Landscape from Young, NSW 2011

Church on the Road

Week of Sunday May 8
Gospel: Luke 24:13-35

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. 18Then 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?’ 19He 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, 20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But 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. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and 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.24Some 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.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’27Then 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. 29But 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. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They 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?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

 

The reading from Luke could be written like this:  While two of them were going home, Jesus appeared to them.

That is the key action of the event. That’s what happened. You don’t need 24 verses of the Bile to tell you. It only takes 11 words: While two of them were going home, Jesus appeared to them.

Everything else in the reading we heard then, falls into one of two categories.
Either it adds meaning and significance to the event,
or it is padding.

Padding is what kids in school do when they have to make up a word limit, but have nothing of substance to add to their essay.

The gospels are not padded documents. Every word is chosen. There were no printers or photocopiers, and writing materials were expensive.  Material was added to the bones of the story to add meaning, and to assist the listener to remember the meaning of the story.

In fact, the gospel stories are not there to prove the resurrection. The audience already was convinced. They knew! The gospel stories were more about explaining the resurrection and its significance for living.

The scholars think that the two people journeying to Emmaus are meant to be a picture of the early church.  If we look at them we will see something of how we can live as a church. Let’s just run with that for a moment.

What is very clear is the location of this early church. The church is on the road. It meets Jesus on the road. That gets repeated in two verses close together, which is like us putting something up in neon lights. (32, 35)

So the two disciples are on a journey when they meet Jesus. Two is an important number.
Two people is enough, in Jesus’ time for a valid witness of an event.
And two is a symbol of church: where two or three are gathered, says Jesus, there I am in the midst of you.  Church is not a solitary thing.  But the key thing is that it is on the road, on the journey that they meet Jesus.

Let me emphasise this. The Greek words for “on the road” are literally “on the way.” There is a pun here.  Puns in the Bible are also like putting something up in lights so we will take notice. Here’s the pun:

Christians referred to themselves as people of the Way. (Acts 19:19) You can see the pun working in Mark’s gospel, too. When a blind man by the road, met Jesus who was on the road, and was healed, he followed him on the Way. (Mark 10:32, 48-52) All those words are the same Greek word. The Christian way of living is to be on the road. Churches are not meant to be static and settled and comfortable and never moving.

Now let’s go to the end of the story. Anyone who’s reading the story is thinking, “Hey, it’s seven miles to Emmaus. That’s like 2 or three hours to walk. How could you possibly not recognise someone you already knew when you were walking for two or three hours?” This is a little “wink” in the story to make us think.

And when we think, this is what we see:

The dopey disciples of Jesus, who can’t recognise him, invite him in for tea. And

he took bread
and broke it
and blessed it
and gave it to them...

What does that sound like?

Communion.

Jesus will be made known to us in Communion.  If you read the story you will see it doesn’t say they went back and told the apostles they had seen Jesus, or that he had appeared to them. They went back and told them how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

So there is something being told to us here. You will meet Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

But wait! There’s more.

Two people meet and travel together. (That’s a church.)
They talk about life—what does it say... about all these things that had happened-- in the presence of the God they cannot see.
And do you notice that while they were talking a

In fact they had just started talking all these things that had happened, that without them even noticing, Jesus had came among them.

And then... the conversation changes. With his help, they start to relate all the things that have been happening to what was in the scriptures. They started to make sense of their life and what was happening by looking back at their bible.  This is like us coming to church with our prayers and our concerns, and reading the bible and then listening to the sermon in church. No wonder their hearts burned within them, because Jesus was their preacher!

Some of the scholars tell  us that the story of the road to Emmaus is the story of how the new church after the resurrection worshipped God.  What we are seeing is Sunday morning worship. (It is on that same day.) In other words this is how we should do worship.

In other words, if a church is "on the road," and if it worships God by putting its life together under the shadow of scripture, and if it celebrates the communion together, then Jesus will be made known to it...

How might that all relate to us Cornerstone?

Think about it!

You folk are literally on the road! You are planning to sell up, join with other congregations, and build a new church complex. It would be hard to be more-the road than that! And you have started. This is no longer a dream.

The problem is that no one has much experience in doing this.  No one is an expert. How do we find the will of God, so that we do this big shift well? How do we meet Jesus on the road -the Jesus who mostly no one seems able to see? How do we discern what Jesus  is  saying to us?

Let's go through Emmaus again. Emmaus is worship, scripture and Communion.

Let’s remember what those things are.

Worship means to give worth to God. It is saying God is worth paying attention to.

God is in everything, and beyond everything. God cares about everything.
So worship is about everything. We bring our whole lives and our whole world to God. We bring it to worship.
In worship we talk to God about everything that has happened.
In worship we are thinking about the whole world and our whole lives and the lives of everyone around us.

So that would include

  • someone in our congregation who lost their job,
  • and include concerns about the way the new houses are being built in Playford Alive, and what it’s doing to the traffic,
  • and our concerns about climate change,
  • and how we should get more involved with helping refugees,
  • and how we support soldiers who are overseas, and especially their families at home
  • and a whole lot more!

Worship is concerned with the big picture of the world.
If we are not paying attention to the big picture, then there is something missing in our worship.
We are saying to God that we don't care about some parts of God’s world, that it’s not important.

Churches can be like that. They become inward focussed on their own concerns, so they forget the rest of the world. They worry about getting new asphalt in their car park when people in the next town can’t even find somewhere to meet. How can we expect to meet Jesus if we are saying to God, "We don’t care about your world?"

Then there is a part of worship that Luke splits off on its own, because it is especially important. This is the breaking of bread.  If worship is about God’s care for all the world and all the people of the world, communion is especially about the very small and the very local.  If you like, communion is about two people inviting a third person in to tea. Communion is the ultimate symbol of care. It is eating together in the house. It is about you and me.

How can I eat with you if I am not concerned that you have a place to live, or enough clothes to be warm?  How can I eat with you and not care that the children next door have no food?

Communion is focussing all the theory of the big picture, all the things we said in worship, all the things we said in our prayers about loving other people.... it’s focussing all that stuff and making some of it happen in the here and now.  Communion is when we put our money where our mouth is. Communion is where the rubber hits the road. Communion is each time the church meets. If we can’t do Communion properly, that is if we don’t love each other and actually live the gospel with each other, then all our worship is hot air. If we can’t live the gospel with each other, how do we expect to minister to everyone else? But if we do, Jesus will be made know to us in the breaking of the bread.

And finally, I said Emmaus is worship, scripture and Communion. We didn’t mention scripture. In the picture of the Emmaus road, they look at everything that is happening in the light of the scriptures. The scriptures keep us on track. They let us know when we are talking about God and when we are talking rubbish.

We don’t know where we are going. We have some plans. We have some dreams. They probably won’t work out exactly like we imagine. But one thing is true.  Worship God, the big picture God, listen to the scriptures, and love each other in the breaking of the bread, and Jesus will be made known to us.  Amen.

Andrew Prior
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!


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