The road to Emmaus

Luke24: 13 - 35
 

·      When we look at today’s gospel story we find the confusing aftermath of the crucifixion, and the beginnings of the awareness of the truth and significance of the resurrection.  Two followers of Jesus, clearly upset, confused and disheartened are leaving Jerusalem at this crucial point.  

·      These followers must be trusted, perhaps from the 72 because the disciples were in hiding, and these two know about the empty tomb and the witness of the women to Jesus resurrection. 

·      Despite this, instead of waiting as the rest are, discouraged and disheartened they have turned away from Jerusalem and the rest of the followers, they are in the process of going back to normal life, what they used to be before.

·      The apparent defeat of Jesus on the cross is too much, the opposition they have encountered has made them doubt and fear.

·      This is the first of two main errors we can fall into when we encounter opposition:  to see any opposition as cause for discouragement.  To allow our God given story and mission to be overshadowed by the destructive efforts of the enemy, or even to mistake opposition as a sign from God.  This is often the aim of the enemy of the gospel, to distract, to discourage, to dishearten the people of God.  To silence our story

·      And this is our temptation, when things go wrong, when we encounter unexpected resistance to our ministry or story, we can end up doubting God’s plan for us, God’s call on our lives. But to think that we will not experience struggle in the Christian life is to be sold a sanitised gospel, to demonstrate a lack of maturity.  As Paul says we do not struggle against flesh and blood but against the powers and principalities of this dark age. 

·      We are to expect opposition in the work of the gospel, it is a forgone conclusion, the events of Easter remind us that even God incarnate encountered opposition to his gospel mission, Paul goes on to tell us that we should be wary of the tricks that Satan will use to try and oppose the gospel.  The secret to uncovering these tricks is simple, Paul tells us to see union with God, to pray, to see in our relationship with God the armour that will protect us from the evil day, from the testing that will undoubtedly come.  

·      Samson’s story was not one that came from his own intent, he was given as a helpless babe, set apart by his parents to God for a special purpose as a Nazarite.  His story was intimately connected to and reliant on the people of faith around him, they gave him his identity in God.  This is why it is so important after the crucifixion for the followers of Jesus to remain in Jerusalem, with others who understand and share their identity. This is why Jesus meets them on the road to shepherd them back to the other believers

·      The Second error is to think that we can fight spiritual battles in our own strength, we cannot.  Samson’s God story was that he was a Nazarite dedicated to God from birth and not to cut his hair as a sign of dedication, and he had a mission from God, to save his nation from the unjust oppression of the philistines, and supernatural strength to go with it. But he gets distracted from his mission and ends up using his God given strength to fight his own petty grudges after dishonest and self-destructive relationships with the oppressors he is supposed to be liberating Israel from.  Samson knows that Deliah is seeking to harm him, but Samson believes himself untouchable, he assumes that his strength and his mission from God, is his literal get out of jail free card.  When Samson tells her that the secret of his strength is in his long hair, it is because he no longer believes that it is.  He has abandoned his identity in God.  We know this because when he awakes and finds hair cut he assumes that he will fight off the philistines as normal, not realising he has betrayed his unbelief in his own God story, he has lost the connection between the gift that God has given him and his God given purpose.  At the end of his story his hair has regrown, yet he is still in chains, his strength only returns when he recognises God as source of his strength, by his praying for the opportunity to resume his role as liberator of Israel.  

·      Our strength, like Samsons comes from being united in purpose with God, from seeking and discerning God’s lead in each situation. Not my will but yours. From knowing and believing and sharing our own identity in God, our God story, where we have come from and where we are Going

·      We have a God given purpose that needs to remain in the foreground of our lives, one means of reminding ourselves is by sharing it with those around us. 

·      This is what the two followers are doing when they are unwittingly talking to Jesus, and their eyes are opened as they see Jesus break the bread, the sign of being one through sharing.

·      Jesus had a Narrative, he understood where he had come from and where he was going, he was God’s anointed son, he had a deep relationship with the father, he had a coherent self story. 

·      When he did not flinch from the cross, it was not some superhuman endeavour of mind over matter, it was not the divine aspect.  It was the natural out working of the story he had consistently embedded into his life, he was God’s son, he was the son of man, the suffering servant.  He knew where he was going and he had counted the cost.  So when things got difficult, when he encountered resistance, when all hope seemed lost, he could return to his story, to the root of who he was, to his identity in God.

·      The consistent interweaving of who he was in God allowed him to draw strength from his identity in God when he needed it most, when Gods protection seemed far away - not my will but yours and at the point of greatest separation, when he cries out on the cross, why have you forsaken me, Jesus can still reach out in hope – into your hands I commit my spirit

·      We also have a story, each of us has had an encounter with God, we are part of an ongoing encounter with God.  But each of us will have received promises as a part of our Christian heritage, a hope for the future, a mission. 

·      We may have received them in a variety of ways, through reading the Bible and sensing a passage referred to us, being entrusted with a promise by a friend, having our parents hope and pray for us to receive a blessing.   Each of us will have something we can identify as God’s story in our life.

·      In the Acts reading we see Peter, the one who rushes in and puts his foot in it, the one who in fear denied Jesus three times, who was petrified of a servant girl, now turned back to hope, now standing up and seizing the moment.  United in God’s purpose, He gives the sermon of his life, and 3000 are converted.

·      When we are challenged by difficulties and setbacks, when the world seems to turn us upside down, we have a choice, the natural thing to do, the fearful response would be to turn away from God’s story in us with despair or disdain, but there is another way, the people in the stories we have heard today started down that road, but were turned from that path to open themselves up to God in hopefulness.

·      We see it in Samson, we see it in Peter, we see it in the followers leaving Jerusalem, they encounter obstacles, distractions to their mission, to their story, and they turned back, but by the end of the story they have returned to their mission. They re-established God’s direction and purpose in their lives.  Do not let your love grow cold, feed it by reminding yourself of what you have been saved from, and what you have been saved for. 

 

·      What obstacles or opposition are you encountering?

·      What is our motivation for the decisions we are making is it fear, or hope?

·      What is your God given story or mission. 

·      What words do you hear burning inside you like fire. 

Jon Foster, 30/04/2017