(Luke 24: 13-35)
About a month or so ago, I started going on these walks. What I’ve taken to calling “Queen City Strolls.” Here’s the idea: I plot out a 7-8 mile route that takes me through some part of town I don’t normally frequent, except maybe driving by in a car at 35-40 mph. Then I pick a day, lace up the shoes and go. I take enough money to grab lunch along the way, and my phone for snapping pictures of whatever seems picture-worthy.
I did the first one a little over a month ago. Started at the Metropolitan, headed up Stonewall to the Panthers stadium, continued into Seversville and West End, came down to the Fourth Ward for lunch and back through Uptown. A few weeks later I went on from Elizabeth to the First Ward, down North Davidson into NoDa – had lunch at my cousin’s place, the Company Store – then on through through Villa Heights and Plaza Midwood and back to Elizabeth. This past Thursday I took a shorter stroll through the Cotswold area with my colleague in ministry Lee Canipe, who pastors at Providence Baptist.
My thinking with these Queen City Strolls is that it’s good for me to see parts of town I don’t normally see, see the diversity and change throughout our great city, and to do all of it while walking. Because you see so much more when you’re walking – you can stop, look around, chat with people you meet along the way. In fact, it’s the conversations I have with folks that I enjoy the most – the friendly greetings, the exchange of pleasantries, and even the stories that will inevitably rise the surface.
This integration of the act of walking and the sharing of and listening to stories is powerful – recent research shows, in fact, that as we walk, our brains integrate information in ways specific to the act of walking. In other words, we intuitively connect, step by step by step, information we already have and experiences we encounter in ways we might not have otherwise. Now part of this, I imagine, is the physiology of it all, stimulated blood flow and all that. But another part of it, I think, come out of the journey itself, and what we find through it, and the people we meet along the way, and the stories that are told.
It was a seven-mile journey the two in our scripture today were taking, the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus. It was Easter afternoon when they took their little stroll, which is probably why the conversation they had centered around the events of that day, made known to them in bits and pieces as word began to spread throughout the community of faith of which they were part: a sliver of information here and there, “breaking news” without the benefit of social media or 24-hour cable news.
The two of them kept walking, kept talking, step by step by step…..
That it was Jesus who meets these travelers along the way certainly is extraordinary enough. That these two, who apparently had more than a passing knowledge of Jesus, fail to recognize him – and in fact keep talking to Jesus about Jesus without realizing it was Jesus they were talking to – has to rank as either the greatest of ironies, or precisely what one would expect. For despite the hope-filled news of the day, nothing in the known physical world could have ever prepared these two individuals for even the remote possibility that their crucified Jesus three days before would be walking and talking with them now.
They reach their destination. The hour is late. The stranger keeps walking. They invite him to stay for the night. He accepts. They gather around the table for dinner. The stranger breaks bread – and in that instant, we are told, the two men are able to see what up until that moment had been hidden from them. They see Jesus – really see him – and realize it was he who had been walking with them all along, who was now in their home, breaking bread with them.
And it’s not surprising, really, that on the other side of this revelation they start connecting the dots, not in a conscious or obvious way, but more internally. Were not our hearts burning within us, they say to each other, while he was talking to us along the way?
I love that line. It’s the classic “aha” moment. Although it’s not really outright recognition, is it, as much as it’s intuition – that still small voice that whispers to you when God’s presence is near, even as you’re not able to fully put your finger on it.
The story of the two on the road to Emmaus comes up every year at this time, like clockwork. As it ought to. It is a wonderful metaphor for our post-Easter journey, and the ways in which we come to know the resurrected Christ – the walking, the conversing, the finding him even when we don’t always know it’s him – and then that moment of revelation when it all begins to make sense. Our lives tend to mimic this ebb and flow, this journey, this storytelling, this searching and revealing, step by step by step.
And perhaps it’s no wonder that some have taken to calling it “walking with Jesus.” A “Jesus stroll,” if you will. That phrase “walking with Jesus” is its own metaphor, and a well-used one at that. I asked Google how well-used it is this past week, and here’s some of what I found:
- It’s the title of what looks like a really neat book written by Pope Francis,
- It’s a small group devotional curriculum
- It’s an online video series designed to lead people to Christ
- It’s lyrics to a children’s song
- It’s the name of a two-week tour of the Holy Land
- And it’s a Facebook page someone created to tell people about – you guessed it – walking with Jesus.
It also is an expression once used to refer to my friend Margaret. Margaret was this amazing older lady whose life mine had crossed paths with, that kind of blessed crossing that seems serendipitous at the time, as if some subtle force in the universe is working to make it so. Margaret exuded, in a humble way, a spirit about her as if Jesus were her constant companion. To see Margaret move throughout her day was to see Jesus right there with her. Margaret was strong and sure in her faith. Knew the Bible like the back of her hand, quoted it frequently and worked it into conversations effortlessly. Prayed all the time – prayed so naturally it seemed like breathing. And it never felt forced or contrived or as if she were putting on airs. It felt like just the way it was supposed to be. That’s why those who knew her would say Margaret was “walking with Jesus.”
Still, there was another side to this metaphor. Margaret would be the first to tell you that she didn’t always feel strong in her faith, that she had doubts and questions. And I always wondered if those who so willingly put her on this pedestal – myself included – were somehow setting ourselves up for our own failure. For when you create a scenario where walking with Jesus is directly related to one having a strong and sure faith – even dependent on it – you wind up not letting yourself or anyone else get to do much walking with him at all.
Maybe, just maybe, it’s a different kind of walking with Jesus we ought to be looking for.
I don’t know how many of you got to hear Grace’s wonderful sermon last week – if not, let me encourage you to check it out on our website. In her sermon she talks about doubts, and as part of her sermon she invited the congregation to anonymously write down their doubts and uncertainties and questions on index cards and place them in the offering plate.
Now Grace and I had the privilege this past week – and I mean privilege – of reading the over 90 questions you all submitted – questions about the Bible, questions about life and death, question of theodicy – which is a fancy seminary word for the issue of why evil exists in a world God made for Good. Such amazing questions, and a privilege as your pastors to take a little peek into the heart of this congregation.
And it struck me as I read through your questions and prepared this sermon today, that one of the themes that surfaced in your questions is what I might call the Emmaus journey theme. It is the struggle, confusion and even hurt that happens when one longs to see Jesus working in their life, one wants to believe Jesus is right there with them every step of the way – and yet they aren’t feeling it, they’re not sure they’re seeing him. Maybe they are? And the real kicker is that they think they should be sure; they think if Jesus were with them, they’d know it unequivocally. They are looking for a bright neon sign dropped from the heavens, flashing brilliantly, “I am here!” They are waiting for that sign, waiting with worry, waiting and wondering, like those two men on the road to Emmaus.
My friends, my fellow sojourners, if that sounds in any way like you – if some part of your journey now or in the past or in the future elicits that struggle, that confusion, that hurt – then know this: our very lives are in themselves their own Emmaus journey. And the Jesus we long so much to see, the Jesus whose presence we sometimes struggle to feel, is in fact the same one we meet along the way, the same one walking and talking with us, the same one who listens, really listens to the story we live and share, the same one who then takes time to share with us his own.
Jesus is, for us, the stranger we invite into our lives, the stranger we welcome into our homes and gather with around sacred tables, whether they be actual tables or places of connectional community created. He is, for us, the one often hidden in plain sight, seen not in the big and bombastic, like we often expect – not in the obvious, the flashing-neon-signs. He is there with us in the simple and sublime and surprising. Ordinary bread broken at a run-of-the-mill table. Doubts and questions we muster the courage to share. Simple acts of kindness that go unnoticed. Love freely offered. It is here where Jesus is found, whether we realize it is him or not; it his here where we come to see the truth of it all: that Jesus is the one finding us.
It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who, when facing a rising Nazi empire and its lust for power and brute force, implored the faithful in his seminal work Life Together, to “be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God, to know that God will constantly be crossing our paths, whether or not we know it is him.” Or, as ol’ Margaret used to be fond of praying, “Thanks be to God that God’s great presence in our lives don’t depend on whether we always feel it or not.”
You want to know what walking with Jesus means? It means a number of things for us:
Walking with Jesus means putting one foot in front of the other. So tell me, Trinity – in what ways have you taken part in the journey? Hmm?
It means walking with others and taking time to share our story. So tell me, Trinity – who do you walk with, and what stories do you choose to share?
Walking with Jesus means listening to the stories of others. So tell me, Trinity – how have you been moved by the stories you’ve heard along the way?
It means welcoming the stranger into the conversation, hearing their story, extending them hospitality. So tell me, Trinity – how can we better be a people and a church that, as our 2020 Vision states, seeks to welcome the broken, the uncertain, the doubting, and welcome those things not just in other people, but in our own selves as well?
Walking with Jesus means gathering together around the table and breaking bread together. So tell me, Trinity – when and where are those holy instances where we, with Jesus, experience true community and fellowship? Where we have our eyes opened and see what we had not fully seen before? And then experience the blessing of looking back on it all and saying to ourselves, Were not our hearts burning within us, while he was talking to us along the way?
May we, with Jesus and with each other, lace up the walking shoes, and plot our course, and get on with the journey before us.
In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, in the name of the One who walks with us and calls us to walk with each other, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
 A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series, Westminster John Knox Press, 2016, pg. 34.
 http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/779560-we-must-be-ready-to-allow-ourselves-to-be-interrupted, visited on 4.26.2017.