Sunday, May 8, 2011

3rd Sunday of Easter - May 8, 2011

The sermon this morning is really very simple.  It has two main points that lead to a problem and a conclusion: 
The first point is this: God prevents us from knowing and seeing himself. 
The second point is this: God reveals himself to us. 

I. Unrecognition
On Easter afternoon, Jesus meets two guys on the road.  As it happens, these two guys are disciples of his.  They weren’t part of the inner circle, but they’ve been around him before, heard him speak, seen him do miracles and so on.  They say as much in their own words, “Jesus was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people.”  They knew Jesus.  But strangely, on this particular day they just don’t recognize him.  Why not? 

Simple.  And this is the first main point.  It was God who actually prevented them.  Verse 16 says, “Their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”  Though they knew Jesus and though we know that they will recognize Jesus again, for the time being at least, God blinds their eyes and prevents them from seeing him.  Why?  Why wouldn’t God want them to recognize his Son?  Maybe there’s a good reason.  But it doesn’t say what it is.  We don’t know why.  What we do know is this: God prevents them from recognizing Jesus.   

This lack of recognition is not limited to the Jesus who is right in front of them.  They also do not recognize how God works.  They thought that the Messiah was going to be a powerful prophet who would save their country Israel.  They thought that Jesus was that man.  But Jesus has been crucified so they are in confusion.  They thought they understood God’s plan.  But they didn’t. 

These two men also had some information from the women who had gone to the tomb that very morning.  The women had told the other disciples that the tomb was empty.  These two men had heard this testimony, but they did not understand what it meant.  They were in the dark.  It had not yet been given to them to understand.

            In any event, without knowing it, they walk along the road in the presence of the risen Christ.  Without knowing it, they listen as the Son of God explains the scriptures to them.  Without their knowing it, God is alive and at work. 

II. Recognition
            They arrive in Emmaus, the little town at the end of their journey.  Jesus makes as if he is continuing along down the road, but they invite him to stay with them, using words that we know from the Holden Evening Prayer service that we sing for Lent, “Stay with us now, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.”   They sit down for supper.  Jesus takes the bread. He blesses it.  He breaks it.  He gives it to them. And it is then they recognize him.  Why?

            Simple.  And this is the second main point.  It was God who revealed himself.  Verse 31 says, “Then their eyes were opened.”  It wasn’t them who opened their own eyes; their eyes were opened.  Why?  Why does God choose to reveal himself now?  Maybe there’s a good reason.  But it doesn’t say.  We don’t know.  What we do know is this: God reveals himself to them.

            In any event, just as they are allowed to recognize him, Jesus disappears.  And so they turn around and go back to Jerusalem where they can share this good news with the others.

So there are the two main points:
1) God prevents us from knowing and seeing himself.
2) God reveals himself to us.

III. Problem
Now I promised that the two main points would lead to a problem.  The problem is this.  Those two disciples didn’t have any choice over the matter.  They don’t get to choose when and where God is revealed and when and where he stays hidden.  It isn’t that they didn’t recognize Jesus.  It’s that they couldn’t.  God prevented them from seeing.  He prevented them from knowing.  And then, when and where it pleased him, he revealed himself to them.  What in the world are we to make of that?

First, I want to connect that to us.  I want to say it bluntly.  God keeps things hidden from you.  God prevents you from seeing and understanding what you would like to see and understand.  This runs contrary to the modern mythology of man, which presumes that all things can be explained and understood.  We can collect evidence and explain how something happened, just as the disciples became aware that the tomb was empty, but there is a limit here.  We don’t know why.  We can explain how a tornado works.  But why does it hit and destroy a town?  We don’t know why.  We can explain how a hurricane works.  But why did it hit and destroy so much of Haiti last year?  We don’t know why.  Pat Robertson famously tried to explain why, by saying that two hundred years ago Haitians had made a pact with the devil in order to get their independence.  If these things are so easily explained, what did the people of Mapleton do?  Again, I will say this bluntly, God keeps things hidden from us.  God prevents us from seeing and understanding what we would like to see and understand.

Of course this is not limited to natural disasters and matters of science.  We experience this in our individual, private lives.  My grandfather was a Lutheran minister.  When he was about 40 years old he was diagnosed with a rare spinal disease called syringamyelia.  Due to the severe pain it caused him, he was forced to retire about ten years later.  Normally speaking, it would have killed him sometime soon thereafter.  But it didn’t.  It just got worse and worse, year after year.  He slowly lost the ability to use his hands, to walk, to do anything other than endure.  He endured for twenty-five years after being forced to retire.  Looking back at those years so filled with pain, I ask, “Why did he have to go through all of it?  Why did he have to suffer so much?  Why didn’t God have mercy and take him sooner?  Why?”  I don’t know.  God keeps things hidden from us.  God prevents us from seeing and understanding what we would like to see and understand.  

So that is the problem that I mentioned.  We are not in control.  We can ask why, but often we do not receive the answers we want.  Painful events happen out in the world and close to home.  We desire to know why, to understand.  But for some reason, God does not share his reasons with us, he prevents us from knowing.

IV. Conclusion
At the beginning I mentioned that there was a conclusion, not just a problem.  Face to face with this problem, what can the conclusion be? 

The conclusion, God’s conclusion, is simply this, Jesus Christ.  That is all.  Maybe that doesn’t seem to answer the question that you have.  Too bad.  Maybe that isn’t emotionally satisfying.  Too bad.  Maybe you want something more or something tailor-made just for you.  Too bad.  Whatever questions or heartaches or tragedies you have, this is God’s answer.  This is the conclusion that God has for you.  God has given Jesus Christ to you.  And like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he is revealed to you in the breaking of the bread.

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