Sunday, April 30, 2017

Sermon for Easter 3: "The Gift of Presence"

based on Luke 24:13-35

            There are hymns that I associate with particular moments, for one reason or another. 
            When I hear “Children of the Heavenly Father”, I think of my Swedish grandparents, and singing it in Swedish to my grandmother on the phone. 
            When I think of “How Can I Keep from Singing?” I think of my dad’s funeral.  It was the closing hymn. 
            And when I think of the hymn, ‘It is Well with my Soul”, I think of a particular Sunday morning. 
            We had chosen it for the hymn of the day that day.  I don’t remember why. 
            It’s a hymn I never knew growing up, but it was requested for funerals, and so I got to know it, and especially loved that chorus, “it is well, it is well with my soul.”

            This particular Sunday while we were singing, I couldn’t help noticing a woman in the front row. 
            She was weeping.  At one point in the hymn I went down to stand alongside here. 
            Another person put their arm around her as well.  I remember people surrounding her while she wept during the singing of that hymn.

            This woman, I learned, had just returned from a trip to Phoenix.  She attended the funeral of her niece.  Her niece had been murdered by her boyfriend. 
            And they had sung this hymn at the funeral.

            I can’t imagine any time you would feel less like “it is well with my soul’, and yet she found some comfort in the words of this hymn, at this dark time in her life.

            So here we are, on the third Sunday of Easter – and we have this story.
            .that takes place on Easter Day.. probably in the afternoon, after the resurrection, but before most people believed or even knew it had happened. 
            And we have these two disciples – they aren’t well –known, but they must have been part of the inner circle – and these two disciples are leaving Jerusalem, and walking to Emmaus
            – and it is not well with their souls. 
            They are defeated.  They are hopeless. 
            Perhaps they are even yet terrified – having seen their friend die by crucifixion.

            It’s Easter, but they don’t know it. 
            And while they are walking and talking together and sharing their sorrows, Jesus comes and walks with them. 
            But they don’t know that either.

            I imagine that there’s something comforting for them in just being together. 
            When everything you knew or believed – just falls apart – having someone to walk and talk with – is something. 
            It’s presence, and it’s a gift. 
            Someone who shares your sorrows, shares your hopes.  But there was this other presence walking and talking with them too. 
            And they didn’t recognize him.

            It seems incredible, doesn’t it? 
            That they wouldn’t recognize their good friend, Jesus. 
            And, if you read and imagine the scene, it seems almost – funny – I mean, think about it. 
            Jesus approaches them and asks them what they are talking about.          They can’t believe that there is anyone in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what Just happened this past weekend. 
            But here’s the ONE GUY who doesn’t (they think). 
            And he proves it to them by asking this question, “What things?”  Seemingly innocent question.

            It’s Easter, and they don’t know it. 
            I mean, some women told them what THEY saw, but apparently they don’t believe the women. 
            So there are these rumors floating around,
            But they are on the way to Emmaus – and the risen Jesus – the one they don’t believe in – is right there with them.. 
            And they don’t recognize him.

            And there is this little detail – not just that they don’t recognize him, but that “they were prevented from recognizing him.”
             And I can’t help thinking that maybe this affliction they had – this affliction of the eyes – although it was bad for them – that it turns out to be good for us.  It is a promise for us.

            Because what it means is that it’s entirely possible – and it is even promised –
             that Jesus is with us – that Jesus is walking with us – that Jesus is in our lives, and working in our lives – even and especially when we don’t recognize him. 

            Maybe he’ll break the bread – and for a moment we’ll have a flash – and there will be this sudden realization. 
            He’s here.
            He’s alive and he’s here and he’s working in this world.
            Maybe we’ll catch a glimpse at another time instead – when we are at worship and we see comforters surround a grieving woman –
            -- and we see that he’s here
            -- or maybe it’s  when we are in a circle with a homeless family getting ready to eat and the youngest child shares the table grace – “God we thank you/God we thank you/ for our food/for our food/ and our many blessings/and our many blessings/Amen/Amen.” 
            And you learned a new prayer.
            Or maybe it was something you saw in the newspaper –
            Or maybe it was a moment of unlikely forgiveness
            And you think:  That’s got to be Jesus – doesn’t it?

            Maybe for a moment you’ll even wonder if it’s you
            – if it’s you who are the hands and the feet and the eyes of Jesus, when you go out from here.
             Because you know, he is risen and he is alive and he is here, but he is often unrecognized. 
            Maybe – at least sometimes – it’s you.

            Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him, but he was with them all the time. 
            And he was teaching them new things, and he was working through them, and he was making them new.
            That’s the promise.
            The gift of presence.  Jesus’ presence. 
            Look around you. 
            Look around you at the people in this congregation. 
            We are the presence of Jesus for one another.  And it’s important that there are all ages, all sizes, more than one perspective – here.          That’s one of the ways that God is renewing us, teaching us.
             It might be a child’s voice, which we suddenly realize is the voice of Jesus. 
            It might be the hands of one of the grandparents, that we glimpse for a moment as the hands of Jesus. 

            It’s important I think to try to see, to try to recognize his presence.           Maybe we can cultivate it – and learn even to point it out to each other. 
            Sort of like when we think we see a Northern Mockingbird out in the birdbath at the church. 
            Was that what it was?  What do you think? 
            “God-sightings.”  Point them out and ask each other- - what do you think – did you see Jesus there? 
            -- did you see Jesus when all of the children put the flowers in the cross on Easter? 
            Did you see Jesus in the homeless families who stayed with us last week?
            Or maybe in all of the people who brought food, and sat down to eat together?

            But it’s even more important to trust that – even when you don’t see God at all – even when you don’t recognize him
            – Even when it is the worst possible time, and your heart is breaking and everything is falling apart –
            -when it is not Easter and it is not well with your soul and it seems like it will never be will with your soul again-- that even then he is walking with you. 

            He is here.  He is risen.
            He is working in the world.  And in you.  And me.
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!

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