Sermon for Nov. 4, 2012, 23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive
the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 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?” 19 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, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 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. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 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. 24 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.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 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. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 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?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
The Broken Bread Community
Many of us have been involved in the project of reading the whole bible in 90 days. This past week, we have read the story of Jesus from the four gospels. Each gospel writer tells the story a bit differently, as you would expect four different authors to do. Each includes and excludes different sayings or actions of Jesus. Having all four gospels gives us a wonderfully rich and textured look at Jesus.
Luke’s Two Volume Story
Luke, unlike the Matthew, Mark and John, had in mind, from the start, to write a two-volume story. We call his two volumes the books of Luke and Acts. For Luke, the significance of the life of Jesus had to include both the story of his life and the story of the community that formed around him; the community who continued to call him Lord and Savior after his time on earth was over. Luke told the story of Jesus, and the story of the early years of the church.
Stories in Context
How would you tell your story? Where would you start? What are the poignant experiences in your life that have made you the person you are at this moment? Where are you now, in your story? What’s ahead for you?
It’s not possible to tell the story of our own lives without setting them in other, larger stories. Our personal stories are set in the context of our country and the events we caught up in as a nation. Some of your stories start in the Great Depression or in World War II or in more recent conflict. Some of our stories are set in the context of the struggle for of the Civil Rights. All of our stories are set in larger stories.
Luke tells the story of Jesus within the larger story of Roman-occupied Palestine. And, at the same time, Jesus and his story is told, by Luke, within the long story of the chosen people, the story of Israel, as in fact, the climax of the story of Israel.
Luke wrote his gospel in the context of a believing community of early Christians. So his story of Jesus is not only a story set in the past, it is also a story written with an eye on the present – which for Luke and his church, was the world of the Greek-speaking Roman Empire in the generation after Jesus. Luke told his story of Jesus in order to help his community understand who they were and what they were to be like as Christians in their context.
This means that as we read Luke’s story of Jesus, we too ask ourselves the question: how does this story help me and help us understand what we are to do and to be, as followers of Jesus today, in our context? There are powerful and important things we can learn when we ask these questions.
Today we are going to focus attention on the scene we read from Luke 24. It’s Easter evening. Actually, that’s saying too much. Easter, for us, is the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus – a joyous time. But three days after Jesus’ crucifixion, not many people yet know about the resurrection. Most of the ones who followed Jesus are still shocked at what happened. Jesus was caught, tried, and executed by the Romans, for being seditious. Now all of them are in trouble, in fear, and utterly depressed that their hopes in him have been dashed.
The Eerie story on the Emmaus Road
That’s the state of the two who were walking the relatively short distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus as the scene opens. There is an un-worldly eeriness about this scene, as Jesus enters mysteriously. Luke says:
“15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”
We need to stop right here and notice something: when a story is being told with events that seem to defy the normal, often this is the narrator’s tip-off that the story should be read on a non-literal level. Maybe Luke is using this scene to say something to the church, his community. How do we follow Jesus, living as we do in the days after his crucifixion? How do we, who do not see him in the flesh, like those two, at first, find faith?
So as the story goes, the two people on the road tell Jesus, whom they do not recognize, all about how their hopes were set on him. They were Israel’s hopes: hope that God would redeem his people from the clutches of their enemies.
So what does Jesus do? He proceeds to teach them from the Old Testament – the story of Israel.
“27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Suffering in the Story
Jesus was setting his story in the context of the larger story of Israel. He had to: this is the only way to make sense of the story of Jesus. But notice the one element of that story that Jesus draws their attention to.
“26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
Suffering was necessary for Messiah; this is an idea most Jews of those days did not expect. Messiah was supposed to come raising a sword against the Romans and then assume his throne in glory, as the new king, they thought.
But Jesus led them to places in the Old Testament which speak of a person whom the prophets called the “son of man,” (Dan 7) or the “servant of the Lord” (Isa 53) who would redeem the nation through suffering for them, just as Jesus had done on the cross. This is the key to the story of Israel the they had missed, but the key that made sense of it all. And Jesus was the one who fulfilled that suffering servant role.
Suffering is part of the human condition. I don’t know how you would tell your story, but I do know that it would not be a painless triumph of success followed by success. Nobody lives that fairy-tale life. All of us experience pain and loss. All of us know disappointment, heartaches and failure.
Some of our tragedies are baked into our genetic cake or come un-bidden from the family we grew up in, or setting we are given. Some tragedies are self-made through mistakes, bad decisions, regrettable actions. We are broken people. Our story has to be told that way to be a true story.
And so, Luke tells the story of Jesus as a redemption story, by telling of God’s savior who came as one who suffered. He suffered as we suffer and he suffered on behalf of those who suffer. He came to be broken on behalf of broken people.
Seeking the Broken
Luke tells of Jesus who intentionally came to seek out broken people. Luke is the one who tells us Jesus’ parables of lostness – the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son, the prodigal. Luke tells us of God’s redeeming love for all of those who have gotten themselves lost, a form of brokenness.
He shows us God as the father of the prodigal who looks down the road every day, and when he finally sees his dirty, penniless son returning, runs to hug him, kiss him even before he gets cleaned up, and announces a great celebration party in his honor! That’s how Luke shows us that Jesus came to broken people, and how he shows us God coming to broken people.
Luke gives us the story of the broken, bleeding, probably dying victim on the side of the road, and of the despised foreigner, the Samaritan, who stopped to help him. God’s concern for broken people in Luke shows us an ethic of responding to brokenness that begins to look at everyone as our “neighbor” whose needs are our concern.
Following Jesus after Good Friday
What does it mean then, in Luke’s generation, to be a Christian community who lives after that suffering; after that terrible crucifixion? How do you go from a community of a suffering prophet-like person, to a redeemed, transformed community?
Only by coming to recognize that this broken, suffering one named Jesus was raised from the dead. That changes everything. That would mean that the power of evil really had been broken. It would mean that the final enemy, death, had been defeated. It would mean that hope was real!
But how are the broken believers in Luke’s community, many years later, to cope with life without Jesus present to see and hear and be encouraged by?
Luke’s story gives us the answer:
“30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him;”
The community of faith in the risen Lord Jesus sustains itself as it takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to each other. Our eyes are opened and we recognize Jesus in the broken bread.
To emphasize the point, the two people Jesus met return to the 11 disciples in Jerusalem, announcing to them:
“35what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”
Bread that is Broken
Bread – the most basic, essential staple of life in the Western world, the indispensable nutrition, became the symbol of the sustaining, nourishing presence of God for Christians. But not bread in a perfectly shaped loaf. Rather Jesus is seen in bread that is broken, jagged, uneven.
Broken bread is the nourishment that broken people like us need, daily. Broken bread, messy with crumbs falling all over the place shows us a broken Messiah who came to redeem broken people.
And it is redeemed, broken people who return with the joyful news of resurrection to other fearful, broken people, announcing that we too have seen the risen Lord. We see him in the breaking of the bread. And we gather, as the book of Acts showing the early church as:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42
The Broken Bread Community
We are the broken bread community. Broken by our own personal histories, and broken hearted for a broken world. We are the community of the bread that has
been broken, that is now uneven, irregular, softly jagged, and messy with crumbs falling all over the place.
But we are also the community of broken-healers. We who follow a broken Lord, raised to life, are to go out to be the broken body of Christ in the world. Going to broken people, with the opposite of pride, judgment, superiority or smugness. Rather we go as broken people offering bread to the hungry, nourishment to the ones who have been starving for love, saying, “Come: the table is set and waiting for you. The bread has been broken for you. Take and eat.”