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A sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett 

Scripture: Luke 24: 13-38

 

Let me tell you a story. It is a story from the most ancient traditions of our faith. It is a story that tells us the kind of people we are meant to be. It is a story about our ancestors in the faith. Their names were Abraham and Sarah.

Abraham and Sarah were nomads who lived in the region between Israel and Egypt. God had promised them that God would bless them with many children. “Look toward the heaven and count the stars if you can . . . That ‘s how many descendants you shall have.” (Genesis 15:5, 22:17, 26:4)

Abraham and Sarah believed the promise. They tried to live their lives trusting the Promise Maker, although they did not always succeed in doing that. The years went by, but not children were born to them. Now they were both old and it seemed too late.

Then, one day, in the heat of the day, Abraham was sitting at the entrance to his tent. He looked up and three men, stranger whom he did not know, were standing near him. He got up and ran to meet them. He greeted them with a deep bow. He offered the strangers generous and gracious hospitality. “Wash the dust from their feet,” he told some servants. “Come, rest under this tree,” he said to the strangers. “Stay for a meal.” Abraham offered them a generous meal of bread and cheese and meat.

Before the strangers left, they gave Abraham a promise. “Within the year, your wife will give birth to a son.” Sarah laughed when she overheard it. Given her age, the promise seemed impossible. But, the impossible happened. Within the year, Isaac was born. Abraham and Sarah, as good as dead, welcomed the future that God had made possible. (Genesis 17.23-18.6)

Isaac was the father of Jacob who had twelve sone, whose children become the twelve tribes of Israel. One of the children of one of those twelve tribes was Jesus of Nazareth. He became part of a family with as many members as the stars in the sky, if you were able to count them.

Ever since Abraham and Sarah, we have been a people for whom offering hospitality to strangers has been a central practice. You never know what promise those strangers might bring. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,” says our scripture, “for by doing so, some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)

Easter tells you, “The stranger you meet might even be something more than an angel. The stranger might be the risen Christ drawing near to you. This is what two disciples in today’s gospel story discovered.

It happened three days after Jesus had been crucified. They had lost all their hopes, all their dreams. It happened less than twelve hours after the first reports were coming in that Jesus had been raised from the dead — the first indications that the world they thought they knew was gone. Some new reality was taking its place.

They were confused and frightened and disoriented. So, they were leaving Jerusalem and all its uncertainty. They were heading home to Emmaus. Emmaus is the place you go to try to escape the changes you cannot control. It is the familiar place to which you retreat when you are trying to get your world back the way it was. It was on the road to Emmaus that a stranger joined these two disciples.

He asked questions. They poured out their anger and doubt and despair. He talked and told them the stories of their faith. He helped them find their place in the stories of God’s powerful new beginnings in the midst of impossibilities and hard endings.

They got to Emmaus around supper time. In keeping with their tradition, they offered the stranger the hospitality of a meal. When the stranger took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them, they realized that he was not a stranger at all. He was Jesus: risen from the dead; present with them; showing up unexpectedly and unrecognized.

It happens again and again in the Easter stories: Mary at the tomb, thinking Jesus was the gardener; the disciples fishing in Galilee when a stranger prepares breakfast on the beach.”

These stories of Jesus’ unexpected, surprising appearance are training you to see Jesus in your life. “Pay attention,” they say. “A risen Saviour is on the loose in your world. You never know when he will show up or how — but it will be in places you do not expect him. He won’t look anything like what you think a saviour should look like. Stay alert.”

 

A young advertising executive with a bright, promising career, volunteered every Tuesday evening at his church’s foot clinic for homeless people. People who lived on the streets would come to the church’s building. This man, along with other volunteers, would care for their feet. He would sit in front of a guest, take his or her feet in his hands, put them in a basin of warm water, and wash them. He would take a towel and dry them. He would take some ointment and apply it to the sores. The ritual ended with each guest receiving the gift of a clean white pair of socks. Then, he would move to the next guest. One evening, the advertising executive’s minister watched him and asked, “Why do you come here each week?” The man replied, “I figure I have a better chance of running into Jesus here than most places.”
The minister watched him week after week. At some point, she realized she was developing what she called ‘double vision’. “I was seeing Christ in the strangers that he served. I was also seeing Christ in that young man as he was finding deep meaning in his life through serving others.”  (Joanna Adams, Day 1, 2005)

 

Where do you go to develop ‘double vision’? Where are you training yourself to see Christ when he shows up in expected places, among unexpected people? The risen Christ is loose in your world. He can and does show up anywhere. Do you see him? do you recognize that it is the Lord?”

There is always a sense of mystery to that encounter. It is not something you control. It is not something you manage. There is no magic formula. There are no ‘five guaranteed steps to an encounter with the risen Christ”. However, you can practise hosting the mystery. You can offer hospitality to strangers. You can let yourself be open to people who are not like you.

It is not easy to do. Our culture trains us to be wary of strangers. They might be a threat to you. It is not easy to welcome strangers. if you let them get near you — if you offer them hospitality in your heart — you will be changed. You will see the world in new ways — ways that might not be comfortable.

Followers of Jesus who are on the look-out for the risen Christ, need some counter-cultural training. We need practice at welcoming the one who is different, alien. Thank God, Jesus invites us to the table. Here, we encounter strangers who are also brothers and sisters in Christ. Here, we encounter the risen Christ who is so different from what we are looking for that we will not recognize him at first. Here, he takes, blesses, breaks and give. Then, we realize God is present, inviting us to enter into God’s resurrection reality. Here, our impossibilities become God’s new future. Here, you will be changed.

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A Good Friday sermon based on John 18: 28 -38

About 80 years after Jesus had been crucified on a Roman cross, a man named Pliny was the governor of the Roman province of Bithinia. Bithinia was on the Black Sea, in what is now northern Turkey. There was in the province of Bithinia a small Christian community. Pliny was not quite sure what he should do about them so he wrote to Rome to get some directions. “There is a little group of religious fanatics,” he wrote, “who sing a hymn on the first day of the week to Christ as to a god.”

The emperor replied, “If these Christians leave it at that, what’s the harm? As long as they don’t cause a commotion, don’t trouble yourself; they are no threat to the empire.”

We know now that the emperor was mistaken. Within a couple hundred years, small communities of Christians had grown so strong and so powerful that they had taken over the Empire. They had done it without firing a single shot or deploying a single battalion, but they were the dominant force in the culture. The Emperor himself was a Christian.

You and I have gathered on this Friday morning to sing our hymns to Christ, whom we call “Lord and Saviour”, “fully human/fully divine”, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sing of the world”. We are relatively small gathering, really, considering that we have brought three congregations together for this service. We are few in number partly because Good Friday is a hard sell in our churches. Good Fridays services are not known for being the most upbeat experiences. The gathering is also small, I suspect, because much of the culture believes that our sining a few hymns and our telling some ancient stories is not accomplishing anything significant or important. “Let them be,” says the culture. “What’s the harm? The certainly pose no real threat to the world.”

Well, we shall see. The end of the story has not been written yet. We do not yet know what our God will make of our attempts to remain faithful in the dying days of Christendom. We do not know what God will do with the worship we offer as we seek to serve God in this time before God’s new thing bursts forth across the land.

We do not know, but we gather as a community of people who have staked our lives on the truth of God that the world thinks is foolishness. We hear Pilate ask, “What is truth?” and the answer we have to give is, simply, “Jesus”. Jesus is truth.

And, truthfully, the truth that Jesus is does often look like foolishness.

Jesus is truth that forgives not just once or twice but seventy times seven times. And we are invited to forgive with such extravagant abundance because that is how our Father in heaven deals with our sinfulness and brokenness.

Jesus is truth that welcomes strangers and shares meals with all the wrong people and turns the other cheek and travels the extra mile and loves even enemies because such wild, crazy love takes us to the mystery at the heart of our God.

Jesus is truth that refuses to abandon us even when we deny him and abandon him and betray him. Jesus comes looking for us when we wander away, even if he has to travel all the way to hell and back to find us, because that is how determined God is to get all God’s children home.

Jesus is truth that is cross-shaped and hurt-shaped and driven by vulnerability because such suffering love is the crucible of God’s life-giving newness.

Jesus is truth that invites us to live as communities of faith that are learning to forgive one another as Christ forgives us and welcome strangers as Christ has welcomed us and to offer all that we suffer up to God, believing that God will take even our suffering and redeem it for God’s good and holy purposes. We believe that God has that power even through those stretches when we cannot see it.

Today we remember that Pilate will always try to crucify such Truth. Such remembering is important because we do not know how long this time of being pushed to the margins of the culture is going to last. We do not how long we shall be mostly ‘small groups singing our subversive hymns to Christ” while the culture thinks we are harmless. We may be just at the beginning of a long stretch. Good Friday may be just beginning. Or, maybe we are near the end — that resurrection, God’s ‘new thing’ is just around the corner. Perhaps we are stuck in Holy Saturday and will be here for a while yet, waiting for God to raise the dead and break open the graves.

Wherever we are, we know that the Church — Christ’s Church — has been before. We hold on, in trust and in hope. We hold on because we are part of a community that believes that even in suffering and in vulnerability; even in those times when the glory of God is hidden from our sight; even when all we have to hold onto is the ache and the longing that God’s absence brings; even when the powers of this world have done their worst — even then, our God, the God of our crucified Saviour, this God can be trusted.

In Jesus, we come face-to-face with God’s truth. And so we stay close to the one who was crucified. He still works in surprising ways with people whom the world has dismissed as harmless and irrelevant and useless. His creative Holy Spirit still hovers over the chaos. In God’s own time, God does a new thing against all expectations. In God’s own time, God gives life to the dead.

Not until Sunday, but surely on Sunday. And so, on Good Friday, we sing our hymns and  say our prayers and trust. We stake our lives on this One who is the Truth. Thanks be to God.

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God of all goodness
You call us by name
and summon us into the mystery of your church.
You know the barriers we put up against you —
— the fears that keep us clinging
to that which is comfortable and familiar,
manageable and safe.
— the shadows of despair and doubt
that envelop us whenever we turn away from
your steadfast faithfulness.
— the self-centredness
that makes our world too small to hold your glory.
God of mercy,
shine your light upon our lives,
so that we may see Your activity and power
in the ordinariness of our days.
Flood our souls with assurance of your grace
so that we may choose to trust your purposes for our lives —
living with open hearts and open hands to receive your
gifts that come in unexpected forms.
So fill us with the love of Christ that we may seek
always to welcome all those for whom he died.
We ask these things in Jesus’ name,
our light and our salvation.

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We are cautious about handing over control to anybody, Holy God,
even to you —
especially to you.
You lead your people into ways
that are dangerous and free.
For the most part, we have lost our taste for freedom.
On this day, as we set ourselves
at the foot of your cross,
reach into those places
where we have settled for
comfort and security and safety.
Unsettle us
Discomfort us
Grant us that holy insecurity
that leads to truth and courage and life.
We dare to pray this way
because you have hid our lives in Christ
and he prayed it first.
He has gone before us
into all that life and death may bring
and was not destroyed.
We would be with him where he is.
Into your hands we commit our spirits.

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