Monday, May 05, 2014

Sermon on Luke 24:13-35, for the 3rd Sunday of Easter, "Let's Talk Story"

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! But on that evening of the first Easter, when reports of the empty tomb were circulating among the beleaguered disciples…two disciples were already headed home to Emmaus, shaking their heads in disbelief and gloom, as they left the hotbed of Jerusalem behind.
A familiar phrase here in Hawaii is “talk story.” It’s when friends have a conversation about what’s going on, or catch up on old times. Almost everyone “talks story” about whatever is meaningful or important to them. Unless we don’t feel we have someone we can confide in or trust, most people want to share with someone, what’s going on in their lives. Perhaps to lay down a burden, to share a grief, perhaps to hear a word of encouragement, love, or concern. Sometimes we talk story about things that are sad or confusing; sometimes we talk story about things that are joyful, exciting, or fill us with hope. For some people it comes more naturally then others; and certain people have a natural way of making others feel comfortable to talk.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus were talking story, and it was a sad story. And like most occasions where we have sad stories to tell, there was a real reason for the disappointment, confusion, and sadness they felt. They had seen their Lord terribly mistreated and abused, and unjustly put to death. And alongside them comes another traveler going the same way. It’s Jesus, but His identity is hidden from them. Why? Because He first wants to talk story with them. Instead of revealing Himself right away, and explaining the resurrection, He wants to hear them tell the story of what happened to Him. Apparently He wants to see what’s missing from their story, and help them fill in the blanks.
As they summarize Jesus’ prophetic ministry and miracles, His trial, and crucifixion, they speak as ones who had built up great hopes and expectations on Jesus. But now they speak in the past tense, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” They sounded disillusioned, and couldn’t make sense of the new information they had heard from the women, about the empty tomb and the words of the angels. Understanding was just around the corner for them. The light was already poking through their gloomy conclusions about the matter, but sadness still held them. And Jesus walked with them in their grief. He did not suddenly try to flip everything upside down, but listened and talked story with them.
So too for us, we may know times of grief where something terrible or some loss or some ongoing trouble has seemingly closed our heart to any comfort. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Christ comes to our side, the only Help of the helpless (LSB 878:1). Though well-meaning friends or loved ones may not have the words to reach us, Christ joins us on our journey, walks with us in our need, and speaks to our heart His life-giving words. He finds and rescues the lost sheep, He finds and mends the wounded traveler left on the roadside for dead.
Jesus’ very presence with those two disciples, and the long time He spent with them on that Day of Days, showed His compassion and love for those who were weakened by doubt and discouraged by fear. Conversationally He restored them little by little, with the Word of God that gives life and that endures forever. Their hearts and eyes were lifted little by little, till the haze of sadness cleared, and they could come into the light of understanding.
Jesus still comes to His disciples today, doing this job that we could never fully do. But we as Christians participate in this job whenever we “talk story” with someone who is hurting and suffering, listening to them, walking with them, telling them the story of Jesus. But it will always be God’s own Word that truly speaks to the heart in ways that no one can fully discern. And when we are embattled by the worries and cares of this life, the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort…comforts us in our affliction, with so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). And Christ invites us to cast our anxieties on Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).
What word of Scripture will comfort someone we know who walks in sorrow? Or us, for that matter? While we may not always know from situation to situation, it was no mystery what changed the conversation for those Emmaus disciples. It’s no mystery either what gives the ultimate hope that arches over all our various troubles. When Jesus finished listening to their story, He must have surprised them with His reprimand: “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” But instead of closing their ears to Jesus at this rebuke, they opened them, and He began to teach in all the Scriptures what it said about Himself.
By the time it was over they marveled how their hearts burned within them as He spoke. It was pure and unexpected discovery and joy for them to see the pieces of the Old Testament puzzle fit together to reveal the beautiful image of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen—the Bible’s great portrait they had not yet seen. And then in a flash of recognition, with His signature action of blessing the bread, breaking it, and giving it to them—this portrait of the Christ that they had just discovered, was now before their very eyes in the risen Jesus. Flesh and bone, hands and scars that proved His love. And in the next moment He was gone, leaving them amazed. But forgetting the late hour and the darkness, they sped back to Jerusalem to tell the disciples what they had seen, only to hear similar reports! Jesus had been busy that Easter, meeting and greeting and encouraging the various disciples, showing them He had risen from the dead.
The central message of all the Scriptures, and the central message of comfort and hope in a world of sin and death, is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. All that was necessary according to the prophets. Suffering and death had to precede His glory. The root causes of our sadness and grief—the causes of sin and death—had to be rooted out and destroyed, so that the Garden of God’s creation could one day be fully restored. And now the light poured through the clouds of gloom and darkness and showed them with perfect clarity what Jesus had done for them, in dying on the cross and rising from the dead.
As the Lutheran preacher John Gerhard put it, we also need to have hearts like those disciples—hearts that were “instructable” and humble—that were open to hearing Jesus’ Word. “Whenever we have the resurrection of Christ proclaimed to us from the prophecies of the holy prophets and from the writings of the holy apostles, we should open our ears and hearts and listen with the greatest zeal. For he who is of God, hears God’s Word, John 8:47. A child listens to his parents, from whom he was conceived and born, speaking to him with heart-felt desire and love. If you are born of God, then you will gladly listen to God the Lord speaking to you His Word--especially regarding the resurrection of Christ, by which He has brought such precious gifts along for us” (Gerhard, Postilla, 328).
And then, with the disciples; filled with new joy, we go to “talk story” with others, out of the joy of what we have known and learned in Jesus Christ. People “talk story” about the things that matter most to them. And they longed to hear and know more. This world teaches us so much of disappointment and discouragement, that it’s easy to become cynical and jaded. And indeed there are many false or empty promises out there. But we have the story that’s truly worth telling. Christ has entered our human story, and He has transformed it forever by His death and resurrection. Our personal stories of sadness that so often needlessly preoccupy us, are only part of the story. And when the full light of what Jesus has done for us is shed upon our lives, we are enveloped in a far greater story with a far better ending than we could have written for ourselves. And should we be surprised, since that story is penned by the very Author of Life? And even our griefs are part of the story, though we may not understand them now.
Weigh the promises of Christ and the witness of what He has done. Do they ring true, or hollow? Does Jesus or the apostles seem as men who stood to profit from what they said, or were more likely to suffer for it? If the Words and promises ring true, then believe them with all your heart! It makes all the difference whether you will journey down the road with heads hung in gloom and dismay, or whether your eyes are cast on the Author and Perfecter of our faith and the journey ahead; the road that leads up to the heavenly city. There is nothing better or truer that we can long for than for in this life than the true and living God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God!, the Psalmist cries out. And Christ quenches that thirst and satisfies our hunger with Living Water and the Bread of Life.
It took only that signature action of Jesus, the characteristic way that he took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to them, for the disciples to suddenly recognize Him. God had hidden Jesus’ identity from their eyes till this pivotal moment of the breaking of the bread, so the conversation could run it’s full course, and He could bring them from mournful and lost disciples to believers revived with a new and living hope in Jesus. Jesus had entered their lives again through an ordinary conversation and an ordinary meal—which had both come to an extraordinary conclusion. While so many crave for and search for God in extraordinary experiences, and often find them elusive—Christ Himself comes to us in the breaking of the bread. An ordinary meal, of bread and wine, but leading to an extraordinary encounter and conclusion. In this Supper of our Lord, we eat and drink as He tells us, “This is my body, given for you. This is my blood of the covenant, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.” And in Him we find the Redeemer that we have hoped for; and on His hands we see the marks of His undying love for us. His journey to heaven is completed; ours is not yet over; but He is with us on the Way. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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  1. What are the topics that fill your daily conversation? What matters to you, that you tell others about? What should our conversation be like? Colossians 4:5-6; Ephesians 4:29. What controlled the conversation of the disciples before Jesus began to teach them? Why did they speak of their “hope” in the past tense?
  2. What leaves us discouraged or sad in life? When do you need Jesus’ presence, to come and speak His Words to you? How does Jesus’ response to these weakened and downhearted disciples show us His heart? See also Luke 15:1-7; 10:29-37; Isaiah 42:3; Hebrews 4:15
  3. How does God help us with our worries? 2 Corinthians 1:3-4; 1 Peter 5:7
  4. Why was it good that the disciples were able to bear Jesus’ gentle rebuke (Lk. 24:25-26)? See John 8:47; James 1:21; Psalm 141:5.
  5. How does our story change when Jesus enters into it? Acts 3:15; Hebrews 12:1-2. What sort of Bible study did Jesus lead them on? What did He show them through the Scriptures? Luke 24:27; 244-46; John 5:39. How did it impact their understanding of the salvation story?
  6. How did Jesus at last make Himself known to them? Why was this so familiar to them?
  7. How does Jesus come to us, even in the ordinary? How are we assured of His presence with His people? Matthew 28:20; 18:20; John 14:17, 23. 

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