Discipleship in Difficult Times

Discipleship in Difficult Times
Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
April 26, 2020
[COVID Pandemic Week 7]

Luke 24: 13-35 (CEB)
On that same day, two disciples were traveling to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14They were talking to each other about everything that had happened. 15While they were discussing these things, Jesus himself arrived and joined them on their journey. 16They were prevented from recognizing him.
17He said to them, “What are you talking about as you walk along?” They stopped, their faces downcast.
18The one named Cleopas replied, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who is unaware of the things that have taken place there over the last few days?”
19He said to them, “What things?”
They said to him, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth. Because of his powerful deeds and words, he was recognized by God and all the people as a prophet. 20But our chief priests and our leaders handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him. 21We had hoped he was the one who would redeem Israel. All these things happened three days ago. 22But there’s more: Some women from our group have left us stunned. They went to the tomb early this morning 23and didn’t find his body. They came to us saying that they had even seen a vision of angels who told them he is alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found things just as the women said. They didn’t see him.”
25Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! Your dull minds keep you from believing all that the prophets talked about. 26Wasn’t it necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27Then he interpreted for them the things written about himself in all the scriptures, starting with Moses and going through all the Prophets.
28When they came to Emmaus, he acted as if he was going on ahead. 29But they urged him, saying, “Stay with us. It’s nearly evening, and the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30After he took his seat at the table with them, he took the bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he disappeared from their sight. 32They said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts on fire when he spoke to us along the road and when he explained the scriptures for us?”
33They got up right then and returned to Jerusalem. They found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying to each other, “The Lord really has risen! He appeared to Simon!” 35Then the two disciples described what had happened along the road and how Jesus was made known to them as he broke the bread.

When we first went into quarantine almost six weeks ago, I thought to myself, maybe a month of this, and we’ll be back together to celebrate Easter. But just a week or two in, when it became clear that even Easter was too soon, I started thinking about what happens after Easter. What is the post-Easter message for a world that is sheltering in place and practicing social distancing? But then, on top of the whole coronavirus pandemic, our community was struck by a devastating EF-3 tornado two weeks ago. After that, this question became even more important in my mind.
What is the post-Easter message for a world sheltering-in-place, and a community that has lost hundreds of homes and businesses? For me, I think the underlying question through all of this has been, “How do I continue to live as a disciple and bear witness to my faith in a world that is basically shut down and in total isolation right now?” And again, the importance of that question has become even more pronounced in our East Brainerd community in the last two weeks. Even though we are supposed to be staying at home and avoiding contact with any but our own families or households, our call to be disciples who proclaim life and serve in the name of the risen Christ has not changed. Not to mention the fact that such proclamation and service is perhaps needed now more than ever, and especially in our community. So, over the next few weeks as we dig into the post-Resurrection stories in the Bible and the work of the disciples in those first days, and weeks, and months after Jesus’ resurrection, I’m going to spend some time looking at the lessons we can learn about always living and serving as disciples of Christ, no matter the circumstances in which we may find ourselves.
This morning, our post-Resurrection story comes from Luke’s gospel. It is still Easter day, but we have moved away from the tomb and find ourselves with some followers of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. These two followers of Jesus, Cleopas and an unnamed companion, are walking the seven miles out of Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus. It has been a long and difficult weekend, and they are discussing all that has happened, when a third person falls into step with them and asks what they are talking about. Cleopas and his friend are shocked that this man isn’t aware of the big news of the weekend, but as they walk along, they proceed to fill him in. In this encounter on the road to Emmaus, I think there are three important lessons about discipleship in uncertain times.
There is, of course, an important question here about whether or not we recognize Jesus in our midst. But I think the more important lesson from this moment in the journey to Emmaus is that, as disciples, we need to be willing to share our hearts. And in the same vein, disciples also need to be good listeners. Cleopas and the other follower of Jesus are devastated. They are sad and probably scared. They are in the midst of grappling with the reality that maybe their greatest hopes have been completely dashed. At this point on Easter day, most of Jesus’ followers are still confused and struggling with all that has happened. But these two are talking through it – with one another, and then with this unknown person that joins them. Even though it’s been the big news story of the weekend, even though they are uncertain and afraid, they are sharing their hearts, their hurts, their worries. They are listening to one another and trying to work through their present challenges.
Now, let me pause here for a minute. Because this is the first important lesson for us as followers of Christ in scary and uncertain times. We need to talk about what we are experiencing, with one another and with others. Sure, it may be negative, and it might be scary, but there is comfort in companionship and solidarity. We can support one another when we are willing to share with one another our fears and struggles. We can open a portal to deeper conversation when we talk about what we are experiencing, there is opportunity even in phone conversations or Zoom calls to be people who listen with sympathy and understanding, and who offer hope in the midst of devastation. Cleopas and his companion reveal the importance of sharing the struggles in our lives, and Jesus walking along beside them reveals the importance of listening with understanding and compassion.
Of course, we all find it shocking that the two disciples walking along to Emmaus didn’t recognize that Jesus was right there with them. But again there are some important lessons for those of us working to follow Christ and to be his disciples in our world right now. And the next lesson here is about hospitality. The man who came along and walked to Emmaus with Cleopas and his friend was still a relative stranger by the time they arrived in Emmaus and evening fell. Nevertheless, the disciples enthusiastically invited and encouraged this stranger to come and eat and rest with them. That invitation, the hospitality that was extended to this stranger, became the gateway to an even greater encounter with the risen Christ. And indeed, that is what Christ has promised us, is it not? “Whatever you have done for these least of these…you have done it for me.” Now, I know this is not a time to open our homes and invite strangers over for a meal, but what are the creative ways we can show hospitality or serve our neighbors right now? Can we order out a meal for someone who is dealing with a particular hardship? Can we help a family displaced by the tornado find a home or apartment to rent on a temporary basis? Can we volunteer to take in a pet for a short time while a couple lives in a hotel awaiting home repairs? Even from our homes, we can extend hospitality to one another and to those in need, we just have to be creative. And the lesson from Emmaus is that as disciples of Christ, offering service and hospitality to those in our midst is central to living as a disciple.
There’s one other lesson from this Easter encounter in Emmaus. This is something we talked about through the season of Lent, then on Easter Sunday, and last week, too, in the aftermath of the tornado. Cleopas and the other follower of Jesus did not recognize that it was Christ with them until they sat down to eat and Jesus blessed bread and broke it. Friends, this is a simple, ordinary act. It was standard practice for Jews in Jesus’ day, and its standard practice in our world today, too, right? We sit down at the meal table, and before we begin to eat, someone says a blessing. Usually, we do not even think about it. But in that simple, every day, ordinary act, Cleopas and his friend came to see that their Lord Jesus sat there with them. So we have this reminder again, friends. The signs of life and hope are all around us. The signs of Christ working in this world and changing lives for the better are around us everyday. And it may be that on some days, the signs seem so ordinary and mundane that we don’t even give it a second thought. But we can’t do that. We must continue to proclaim Christ’s presence in our midst, and Christ’s miraculous work in our community and in our world, especially right now. That means we need to be on the lookout, we need to expect to see Christ, even in the unexpected places
I know it’s really hard these days to feel like there’s much good happening in our world, or in our community, or in our lives. I know that we are really distracted, and crazy busy, and super stressed just trying to hold things together through everything that is happening. But none of what is going on changes the fact that we are still loved by God, and we are still called as disciples of Christ. None of what is going on around us changes the fact that Christ still comes among us. It might not be in big ways, right now, but Christ is there. If we’re feeling like we’re not experiencing that in this time, then perhaps this is our time to be Christ’s presence for someone else. Listening to someone else’s hurts or offering hospitality in this very moment, may be a sign and a blessing that someone else needs right now, far more than any of us. So no matter what, let’s do this: let’s continue to be Christ for one another, to look for the signs of Christ’s presence, and hope, and life in our midst; signs both small and large. And whenever, and whatever signs we may see. Let’s proclaim the good news for all who so desperately need it right now.

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