Recent events have you fleeing town. As you head down the highway you see a guy walking down the road. Normally, you are cautious, but some compelling force makes you stop and offer him a ride. You have been overwhelmed by recent events, it has left you so rattled you are forgetting everything imaginable, from the big to the little. You are so overcome with grief and fear that you do not realize the person you just picked up is Jesus. Can you imagine being that overwhelmed?
Yet Jesus seems to be clueless about recent events. So you ask him, "Are you the only stranger in town who doesn't know the things that have happened around here?"
Economic downturns, church membership decline, the irrelevance of institutional religion, people who've never had political or economic power being in control and threatening to upset the comfortable way we live, tornados, death and destruction.
Are you anxious yet?
In the midst of life’s most difficult moments, would we recognize Jesus if he showed up?
Just for a moment death has won out. We have been told that the tomb is empty. A few women have even claimed to have seen Jesus, but we cannot find him. We see LOTS of things, but redemption-- resurrection-- those aren't among them!
Remaining unknown Jesus talks us through the prophesies of our tradition and points to hope and resurrection. In the face of death, he shares resurrection. A message of grace delivered in the midst of the death, destruction, and chaos that have blinded us.
Due to the curfew, it is time to stop for the night. Another product of fear and anxiety. This traveling stranger says he is going to go on ahead in spite of curfews and fear. We insist that this hope-filled stranger stay with us. Mamas question poor hospitality if we were to let him travel on alone in these times. You cannot let a guest wander off into the dark alone in days like these.
And Jesus, understanding the fear and the invitation, agrees to stay. A meal is prepared and we gather around the table. Suddenly it happens. The blinders drop away as the words of this traveling story-teller pour out. His words are known, they trigger a "déjà vu" feeling that brings you back to that Passover in Jerusalem just days ago. That night that Jesus forever changed Passover as he washed your feet, prayed in new ways, and taught new rituals.
"Do this in remembrance of me.... This is my body broken for you... This cup, the new covenant, poured out for you..... All of you drink of it."
Just as you recognize him, seek to run into his arms, poof he is gone again. Yet gone also is the fear, the anxiety, the need to share this hope, this new thing. So you run out of the room in the midst of the darkness, running back to Jerusalem. Returning because you must share the news,
"We have seen the Lord!"
The stories are known by most of us. And while they are eternally important, they are not the impetus for transformation. We can know all the stories, but they don’t necessarily change us. They are not the linchpin on which our faith hinges. Stories alone cannot change us from fear to trust, from anxiety to peace.
The journey is part of it, yet we can travel forever and get nowhere when it comes to faith. We can do all the right things, read the right books, say the right prayers, go to the right conferences, shoot we could even go to Cursillo. The journey alone cannot change us from fear to trust, from anxiety to peace.
Who we travel with may be important. We become like those we walk with and yet, even those we travel with are not the key factor. But even those we walk with cannot change us from fear to trust, from anxiety to peace.
Where we travel might play apart as well, yet even that is not the main thing. The direction we travel can change many things, but it cannot change fear to trust or anxiety to peace.
The one thing that does change everything is that invitation to Jesus. We can know the stories, be on a journey, we can know the most holy of people, we can travel far, yet none of that changes everything.
Everything is changed when we let that traveling, hope filled stranger into the mess that is our life. It is only then we begin to let go of fear and anxiety. It is the presence of Jesus in our lives that allows us to leave that room, run through the darkness, to share the news,
“We have seen the Lord!”
I wonder though if in the midst of life’s most difficult moments, do we recognize Jesus when he shows up? And when we recognize him, do we invite him to travel with us or do we just wave and pass on by? If we journey with him, do we leave him when we are safe and warm inside? When we can no longer see him, do we just keep on, pretending he doesn’t exist? And if we acknowledge that he exists, do we run to tell others about the story telling hope filled stranger who dances in and out of our lives to those we see along the road?
Will you tell?
Heavenly Stranger, our Companion on the Way,
we yearn for your love and grace. We seek your wisdom and guidance.
We relish the joy which burns within our hearts when you are with us.
Yet, sometimes we would cling to you,
hoard the blessings of relationship with you,
and not share your love with others.
Forgive us, Dear One.
Remind us that your love is to be carried throughout the world.
Press us to share the hope and joy of your love,
so that someone who hungers for spiritual food
may be filled by our witness to your grace.
Shine the light of your Spirit through us,
so that we may show your Way those who long for peace
and help to revive those in whom hope has died. Amen.
Prayer Copyright 2011 Local Church Ministries, Congregational Vitality and Discipleship Ministry Team, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100. Permission granted to reproduce or adapt this material for use in services of worship or church education. All publishing rights reserved.
(Thanks to Todd who provided the inspiration for this sermon.)