Weekly Preaching: April 26, 2020

April 22nd, 2020
The 7th Sunday of COVID-19. I'll reflect on texts as we usually would, but take note below that Jesus becomes real to the disciples in Emmaus as a result of an act of hospitality. Perhaps that is exercised virtually now, via Zoom or Facetime. Hospitality is still a thing! Since we're pre-recording various elements of our online service, we've thought we'd record Luke 24:13-35 outside on a road somewhere to get the feel of guys walking, going somewhere, etc.
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Quirky question: Two weeks after the first/real Easter, did the disciples recall singing our lectionary Psalm 116 during the Last Supper just seventeen days earlier? “I love the Lord because he has heard my cry. The snares of death encompassed me… I will lift up the cup of salvation… Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” Did they sing all this again on that Sabbath?

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1 Peter 1:17-23 portrays God as an impartial judge, which isn’t even true. God is rooting for our acquittal, insisting on undeserved mercy, standing in as our lawyer advocating for us, even stepping in to bear the punishment due us. Of course, the author (could it be the Peter?) is debunking the idea that God is partial toward the holy or the religious insiders of his day. Some little things to note exegetically: “Ransomed,” lutro in Greek, means paid but also delivered, rescued; and it’s from “futile ways,” the Greek being better translated “idols.” These futile idolatries are “inherited from your ancestors." I get puzzled (but hopefully inquisitive) looks when I suggest in preaching that even some lovely religiosity and worldly wisdom you got from parents and grandparents might be curiously off kilter when it comes to the realities of God’s kingdom. And this: “Deeds” is really singular in the Greek  so it’s not this or that deed, but the whole life that’s impacted.
"Weak Enough to Lead" by James C. Howell. Order here: http://bit.ly/WeakEnoughtoLead
Joel Green’s wisdom intrigues: “Interestingly, in 1 Peter 1:18-19, sin and its consequences per se are not the focus of redemption; ‘the emptiness of your inherited way of life’ is" (1 Peter, 42). It's not hard to explore our inherited way of life, be it family values, conventional wisdom, political ideology, cemented in views of good and bad. St. Francis, interestingly enough, was reported by his first biographer to have been “reared by his parents according to the vanity of the age. By long imitating their worthless life and character he himself was made more vain and arrogant.” Parents in my church groom their children to fit in, to succeed, to get ahead — we might add “according to the vanity of the age.” Francis had to shed that vain way of life as he shed his clothing in the famous scene when he was put on trial by his father. As Flannery O’Connor is quoted as saying, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”
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It's hard not to preach on Luke 24:13-35. What an elegant, dramatic, theologically rich narrative! Caravaggio and Rembrandt painted the scene with brushstrokes that might bore more deeply into people than the preacher’s paltry words. Some details are worth pointing to. The disciples on the road are deep in conversation. The Greek there is homileo: is a homily an intense discussion? Does the unrecognized presence of Jesus echo Genesis 28, when Jacob awoke and realized “The Lord was in this place and I did not know it”?
Jesus asks what they are talking about; the Greek is antiballete, a term used in forensics, academics and the courts. David Lyle Jeffrey sees this as “a warning for theologians… It is possible to be so engrossed in our wearied debates that we fail to know Jesus as he is” (Luke, 284). What we move toward here isn’t better information about Jesus, but an intimate awareness of his presence; St. Augustine pointed out that “the Teacher was walking with them along the way, and he himself was the way.”
Their disappointment is the open window for listeners. We know disappointment. The Greek skythropos does mean “sadness,” but Amy-Jill Levine suspects the Greek has tucked inside it a hint of anger. Our people are disappointed in... gosh, everything. Do they harbor a touch of anger that things haven’t panned out as they’d wished, even their religious lives?
The crucifixion of Christ and the first reports of his resurrection did not provoke hymns or an explosion of faith, any more than Easter Sunday inspired your people to profound discipleship. Back to trudging down the old road. And yet there are glimmers of hope, even for our tired people overly familiar with the story. The guys on the road recognized Jesus only after three things happened:
1. They delved into the Scriptures together. Too often we want to know God without troubling ourselves with the Bible, but (as Luther put it) the Bible is “the swaddling clothes in which Christ is laid.” The Scriptures are God’s divinely-ordained, merciful, gracious means by which we can know and experience God — especially when we probe the Scriptures with other seekers.
2. Jesus was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Holy Communion is the highest moment of the Christian life, for Christ is mysteriously present each time we gather at the table and break this bread, symbolic of his act of salvation; we do so together, for we are one with him, one together because of him. And, surprisingly:
3. Don’t forget that their simple effort at hospitality was the prelude to their awareness of Christ! He was going on, but they “constrained” him to stay with them, to share a meal. Again, we often feel we do not know Christ because we never meet up with the poor, we never reach out to those desperately in need of food and shelter. But when we do, not only do we help others, but we discover Christ, alive and blessing us. Can you tell a personal story, or a vignette from the life of your church, when the Scriptures did open some eyes, when being at the table really was an encounter with the living Lord, or when hospitality to the stranger did usher in Christ himself — or maybe all three?

What can we say April 26? 3rd Sunday of Easter originally appeared at James Howell's Weekly Preaching Notions. Reprinted with permission.

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