Archive for May, 2011

Do you know God?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Acts 17:22-31 The Unknown God???

{22) Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. {23} For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. {24} “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. {25} And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. {26} From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. {27} God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. {28} ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ {29} “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. {30} In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. {31} For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

     Today we have many people acknowledging AN UNKNOWN GOD. Most people will say they believe in God; but they do not really know him; who he is or what he is like; or take him all that seriously. This god is someone out there who has set the world in motion and then left it to run by itself; and is a god who will receive them all into heaven when their time is up here on earth.

Sadly we also have many today who claim that there is no God. They have hardened their hearts to such an extent, that their egotism will not allow even their conscience to remind them of the reality of the God who is there. They seek their meaning for existence in the goodness of humanity, but are all left in wonderment and despair.

However, just as in Athens of Paul’s day, so also we today have many objects of worship, but to the people who worship them, they have little connection to the true God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. On Friday there was great reverence and crowds of people, all remembering the heroics of great men; and seeking to gain strength and courage for our nation from this. This is good, up to a point. We need to be thankful for those who lived and died for their nation. All Australians look up to and see many things as being that which will give us what we need for this life and beyond. However, all these form of reverence and idealism that do not have their basis in the One true God, are a problem and will leave us short of what we really need.

On top of that we have people religiously following Allah, Buda and many other similar gods and new age thinking. The thinking is that here is the one who should be worshipped. However, they are not the true and only God: The one who is the Lord of heaven and earth. So we cannot accept them as being on the same path to heaven, or tolerate them as a real expression of Christianity. They are religious, but worshippers of God Almighty himself.

Sadly, too often, even within Christian circles there are many people who are religious; but who do not know God. They know all kinds of facts about him, but they do not know him. Others believe and speak of a god and worship him, without understanding and accepting Jesus Christ as the Son of God who came and died on the cross for our salvation. Others acknowledge God; but they make no attempt to listen to or heed what he has to say. Others think that the only way they will be acceptable to him, is to live up to a certain standard of “Christian life”

Here in the face of all of this religious thinking, the true God, through Paul, is proclaiming very clearly who he is. He is the Lord of heaven and earth. In other words he is the one and only true God that can be found anywhere. He is the Almighty God who is supreme over all. There are no other Gods besides him. He alone then is the one who is to be worshipped and glorified. He alone is the one who is to be looked up to and followed. Every other object of worship is a worthless idol and a distraction from what is right and true and in the end will prove disastrous.

This Lord of heaven and earth we are reminded here is not a God who is limited to churches, statues, books or anything else at all. As much as he is there in all of those things, he is much more and beyond anything that we could possibly make him to be. He is not a God who conforms to our limitations and thinking. He does not even need us to serve him. He is one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Eph 4:6) He is as we learnt in our confirmation lessons; omni almost everything; unlimited by time, space, and in power, knowledge and understanding. His greatness is way beyond human understanding.

Yet as we heard in our Gospel reading today; he chooses to live with you and will be in you. (John 14:17) That is all who believe, trust and desire to live in him. Jesus goes on to say; I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. (John 14:18-20) This great God has chosen to dwell with and in us human beings; his creation. Isn’t that something amazing!

Particularly when we remember that we are not the centre of the world. The world does not revolve around us; but the Almighty God is the centre of it all. He himself gives all men [all people] life and breath and everything else. And not just gives us life, but he determined the times set for us and the exact places where we should live. God did this so that all people would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. Even though he the Supreme Being he is at work in our lives and is close to us.

Even though we have sinned and chosen to go our own way, he allows troubles and hardships to be a part of our lives so that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him. He does not erase us from the face of the earth because of our selfish egotism, but works through all the mistakes we make and difficulties that are imposed on us by a sinful world. He is constantly seeking to draw us to himself; trying to make us aware that we need him and the forgiveness and salvation that Jesus won for us through his life, death and resurrection.

Through Jesus and his death on the cross and our connection to him and his death and resurrection, through our baptism we are assured that we are now God’s children. His Spirit now lives in us and goes with us as we live out our life day by day. We are God’s offspring.

Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone–an image made by man’s design and skill. Since he has done all of this for us and continues to live with us and in us, now we surely will treat him with much respect. We will trust him and take him seriously. He will mean much more to us than our money, material things and technology. We will not treat him as a possession or as one who should do what we want him to do.
Surely we will look up to him; wanting to live in a close personal relationship with him; wanting to be where he wants us to be and to do what he wants us to do. What is important to him will be important to us. He will be our Lord and our God.

Here let us not forget those other words that he spoke also. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. So we are reminded that he does look closely at who we are and what we think, say and do. His Son Jesus, who came into our world and died on the cross for us, will also come and judge us all on that last day. He knows if we have taken him seriously or not. He knows what we believe and whether we trust him and all that he has done for us. Take note; he knows and he judges.

So take heart; here we are reminded again that our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is for real. He is the Almighty Lord of heaven and earth. He is the only true God and he seeks to be not far from each one of us. He loves us, forgives us and made us his very own. Believe him. Trust in him; and take him seriously. For to him alone belongs all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.

Are you old enough?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

 

Texts: John 14:2b
Jesus said,
“I am going to prepare a place for you”.

Isaiah 46:4
“I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you”.

                                        The Four B Club

A congregation has a group for elderly people. It meets in the church hall every fortnight and is well attended. It was a great time of fellowship and encouraging one another. It was called the Four-B Club. A newcomer to the group asked why it was called the Four-B Club. The answer was simple: The four Bs stand for Baldness, Bifocals, Bunions, and Bulge.

Growing older is something that affects every person on this planet, from the tiniest baby to the oldest person. Some of you are a long way from being a senior member of our society, but time will go fast and next thing you too will be wondering where the years have gone. We are all heading for the Four-B Club, that’s, if we are not there already. God created time when he created day and night, the seasons and the years. God created the days and years and said that it was very good.

But this good creation of God was affected when sin came into the world through the disobedience of the first man and woman. The passing of time began to have a negative effect on God’s creation. People and all things in this world began to show the signs of age. Time has been ticking away and everything you can see and feel and touch has been getting older. The process of aging that we are all familiar with changes people, animals and plants to the point that they became weak and eventually died.

In Psalm 90 the writer compares the shortness of human life to God who is from everlasting to everlasting. He says, “Seventy years is all we have— eighty years, if we are strong; yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow; life is soon over, and we are gone” (Psalm 90:10). Then the psalmist is quick to explain why our life is so short. It’s because of sin. Death is God’s judgement on sin and the brevity of our life has been brought about because of our rebellion against God.

The effect that time has on people is really obvious to us when we meet up with a family we haven’t seen for some time. We can hardly believe our eyes at the changes that have occurred. The children are all so grown up, the parents have aged and perhaps put on a little weight, their hair is a little greyer, or they have changed because of sickness or some other distressing time. Others say the same about us. As the saying goes, “Time doesn’t stand still for anyone”; we are all getting older.

As we journey through life there are significant moments that remind us that with age come changes in our lifestyles. We realise that a certain part of our life is gone, never to be recaptured or relived.
For instance, the day you completed your schooling may have been a day of rejoicing on the one hand, but on the other, it marked the end of a part of your life that will never be repeated.
What about the day your last child leaves home and you wonder where all the years have gone.
Or what about the day you retired realising that what you had done over so many years was now finished.
There are those defining moments when we realise that things will be different from now on. The passing of time has seen to that.

What can we do about this? Some people over the years have searched for the ‘fountain of youth’ or something similar that will wind back the clock and give them extended youthfulness. Some try to slow down the aging process with face-lifts, pills and potions that will give them a fresh face look. In our youth-oriented culture people have a fear of looking old.

The Greeks called the fear of old age ‘geraphobia’. Those who have geraphobia want to live longer and never grow old. In fact some people are highly insulted if reference is made to how old they are. To some degree we all suffer from geraphobia. We fear that one day we might end up in a nursing home, unable to feed ourselves or control our bodily functions, not able to remember anything and maybe not even recognise our family when they come to visit.

When the fear of growing old grips our hearts or we see what getting older is doing to our bodies, or we see what age is doing to those whom we love, how do we handle this? How can we see our aging in a positive way and growing older as something meaningful and acceptable?

Let me start in this way. If you visit the southern states during winter you would find that most of the trees lose their leaves and their branches are completely bare. If you didn’t know any better you would say they were dead. From the ground to the upper most branches there is not a green leaf in sight. But we know that the trees are not dead. You may not be able to see the life in the tree, but it is there, and that’s what is important. Without that life, the tree really would be only a piece of dead wood.

Our lives can be compared to the trees as they go through the seasons. As time goes on, just as the trees lose their beauty and look dead, so too it happens with us. Time marches on with us, the things we were once able to do become more difficult, events and people become memories, and as we approach the autumn of our lives we realise that a large part of our life is over.

But behind the dead looking limbs and branches there is still life, waiting to burst out in fresh, green life. We know that the resurrected Jesus has won for us eternal life with him in heaven. Time may be marching on for us now and we can’t do anything about it, and as much as we would like it to stop so that we can accomplish all that we would like to in the years we have left, we have the assurance that our dying is not the end of us, but the beginning of a glorious new spring.

We heard Jesus say to the disciples in today’s Gospel reading, “Do not be worried and upset. Believe in God and believe also in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1,2). Jesus is reminding us that even though we will go through the autumn and winter of our lives that doesn’t mean the end. There awaits all those who believe in Jesus as the way, the truth and the life a glorious spring where there is new life and new beginnings and a new home where there will be no such things as aging, the aches and pains that aging brings, or dying.

Though the writer of Psalm 90 is well aware of how his years are passing away and that nothing can recapture the years that have passed, nevertheless he is not pessimistic about life. He is not all doom and gloom when it comes to growing old. His confidence is in God. As he says at the very beginning of the psalm: Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

Because God is eternal and gracious, because he will always be there and will always be our loving God, life has an enduring and lasting quality about it. The years may be passing away, but beyond this life and in spite of the grave, there is life through Jesus our Saviour.

As we wait for the day when we are called from this life to that glorious new spring, God promises, “I am your God and will take care of you until you are old and your hair is gray. I made you and will care for you; I will give you help and rescue you” (Isaiah 46:4). He states that his love for us will never fail and he is always ready to help us deal with all that growing older brings. We may not know what the future may bring but we do know that his promise stands, “I made you and I will take care of you even when you are old and your hair is gray”.

You see the Bible always looks at life in the context of God’s relationship with us. This applies to every stage of life including that time when we notice the changes that aging is bringing into our lives. Even if we do end up in a nursing home with our minds and bodies failing, God’s promise still stands. We can still rely on him to be our strength and help even when we are the frailest and even when our memory fails or our speech falters. He still promises, “I will give you help and rescue you”.

One of the problems of this world is that people no longer see their lives in a relationship with God. They have broken away from God. All too often life is seen as a once only cycle. We are born, we live, we grow old, and we die. And that’s it. Once you have reached the autumn years of your life, and approaching the lifeless winter, that’s all that can be expected from life. There are many people who face the passing years with a kind of hopelessness, a sense of purposelessness and aimlessness.

But when we view our life from God’s perspective we get a whole new outlook. Jesus wants nothing but happiness for us and has gone to extreme lengths to make sure that we are happy now and forever in eternity. He assures us that he is with us always and that when the time comes for us to leave this life he wants us to be in the place where he is – that is in heaven. And as we move toward the end of our earthly life he reminds us that he is our everlasting God who provides us with help and comfort as we face all the fears and worries that growing older brings. He provides us with the reason for wanting to make the most of the time we have in this life, enjoying life, and serving and helping others in the way that only those can who have experienced the passing of the years.

Whether we are talking about getting our first job, or taking up new studies or an apprenticeship as a young worker, the responsibilities of being parents and the anxieties this brings as you watch your children grow from babies to young adults, or your own lapses of memory, failing strength, the wrinkles that worry you, your concern over your middle age spread, all are signs that we are all getting older, that we are passing from one season to the next.

One day baldness, bifocals, bunions, and bulge will become characteristic of people in your age group. When that day comes let’s greet it with a song of praise on our lips rather than moans and groans.
We have a God who is faithful to his promises and will take care of us and help us even when our hair is gray.
We thank God that he sees wrinkles and unsteady steps as something beautiful.
We praise God that the winter of our life will give way to the glorious new spring of eternity.

Amen. 

What’s in a name?

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The Lord’s Prayer

Psalm 23

 I grew up on a farm in the mid-north of South Australia.  We milked a few cows, had several horses, fed the chooks, turkeys and some pigs, but most of all we had lots of sheep.  Sometimes a sheep died giving birth to a lamb, or gave birth to twins or even triplets, but only cared for one.  We would take the abandoned lamb home and it became a pet lamb. One of the first things we did when we brought a new lamb home – apart from feeding it with a baby’s bottle – was to give it a name.  That made it different from all the other sheep – it had a name.  It was special.  The others out in the paddock were just sheep, but this pet lamb was like a member of our family.

You are special to God because you have a name, the name you were given on the day of your baptism when you became a member of his family. God never forgets you! You are special to him.

The pet lamb would follow us kids about the yard and sometimes get so close it would get between our legs and almost trip us kids up.  In the Biblical pictures of the shepherd and the sheep the shepherd is always out in front, and the sheep follow.  Sometimes we want to go off with our own selfish plans in life and expect Jesus to follow and clean up behind us.  For a healthy spiritual relationship Jesus is out in front and, like the pets, we follow along behind in trust.

Another difference between the pet lamb and all the other lambs is that the one we took home had no future.  It had no mother and it would soon have died if we didn’t care for it and feed it.  It was out of concern for the lamb’s future we took pity on it and took it into our family.

God chose you and me out of loving concern for our future.  We had no future.  We were spiritually dead.  We had no love or trust in our heavenly father.  Out of a deep loving concern God took us into his family where we enjoy spiritual life now, the way a little pet lamb calls out to its owners – so in our limited way we call out to the Father, and we talk to Jesus and we talk with the Holy Spirit.  It is a special family relationship we now enjoy.  Today we thank God for this caring relationship.

Some of you might never have experienced life on a sheep farm and might never have cared for a pet lamb.  But you probably have a pet – a cat, or two or three, or a pet dog.   You have names for them. They are like a member of your family.  You talk to them, and sometimes they take notice.  If you arrived home today and found your pet had gone missing, you’d drop everything and start searching.  You’d give up your plan to go and watch Collingwood.  The younger folk would be text-messaging their friends to come to help in the search.  We’d tell our neighbours.  And when we found the pet we’d be so excited we’d invite everyone in for a beer and have an impromptu party.  If we care so much for a pet, think how much God cares about you!  When we say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ it means we are like one of God’s family and he cares deeply about each one of us.

In the cold and freezing weather in Winter I’ve known of pets being given a little pet pullover to wear, just like their owner.  In a similar way God’s Spirit dresses his children up to look like their owner, Jesus Christ.  I like the Bible passage (Galatians 3 v 27 in the Good News version):
“You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself.”
Sometimes people say:  “Come to God just the way you are!”  This is true and makes a good point, but there is more.  The Spirit dresses one up in the best life ever lived, in the life of Jesus.  It is the life God is pleased with, one that is perfect and full of loving concern for other people.  One couldn’t be better dressed.  Look around you at the others here this morning, dressed up by God in the life of Jesus!

I like reading old letters people wrote home about 150 years ago after coming to Australia from Europe.  When Johann Mirtschin wrote his first letter home to Saxony in the 1850’s he first waited several years because his experiences were far worse than anyone ever expected.  If they’d have known I think they would never have made the journey.  In his first letter Johann wrote what I consider to be a very astute observation:  “Everybody has brought his wicked heart with him and therefore he must continually fight against it.”

Everyone brings their faults with them.  Luther said a Christian is always a perfect saint and a sinner during this life here on earth.  One has the pure and perfect life of Jesus to wear, as though one had lived it one’s self – a special gift from God.  And underneath one wears one’s  selfish human nature.  Luther compared it to an old bag of bones on one’s back where everyone else can see it but one isn’t aware of it one’s self.  One can clearly see everyone else’s selfishness and evil.

So Christians come in confession.  To use the analogy of a sheep it is like a sheep being shorn.  After the shearing one sees the pure white coat with maybe a few tinges of blood, and all the prickles and dirt are taken away.  Don’t the sheep look great out in the green pastures after they’ve been shorn!  In spiritual terms the words of absolution cleanse one to be as white as snow.  The key purpose of Confession (and Lent) is to focus on the pure white clothing of Jesus that we wear.

But underneath the selfish heart is still lurking and causing hurts to others.  Sometimes it means trouble.  As the wool grows it picks up more dirt and prickles.  One might begin to despair of one’s self.  To give up.  Even think about leaving the flock.

What does God do?

In loving concern for his sheep the shepherd prepares a special meal and welcomes his children to the Table.  On the surface one sees nothing great.  A wafer of bread and a sip of wine, but in the special meal he gives one the living Jesus Christ. The one who was sacrificed out of love, and the one who is risen.  The Spirit feeds his people and strengthens the Christ who lives in us.  The Christ who lives in you is stronger than any of the faults that lurk within us, like our sin and selfishness. Christians are always both saints and sinners in this world, until death comes.

When our pet lambs grew up and were too big to live in our house yard we put them out in the paddock with a flock of other sheep.  It was a warm experience whenever we drove into that paddock.  The flock would move away from us as we drove up to them, but the pet sheep would leave the flock and come over to us to be patted. When we sold that flock of sheep to the abattoirs we always took Sally and put her in with some other sheep that were staying on our farm.  If we care like that about a pet lamb, think how much more the Good Shepherd cares about you.

When our ancestors left their families and friends to come to Australia the parting must have been a bit like a funeral.  They would likely never see one another again and must have felt the sadness we feel when we are separated from a loved one.  I think going to a funeral is like standing on the beach and saying ‘goodbye’ as a little old wooden sailing ship sails away into the distance with one’s loved one on board.  The little wooden boat gets smaller and smaller, until one sees only the cross of the mast and the cross bar – like the cross of Christ – and then it is gone.  Completely out of sight!  And one gets upset.  Naturally.  The parting is a terrible catastrophe for us who can’t see over the horizon.

But the truth is:  the little ship is still there, over the horizon and still sailing along.  God, from his unique position can see over the horizon.  Jesus the Good Shepherd knows the way.  He is in complete control.  Jesus has been this way before.  It is the way to the Father’s home.  In the father’s home life is so different and much more wonderful than one can ever begin to imagine.  St Paul was given a glimpse of heaven and he said there are no human words to describe it.

I believe some pets, when it is freezing Winter weather, have been known to sleep on their master’s bed!  Maybe it happens in your home in the cold Winter months.  While the normal sheep are freezing out in the cold westerly winds that can howl through these parts, a pet lamb is resting and even sleeping in the arms of the Good Shepherd in the Master’s own home.  That is a picture of you and me and our future.  We are going on a journey overseas to our final home.  You and I can say with the psalmist:
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Amen.

Feeling trapped?

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Text: Luke 24:13-19
On that same day two of Jesus’ followers were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking to each other about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw him, but somehow did not recognize him. Jesus said to them, “What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along?”
They stood still, with sad faces. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn’t know the things that have been happening there these last few days?” “What things?” he asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered.

THE POWER OF HOPE.

  A few years ago a railway worker accidentally locked himself in a refrigerator car. He searched the carriage for a possible way to break out. Banged on the walls and door. All to no avail. He resigned himself to the fact that he would never get out alive. As he felt his body becoming numb with cold he took a pencil out of his pocket and recorded the story of his approaching death. He scribbled on the walls of the car: “I am becoming colder… still colder… I am slowly freezing… half asleep – these may be my last words.”

When the carriage was opened the man was found dead, but the temperature of the car was normal. Officials found that the freezing mechanism was out of order and that there was plenty of fresh air available. There was no physical reason why the man had died. It was concluded that he had died because he had believed that he would die. He had lost all hope.

Hope can be a very fragile thing. Discouragement, confusion, doubt and a series of negative events can esily destroy hope.

Two men are walking down a road. Two confused, dejected, sad men. They had been followers of Jesus. They had seen his power; they had great hopes that this man was the one who had been promised by God. As they walked along they used words like, “We had hoped that he would be the one who would set Israel free but now he is dead. He’s been dead for 3 days now and we have heard reports that even his body is missing from the tomb.”

These men had heard reports of the women who had found the tomb empty and how the angels had said he was alive.
“If only….!
If only that were possible!
If only it were true!
Now this walk down this road is full of emptiness, it’s mindless, we’re not really going anywhere, we’re just walking. Two men walking down a road….”.

When hope withers, it’s difficult to revive.
We need to note the number of people who take their own life because despair and discouragement have sucked the last bit of hope out of their lives.
When someone you love and care for is overtaken by a serious illness, which goes on, and on, despair sets in. It almost becomes impossible to hope for recovery. You may even be afraid to hope because you believe that you couldn’t cope with another letdown.

Have you ever walked like that? Feeling empty inside, churned up because of the way things have turned out. Kind of walking aimlessly, wondering what it’s all about really? It feels like the bottom has fallen out of your world. The things you had pinned your hopes on, the dreams you had, the expectations – shattered. Have you ever walked down that road, the road to nowhere?

These two men walking with all hope dashed to pieces don’t even recognise Jesus when he starts to walk right beside them.
Could it be that they were so despondent that they didn’t even look up?
Could it be that they were so preoccupied with their unanswered questions, so filled with the feeling of hopelessness that they weren’t able to see what they so desperately wanted to see, right alongside of them?
Could it be that the last three days had been so dark, so full of despair that their hearts were filled with so much darkness that they couldn’t even see the light that was walking every step of the way with them?

I wonder how often we walk along the road of life often with more downs than ups not realising that’s Jesus is walking there right beside us. We are so overwhelmed with our circumstances, so focussed on what has sucked the energy and life out of us, wondering why Jesus hasn’t done something to help us, that we don’t see him walking with us. We say with those disciples, “We had hoped… that things would turn out differently. If only Jesus would be here with us at least we would be feeling so lost and feeling helpless and hopeless. If only …!”

We know what he did, we know what he said, we know the promises he made, but sometimes we walk down that road and all that seems so distant and removed and unrelated. But regardless how we feel Jesus walks right beside us and we don’t even know it!

As those disciples plodded on, a stranger, Jesus himself, joined them and listened to them!  He sees their despondent looks and hears their saddened voices and immediately asks them what it is that they are talking about. He says nothing more and just listens to them! The triumphant, risen, glorious Christ travelled incognito and listened to their fears, doubts and tentative hopes.

In our twisted way of thinking, we believe that very important people do not listen to us. They speak with us and more often they talk at us. The more dignified the person, the more we are supposed to shut up and listen.

But Jesus said, “Tell me what it is that is troubling you?” And then he listened to them. And they talked how everything that could go wrong had. Life was a bummer. Evil people were the winners and good people were the losers. Jesus of Nazareth, the most wonderful and most grace-full person they had ever met, had been brutally executed. How could God allow this to happen? Why didn’t Jesus use his power to stop this atrocity?  “We had such high hopes for Jesus, but now, well, what is left to hope for?”As they unburdened themselves, Jesus listened. A good friend is not someone who just soaks up all the burdens and troubles of someone else but wants to restore hope. And so when they had finished it was the stranger’s turn to talk and he took up what they had been saying and helped them to see that this is far from a hopeless situation. He reminded them of the way God had walked with his people in the past through the wilderness and then with the prophets as they faced all kinds of hopeless situations. He tried to help them see that the events of the past few days were all part of a much bigger plan – the plan to save all humanity. It might seem that evil had won the day and that everything seemed hopeless. That was far from the truth. Jesus died and rose to restore hope for all those who are despondent and upset.

As he helped them make sense of all that had gone wrong, life did not seem so devastatingly pointless any more. It was as if someone had turned on a light in a dark room; their hearts no longer felt desperately cold; hope started to resurrect within their own being.  Later they remembered this and said, “Wasn’t it like a fire burning in us when he talked to us on the road?” This is the fire of hope being rekindled in their hearts. Not all was doom and gloom. There was more yet to come.

God speaks to us when we are down and almost out and as we listen we find that what he has to say suddenly takes on a new relevance and we can see that there is hope. God is a great giver of hope and Jesus’ resurrection gives us an even greater hope. Jesus is our living Lord who is committed to walking with us and helping us to endure all things. He tells us that nothing can separate us from his love – nothing in all creation and beyond. He tells us that we can be contented and at peace even when there are things that threaten us and our safety. But all this can only happen if we listen. Having poured out our hearts we need to listen, rather than continuing to complain about our hurts and fears and doubts.  That is true of discipleship in our world today just as much as it was on that road to Emmaus.

Hope is a powerful thing. I remember reading about an experiment that was done with rats. They were placed in a container of water. The rats couldn’t get out and after 17 minutes drowned. Another group of rats were placed in the water and just as they were about to give up they were rescued. Some time later those same rats were placed in the water again. This time they swam for 36 hours because, it is believed, they were always hopeful that they would be rescued. And they were.

If that can happen to rats how much more are we able to have hope in the face of inexplicable events. We have a living Saviour who gives us the certainty that, come what may, his love and his understanding of what we are going through will never stop. Even if the events in our lives lead to our death, we know for certain there awaits us a life in heaven that is so wonderful that it defies description. The apostle Paul made the point that it doesn’t matter what may come his way, and he certainly did endure some gruelling times, he was always confident that he will have the strength to endure because of the power of Christ that lived in him. This gave him hope in the most hopeless situations.

The road to Emmaus is a symbol of the Christian life. This story is about ordinary despair, and ordinary Monday-morning drudgery. It is a story about meeting a stranger, hearing his words of comfort, sitting down at table and sharing a meal. This is story about the meaning of Easter for us. It enables us to see that the risen Lord gives hope and joy, when all we see is disappointment, discouragement and despair. It enables us to see the world, not as a place of death, decay, and defeat, but as a place waiting, groaning toward God’s final victory.

You can imagine how these two men told their story with some embarrassment at first, and how later they probably were able to tell it with a bit of a laugh at themselves, “We were so dumb! We were so wrapped up in our disappointment and sadness, so turned in on ourselves and our heads so low that we didn’t see who was walking with us. There he was, right beside us. We were talking about him, I mean to him about him, but we didn’t recognise him. But now we know. Now we know where to look. Now we know the impossible is possible – with him”.

This story about the walk to Emmaus is a story for every day life in 2008. If you are walking the Emmaus road right now or when you will walk it in the future filled with disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and despair – let’s remember we are not walking alone. The risen Jesus is walking with us. With Jesus walking with us our road will become a great highway of companionship, trust and hope.
Amen