EasterMessage for Easter 2 on Luke 24:13-35 given on April 7, 2024 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

When I was a freshman in college at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, the campus pastor told me that I should think about becoming a Lutheran pastor. When I grasped what he was saying, I saw a light above his head and I had a knowing feeling in my chest. I thought, “this is exactly what I am supposed to do with my life!” It was a moment of revelation.

My parents had never seen a woman pastor and were not so sure about this idea, especially since our most recent church was Missouri Synod. They knew me better than anybody. I began to think that maybe the conviction of the heart I felt about becoming a pastor was really just heartburn. Take two tums, walk away, and find another career.

After spending a year living in Brussels, Belgium where my dad was moved for work, I transferred for my sophomore year to a Lutheran college in northern MN. Because I had walked away from being convinced of my call to ministry, I double majored in Psychology, and Political Science/History, creating two pathways out of the church. I could become a psychologist or go to law school (I was really workin' this walking away-thing!).

But I was really looking forward to chapel and campus ministry which I imagined would be great at a Lutheran college. One of the first services I went to, the campus pastor read a children’s book called, Freddie the Falling Leaf. I was dumbfounded and deeply disappointed. Instead of speaking to the real-life issues we faced struggling to become adults, like identity, vocation, and relationships, we were given saccharin stories and superficial platitudes. When I needed something to encourage me when my parents lived half-way across the world, something to help me discern what to do with my life, the church was not pulling me in; instead, it was helping me walk away. I wanted to take that stupid book and hit the campus pastor in the head with it as I walked out the door.

Perhaps you too, have had a time when you walked away from God, from faith, from Jesus, or from church—from part of it or the whole thing. Sometimes we do not receive support from others when we most want it. Sometimes we need support from the church or a faith community, and it is not forthcoming. Or worse, people in the church hurt us and we wonder where God is in the mess of it. Nothing makes sense. We are disappointed, in pain, mad, and the only option we can see is to walk away, take a break, or find a new path.

But it’s especially hard when the church or a congregation disappoints us because we merge that experience with God, and it feels like God has forgotten us or hurt us. That’s the worst spiritual feeling there is.

Our Gospel reading tells the story of two disciples, Cleopas and one other, who also walk away—on the first Easter morning no less! Apparently, they did not believe the testimony of the women who came from the empty tomb and their excitement over seeing a vision of angels telling them Jesus has risen from the dead. Other disciples also went to the empty tomb and found it just as the women had told them, so it was clearly possible their story was true!

Wouldn’t you want to stay in Jerusalem and find out if the story was real—is it true that Jesus is alive?

But no, these two disciples are stuck in their story of grief, pain, and feeling forgotten—Jesus had died, he was not the Messiah, God had forgotten all about them, and all they could think about was how Jesus’ mission had failed them: We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.

In their disappointment and grief, they walk away from the empty tomb, they walk away from the testimony of resurrection, and they walk away from their community which is trying to believe that something new just might be happening.

When we walk away, we expect God to walk away from us—we imagine that God’s patience and love and forbearance is akin to ours.

But that’s not what the risen Jesus does, is it? While Cleopas and his companion are headed to Emmaus, away from the empty tomb, away from the resurrection, away from the church, away from relationship with Jesus or their community, the risen Jesus follows them; the risen Jesus finds them on the road, and joins them on their journey out of Jerusalem.

Honestly! Whose God does this? Jesus says, "If you’re going to run away, I am going to run away with you!"

So he does. Jesus engages them in conversation and finds out that their hearts are broken. He listens, and he teaches, and illuminates their own faith to them, while they are still walking away!

Jesus becomes their incognito companion on the journey, showing up in friendship, in conversation and in gentle love!

There are no “shoulds,” no shaming, no “what were you thinking?”—just a companion walking beside them, so much so, that the wayward disciples invite Jesus to join them for a meal and lodging for the night.

Whenever we walk away from faith, from worship, from Jesus, from prayer, from a relationship with him—whether it’s for a day, week, a year, a decade or more—the risen Jesus always follows us and finds us on the road wherever we are going. Jesus runs away with us.

God’s patience, love and forbearance are not limited like ours—they are limitless and eternal. This is why God sent Jesus—to show us what eternal love looks like—
• God has patience that is more forbearing than our stubborn spirits;
• God has love that is more powerful than death itself!

The risen Jesus always searches for the wayward, the risen Jesus always looks for the hurting and the grieving, the risen Jesus always chases down those who are too hurt to stay.

Psalm 139 says,

O LORD, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
...If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
 If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me fast.

The Lord’s presence comes in many forms—a person who supports us, an experience that helps us change direction, a new opportunity we had not anticipated, a fresh insight or way of thinking, an experience in nature, and even a bodily experience—like a conviction of the heart, a gut feeling, goosebumps, or that sense of the Spirit’s energy moving through us.

How has Jesus found you when you have turned away, whether it was for a day, a week or a year or longer?

This week I invite you in to two spiritual practices: the first one is to simply to
1. Practice Paying Attention: Pay attention to how Jesus finds you during the week both internally and externally
a. First Pay attention internally and trust your body’s signals. We are not really taught to pay attention to God showing up for us in the “aha” moments, in the conviction in the chest, the gut feeling, in the flush of the spirit, in goose bumps, or in the words of our Emmaus Road-disciples, their “heart burning.” Our temptation is to write it off as weird, or as nothing, rather than pausing to ask what Jesus wants us to notice. But those are moments when God is asking us to pause, to pay attention, to be present. The risen Spirit of Jesus needs earthly matter to show up in—it’s why we talk about the church as the hands and feet of Christ. Pay attention to the physical clues that Christ is here dwelling inside you, giving you a nudge to look closely at what is happening around you and in you.
b. Pay attention externally—look at the people around you, the conversations you have, the nature you see, the music you hear, the love you experience, the opportunities, events, and the moments that come your way—where do you see good, love, and God at work? These are all signs of the risen Jesus showing up on your journey with you.
2. Practice forgiving the church and other Christians for failing you. This is harder than it sounds because we want Christians, churches, and ministry institutions to be better, to be less sinful, to do fewer things wrong and more things right. So maybe start with one resentment you are hanging onto. We forget that people are just people, full of their own issues and hurts; we forget that their mistakes, pain, lousy chapel, or bad church behavior, does not speak for God. We forget that every institution no matter how holy it tries to be, is still human, and therefore equally prone to sin, to failure, and brokenness…just like…well…. we are.

The difference is not that we in the church don’t sin, but that when we do, we have a process in Matthew 18 for talking about it, for repenting, for asking for forgiveness, for offering forgiveness and living in reconciliation. In fact, that’s when community, deeper relationships get really great, become deeply meaningful, much more profound and have the power to change the world—because this is a church that is truly practicing love.

We are all a work in progress.

I rarely liked Chapel at college, but a friend told me who was the best preacher in town and Jesus found me there. I had great professors who mentored me, and Jesus found me there. I went on an urban semester in Chicago and Jesus found me in the inmates I tutored in Cook County Jail, in the African American Lutheran church where I volunteered, and in the people at the homeless shelter on the weekends. Pretty soon I discovered how much Jesus mattered to them and to me. One day quite accidentally, I stopped saying “if” I go to seminary, and said, “when I go to seminary…” and the decision was out of my mouth before I had consciously chosen it. But the conviction of the heart came back because Jesus found me wherever I was.

And my parents? Well, they were both in tears the first time I served them Communion on internship, and they bought the champagne for my ordination reception, so the risen Jesus finds all of us on our journey, wherever we are.

The two Emmaus-Road disciples do not recognize Jesus until he breaks bread with them. Ultimately, the risen Jesus finds us in this meal—where he calls us by name and says that the forgiveness and love he brings, he gives to each of us personally, individually, as an important member of this great community of Christ.

As we receive Jesus’ body and blood, as we accept his incognito companionship and constant presence, we will experience his presence internally and see him externally all around us, as Jesus finds us over and over again, wherever we are.

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