Rev. George Miller
May 8, 2011
There are things we do that make a difference; then there are the things we don’t do that forever shape our lives.
I’d like to share with you an incident that happened to me 15 years ago, one that I am not proud of; one which I carry with me to this very day.
I was eating at a restaurant; the kind that served organic fare; the kind of place where politically correct yuppies go to eat so they can feel good about themselves, as if eating brown rice really does save the world.
I had my back to the door. The clanging of chimes signaled that someone had come in.
I can’t describe exactly how I felt, but it was akin to the sensation of hair standing on end. I felt as if a presence had entered the place.
The man created a scene, speaking loudly and with slurred words.
I thought that I should turn around; that I should twist my body so I could see what he looked like, so that I could see his face.
I felt as if Jesus was present…but I was scared. So I did nothing.
Instead I ate my yuppy food, I listened as the employees tried to deal with him. I listened as he asked for help.
I heard him fall to the floor. I heard as they called the cops. I sat and did nothing as they escorted him out of the place.
Although I knew, I just knew that Christ was present through that man, I never turned my back until I had finished my meal and stood up to pay my bill.
By then it was too late, the moment had passed. I left that place feeling as if I had failed some kind of test.
I still look back to that day, ever so sure that Christ was indeed present, that I had been given an opportunity to see the wounded, helpless face of God, and had done nothing.
What would have happened if I had turned around? Would it have changed the course of my life?
Or perhaps at that point of my journey I wasn’t supposed to turn around; perhaps I was not ready and this was a precursor for the next time in which God needed me to see, to really see, the wounded and risen Christ in my midst.
I share this event because it has informed my life. It has prevented from being so blasé with others I have come across.
If I had been in seminary at this point, I would have known that the notion of encountering Christ through others was not a new idea.
After all, in Matthew 25 Jesus tells the people that whenever they feed the hungry, welcome a stranger or care for the less fortunate, they are caring for him.
The term Jesus uses is “least of these.”
He says that whatever we have done for the least of these we have done for him.
And for those who do act upon a need, Jesus calls them “blessed” and “inheritors of the kingdom.”
If we put Matthew 25 and Luke 24 together, we come up with a theology of hospitality, a theology of mission and theology of presence, one that makes the claim of how Jesus is always among us.
So let’s take a look at Luke’s telling of the resurrection. Unlike Matthew there is no earthquake or guards who fall down.
Unlike Mark there is no fearful running away from the empty tomb. Unlike John there is no moving account of Mary in the garden being told not to cling on.
This is Luke’s take of the resurrection, and Luke does it in his own way: with people who are on a journey, a theme that Luke delights in embracing.
It’s Sunday. Two travelers are walking away from Jerusalem, the city in which Jesus has been crucified, the city in which his tomb has been found empty, and the city in which some women claims he’s alive.
What’s scarier: that the one you put all your hope and faith in has been murdered or the thought that he has come back to life and is now wandering around?
The two talk about the recent events when a stranger joins them and asks what they are talking about.
The two stop; they stand still, they look sad.
It’s as if they are frozen in their tracks, overcome with grief.
I wonder how many people can relate to this? Those feelings that can make you go numb and leave you stuck in place?
Being still in sorrow is not the best feeling in the world, but fortunately for these two individuals, they will not be stuck for long.
The stranger appears to have a gift for insight; he has a knack of teaching history in such a way that it becomes new.
With this stranger by their side, they find a way to move forward, listening to and being reminded about the history of God’s people.
As the day draws to an end, they come to their destination. They invite the stranger to stay with them, an act of hospitality.
And in welcoming the stranger, they sit down to share a meal, and something amazing happens: the stranger takes the bread, he blesses it, and he breaks it.
And suddenly they realize, suddenly they can see, that Christ is not dead, Christ is alive, and Christ is right with them at table.
And within that moment there is a change. For people who had felt great sadness, they realize that there has been a burning within their hearts.
And with that change becomes an act. Instead of being still, they immediately get up and go back to Jerusalem to share the good news of what they have experienced.
And with that act becomes another opportunity, for as they are speaking, Jesus appears again, this time with the words “Peace be with you.”
I am willing to believe those words were like honey to their ears and that they felt peace indeed.
This story is a stunning achievement of Luke because it makes the claim that Jesus Christ is indeed alive and that he will appear to us in ways that are familiar and new, traditional and the unexpected.
For example, that wherever two or more are gathered in memory of Christ, he is there.
Whenever two or more retell the Gospel story, Christ is there.
And that whenever two or more gather for a meal, Christ is there.
And it makes sense that Luke is telling this story since he features not one but two accounts of a miracle feeding, and it is Luke who tells the story of the prodigal son who returns home and is given a feast.
So, it should be of no surprise that for Luke, the chance to share a meal becomes a way in which we can experience the Resurrected Christ.
But it seems as if Luke is also telling us that having that experience is not enough. It is what we will do with that experience.
Will we use it as an opportunity to tell others about Christ?
Will we use it as a means to be unstuck from the sadness that freezes us in place?
Will we use it as a way to continue our journey, to gather with others and to be part of a community bigger then ourselves?
Will we use it as a means of mission and of reaching out, realizing that if we can experience Christ at the table, we can also meet Christ in the hungry and the sick, in the thirsty and the incarcerated, in the naked and the stranger?
However we answer that, Luke seems to tell us that when we meet Christ, there is the opportunity to move from sadness into joy.
There is also the opportunity to share hospitality and to do mission.
In conclusion, today’s reading reminds us of how the Resurrected Christ can appear to us so many ways.
The challenge is to not turn our back but to recognize when Christ is in our midst, and to do something about it.
My prayer for all of us this week is that we may each experience the risen Christ in our midst, and that it will prompt us to act in a way of hope and in peace.
And when we do, we too may also move from sadness to joy, from a sense of stillness to a burning of our hearts.
Blessings be to the Spirit that moves us along the way, to God who reveal the truth and to Jesus Christ who is present with us in more ways then we can imagine.
Amen and amen.