The Road to Faith

Preached at Ripley-Bervie/Kinloss Pastoral Charge, April 30, 2017

Luke 24:13-35

Little Timmy went with his parents to church, but instead of putting his toonie in the offering plate as he usually did, he held on to it tightly. Nothing his parents said or did could dissuade him, so his mother let it be, figuring she’d give him a lesson on tithing when she got home.

After the service, the family went to shake hands with the minister, and to his parents’ surprise, Timmy gave his toonie to the minister, saying, “Here, Reverend Jones. I want you to have this.”

When the surprised minister asked why, Timmy smiled and said, “Daddy said you’re the poorest preacher we’ve ever had, so I thought you could use the money!”

Would you pray with me and for me please…

Now two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem…

We know that one of the disciples on that road was named Cleopas. Scholars believe that this is the same as the Clopas mentioned in the Gospel of John, and we might therefore assume that the unnamed disciple by his side was his wife Mary, who is mentioned as being one of the women who waited at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified. Luke mentions a Mary, mother of James, who might have been this same Mary, unless there were somehow four or more Marys in the group!

In other words, these two disciples were not just ordinary onlookers, but part of Jesus’ inner circle, and they had followed him from Galilee. They knew him well. They had seen him die, and they had heard about and possibly even seen the empty tomb.

And we note two things.

One, that they are going to Emmaus, probably to their home and they are sad, not joyful, and two, Jesus walks beside them on the road, and they don’t even recognize him!

And two thousand years later, we ask ourselves, “How can this be?” If it had been us, Lord, we would have believed! If it had been us, Lord, we would have greeted you with joy!

Luke says that “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Some might conclude with this that Jesus or God kept their eyes shut so that Jesus could open the scriptures to them, but why? Hadn’t he been doing that all along?

My own take on this is that they didn’t recognize him because they didn’t expect to see him. He was out of place, and he did not look as they expected him to look.

For one thing, he wasn’t dead. The last time they’d seen him, he’d been hanging from the cross, naked and bleeding. They’d at least have expected some blood, some scars.

And he wasn’t in Jerusalem, amidst all the hating and adoring and needy throng. He was there on the road with them, just the three of them.

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone you obviously have met, perhaps many times previously, in a place where you didn’t expect to meet them, and not be able to recall not only their name, but where you know them from?

It’s happened to me. I do a lot of supply preaching, but until recently it was only at a few churches, so I’ve come to know the congregation members somewhat. One day my friend Heather and I were traveling to Kincardine, and we stopped in a restaurant in Mildmay. And a woman came up to us and said, “So Ruth, are you a minister yet?”

I gave her some kind of generic reply, all the while thinking, “Who is she, and where is she from?” My best guess is that she’s from Alma, but I could be wrong…

Anyhow, I think it’s a common experience. We see someone we don’t expect, where we don’t expect to see them, and it takes a while to place them.

And they weren’t expecting Jesus, not really. Being told someone has been raised from the dead is, well, just a little bit unbelievable. Even when he finally comes to all the disciples in person, they’re terrified, believing him to be a ghost.

But they’d been told. They’d even seen, and they still didn’t believe. Why ever not?

Well, I think when it comes down to it, they didn’t actually know what to believe anymore. Because Jesus hadn’t turned out to be who they thought he was.

They thought that he was a messiah who would redeem Israel, and by that, they meant that he would somehow free them from Roman oppression.

Instead, he let the Romans murder him.

And so Jesus starts at square one, patiently interpreting scripture to him until they come to understand what redemption truly is, and who the Messiah really is.

And then he breaks bread. He does the actions and says the words that jog their memory and they recognize him.

They aren’t immediately filled with joy. Instead, they say, “Were not our hearts burning within us as he spoke?”

They were having what I call “Aha!” moments—the moments when you realize you’ve gotten something wrong, and why, and more importantly, the moment when you get it right.

The Messiah has not come to free Israel from the Romans, but to free human beings from bondage to sin. It’s a personal redemption, not a public one.

It’s rather like the difference between winning the lottery and learning to budget and control your spending and earning and saving.

Yes, winning the lottery will solve your money problems. Immediately.

For a while.

I’ve researched what happens to lottery winners, and it really isn’t pretty. On average, it takes them seven years or less to get back to where they started from. In many cases, they end up worse off than when they started.

Because a big infusion of cash doesn’t really change anything inside of us. Lottery winners seldom inherit money management skills with the cash, and there are a lot of vultures, just waiting to pounce on the naïve newly-rich.

Just as there are vultures waiting to pounce on the naïve newly-free. Moses led the Israelites to freedom from the Egyptians, and they ended up subjugated to the Babylonians. Then the Romans. Later came the Spanish Inquisition. Later came the Nazis…

Corporate, public redemption doesn’t last. Not for the Jews. Not for any of us.

But there’s the other type of redemption. The hard, scary kind.

It’s hard and scary because faith in a Messiah who redeems us from sin requires a response.

It requires us to admit that we were, in fact, living in sin.

It requires us to admit that we weren’t doing so well on our own, that maybe we were, well…

Wrong.

It requires us to change.

That’s what the letter from Peter is trying to tell us. You have been redeemed. Now live into that reality!

Trust in God, not in things or money or military powers or border walls.

Worship God, not just in the church of your mothers and fathers, but in the synagogues and the mosques and the city square and the forest and the back alleys of the city and in the fields and in the home.

Accept as brothers and sisters in Christ not only people like you, but people you formerly thought of as beyond redemption—people whose political viewpoints differ from yours, criminals, murderers, people who have co-operated with your oppressors, women, uncircumcised Gentiles, eunuchs from far countries whose skin colour was much darker than yours, slaves, and slave owners. Why, Paul even converted his jailers!

And above all, act in love, not fear.

But when we choose to accept the kind of redemption that Jesus offers, when we open our eyes to who the Messiah really is, something funny happens.

Our spirits slowly awaken and realize that the bondage against which we fret is…

Not real.

We finally realize that the debt has been paid, once and for all, and we are free, and always will be.

We realize that winning the lottery, that getting rid of the Romans, that escaping from a physical prison—those are all unnecessary. We are loved and can love wherever we are, whoever we are, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.

We are truly free, with the kind of freedom that can never be taken away from us.

Amen.