Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon from April 21, 2013; Luke 24:36-49

Rev. George Miller
Luke 24:36-49
“The Original Happy Meal”
April 21, 2013

Three years ago I moved to Sebring. Back then it felt like living on Mars: homes in shades of pink and green, yards with odd kind of grass, and lizards crawling up walls. Everything seemed so…foreign.

One day, needing some semblance of normalcy, I went to CVS. It was Paradise. I knew where everything was: greetings cards were in the back, cold Pepsi was in the side cooler and gummi bears were in the front.

That’s a good thing about corporations: no matter where you are or how foreign things may feel, you can step into one of their stores and experience a sense of normalcy.

Target will always smell like Target. McDonald’s fries will always taste like McDonald’s fries. CVS will always look like CVS.

Yesterday, after our Golf Outing, I had another need for normalcy. It was my first time playing the game, and it felt like I was back on Mars.

The course looked unlike anything I knew; people spoke a foreign language.

Before yesterday, I thought Mulligan was a stew, Bogie loved Bacall, Parr was the last name of a parishioner and a birdie was something I fed in the morning.

Add to it that every time it was my turn, there were three sets of eyes watching me and offering “helpful” suggestions: stand this way, bend that way, look down.

It was like gym class all over, if gym class was in Spanish and on Mars.

So, at the end of the day, it was nice to come home, be greeted by my cats, pour a glass of iced-tea, and put on some Mariah Carey. The familiar reappeared; the cats purred, Mariah sang, real birds came to the feeder.

Normalcy had resumed and I fell pleasantly into a peaceful sleep…

Right now our nation has a hankering for some normalcy. It started with the bombing in Boston. Then the explosion at the fertilizer plant in Texas.

Then the rain in the Midwest which caused flooding in places like Elmhurst, IL. On Friday virtually the whole city of Boston stayed inside while the nation watched a manhunt commence.

Almost too much to absorb for a five day period. As someone on Facebook posted, “Dear Lord, next week may all the news be about rainbows, puppy dogs and unicorns.”

I called up a friend in the Chicago area to ask how today’s scripture could be applied to all the things that have taken place.

This is what Rev. Jeanne Murawski told me: that after all the things the disciples have been through, the resurrected Christ gives them back a sense of normalcy.

By asking for a piece of fish, and eating it in front of them, Jesus is showing them this is real. In doing so, he helps them to regroup, come back to the table, and to share.

Rev. Murawski stated, “A meal is one of the most connective things you can do. That’s what you do after a disaster-you regroup, you connect with friends and family; you assure yourself that life will go on.”

…Since the start of Advent, we have spent a lot of time in the Luke’s Gospel, listening to stories about children being born, and a new community being formed.

And though the elements of angels and transfiguration border on the strange and fantastic, it is important to remember that the people featured in Luke’s story are every-day people: hard working dreamers, capable of making mistakes, longing for something more.

These men, these women who followed Jesus were not super-men and wonder-women; they were ordinary folk, living during ordinary times, experiencing extraordinary things.

Sometimes these things were too wonderful for words; sometimes they were distressing. Normalcy went out the window that last week in Jerusalem.

According to Luke, Jesus was crucified while all his acquaintances stood far away. Peter denied Jesus not once, but three times and was left outside, weeping bitterly.

A once tight community has been shattered and scattered.

That’s what disasters can do; that’s what acts of terror try to bring about. To violate any sense of normalcy and to replace it with fear and confusion, isolation and depression.

That’s what the folk in Texas and Illinois are recovering from; that’s what the bombers in Boston tried to do.

And here is where the Good News comes in: in the resurrection, the community found a way to come back together.

It first started with individual women who made their way to the tomb on Sunday. Though terrified, they had an experience which allowed them to begin the process of remembering what Jesus had taught them.

Then a couple on their way to Emmaus, looking sad and slowly moving, share a meal with a stranger, in which their eyes are opened and their hearts burn from within.

Then they all come together, discussing their experiences, and while they are in the midst of sharing stories, Jesus is present, and he says “Peace be with you.”

Startled and terrified, with minds still clouded over and unsure, Jesus says “Have you anything to eat?”

Not “stop your crying”, not “get back to work”, not “snap out of it.” But “Have you got anything to eat?”

It was perhaps the single most normal thing Jesus could have asked at that moment.

All the meals they ate, all the stories told about banquets, the feeding with loaves and fishes, their last night together sharing Passover, what could have been more normal for his followers then for Jesus to ask for a knosh and to eat it in front of them?

Could power and principalities, acts of terror and disaster stop the work that God had begun in Jesus? No.

To prove it Jesus does one of the most normal actions one can do: he eats.

And this fearful, fragmented group begins to reassemble. In the midst of the extraordinary, a sense of normalcy begins to reenter their lives.

Note how this period is not rushed through. Jesus tells them “Stay here until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

“Just stay,” the resurrected, well-fed Christ tells them. “You don’t have to plan, you don’t have to organize, and you don’t have to create a committee or solve any problems. You just have to stay. You’ll know what to do when the time is right.”

And that’s what they do. They stay in the city; they regroup, they worship, they pray, they bless God, they share meals, they recall the promise that was made with grain of the field and fruit of the vine.

Acts of terror will happen. Disasters will strike. Streets will flood and lizards will climb walls. There will be times when we feel like we have landed on Mars and nothing is familiar.

But our belief in Christ resurrected is not just a statement of faith or a ticket to eternal life, it creates a way for us to reclaim some sense of normalcy.

Those times when our lives feel fractured or community becomes disjointed, Christ calls us to regroup, to share, to come back to the table. To come back to life.

For when we do, we reconnect, and we are reassured that life will go on. It may be different, it may no longer be the same, but life goes on.

That is part of the peace we find in Jesus Christ; that is one of the ways in which God feeds us.

It is one reason why no disaster, no enemy can ever defeat us.

Amen and amen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sermon from April 7, 2013; Luke 24:13-35

Rev. George Miller
Luke 24:13-35
“Telling Jesus”
April 7, 2013

Although Easter was last week, today is a story that in my heart is the Easter story. It’s an account of two people on a journey to Emmaus who have an amazing encounter with Christ.

Marcus Borg and John Crossan in their book The Last Week comment that this story is filled with truth because Emmaus is not a one time event but “…Emmaus always happens…again and again.” (pg 201)

This is also a story sure to raise eyebrows. Why didn’t they realize it was Jesus? Why, did Jesus disappear into thin air? Perhaps most perplexing: how did they run 7 miles back to town in an hour?

Pastorally, this story makes sense. It’s an account of what happens to people after they have experienced trauma; what happens to people going through grief.

A few months ago the UCC offered a seminar on how to respond to human caused disasters. We learned how the body and the brain respond to traumatic situations.

One of the first things were taught is that when something disastrous happens, more often then not, the thinking part of the brain shuts down.

We go into a fight or flight mode in which large amounts of adrenaline is released, our digestion is slowed down, and our immune system is suppressed so we don’t get sick.

In this mode we are what they call agitated, becoming highly irritable, quick to anger and over reactive. Time collapses and minutes seem to either speed by or slow down to unbearable levels.

As evolved as we are, our brains have not developed to the point that we can think and feel at the same time; it’s one or the other.

So when one is emotional, you can’t force them to think or be logical. But you can give them a time out or a moment of pause; to stop, breathe, and to regroup.

If a traumatic event takes place, it is hard for the victim or the witnesses to make meaning or to clearly recall what happened.

That’s where clergy, as first responders, come into play. Pastoral providers will create space and time so thinking can take place, anger can be expressed and chances exist for that person to remember and share what has transpired.

A good pastoral presence will temper this with love, forgiveness and patience.

How? Well, by letting the person or people tell their story. By simply being present, by simply saying “Tell me.”

This creates a supportive environment in which the body and mind can reset itself, and for that person or people to experience the presence of the Lord in an assuring way.

Guess where we see a good example of this? Right here in today’s reading.

Keep in mind that this is a story about two every day, ordinary folk who have experienced an extraordinary thing.

Jesus, who they believed to be a prophet, who they had hoped would redeem their people, has been publicly crucified.

As if that’s not traumatic sounding enough, now some women are claiming that his tomb is empty and Jesus is alive.

How would you feel if someone told you your favorite teacher or preacher had come back to life three days later? Unsettled? Elated? Scared? Disbelieving?

The fact that these two individuals have separated themselves from the group, the fact that they are walking 7 miles out of town gives us some clues as to how they feel.

While on their journey they meet Jesus. But they do not recognize him. This part often confuses folk, but it makes sense.

If they were in flight mode, if they were dealing with trauma, time would have been collapsed, their feeling, not thinking mind would have been working.

It’s like when you’re looking for your sunglasses and they’re right on your face or a piece of paper with a phone number and it’s right there on the desk in front of you.

I recall a time when I drove up to hospice and a parishioner was getting into their car. They literally were not able to see me. Even though I said hi, even though I rapped on their window, they were so focused on who they were visiting that they could neither see nor hear me.

So these two individuals have witnessed a horrible thing; they have heard astonishing news, they are moving slow and looking sad. Jesus asks what they are discussing. They say “Have you not heard what things have taken place?”

Jesus responds “What things?” In other words, “Tell me.”

The Resurrected Christ has met them on the road to Emmaus and he wants to hear what has happened. Clearly something is affecting them, so Jesus says “Tell me. Before you go any further, before you take another step, tell me what happened.”

And he listens.

The result: Christ enters into their home, joins them at the table and they are able to see him for who he is. Their hearts burn within, they return back to the city, back with their comrades to share their Good News.

…Each Sunday we begin service by saying “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

We are indeed all on our own journey, aren’t we? Every day we have experiences to share and memories to process.

Because every day is a journey, Emmaus is not a one time event. Emmaus always happens, again and again, day after day.

If we believe this to be true, then it means that just like the two travelers on the road, we also have an opportunity to tell Jesus what we have experienced each and every day.

Not just the good things. Not just the things that make us glad.

But the other things. The mistakes we have made. The losses we have endured. The things we feel ashamed about.

Popular culture likes to tell us that we should forget, we should brush things under the proverbial rug.

But that doesn’t really do anything. Those thoughts, those feelings are still there.

That’s not what Jesus does on the road to Emmaus. Jesus doesn’t tell them to forget what they have experienced or what they heard. Jesus encourages them to share, and in sharing, the presence of Christ becomes a reality.

With Christ we never have to act as if nothing is wrong. We can tell and retell our story. We can express our shock and dismay, our rage and confusion.

We can tell the Lord everything…and the beauty is that Jesus will listen, and Jesus will hear.

No matter if our journey is one mile, three miles or seven miles long, Christ will hear every word and walk with us along the way

Does it take the events which happened away? No. Does it turn back the hands of time? No.

But it can create space for the unexpected to happen, for healing to begin and the opportunity for us to return back to life, back to family and to friends.

In conclusion, life happens. Jerusalem happens. Pain and suffering, losses and mystery are real.

But just as real as those things are, there is also the reality that as we journey, we do not journey alone.

As we journey, we have opportunities to encounter the resurrected Christ, to tell him our stories and to share all the things that have transpired, be they good or bad.

Certain situations may make us want to detach from reality, but we never have to detach from Christ.

Amen and amen.