Why Do We Worship?

Philippians 2.1-13

Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Gather – Sermon 1

Luke 24.13-24

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hope that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

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I haven’t been here long, but I have been here long enough to hear a lot of questions about why we do what we do as Christians. Perhaps we have so many questions because so many of us having been going to church for such a long time that we know longer know, or maybe we never learned, what all of this stuff is all about. In the last three months I’ve heard some of you ponder about why the acolyte carries in the flame for worship, or why we spend time studying the bible, or what does it really mean to pray, or why in the world do we pass around an offering plate, or why do we give our time to serving others.

All of those are great questions, and they are questions we will attempt to answer together over the next month. Today we begin with “Why do we worship?”

Over the last two thousand years, disciples of Jesus Christ have been gathering to worship the living God. From the secretive upper rooms of the first century, to the ornate and opulent cathedrals of Europe, to the contemporary gymnasiums and living rooms filled with folding chairs; getting together is what we do as Christians.

I’d like each of you to take out your bulletins for a moment and scan through the service. Some will call this an Order of Worship, other will call it the liturgy. Liturgy literally means “work of the people” and it is work that we do together to worship God. You will notice that our liturgy is broken into 4 parts: Gathering – Proclaiming – Responding – Sending Forth. These four parts have connections to the ancient worship practices of the Israelites, but they can be specifically connected to the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Throughout our service today we will have four sermons for the four parts of our worship as they connect with what happened in the Emmaus experience; Jesus gathered the two men on the road, later he proclaimed the scriptures and interpreted them, then they responded by having a meal of bread and wine, and after the disciples eyes were opened to Jesus’ presence they were sent to proclaim what they seen and heard.

The beginning of our worship takes place through the act of Gathering. But when does it actually start? Does worship begin when the choir processes into the sanctuary? Does it start when I begin to speak? Actually, worship begins before we even walk into the building. God is actively involved in gathering us together from the moment we wake up. God is with us in the thoughts we have while driving to the church, God is with us in the parking lot when we wave and signal our greetings to our fellow church people, and God is with us through the conversations we have in the narthex and while we’re sitting in the pews.

God continues to gather our focus together as the choir enters the sanctuary singing the prelude all while following the light of Christ carried by an acolyte. The light is a reminder for us of the light of Christ that shines in the darkness, a light that came into the world in order to transform the world, a light that strengthens us in our worship and in our discipleship.

The work of gathering continues through the announcements, silent reflection, and our call to worship. All of these little movements have a purpose, and they allow us to practice our faith. Worship is practice. We do it over and over to tone our spiritual muscles in order to do the work of the Lord.

After the liturgist leads us through the call to worship, we begin singing our first hymn. Picking the hymns for worship is easily one of my favorite parts of being a pastor. Spending time every week deep in the hymnal humming tunes and praying about which songs will best fit with what we will do is such a privilege. This morning our first hymn will be “Come Christians, Join to Sing.” The lyrics and tune are designed to uniquely gather us together in heart, mind, soul, and body.

When the first hymn ends and all of you return to your pews, I then invite us to join in prayer together. The prayers we offer are a sign of our devotion to the people in the pews next to us, as well as a commitment to the world around us. But above all, our prayers are another means by which God gathers us for the work of the church.

This is how God gathers us every week, just like God (in Christ) gathered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and changed their lives forever. So, let’s get gathered…

 

Proclaim – Sermon 2

Luke 24.25-27

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

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After the disciples and Jesus were gathered on the road, after Jesus listened to them ramble on about everything they had seen in Jerusalem, he proclaimed the stories of scripture and interpreted them through his gracious work. However, they were still unable to recognize who he really was.

The second part of our liturgy is dedicated to Proclamation, speaking words about God’s Word. We do this because Jesus first did it on the road to Emmaus, but we also do it because God’s Word is alive and still speaks into our daily experiences.

We proclaim God’s Word together every week through The Children’s Moment, listening to the choir, offering a prayer for the reading of the Word, we hear scripture read to us, we sing a hymn, and then we listen to a sermon.

Our scriptures, more often than not, are picked according to a list called the Revised Common Lectionary, which compiles a great assortment of readings over a three-year cycle designed to bring congregations through the great narrative of scripture. We boldly proclaim these words from the bible with prayers and hopes that somehow or another God can and will speak through them to us about what following Jesus is all about.

The middle hymn in our liturgy is usually picked in reference to the specific text or a theme from the text. For instance: today we will sing, “Open My Eyes, That I May See” because Jesus opened the eyes of the two disciples from the Emmaus story when they broke bread together. And we’re also calling on God to open our eyes to see how the text is speaking into our lives right now.

The sermon, unlike everything else in the liturgy, is a little harder to explain. Every sermon, like every preacher, is different. Some are funny and light-hearted, others are sad and pensive. The point of preaching is to make God’s Word incarnate (again) through the ways we respond to it and live it.

This is how God proclaims God’s Word every week, just like God (in Christ) proclaimed the scriptures and interpreted them for the disciples on the road to Emmaus. So let’s hear what God has to say today…

 

Sermon

A one-sentence sermon: Whenever we gather in this place to do what we do, we join those first disciples on the road and we experience God working in us, enabling us both to will and to work for God’s good pleasure.

 

Respond – Sermon 3

Luke 24.28-32

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the days is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, which he was opening the scriptures to us?”

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Jesus was going to keep on walking, but the disciples invited him to stay with them. While at the table he took bread and the cup, gave thanks to God, and gave it to them. Only then did they realize who had been with them the whole time. It was only in responding to the words they heard on the road in the breaking of bread and sharing of the cup, that Christ became real for them.

The third part of our liturgy is all about responding to the proclaimed Word of God. On most Sundays we do this by affirming our faith with the Apostles’ Creed and then with the giving of our tithes and offerings. We make public confessions about whom we are and how we understand the world and we give freely from ourselves because God has given so much to us. However, the best and most faithful response to God’s Word happens when we gather at the table like those two disciples did with Jesus.

We could break down all the parts of our communion liturgy, but they really deserve their own sermon series. What we can say right now is that this holy meal is what being a Christian is all about. We are invited by God no matter who we are and no matter what we’ve done, we confess how we have failed to love God and neighbor, we are forgiven, we share signs of Christ’s peace, and then we feast.

This is how we respond to God’s glory in the church and in the world by feasting at the table just like Jesus did with the two disciples whose eyes were truly opened. So, let’s see how God’s enables us to responding to God’s Word…

 

Sending – Sermon 4

Luke 24.33-35

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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I’ve always wondered what it must’ve been like to be one of those two disciples sitting at the table when Jesus was revealed. But then I remember that I do know what it was like; for every time we gather around the table, with every brilliant smile and grateful affirmation, I realize that I’m catching glimpses of Jesus.

The disciples were so moved by their experience of being gathered on the road, of hearing Jesus proclaim the truth, and responding to the truth at the table, that they ran back to Jerusalem to share all they had seen and heard. When we are confronted by God’s incredible power and glory, we can’t help ourselves from sharing what it felt like with other in our lives.

The fourth and final part of our liturgy is all about being sent forth into the world. While the notes of the final hymn are still resonating in our souls, while we are contemplating all that we have seen and heard in this place, God send us out into the world to be Christ’s hands and feet for the world.

I stand before you, the congregation, and offer a benediction tying the totality of worship together and then we all follow the acolyte and the light of Christ out of the sanctuary in order to shine God’s light in the world.

This is how we are sent forth from God’s house, just like the disciples ran to tell their friend what happened. So, let us prepare to be sent forth into the world by the living God…

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What Things?

Luke 24.13-19

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?”

 

We only know what we know. Though, perhaps a better way to put it is this: we only know what we have been told.

On my first Sunday as the pastor here I stood up in the pulpit and I said that we are the stories we tell. The narratives we tell ourselves and our friends and our families reorient our lives in a way that we often can’t see unless in retrospect. This can be a good thing when our lives are determined by the great narrative of God with God’s people, but it can also become problematic when the only story we tell is our own.

As children we learn by stories. We teach our young about George Washington chopping down his cherry tree as a way to teach the virtue of telling the truth. We tell stories about Jesus teaching his disciples to treat one another the way they wish to be treated in order to instill a sense of the so-called “golden rule.” And perhaps the story we tell the most, the lesson we hope to share on a habitual basis, is this: don’t judge a book by it’s cover.

The “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” story is made manifest in a number of ways from literally not judging a written book by it’s cover page to not judging people because of their clothing. We tell that story over and over again to our children.

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And here’s the great irony: we judge books by their covers all the time.

We are told to love the street beggar, but we only see them for their shabby clothing, putrid smell, and most of the time we just walk straight past them.

We are told to love the wealthy, but we only see them for their perfectly pressed shirts, their obscene jewelry, and we assume they have no sense of how the world actually works.

We are told to love people from the South, but we limit our understanding of them to Confederate Flags, Country music, and repressed racism.

We are told to love people from the North, but we only see them for their entitlement, their inability to empathize, and we label them Yankees.

We are told to love the Democrat, but we only see them for their bleeding hearts, tax heavy foolishness, and their thirst for total power.

We are told to love the Republican, but we only see them for their love of guns, dismantling of Government programs, and white superiority.

We are told to love the Muslim, but we only see them for their headscarves, for their Sharia Law that the news channels are forever warning us about, and we blame them for all the problems in the Middle East.

We are told to love the Jew, but we see them as consumed by the pursuit of wealth, always digging up issues from the past, and we assume they are up to more than they let on.

We are told to love the Atheist, but we only see them for their over-reliance on science, their negative attitudes toward religion, and we assume they are going to hell.

We might not fall into all of those generalizations, but each and every one of us are sinners who are guilty of judging books based on their covers. Or, to put it another way, we only know the stories we are told.

            It’s like something keeps us from recognizing Jesus in one another.

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We barely know anything about the disciples who made their way to Emmaus on the first Easter. One of them has a name, Cleopas, but other than that all we know is that they are walking and talking when Jesus shows up. Regardless of their past decisions, or even their faithfulness to the newly risen Christ, their proximity to the Lord on the road has cemented them in the identity and narrative of Christianity forever.

While they were walking and talking, Jesus came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you all talking about?” They stood still looking sad.

            What a telling sentence; from the mere question of a stranger they were stopped dead in their tracks as the reality of what had taken place set in all over again. And then Cleopas realized something strange: how could this man, so close to the city, not know what we have been talking about? Everyone’s been talking about it. And so he asks Jesus, “Are you the only person in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place in these days?” And Jesus replied, “What things?”

            What a remarkably important question. What had taken place in Jerusalem? What had they seen? What had they heard? What’s the story?

How would we answer the question? Imagine, if you can, walking downtown one afternoon, and a stranger walked up and asked us to tell them about Jesus. What would we say?

Would we tell the truth of Jesus’ horrific death on the cross? Would we add our own editorial reflections in order to cast doubt on what we really think? Do we so believe the story that we could tell it?

How we answer Jesus’ question constitutes the very fabric of our lives.

I announced last week that I’ll be leaving St. John’s at the end of June for a new appointment, and in the wake of that announcement I realized I could probably be a little more probing, and perhaps even controversial, from the pulpit since I’m on the way out. Rather than surface level faith stuff, we, and by we I mean me, we can talk about things we would otherwise ignore.

Since I arrived in Staunton four years ago there has been a debate about our local high school. It started long before I got here, and it will be here far after I leave. And it doesn’t have to do with student-teacher dynamics, or accreditation, or any number of other important educational precepts. The controversy is all about the name: Robert E. Lee High School.

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Some, of course, want the name to change: They say it’s a relic of the past, it encourages prejudice among the student body, it’s offensive, it’s archaic, it’s racist, etc.

Some, of course, want the name to stay the same: They say it has a profound history with the community that can’t just be washed away, Lee represents a class of gentlemen almost forgotten to the sands of time, we should be proud of the name. It’s important, it’s patriotic, it’s powerful, etc.

And this fight goes on and on and on.

And here’s the thing: the name of the school is offensive and it does hurt people, just like the Confederate flag does. They see the name and it brings forth all sorts of animosity and resentment and fear and pain. Yet, at the very same time, the name is just a name and changing the name of the high school will change very little. It’s as if we believe that by removing the name we will remove all the prejudice and racism and judgment from an entire community.

It doesn’t work like that.

The name Robert E. Lee will forever evoke positive and negative responses from this community; some will support it and some will oppose it. But the problem is far bigger than a name.

And what do we even really know about Robert E. Lee other than the fact that he was a general for the confederacy during the Civil War? We go on and on about what he represents both positively and negatively, but do we really know who he was? Or are we prevented from seeing the Jesus in him too?

A long time ago, in fact, within a year of the Confederate surrender at Appomattox concluding the Civil War, there was a fashionable church in Richmond, VA filled with white folk on a Communion Sunday. Battered and worn, the South was in quite a state after the war, but these people knew well enough that they should be in church. And on that Sunday, an unwanted black man walked into the church right in the middle of the worship service and made his way down the center aisle with all eyes following him and the preacher stupefied in the pulpit. The black man walked down the aisle under the weight of the prejudice and judgment of the church and he knelt down at the Altar and opened up his hands.

Can you imagine the whispered comments between the pews? Can you hear the hushed hateful words in the house of the Lord?

The congregation sat there completely shocked by what they had witnessed and the buzz of anticipation began to ring.

Sensing the room’s pulse, a distinguished member of the church stood up and walked toward the altar. Some leaned toward friends and spouses with whispers of gratitude for the church member handling the situation, and others sighed with relief knowing that he would take care of the awful interruption. But, when the church member arrived at the Altar, he knelt down beside his black brother, wrapped his arms around him, and began to pray. Within second, the entire congregation stood up, as if transfixed by the Spirit, walked to the front and followed his example.

That church member was Robert E. Lee.

Is that story enough to justify keeping the name of our high school? Or does the history of the South, and the continued prejudice toward people of color necessitate a change of name regardless of what Lee did in that church building? I don’t know.

But what I do know is that unless we are willing to open our eyes to the Jesus in one another, unless we are willing to kneel at the Altar with people different from us, unless we are willing to answer Jesus’ question, nothing will ever change.

We make so many assumptions of people without ever doing the good and difficult work of learning who they really are. We see a bumper sticker, or we hear an accent, or we observe a skin tone, or we read a Facebook post, and we let that dictate who they are to us. When truthfully, what we make of those limited observations says far more about us, than about the ones we see.

“Are you the only one in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place these days?” “What things?”

They talked on the road on their way to Emmaus, they told the mysterious man what they had seen and what they had heard, and the more they walked the more Jesus interpreted for them the scriptures. And when night came, Jesus continued to walk but the two men invited him to stay in the city. So they gathered around a table and Jesus took a loaf of bread, broke it, offered it to his friends and their eyes were opened.

Jesus opened their eyes to the truth of the one they were with. Through the simple and ordinary event of breaking bread the profound and extraordinary reality of the resurrection was made manifest before them.

On the roads of life our eyes are often prevented from recognizing the Jesus within the other. Instead we make the continued assumptions and judgments and ignore them. But when we encounter the other, and take time to sit around a common table, when we let the story of Christ reshapes our lives, when we kneel at the altar beside those who are different from us, Jesus opens our eyes. Amen.

Why We Do What We Do: Worship – Sermon on Luke 24.13-35

Four homilies on why we worship the way we do…

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Gather

Luke 24.13-24

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”

 

The receiving line following worship is vastly underrated. A lot of people make their way out of the sanctuary as quickly as possible, whereas others will wait in line just to ask that one question that popped up during the service. It never ceases to amaze me that some of the most profoundly theological and spiritual moments that take place at St. John’s happen in that line after worship on Sunday mornings. This month’s sermon series “Why We Do What We Do” has its roots in those conversations. Week after week I will hear some of you wonder about the purpose of an acolyte carrying in the flame for worship, or you ask about the value and importance of having a time for offering and collection, or you question why we talk so much about bible study, or you remark about how difficult it is to pray.

For any of you that have left worship with a question on your heart and mind, this sermon series is for you. This morning we begin with “Why We Worship.

Over the last two thousand years, disciples of Jesus Christ have been gathering on a regular basis to praise God. From the crowded upper rooms of the first century, to the ornate and opulent cathedrals of Europe, to the modern gymnasiums and living rooms filled with folding chairs, getting together is what we do as Christians.

I would now like to ask each of you to pull out your bulletin. You will notice that our worship is divided into four parts every week: GatheringProclaimingResponding – and Sending Forth. These four parts have connections with the ancient worship practices of the Israelites, but it can be specifically drawn to the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus gathers the two men on the road, later he proclaims the scriptures and interprets them, then they respond by having a meal of bread and wine, and after the disciples eyes are opened to Jesus’ presence they are sent to proclaim what they had seen and heard to the disciples. These four parts have their beginnings in scripture, and we relive them each and every week.

When does worship begin? Some would claim that it starts whenever someone stands behind the lectern and starts to speak, but worship actually begins long before the moment we are all sitting in the sanctuary. God is actively involved in gathering us together from the moment we walk out our front door, to the thoughts we have while driving, to the quick and joyful conversations in the parking lot, to the greeting in the narthex and the ushers handing out the bulletins. All of these moments are part of God gathering us, and they all have an effect on the way we worship.

Once we arrive and are present in the sanctuary, God continues to gather us together in our announcements about upcoming activities in the church. It is a time of relating to one another and sharing opportunities about how we can grow in love of God and neighbor. Immediately following the announcements, we have what might be the most important piece of the gathering: preparing our hearts and minds for worship.

Rick will play on the organ for a brief period that we use to help center ourselves for the practice of worship. Worship is practice. We do it over and over to strengthen our spirits for the work of ministry in the world. Then the choir will rise to sing a call to worship, in effect calling us to worship the living God. We have a responsive reading as we center ourselves on the theme for the day, and we start singing our first hymn.

Picking hymns is easily one of my favorite parts of being a pastor. Spending time every week deep in the hymnal humming tunes and praying about which songs best fit with what we will do. And as we sing that first hymn, the acolyte and I will walk into the sanctuary signifying how the light of Christ is here with us in worship, how the light guides us and gathers us together.

By the time I actually make it to the pulpit, God is still gathering us together as we humbly bow and begin to pray as a community. The prayers we offer are a sign of our respect for the people in the pews next to us, as well as a commitment to the world around us. Finally, we gather our gifts of tithes and offerings to present to God (but we will talk more about why we give next week).

This is how God gathers us every week, just like God (in Christ) gathered the two disciples on the road to Emmaus to change their lives forever. So let’s continue letting God gather us for worship…

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Proclaim

Luke 24.25-27

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

 

After the disciples and Jesus were gathered on the road, after Jesus listened to them ramble on about the things they had seen and heard in Jerusalem, he proclaims the stories of scripture and reinterprets them through his gracious work. But notice, they still do not know who they are talking and walking with on the way.

I will be the first to admit that God’s holy scriptures can be confusing. There’s nothing like a seemingly random assortment of names through a genealogical proclamation that can leave us scratching out heads. But the more we read, the more we interpret how God is still speaking to us through the scriptures, the more it begins to start fitting together.

The second part of our worship is dedicated to proclamation, speaking words about God’s Word. We do this every week by reading from the bible, singing a hymn, and then listening to a sermon. The scriptures are picked according to a list called the Revised Common Lectionary, which compiles a great assortment of readings through a three-year cycle that goes through most of the bible. However, occasionally the scriptures are picked to fit a specific theme (like us using Luke 24.13-35 to talk about worship during this sermon series). We boldly proclaim the words of scripture and pray that somehow or another God can speak through a preacher to interpret these words for our lives today.

The middle hymn of worship is usually picked in reference to the specific text and our connection with it. Today we will sing “Open My Eyes, That I May See” because Jesus’ opened the eyes of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus through the breaking of bread and the sharing of the cup, but we also call on God to open our eyes to how the text continues to speak into our lives right now.

The sermon is a little bit harder to explain, because every preacher (and therefore every sermon) is different. Some can be funny and light-hearted; others are specifically focused on the Good News, whereas others can be more convicting about how we are living as disciples. The point of preaching is to challenge us to make God’s Word incarnate by the way we live our lives; which is precisely why preaching can be so hard to hear, and so hard to do.

This is how we proclaim God’s Word every week, just like Jesus proclaimed the scriptures and interpreted them for the disciples. So let’s proclaim God’s Word in worship…

 

Sermon:

 

A one sentence sermon: Whenever we gather in this place to do what we do, we join those first disciples and our eyes are opened to Jesus in our midst. Amen.

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Respond

Luke 24.28-32

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”

 

Jesus made it look like he was going to keep walking, but the disciples invited him to stay with them. While they sat at the table together, he took the bread and the cup, gave thanks to God, and gave it to them. Only then did they realize who had been with them the whole time. It was only in responding to the words they heard on the road, in the bread and wine on the table, that Christ became real for them.

The third part of our worship is focused on responding to the proclaimed Word of God. On most Sundays we do this by reaffirming our faith using the Apostles’ Creed, we make a public confession of who we are and what we believe. Other weeks we do something unique and special like last week when we broke off into pairs and prayed for each other. But the best and most faithful response to God’s Word happens when we gather at the table like those two disciples did with Jesus.

Breaking down the multiple elements of responding with Communion demands its own sermon series, but suffice it to say that this holy meal is what being a Christian is all about. We are invited by God no matter who we are and what we’ve done, we confess how we have fallen short of God’s expectations and are forgiven, we share signs of God’s love and peace, and then we feast.

This is how we respond to God’s glory in the church and in the world by feasting at the table, just like Jesus did with those two disciples whose eyes were truly opened. So, let us respond to God’s Word in worship…

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Send

Luke 24.33-35

That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

I’ve always wondered what it must have felt like to be one of those disciples discovering the truth about their encounter from the road. But then I remember that I have had similar experiences: when I see someone come up in line to receive communion with a brilliant smile on their face, I realize that I am catching a glimpse of Jesus. When I witness one of our preschoolers reach out in concern toward one of their classmates, I realize that I am catching a glimpse of Jesus. When I see you greeting one another in love before, during and after worship, I realize that I am catching glimpses of Jesus.

After their incredible and momentous discovery, the disciples ran back to Jerusalem to share all they seen and heard. When we are confronted by God’s incredible power and glory, the only thing we can do is share what it felt like with others in our lives.

The final part of our worship is all about being sent forth into the world. While the notes of the final hymns are still resonating deep in our souls, as we continue to contemplate all we have seen and heard in this place, God sends us out into the world to share what we have experienced. I stand before the congregation and offer a benediction of blessing to go with us as we leave, and then the acolyte carries the light of Christ before us, encouraging us to take Christ’s light out into the world. Lastly, the choir sends us off with one final song, blessing us to be a blessing to others.

This is how we are sent forth from God’s house, just like the disciples ran to tell their friends what had happened. So, let us prepare to be sent forth to be God’s people for the world…

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Lost and Found – Easter Sermon on Luke 24.13-35

Luke 24.13-35

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes kept them from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” Then he said to the, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and return to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

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I have been a Christian for as long as I can remember.

I was baptized at 19 days old and church has been there for me my entire life. As a child I loved hearing the incredible stories from scripture: Jesus walking on water, David defeating Goliath, Moses moving through the Red Sea. Church was an exciting place that was unlike anything else I did. In worship I learned how to listen, I learned what it meant to sing my faith, and I found tremendous joy in receiving communion.

Of course, as I grew older, the perfect glow of church began to fade away. We would learn about the importance of love and forgiveness during church, and then I would see a man screaming at his wife in the parking lot after worship. We learned about God’s kingdom as a rich and diverse new reality, but I only saw privileged white people in church. We heard about how important it was to keep the faith, but I started to have doubts about what scripture revealed.

Like most Christians, I have had my doubts. I have been kept awake late at night wondering about the divine, praying for God’s presence to be made known in my life and in the lives of others, and hoping for something to cleanse my unease.

Yet, it is almost always in the midst of a question, at the precise moment that I feel most lost, that God shows up and finds me.

The two disciples on the road were filled with doubt. We don’t know anything about the two who were walking to Emmaus; they weren’t famous, and they weren’t part of the 12 – they were just common, ordinary disciples like you and me.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have felt like to be walking on that road on that day so long ago. They had followed Jesus throughout Galilee and heard him proclaim the Good News, they had seen him heal the sick and feed the hungry, but just days previous they saw him betrayed, arrested, and murdered.

They might have known where they we walking, but I bet they felt lost. They had put all their hope and faith in a man who was buried in a tomb and now his body was missing. They thought the world was going to change, but the dirt under their feet felt even worse than before.

Suddenly, Jesus found them on the road and he went with them. Yet, they did not recognize the Lord in their midst. “What are you two talking about?” he asked. To which one of them replied, “Have you been living under a rock? How could you not have heard about the things that have taken place in Jerusalem?”

Jesus asked, “What things?

Immediately they began to explain all that they had seen and heard. “Jesus of Nazareth, a mighty prophet, was betrayed and sent to his death. We had hoped that he was the one who would save us. And now three days have passed and some of the women from our group went to his tomb and they say his body was missing and angels appeared, but no one has seen him.”

Jesus then began interpreting the scriptures to the men on the road, from Moses through the prophets, he showed how what had come to pass was part of God’s great cosmic plan. And yet, they still did not recognize him.

Later, as they came near Emmaus, Jesus kept walking on but the men invited him to stay. When they sat down at a table to eat, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to them. With the bread in their hands their eyes were opened and they finally understood who had been with them the whole time and he vanished.

All of the sudden everything started to make sense, the encounter on the road, the strange question, the interpretation of scripture, and even the holy meal. “Were not our hearts burning within us while we were together with the Lord?” Immediately they went back to Jerusalem to declare the good news: “The Lord has risen indeed!

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On Friday at noon I took the cross from our sanctuary, placed it on my shoulders and started walking around Staunton. When I did the same thing last year and I was largely ignored. For hours I walked through our community and most people averted their gaze, they tried to pretend that there was no cross for them to see.

This year, the opposite happened. People would honk their horns as they passed, they would roll their windows down and give me a thumbs-up. I saw familiar faces throughout my journey and felt glad for the sense of community that I experienced.

I carried the cross around because I want to bring the Lord to people outside of church. If we continue to falsely assume that we can only experience God’s grace in a place such as this, it will never grow and give life to other people.

Anyway, I was bearing my cross through Staunton and I was walking along the sidewalk on Beverly Street when I was stopped. In front of me stood an older woman with a large shawl draped around her shoulders and she kept staring at the cross. For a period of time that felt uncomfortably long we just stared at one another without saying anything until I saw her lip quiver and she asked a question that I was not expecting: “What will happen to me when I die?

I stood there with the cross digging into my shoulder and I felt the spirit of God fall upon us in that holy moment. Instead of giving some densely theological answer, and instead of evading the depth of her question I told her what I believed: “When we die God will take care of us. I don’t know what it will feel like or what we’ll experience, but the God that has been revealed to me will take care of us.

What kind of faith do you have?” she asked.

I explained that I am a pastor in the United Methodist Church, but above all I am a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Tell me about him,” she said.

So I did. I started with Christmas and the story of God coming in the form of flesh as a baby to be in the world with us. Jesus grew and called people to know that they were loved regardless of their life circumstances. This Messiah went out and found the people who were ignored by the rest of the world and he gave them value. He preached, healed, and he loved. And then Jesus was betrayed, arrested and killed on a cross for everyone to see, and three days later he was raised from the dead. The beauty of what Jesus did is that he died so that we might live. Jesus died for you, and for me, so that we might live.

Tears began to well up in her eyes, she reached forward to hug me, thank me, and before I knew it she was gone.

I can’t tell you anything about her other than our brief interaction, but to me it felt like she was lost and then Jesus found her in the cross and in the story. Whatever she had going on in her life suddenly fell away and she felt valued and loved by the one who came to live and die for us.

Jesus came to the disciples on the road, and not the other way around. They were lost in their thoughts and doubts and were incapable of recognizing Jesus in their midst. Only through the scriptures, and through the bread and wine did Jesus reveal himself to them, he demonstrated what his life had been all about: his resurrection means our resurrection.

Those of us here in church on Easter Sunday are in the same position as those two disciples on the road. Jesus has come to us here in this place through the reading of scripture, and in a few moments we will encounter the risen Christ through the bread and cup at the table.

I don’t know what you’ve got going on in your life. Most of us are pretty good about shielding away and hiding our doubts and insufficiencies. We turn on the smiles when we need to, and we know what we have to do to keep afloat. I don’t know what you might be wrestling with right now, or even if you’re wrestling with anything at all. But I do know this: If you took the time to come to a church on Easter, you believe in something more than yourself, even if its very faint.

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My faith is not perfect, and there are days that I struggle. I’ll be driving in my car on the way home from the hospital after praying with a family before a desperate surgery, or I’ll be standing above a casket with dirt still clinging to my fingers after saying goodbye to a faithful friend, or I’ll be reading the news online and be bombarded with never-ending negativity. There are many days that feel as if I’m walking to Emmaus all on my own with questions in my head just like those two disciples so long ago. But that’s when Jesus shows up.

Jesus isn’t looking for people with perfect faith and blind trust. God does not want puppets that he can string along. If Jesus is looking for anyone, it’s the people who are walking toward their own Emmaus. He’s looking for people like you and me who have questions.

Faith is an exciting thing not because it provides all the answers to our questions, but because it encourages us to ask questions in the first place. 

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is not something that can be explained from a pulpit or from a book, it defies all logic and rationality, it exceeds our expectations, and often leaves us scratching our heads. But that’s the point. It is beyond anything we could ever imagine. Only the Lord who gives us life could have come up with something so incredible to change the world.

The resurrection is real, Christ appeared to the two on the road and revealed himself through the wonders of God’s word and holy table. God died in Christ on a cross and defeated death so that we might live with him in the kingdom; Christ died so that we might live.

The Lord is risen. God is on the move in the world seeking out those who are lost. God loves showing up in the words of scripture, in the bread and wine of communion, in chance encounters on the road, and in a variety of places to help find those of us who are lost.

Do we feel our hearts burning within us while we praise the living God? Do we feel the blessed holiness that comes with receiving this meal broken and shed for us? Are we ready to be found by the living God while we make our way to Emmaus?

The good news of Easter is that Christ’s resurrection has made our resurrection possible. But until that day when we feast with him at his heavenly banquet, I think the good news can be found when we feel lost on the old roads of life and Jesus finds us. Amen.