Words from Our Pastor

Monday, August 20, 2018

Pentecost 13, 8/19/18: Jesus On the Road

Sermon for Pentecost 13, 8/19/18                             Luke 24: 13-35                             Jesus on the Road

              Here’s what I don’t get about this story: If those guys knew enough about Jesus to have been in on the story of the empty tomb…if they’d been close enough for long enough to see the drama of resistance to him build…if they spent hours on the road talking about what had happened to him…then why in Heaven’s name did it take them so long to recognize him when he came right alongside them? 
Their eyes weren’t so sharp, but their hearts were. They sensed on the road that something big was happening, but didn’t put it all together until he’d vanished. Then they remembered their hearts burning while he talked. Sometimes hearts catch on before heads. 

It’s kind of like we ‘know’ before we actually know.
            Maybe that happened on the very first date with your spouse, when your heart was burning long before your head had any idea of long-term commitment. Or did a teacher once say in response to an idea you proposed, “You may seriously have something there. I’d never thought of that before.” Or is there a particular way your dad moved his hands as he showed you how to do something? And even now, doing that thing just like he showed you brings him back to your heart?
The encounter on the road with Jesus felt special in all these ways, though it was only later that the travelers realized why. 

Whatever the psychology of it, this encounter was more than chance. Jesus had a purpose in coming up alongside them on the road. He meant to change them, to make them ready to recognize him and know him deeply. After spending time with him and beginning to trust him, they did finally see him clearly for the first time. And that can happen to us.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you’re going to meet Jesus in the flesh on the road, or sit down with him physically at the table. But we do get this promise: visible or not, he is at work in us and with us, to reshape us from the inside out. And his work may take you by surprise:
·       You may discover, for example, while listening to someone whose actions have always puzzled you, that you finally understand them.
·      You may feel a strength you never before had, to resist a habit that’s dragged you down for years and damaged your relationships.
·      Or in a dark moment at the end of your rope, you may hear Jesus’ voice in someone who walks beside you, and from that voice find purpose and direction that you’ve needed for a very long time.

That happened here in Charlotte for graphic designer and stay-at-home mom Kathy Izard, whose book The Hundred Story Home was read in our church's Book Club. She and her kids had been volunteering at the Charlotte Urban Ministry Center soup kitchen for several years, doing their bit for the homeless. And on a plane traveling cross-country, Kathy read a book called Same Kind of Different as Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, a formerly homeless man. It was about homelessness, and it touched her deeply.
When the Urban Ministry Center needed a killer fundraising event, she thought of inviting the authors of that powerful book to speak in Charlotte. They came, and she gave them a tour of the Urban Ministry Center: the soup kitchen, the display of art from homeless folks who used the center, the vegetable garden they tended. Denver Moore, the formerly homeless man, seemed unimpressed. He asked to see the upstairs, which, she explained, housed only office space. Then he looked at her and asked, “Where are the beds?” She didn’t get it. He continued, “You mean to tell me you do all this good in the day and then lock them out to the bad at night?” His question haunted her.

Thus began Kathy’s dream of building a home for the homeless. She started the journey of fundraising, campaigning, and recruiting for the dream of this home. But months of hard work wore her out, emotionally and physically. Her fundraising partners had faith—the  money would come and God would provide. She did not. She wrote: “God certainly didn’t know we had a capital campaign that was short $6.5 million; that success or failure was resting squarely on me.”
Realizing she was near the end of her rope, she sought counseling from a minister at the Episcopal Church her family had been attending. She admitted she wasn’t big enough to make this dream a reality by herself. She had felt Denver Moore’s question, “Where are the beds?” as a call, maybe even God’s call, and her heart burned again as she remembered it. She wanted desperately to believe in that call, to stay on the road. She asked, “How can I know for sure that God is behind this project?” To which the minister replied, “You will know. God has a funny way of showing off.”
After that conversation, Kathy Izard started trying to pray (which she had never done), awkwardly at first, for the things she needed immediately: more donors for the project, openness from the neighborhood where it was to be built, the energy to finish a particular grant application.
Then the ‘God moments’ began to happen: a new volunteer at the Urban Ministry Center, whom she barely knew, suddenly turned out to have exactly the right skills and passion to take on a project task for which no one else had been qualified. The congregation across the street from the building site had recently read the book Same Kind of Different as Me, and they were eager to help, despite opposition from neighborhood homeowners. Izard wrote, “Once I was looking and listening, it seemed God was everywhere.”

When Moore Place was completed and she toured the building, she was struck by the Donor Wall, on which hundreds of names were listed: 168 individuals; 28 foundations; 60 houses of faith; state, local and federal funds given. All together totaling over $10.5 million.
God does indeed have a funny way of showing off!

Is showing off what Jesus did on that evening at the table with those two travelers? Maybe. As he blessed and broke the bread—the ultimate God moment—their eyes recognized him! And once they were looking and listening, they began to see God everywhere.

What a way to live your life, feeling Jesus beside you on every road you take. Who knows where that partnership might lead you? To take on a project you always thought was too big for you alone? To offer illogical hope to a coworker whose life seems hopelessly broken? To invite a friend to church who’s never seemed open to faith before, and to trust God to draw from him a YES?
So be on the lookout for Christ Jesus on the roads you travel. Once you start looking, you’ll find out he’s not shy at all! He’s everywhere. And he’s a show-off! He’s out to make a racket inside you and me, set our hearts afire, and through us make a holy difference in this wide world. 
Thanks be to God. Amen.