A few weeks ago, my daughter and I went to one of our favorite events at the Cleveland Film Festival - showing of short films: eight films of about eight to twenty minutes in a two-hour period. We love to watch the creativity condensed into those short explorations. I
I had been wanting to try something similar in a sermon, and the Emmaus text in combination for our congregation's need for a bit of a breather -- something a little different -- in a season of intensity -- seemed to create an opportune moment:
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, 16 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.’ 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.
~ Luke 24:13-27
Have any of you seen the movie The Way, in which Martin Sheen starred a few years ago? In The Way, Martin Sheen’s character decides to walk the Camino de Santiago in place of his son, who attempted the walk and was killed in a fall on his first day out.
The Camino de Santiago – the Road of St. James – is a several-hundred mile roadway, or set of alternative roads across Spain, ending at the Cathedral of St. James, named for one of the twelve disciples of Jesus. It’s an ancient path of pilgrimage, followed for hundreds of years and increasingly popular as a spiritual journey for modern-day pilgrims.
When Martin Sheen begins to walk, he knows nothing of the Camino, and no one else on the road. But as the movie unfolds, he and three other characters begin to travel together, talking, sharing life stories, and challenging each other to be community. Slowly, the terrible burden of grief his character bears is transformed into a journey of discovery – of himself, and of the son he has lost.
And isn’t that what long walks so often do for us? A walk is often a means of working things out. A conversation during a walk is an opportunity to discover others. Next Saturday, during our church retreat, we will walk – participating in the Lake Shore Ministries Prayer Walk if we are able, or walking here at church if we would find an outdoor walk difficult. I’ve done many outdoor prayer walks with our neighboring churches, and always find new friendships and learn new things about our neighborhood. And I’ve even done an indoor walk – we were the hosts one month this past winter when the cold and the ice got the best of us, and a few of us walked through our church, looking our at our city and praying from different vantage points.
Our story today begins with a walk – an interesting walk, as the two people walking appear to be heading in the wrong direction—toward Emmaus, and away from Jerusalem. Like Martin Sheen’s character in The Way, they are grief stricken – in their case, over the crucifixion of Jesus – but they are trying to get away. They aren’t trying to work things out at all.
And then this stranger shows up and, after they relate the events of Jesus’s death to them, and tell him how their hopes have been dashed and their lives upended, he begins to explain the life and meaning of the messiah to them. What irony – in trying to avoid working things out, they find themselves walking with the one person who can offer clarity and understanding.
I urge all of you – take a walk this week. Take a walk and see what happens. Walk in solitude and ponder your life. Walk with a friend and have a conversation about a new topic. Come to the retreat and join the prayer walk. We, too, are part of this ancient story; we, too, are on the road to Emmaus, so often trying to walk away from that to which we are called. Try walking toward it, whatever it is this week!
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.
~ Luke 24:28-31
I’ve got another movie for you – Babette’s Feast.
In this movie, a woman new to a town decides to take all of her lottery winnings and create a magnificent feast for her neighbors. Unknown to them, she is a French chef of some renown, and the meal she creates is, truly, a grand feast. It’s also a great gift of appreciation, in response to her having been taken in by two sisters in the village.
But the sisters are overly pious women who do not believe that they should indulge in the luxury of this meal. They decide to eat it but not comment on it. However, another guest gushes his joy in the meal, and in the course of the meal, the other guests find new lives, new loves, and new joy of their own in Babette’s gift to them.
What happens when we break bread together? I think we saw an example last week, when we gathered for a meal and conversation with the Beachland congregation. We don’t know what will happen with that situation, but regardless of the outcome, new relationships are forming.
In Babette’s Feast, the life of an entire village is restored. In communion on Sundays, our lives are restored. On the journey to Emmaus, the disciples’ eyes are actually opened to Jesus when he breaks bread with them.
And so, I have another suggestion for you this week: Break bread with someone. Go out and buy a loaf of really good bread – or perhaps you even bake your own – and share it with someone -- break it and ask: How is the goodness of God present to me in the ways in which I am nourished? In my friendships, in my marriage, in my family, in my work? How does God come become present to me when I share a meal with someone else?
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 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.
~ Luke 24:32-35
What happens when your heart burns for Jesus?
We Presbyterians don’t like to talk that way, do we? We are very uncomfortable with dramatic images like burning hearts, and we don’t like to talk about hearts aflame. We are, after all, the “frozen chosen” -- which means that we are pretty uncomfortable with the idea of being on fire for anyone or anything.
But look around and what sorts of things do you see people on fire for? For those of you who were able to see the movie Selma: wasn’t Martin Luther King on fire for racial justice? If we think about various causes – other forms of injustice, hunger, homelessness, health care – solutions emerge and take off when someone’s heart burns with a desire to see wrongs righted.
And here’s the thing about hearts on fire: they push us out into the world. They entice us to care for others. They motivate us to get moving. Look at the Emmaus disciples – they turn around and head back to Jersualem, where the action is. They stop running away and hiding out. They stop complaining about what’s been lost and they stop looking to the past and to their dashed hopes – they embrace instead an uncertain future.
They embrace the unknown.
We forget that, I think. We know how the story works out – Jesus’s followers spread all over their world, and eventually all over the whole world, sharing the good news of the resurrection. They create worshipping communities, they feed the hungry and care for the sick, and they seek to challenge the powers that be and to transform unjust structures . . . and to change the world.
We know all that, and so we take it for granted. But the earliest disciples didn’t know what was coming. They had no idea how the Holy Spirit was planning to move in their lives. All they knew was that they had seen the risen Jesus, they had walked with him and eaten with him – and their hearts were burning.
What would that mean for you, for us, to live with hearts on fire for Jesus?
Would we risk more?
Would we be bolder and braver?
Would we be less tied to the past, less limited by the present, and more open to the future?
Would we be less jaded, and more filled with wonder?
Think about it.
Is your heart like a cold fireplace, a place where the remains of the past have been swept into a tidy pile in which the promise of the future has died?
Is your heart home to a few coals of hope, to the warmth of possibility, to a spark of creativity here, of innovation there?
Or is your heart on fire? Could it be on fire? Will it be on fire?
A heart of risk-taking, bold, courageous, awestruck fire?
What would it take for Jesus to set your heart on fire?