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Recent Sermons

On the Road to Emmaus

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
April 30, 2017

Each of the four gospels has different, and sometimes contradictory, resurrection stories to share. The story of two disciples’ encounter with Jesus on the road to Emmaus is found only in Luke’s gospel. Now considered perhaps the last of the gospels written, the story is perfect symbolism for the life of the early church.

Here we learn that two disciples have left Jerusalem for a seven         mile journey to a small village called Emmaus, a place that no longer exists on any map. Scholars have suggested many possible locations but ultimately the important detail is that the journey would take seven miles. Seven miles might well be a symbol for setting off on a spiritual journey as seven was considered a number of sacred meaning in many of the cultures of the ancient world. The creation of the world was completed in six days and the seventh day was set aside as holy. In numerology (born of universal teachings from many traditions, including Hebrew and Greek), “The number 7 is the seeker, the thinker, the searcher of Truth. The 7 doesn't take anything at face value -- it is always trying to understand the underlying, hidden truths. The 7 knows that nothing is exactly as it seems and that reality is often hidden behind illusions.”
The disciples are discussing the life and teachings of Jesus. Already open to learning from him, they are studying even as the early church spent time studying about Jesus and as we do today.

They begin to listen to this stranger who meets them on the way. The author of Luke’s gospel always emphasizes the importance of following Jesus as a way of life, not just a belief system. The early church called itself “the Way.” The term “Christian” was originally a derogatory term coined in the second century in Antioch. Early followers of Jesus eventually claimed the term as their own just to be onery!

This stranger teaches them a new understanding of how to read the Hebrew scriptures, seeing much of what was written over 500 years before as predicting Jesus’ life and death at the hands of empire. He teaches them as church teachers have taught down through the centuries.
They invite him to share a meal with them. They make a decision to invite him into their personal space. It is at this meal that they recognize him. Just as we remind one another when we share Communion that we hope to recognize the Spirit of the Christ in one another in the breaking of the bread.

And then he disappears! And they realize that their hearts had been burning within in them while he spoke to them. They knew they had been with Jesus. They trusted that his Spirit truly was alive. They experienced a visitation of the Christ in their midst. They returned to Jerusalem to share with the other disciples what they had experienced “how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread!”
For the early church this was a perfect model for how they celebrated being church. They gathered to study Jesus’ teachings together.just as Jesus had explained the scriptures on the road to Emmaus. They shared a simple meal, one that would become Communion. They recognized the Spirit in their midst and encouraged one another to live and practice the faith Jesus taught. They lived their lives of faith on The Way!

My question for us today is, When have you encountered the living Spirit of God? How has that encounter helped you to live your life of faith on the way? Have you had a visitation of the holy in your life? When have you felt your heart burning with the electricity of meaning as the disciples did that day? Have you experienced God’s presence so strongly that your life was challenged and changed?

Mary Oliver’s poem, ‘The Summer Day’ describes another form of visitation. It describes an encounter with a grasshopper which may seem an odd thing to compare to Jesus, but nature has a profound way of speaking to us if we dare to listen:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean the one who is
eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth
instead of up and down -
who is gazing around with her
enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms
and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Have you ever experienced a visitation of the sacred in your midst? I’ve told you my story of hummingbirds ~ that they always remind me of joy, that they wake me up to the present moment in ways no other creature seems to do.

There have been moments when rainbows have seemed particularly auspicious…at a birth or a sudden death. Nature has a way of reaching out to us.

But sometimes a deep conversation, a meeting of minds and hearts, or looking into the eyes of a baby in the grocery store; or a line in a book that whispers, ‘Yes! That is exactly what I know, exactly what I needed to hear!” is such a visitation. Serendipity, coincidence, God’s anonymous presence touches us with comfort and assurance when we need it most.

I invite you to take a moment and look back over the long arc of your life’s journey. When have you experienced the holy? Was it in listening to amazing music, or singing, or playing it? Was it in your garden or at the ocean or beside a creek? Have you allowed yourself time in silence to listen for God’s voice? Do you read the bible or daily spiritual readings? Do you meditate for inspiration and guidance? Do you give God a chance to whisper in your ear, or nudge your heart to openness? Have you felt a burning in your heart that told you to be aware, you are standing on holy ground?

This morning, while we were making lunches for the homeless who attend Open Cathedral in San Francisco each Sunday, Paul Anderson shared his wonder and joy at being able to see the abundance of wild flowers that covered the landscape where he and Maura traveled last week. He said it felt almost like heaven. Perhaps it really was!

We gather each week to acknowledge the values we share, to learn from one another, to offer our gifts and talents to the work of the church. During the week we all face challenges and opportunities to choose. How will we respond to that troublesome neighbor? What integrity will we bring to our work, our relationships?

A few weeks back Mike Venturino reminded me of another powerful Mary Oliver poem called ‘The Journey”. It speaks of life’s journey and challenges:
         One day you finally knew
         What you had to do, and began,
         Though the voices around you
         kept shouting
         their bad advice---
         though the whole house
         began to tremble
         and you felt the old tug
         at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
With its stiff fingers
At the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determinded to do
the only thing you could do---
determinded to save
the only life you could save.

There is a solitary nature to the journey. But we are people on The Way. We follow an inward knowing. We learn to listen to that still small voice within. And we encourage one another to keep on keepin on.

As we listen and learn to save our own lives; we become an example and a source of strength to one another. We are not meant to journey alone. Share your inspirations. Share your challenges. Know that we are all learning to be there for one another. This is what it means to be church. We need each other and grow together. I am so grateful to be sharing the journey with you!