“Restless for Peace” (an approximation of the sermon preached at First Pres, Boise, ID on the third Sunday of Easter)
16And to the Reubenites and the Gadites I gave the territory from Gilead as far as the Wadi Arnon, with the middle of the wadi as a boundary, and up to the Jabbok, the wadi being boundary of the Ammonites; 17the Arabah also, with the Jordan and its banks, from Chinnereth down to the sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea, with the lower slopes of Pisgah on the east.
18At that time, I charged you as follows: “Although the Lord your God has given you this land to occupy, all your troops shall cross over armed as the vanguard of your Israelite kin.19Only your wives, your children, and your livestock—I know that you have much livestock—shall stay behind in the towns that I have given to you. 20When the Lord gives rest to your kindred, as to you, and they too have occupied the land that the Lord your God is giving them beyond the Jordan, then each of you may return to the property that I have given to you.”
57As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” 59To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”61Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” 62Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 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?” 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, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 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. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 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. 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.” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 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. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 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?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
Today’s text continues us on a theme – how do we know Jesus? How will we recognize the risen Christ?
We asked that on Easter because no-one seems to know Jesus when they see him after his resurrection. Here in this text today we get some explanation given: their eyes were kept from recognizing him. What does that mean?
It probably easiest and most comfortable to presume that God kept them from knowing they were talking to Jesus. That is the conspiracy theorist way of explaining it – that God is play a game with us – whatever the endgame of that game would be I cannot guess. I think it’s far more on target to imagine that what keeps them from recognizing Jesus was themselves. I’m reminded of early in Jesus’ ministry when he arrived in his home town. Where he grew up, where he was a snot nosed child, where his baseball crashed through someone’s window. Where he ran wildly, and dug up worms in the bushes, and tried to find his moral compass. Where his neighbors heard his mom complain about how he ditched out on his family that time in Jerusalem like some juvenile delinquent. Because – you know, the Temple is exactly where all the pre-teen runaways go when they ditch out on their parents.
When he came to his home town they couldn’t imagine that Jesus would be wise, they couldn’t imagine that he was a learned and insightful teacher – this son of a carpenter – and the last thing they could imagine was he would be a miracle worker and healer, a prophet of the Most High and so the text tells us he was able to do no works of power there because they couldn’t imagine it. Our imagination is able to limit what is possible – we can keep the awesome power of God at bay with our fear, and doubt and skepticism.
So what do we think is the more plausible scenario : that God doesn’t want them to know Christ until the rabbit is pulled out from the hat at the dinner table or that their own fear and skepticism – like Jesus neighbors in his home town – causes them to close their eyes to the miraculous presence of God at work in their lives. The story isn’t about God’s artistic timing, but God’s desire to make us aware of God’s transformative presence in our lives. Like we said last week we can imagine that nothing is miraculous in the world or that everything is. These disciples are coming from a place of just such skepticism; just listen to their account of the women’s experience of the risen Jesus. There is no sense that they believe the women’s account to be authoritative. “They claim to have had some encounter with angels or something… yah – you heard me right… angels. Sure.”
It is not surprise they do not know that they are talking to Jesus.
And I’m not trying to beat them up. Because it’s no surprise that we don’t know we are talking to Jesus either. We live with clouded imaginations; we live as skeptics at best and cynics at worst. We cannot imagine God is actually walking with us on the road. We limit what is possible – we limit even God’s imagination and work in the world through our close minded and hard heartedness.
So what do you think? How do you imagine Jesus at work in the world – because oh my! Jesus is at work.
This is the phrase that jumps out at me in this text today – this is the phrase I cannot get rid of, “And he vanished.” What is up with that? This was just getting good and then Jesus is gone! Why couldn’t Jesus stay a little longer, have a couple of drinks at the table and talk about what it’s like to die… to rise. What is the plan now? What comes next? So many things to sip wine and discuss at length… except Jesus is gone, in that moment of recognition he is gone, vanished, right before our now open eyes.
Several things about this vanishing intrigue me and play at my own imagination.
First it doesn’t bother the disciples at all. These two who were journeying to Emmaus, who wanted to pause and have a leisurely evening meal and rest before continuing on their way. They aren’t bothered by Jesus disappearance. There is no talk about the inconvenience or even weighting what to do next. They immediately get up and go back to Jerusalem. In the story Jesus was walking as if to continue on and then they wanted to stop. Now that Jesus is gone, presumably to wherever he was headed when they asked him to stop, now that he is gone they turn around and go immediately back to their community in Jerusalem to tell them the news.
This gets me to two more observations.
Jesus presence is catalytic. Jesus causes things to happen. Jesus causes them to turn around and turn around immediately. Jesus transforms what you see and the Jesus type of transformation requires action – immediate action. They don’t sit around and talk about it.
Jesus catalytic presence wants to be shared. Where do they go? On their way? No – back to their community, their neighbors, and their friends- to share what they have learned. Jesus catalytic transformation is also contagious and it requires being spread and shared.
And then one last observation. The moment Jesus gives us that catalytic spark – Jesus is gone. Because Jesus has things to do. When these two disciples get back to Jerusalem did you notice what has happened? That community is already ablaze because Jesus has appeared to Simon – presumably at the same time Jesus is appearing to them or maybe that’s where Scotty beamed him up and sent him to after he vanished from the two on the Emmaus road. But that community is ablaze with this fire. Some other day we can talk about why they believed Simon but not the women but for today it’s enough to note that Jesus is lighting sparks all over the place. He appeared t the women, he appeared to these two, and to Simon, and who knows who else we don’t know.
I think the Gospel writers language of vanished, and the seeming teleporting Jesus is not about Jesus having some magic resurrection powers but it’s to remind us that Jesus is at work – God is at work everywhere whether we are able to see it or not, whether we can imagine it or not. The on-the-move-Jesus is passionately driven to spark life.
Movie convention would have us believe that when we die we write on our tombs, “Rest In Peace.” But the Risen Christ’s tomb has very different words on it – Jesus is restless for peace. Not his peace, he has nothing but peace. But he is passionately driven by a desire to share that peace with the world. Jesus is, and will be restless, until the world knows the peace he has. The Risen Christ – it would seem to me – has every reason to be able to rest on his laurels, that he has done what he needed to do and now he can rest. Instead he is appearing all over opening minds and imaginations and giving peace and he’s a catalyst for transformation in the world… off to light that spark somewhere else leaving the work of spark sharing in our more than capable hands.
I’m reminded of the passage we started with in Deuteronomy. Because in my head it is possible to imagine that an “it is finished” minded Jesus could consider his work done on the cross. That Jesus dying sinless for the world had done his job. That in resurrection and conquering sin and death the victorious Christ could proclaim his mission fulfilled and his victory won. But none of this is what happens. There is nothing in the behavior of Jesus that he has completed anything. So I’m reminded of Moses talking to the tribes of Israel as he leads them to promised land, to what will becomes their ancestral home and having procured some initial promise and apportioning that lot to one and half of the tribes he tells them however that their job isn’t done. You cannot rest in this land… none of you can rest until everyone has land. You are responsible for making sure all of your brothers and sisters have land, have inheritance… have peace and place.
You may not rest just because you have what is coming to you – you may not rest until everyone in the community is cared for. God is a communal God, not my God or your God – God is our God. I believe that Jesus in that Luke 9 passage picks up this thread. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head. I’m restless for everyone to have a place to lay their head, I have a mission to bring good news to all people – healing and teaching; transforming and opening – until all people can know peace, and until all people can have somewhere to lay their head than I will have nowhere to lay mine.
It was true of Jesus then, and it is true now. Jesus doesn’t rest on his laurels: he doesn’t say, ‘I’ve done my job and I’m going to sit on my throne now. When you have done your work, you will have earned the right to join me in rest.’ That is not what Jesus says. What Jesus says in his actions is, “I’m restless to share peace with all people. Life is stronger and death And my life is lived with great imagination that we can indeed secure life for all people and place for all people and peace for all people, I imagine / God with us imagine that all people can have a place to lay their head in peace and wholeness. And I will go wherever I need to go – even hell itself – to spark that fire in my people.
Jesus is risen, he is on the move, and it is good!
How are you catalytic for Christ?
How are you on the move on behalf of your neighbors in Christ?
How are you restless for peace?