrate Passover.
They were leaving their small village of Emmaus and headed to the big city of Jerusalem, the place of the temple, the spiritual center of their faith.
There they would reunite with family and friends.
There they would hang out with Jesus and be a part of the Jesus movement.
The walk to Jerusalem would’ve been one of great excitement as Cleopas and his friend talked about the things they were going to do, the people they were going to see, the food they would eat.
Perhaps they were there as Jesus came down the Mount of Olives on a donkey on Palm Sunday, they could’ve been among those who laid down their coats and proclaimed “Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
They very well could’ve been in the temple the following day when Jesus turned over the tables or on Tuesday when he engaged in a long series of debates with the church leaders. They would’ve been among those on Team Jesus who were glad to see him taking on the powers that be.
On Wednesday they could’ve been in Bethany as Jesus’ head was anointed with oil and certainly on Thursday evening in the upper room as they celebrated Passover and Jesus handed them broken bread.
Up until then, the trip would’ve been everything they expected it to be and even more. It seemed like Jesus was really going to bring the change they had long hoped for.
And then it all fell apart.
Only hours after the Passover meal, Jesus was betrayed and arrested. The following day he was convicted, beaten, and executed.
The Sabbath was a dark Saturday of mourning.
Sunday was a day of confusion as some of the women said the tomb was empty, his body was gone, but what did it all mean? They couldn’t see the possibility that he was risen. What was left to do?
The trip home always seems longer than the trip there. People don’t post nearly as many social media pictures of returning home as they do going somewhere.
Imagine Cleopas and friend walking home with just as much sorrow and sadness as they walked to Jerusalem with joy and anticipation.
Seven long mountainous miles… about the distance from here to the Ohio State University—not a short walk.
They walked home discussing what had happened, trying to understand it all. struggling to understand, to try and make sense of it all.
And then Jesus shows up and joins the walk.
Only, they don’t recognize it is him. They are talking about Jesus but they can’t see that Jesus is right there with them.The scripture doesn’t tell us exactly why.
Maybe there was something different about Jesus appearance, Mary Magdalene didn’t recognize him at first either and she thought he was the gardener. Maybe they were so caught up in their grief that they couldn’t see the obvious in front of them. Maybe God prevented them from seeing it until the time was right.
Whatever the reason, they fail to see the Risen Christ in front of them.
It would be easy for us to wonder what is wrong with these two that they can’t see the obvious in front of their face, but I identify with them. I often find myself in this place.
On Friday I was at the top of the stairs in the reception area. I had set down a manila folder and couldn’t find it. I spent 10 minutes retracing my steps, and they weren’t many steps. The only place I had been was the reception and front office area. I kept bothering Rachael and Barb MacIvor, and I couldn’t find it. It was driving me crazy and the harder I looked for it the more incapable I was of seeing it.
And then, Joel Teaford walked to the top of the stairs and when I saw Joel my eyes were open and then I saw the folder.
It was there the whole time, but I missed it.
This might be a somewhat light-hearted example, but we often fail to see the obvious in front of us and the Risen Christ among us.
This is particularly true when we have our heads down and we are going through the routines of our daily lives.
It is relatively easy to see Christ among us on Palm Sunday or Easter.
But a week has passed.
The Easter bonnets are put away, the eggs are gone, the bunnies eaten, and if you still have any leftovers from Easter dinner you might want to clean out your fridge.
It is easy for Easter to fade from our memory. It can quickly become a historic event we marked or a future hope that will be realized when we pass to life eternal.
And not only can we let the Easter event get away from us, we can get distracted from our journey when we run up against our humanity and our flaws, when we are like the two on the Road to Emmaus and can’t see the Christ among us.
For me, this is particularly true in difficult times, in times of struggle.
I can identify with the words of Cleopas who says, “we had hoped that he was the one.”
How many times have our hopes fallen short?
We hoped that the medical treatment would work, only to find the illness has returned.
We hoped that the place we moved in to would be our home, only to find ourselves looking once again.
We hoped that this time the relationship would work, only to find ourselves back in the same place.
We hoped that this time things would be different, but they aren’t.
When we are in that place of despair, it is difficult for us to see.
And yet, when we come through to the other side of it, in hindsight it is in those places that God is often most present.
In the second half of our scripture, Jesus appears to the 11 disciples as described himself as one who came to suffer and rise again.
It is in places of suffering that God appears most present.
I have experienced that in the last couple of weeks with the passing of Dave Wollam. Dave was one of the warmest, friendliest people I ever met. I could be a block away from him and he would call me over just to say hello. He had a beautiful and generous spirit that I already miss. But while I miss my friend, I can see that he no longer struggles looking for a place to live, he no longer is sick, he is now his full, true, resurrected self in glory.
We are sad that a part of our family isn’t here, but we find hope that Dave is whole.
Can you see it?
In this life Dave walked with difficulty, now I imagine Dave dancing in glory.
Can you see it?
It takes faith to see hope in times of struggle. But this is not an empty faith that leads us to wish upon a star. This is a faith that has the power to change the world.
It is this vision that we celebrate this week in the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr Martin Luither King Jr.
King had plenty of reasons to be fearful, anxious, or worried. But he refused to see the world as a place of despair, but through the eyes of faith he cast a vision of hope.
In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, King dared to see a world “deeply rooted in the American dream.”
King could see a day when ”this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.”
King could see a day when ” the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
King could see a day when his children ”will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
King could see a day when ”little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.”
King could see a day when the prophecies of Isaiah would be fulfilled, “that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
King said, this is our hope.
Our hope is in the resurrected Christ who lives and moves all around us. But living in this hope begins with opening our eyes and recognizing it.
Sometimes it is difficult to see in the moment and we can only see the light after we have come through the darkness. But like Cleopas and his companion, we keep moving forward and we keep walking even when we don’t know where the path will lead, we keep talking about it even when we don’t understand, we keep trusting in the long arc of history bending toward justice, even when injustice seems prevalent.
And when we see it ourselves, we share the light with others who haven’t seen it yet.
As Cleopas and friend were nearing the end of their journey home, they invited the stranger among them in, in a spirit of hospitality.
The fellow traveler took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened and they saw that it was Jesus among them all along.
Within the hour they were back on the road to Jerusalem, they walked seven miles back to the disciples and friends and proclaimed ‘The Lord has risen indeed.”
The Lord has risen indeed.
Our call is the same. We open our eyes to recognize Christ among us and when we do we go and share the vision with others.
Can you see it?