Monday, April 24, 2023

A roadside conversation. . .

The sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter (A), preached on Sunday, April 23, 2023.

If something happens at church, everyone knows about it.  The pastor falls and fractures an ankle, a member passes out in church, somebody quits their job, or somebody is angry with the pastor or somebody else – these things make their way around the congregation without any of them being in church to hear of it.  That is the power of gossip.  It occupies our hearts and minds with our every complain, our every disappointment, and our every insistence to know every salacious detail about the scandal.  But the obvious is lost to us all.

On the road some of the followers of Jesus complained.  The food made of a little boy’s lunch was delicious, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, and He had taught them with authority like no other.  But then He died.  He was not smart enough to escape the trap of His enemies and death on a cross got Him.  We had hoped He might be the one.  We wanted Him to be the one.  Yes there were stories but who can believe the reports of excitable women or the disciples who had nothing more than the lack of a body.  We wanted to believe but who wants to get your hopes up only to be disappointed again.  Better to be left in your misery, right?

They knew everything about Jesus but the one thing needful.  They did not know His Word.  They knew of their disappointment and their fears but they did not know His Word.  So in this conversation with a stranger, they unloaded themselves on how sad they were that things did not pan out better for Jesus and better for them.  We do that every Sunday.  

We know of everyone’s secret sins, of all the times we wanted things to be right and they were wrong, of every disappointment, of every angry word somebody said to us and of every unmet expectation we had of our pastors and brothers and sisters in Christ.  What we do not know is the Word of Christ.  That is why our conversations are only about what is wrong and not what is right.  We know of every misstep of our leaders and everytime we think God let us down but we do not know God’s Word.

In this conversation, however, the stranger was not a nobody.  It was Jesus.  But Jesus was hidden.  Hidden not by God but by every disappointment, let down, unmet expectation, and the like.  They talked about what might be but was not. Because this was all they saw and talked about, they did see Jesus.  Jesus did not use magic to open their eyes.  He opened the Scriptures to them.  He did not explain the mysteries or make the things of God seem simple and easy.  He showed them how the Law and the prophets and the writings – every word of Scripture – pointed to Him.  Then in the visible Word of the Eucharist, they ate and drank the broken bread of the Upper Room. And then their hearts burned and they knew who Jesus was.  Then they looked past all their disappointments and self-pity only to see that Jesus was among them from the start of their conversation.
My friends, it is still that way.  There is no one more bitter than someone who feels the Church has wounded them or the pastor offended them or their friends in the pews forsaken them.  There is no one harder to address that someone who thought they had believed and known and understood how God worked only to disappointed in some way or been called to repentance and faith when they should have been recognized and honored.  They know everything but the Word of Christ and so they see nothing clearly but their wounds and disappointments.

This is the story of what happens when we know everything but the Word of God and when we know everything in that Word except Jesus who fulfills it.  Don’t be foolish.  God hears your prayers even when you do not receive the answers you want to those prayers.  God knows your needs even when you are disappointed in how He responds to those needs.  God is with you even when your life is a mess.  He who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, will He not now give us all things in Christ?

We think that we need to know ourselves better in order to know God but the reality is that the things we think we know so well are often distractions from the one thing we need to know best of all.  You need to be people of His Word.  It is not about how well you know God but about the God who knows you better than yourselves.  It is not about the God who gave you everything you always wanted but about the God who gave Himself up for you.  It is not about the what might be but what God said and did, His Word promised and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  

Jesus is seldom the Savior we wanted but He is always the Savior long promised in the Scriptures.  Jesus seldom does everything we ask or think He should do but He has never failed to fulfill the Scriptures and do for us what God had said He would always do.  For Jesus to be the Messiah does not mean He what we want.
No, for Jesus to be the Savior means He does what God said He would do – the Son of the woman born of the pain of childbirth as God in flesh to be killed by the serpent only to rise from the dead and crush the serpent’s head.  This is the promise of the prophets.  God would become His people’s Savior and keep the law so perfectly that His righteousness would cover all our failure.  God would suffer our sin and die our death to redeem those who should die for their sins.  God would rise up to stand with Job as the redeemer who lives to rescue those dead in trespasses and sin.

We know the names of everyone in the news.  We are enamored by all the details of celebrities.  We can recall the statistics of our favorite athletes and teams.  We will tell you why this or that candidate is the best one running in every election.  We have opinions about the best places to shop, the best brands to buy, the best places to go on vacation.  But we do not know God’s Word.  We hunger and thirst for many things before we our hearts burn for the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.  We can tell you every time our faith has let us down but we cannot remember all that God has done to save us.  We are still having those one sided conversations like the disciples on the road to Emmaus and Jesus still has to open His Word to us and set His table among us before we will open our eyes.

The world likes to talk but Christians ought to love to listen to God’s Word.  The world loves to say what it wants but Christians ought to delight in God’s will.  The world looks for glory but Christians ought to look for the promises of God fulfilled as the mark of our Savior.  The world is infatuated with itself but Christians ought to be focused on Him who died and rose again.

We want euphoria and excitement but God delivers to us the ordinary that is made extraordinary by His grace – the Word of the cross and empty tomb, the voice that forgives our sins, the water that washes us with new life, and the bread that is His flesh and the cup that is His blood.  If our conversations were more about the Word of God that testifies to Christ and our hearts were rooted and planted in the Sacraments of Christ, our hearts would positively ache out for the joy that is set before us.  But as long as we are more conscious of every disappointment or offense or let down or empty feeling, there is no room for God to occupy our hearts with joy or our minds with peace.  At the end of this conversation, Jesus appearance was gone but His Word and Sacraments remained.  And that is where you and are now.  In the holy name of Jesus.  Amen.

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