Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


Luke 24: 13-35 Burning Hearts

Rough thoughts:
One of them was named Cleopas, but we really don't know who these two are who are walking on the road to Emmaus, away from the rest of the disciples who are back in Jerusalem. We don't know why they have left Jerusalem and are headed toward Emmaus. They clearly are not part of the eleven because the eleven are still in Jerusalem (Luke 24: 33). They must be two of the rest mentioned in Luke 24: 9 which refers to "the eleven and the rest." So they must be two followers of Jesus who were not part of the inner circle. That the resurrected Jesus would choose to appear to two of the "rest" --and not just the eleven-- is somehow hopeful for the church, I think. Here is what seems --at first reading-- to happen:
  • Before they meet the risen Jesus, Cleopas and friend are clearly confused. They don't know what to think about Jesus' death and the tales of resurrection they have been hearing. Confusion and a lack of clarity and understanding seems to be the usual condition of Jesus' followers after the resurrection (and before). They "had hoped that he [would be] the one to redeem Israel." Their hopes were, of course, too small and narrow, as is the common condition of the church. We persistently do not quite get it. This inability to grasp the scope, depth and profoundity of what God is trying to do is the church's normal state.
  • When the resurrected Jesus joins them on the road, they do not recognize him, just as the church usually doesn't recognize Jesus in our midst. Our eyes are closed to the presence of Jesus, maybe because we have such preconceived notions about what Jesus ought to look like, and he so rarely looks like what we expect.
  • The followers' saving grace was that they were at least willing to listen to a stranger and to extend hospitality to the stranger. This is the church's only hope of meeting Jesus -- that we will at least be hospitable to strangers, to invite strangers to stay with us and to be willing to listen to them.
  • If we are going to have any shot at recognizing Jesus it will be when we are gathered around the table showing hospitality to the stranger -- practicing the open table, in a sense that has something to do with the celebration of Communion but really much, much more. Then, just as soon as we recognize Jesus and think we have a handle on his identity, he disappears. The resurrected Jesus is always greater than our ability to see or contain him. The vision is larger than we can grasp beyond the next step or two.
  • In retrospect, the followers realize that Jesus, the stranger, had given them a new understanding of the biblical story and their faith heritage. The resurrected Jesus always does this, if we will receive him and listen to him. He opens the understanding of his followers so that they can understand Scripture and history in a new, enlarged and re-envisioned way. God is doing something greater than we had imagined -- always.
  • While our old understanding of the biblical story often becomes dull and trite because of our thoughtless repetition of it and our limited understanding of its full and profound meaning, when the resurrected Jesus opens our minds to a new and more profound understanding of what God is doing, it becomes compelling and exciting. "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road?" Sometimes we come to church looking for reassurance that old truths are still dependable. The resurrected Jesus is trying to share with us a new and compelling vision ... one that is exciting, but not necessarily so comforting. It may give us heartburn. (Tacky, inappropriate pun, this.)

Is there a sermon anywhere here?