May 4, 2014
“Jumping for Jesus”
Rev. George N. Miller
A few years ago I read a book called The Velvet Jesus by Rob Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill, a church of over 3,000 people.
I was curious to read what he wrote, expecting something mind blowing. What I discovered was that Rev. Bell sounded like a UCC pastor.
He discussed the ability to question and wrestle with scripture; to not shy away from its difficulty and the tremendous leaps of faith that the Bible asks us to make.
Rev. Bell noted that there are two kinds of faith. The first is like a brick wall: we’re not to ask questions and everything is put together in such a way that if one item of faith is changed, challenged or taken away it will all fall down.
Then there is the other kind of faith; the trampoline kind of faith. It’s springy and can bend and you can jump up and down and it gives and it moves, inviting you to jump around.
Sometimes you may bounce higher, sometimes lower. You may bump your head but you’re also bound to laugh and smile. And no matter how much it gives, it still stays in place.
That’s what we have in the UCC. As a denomination we’d say “Ask, seek, question, do cartwheels, because no matter how much you jump, God will be there jumping with you.”
Today’s scripture is just the kind that asks to be jumped on like a big, victorious trampoline. It has so many places to launch off from and so many places to land, designed to make us smile with wonder.
This is Luke’s telling of the Resurrection. It’s the first Easter day, the women find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus is missing. They tell the disciples and Peter runs to the tomb and sees the linen cloths by themselves and is amazed.
Later that day, Cleopas and his companion walk from Jerusalem to the town of Emmaus. While talking about the latest town gossip, Jesus appears to them and asks what’s going on, but they do not realize it is he. So they walk and they talk and as they do, Jesus teaches them all about the scriptures.
It’s like a moving bible study.
They get to their destination, invite Jesus in and there, at the table, this stranger who is their guest, suddenly becomes their host as he took the bread, blessed, broke it, and gave it to them.
As their eyes are opened, they realize that Christ is with them and has been in their presence all along. They say to one another “Didn’t our hearts burn within us on our journey and while he discussed scripture with us?”
And so goes Luke’s trampoline...a beautifully written piece of narrative that continues the mystery and the wonder of the resurrection.
But can we be honest for a moment: don’t you find the Resurrection of Jesus Christ to be one of the most perplexing pieces of Christianity?
As if a virgin birth, singing angels and water into wine were not enough, here we have stories of a man killed on a cross, buried in a tomb and reappearing to his followers three days later, and we’re supposed to believe it’s true.
As members of the UCC, we are encouraged to think about these scriptures we read and hear, and to jump on the trampoline asking: is the Resurrection true? Did it really happen? Is it a metaphor? Is it a state of mind?
Or is the Resurrection a dizzying, dazzlingly combination of all of the above?
I believe that the Resurrection is designed to be a mystery, a mystery that has the power to transform.
Once we take the Resurrection for granted or assume we have it all figured out and have the final say, it loses its power and presence in our lives.
The Resurrection is something only God and Jesus truly know about. Not Matthew, Mark, Luke, John or Paul could get their accounts of the Resurrection to mesh, yet they all had something to teach us, something that we can all learn.
The resurrection stories are in many ways about a new way of life, in which we learn to live and love together and to continue the teachings of Jesus.
One of the lessons Luke wants us to learn is just how important it is that we sit at the table and eat together, especially with the stranger. Not because Luke was a food addict or wanted to see our waist lines expand, but because as Luke sees it, when we gather together and break bread, Christ is present.
I believe that part of what we have here is a narrative designed to tell us just how important celebrating Communion together really is.
This whole passage is liturgical. It takes place on a Sunday. It features 2 people together discussing scripture, sitting at table, sharing a meal, and in the process Christ appears to them.
What we have here is the celebration of word and sacrament, using the words blessed, broke, and gives in which Jesus becomes present to weary travelers and leaves a burning in their hearts that prompts them to proclaim the Good News.
One of the marks of Christianity is that no matter who we are, no matter where we are on life’s journey, no matter how much we worry about what lies ahead or are woeful about what was past, we love to eat together; as such Communion has a special, sacred place in our faith.
In fact, there was a time, centuries ago, when people lived to celebrate Communion. When the priest lifted the bread, the bells would ring out and folk claimed to have miraculous visions of Christ.
Those who lived in large cities would spend their Sunday going from church to church just to see the bread consecrated, to hear the bells ring out, hoping that they too would catch a glimpse of the risen Christ.
Personally, that is why I always pause while lifting up the bread and before breaking it, because I believe in that moment Christ becomes present in a way then we cannot put into mere words.
In today’s reading, Luke has two trampolines tied together, the miracle of the resurrection and the mystery of communion, and through them we discover that the love and lessons that Jesus shared were not a singular event confined to history, but living realities that still speak to us and burn within our own hearts today.
Jesus is always in our midst, even when we may not realize it, and when we share a meal, we have a chance to experience a scared moment.
Every dining room, every restaurant booth, every table in the Fellowship Hall has the chance to become a way for the resurrected Christ to make himself known.
And when Christ is made known, there is bound to be a burning in our hearts, a reminder that death does not have the final word, God is in control and Jesus Christ is Lord.
In conclusion, what does the resurrection mean to you? What do the sacrament of Communion and the act of fellowship represent to you?
And what kind of faith do you have? A brick wall kind of faith where everything is neatly in place, and if one brick is moved, it all comes down?
Or the trampoline kind of faith that no matter how much it gives, it stays in place allowing us to jump and laugh, to wonder and do new things?
All thanks be to God who sets the journey before us.
One step, one bounce at a time, may we trust that Jesus will watch over us, God will catch us when we fall and the Holy Spirit is walking and bouncing with us as well.
Amen and amen.