Finding the Lessons

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Easter 3A April 30, 2017

Quotes That Make Me Think

"I believe that although the two disciples did not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, Jesus recognized them, that he saw them as if they were the only two people in the world. And I believe that the reason why the resurrection is more than just an extraordinary event that took place some two thousand years ago and then was over and done with is that, even as I speak these words and you listen to them, he also sees each of us like that." 

"Recognizing," sermon discussion from Frederick Buechner, Frederick Buechner Blog.

"Today's reading ends with the commissioning of the disciples. One will be able to make the connection with today's reading from the Acts of the Apostles."

Commentary, Luke 24:36b-48, Lucy Lind Hogan, Preaching This Week,, 2012.

General Resources for Sunday's Lessons from


As we hear the word that brings salvation, make our hearts burn within us. In the breaking of the bread, open our eyes to recognize the One whose feast it is. Through the presence of every friend and stranger, real to us the face of the Christ who had first to suffer but who has entered now into glory, the Lord Jesus, our Passover and our Peace. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year A, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.

Some Thoughts on Luke 24:13-49
[Some lectionaries may have Matthew's transfiguration - 17:1-9. Please see last Epiphany A for this text commentary]

Oremus Online NRSV Gospel Text

Resources for Sunday's Gospel

The Road to Emmaus comes in our reading cycle every year A, on the third Sunday of Easter. But what is so compelling about this story that it remains one of the strongest stories of the Gospels for many readers?

Jesus appears to two disciples outside the walls; some seven miles from Jerusalem.  They are talking about all the things which have happened.  In this particular testimony we are watching the transition from the crucifixion and the Easter resurrection to the emerging mission of a new community.  In Luke's Gospel we must remember we are marching always towards Pentecost and Acts at this point. The great chiastic structure of Luke.  We are given in today's lesson a memory of the events. We are reminded of what our story says; and in the author's own way he gives us permission to be somewhat concerned and curious about the past and what lays ahead.

If we remember that this Gospel is written for the purpose that the reader may believe, and in believing, be transformed so as to offer and communicate the same Gospel for others.  Luke Timothy Johnson captures well the event of conversion in Lukes' testimony.  Conversion is for Luke and his community the following notion:

The Word of God demands the acceptance of the prophetic critique and a "turning" of one's life. Conversion is an important theme in Luke-Acts, closely joined to the pattern of the prophet and the people.  Jesus' ministry is preceded by the Word of God spoken through the prophet John, which called people to repentance.  Acts opens with the preaching of Peter which also calls for repentance. Those who enter the people that God forms around the prophet must "turn around. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 23)
This reception of grace and turning gives way to faith in the follower of Jesus.  After hearing then one comes to believe, and in believing then one seeks to mold one's life to the shape of the prophet's life - Jesus' life.  Here is what Luke Timothy Johnson writes about faith:
In Luke-Acts, "faith" combines obedient hearing of the Word and patient endurance.  It is not a momentary decision but a commitment of the heart that can grow and mature.  Essential to the response of faith is the practice of prayer.  Jesus prays throughout his ministry; and teaches his disciples to pray.  Luke also provides splendid samples of prayer, showing a people for whom life is defined first of all by its relationship with God. (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 24)
In the Gospel story we are seeing these two disciples, who have converted, who are faithful move through the enduring walk post Easter.  Like all of us wondering and maturing as we make our way with Jesus. 

So...they are walking and talking about all the events. They are wondering and one might even say wandering.  As they do this (reminding me always of the prayer of Chrysostom, "when two or three are gathered in his name you will be in the midst of them...") Jesus is present, physically with them.   He engages them. 

The disciples do not recognize him, the text implies they aren't able...perhaps not allowed to know him.  We do not know why, it may be that their sadness and sorrow prevents them from seeing who is with them.  They are sad because they had hoped in Jesus.  The words seem here to play out two meanings. The first meaning certainly is the idea that Jesus was the new Moses to lead his people out from under oppression.  The second meaning is found deeper in the text, and is rooted in the idea that the there is a deepening of a spiritual nature at work here. In other words, they are hopeless having perhaps misplaced their hope in a worldly way.  Israel, the Abrahamic family of God, was hoping to be delivered.  This reluctance to believe, this inability to see the triumph of prophetic revelation in the resurrection of Jesus is a failure of heart - Jesus says.

And, he opens up for them the story. He retells the story. One can imagine if we sat and read Luke all the way through in one sitting that we would hear and rehear the teaching that Jesus had indeed fulfilled all the scriptures and in and through his death onto the other side of resurrection had delivered the people of Israel from bondage.

In this retelling of the whole story from creation until Emmaus, in the breaking of the bread, and in his very presence with them their eyes are open to recognize him.   He then vanishes, he is no longer visible. In an instant realization, and in another moment gone.

They then quickly tell others and we can imagine Luke writing down this testimony; the Gospel of Luke itself recounting the first witness of events on the road to Emmeus.

So the work of conversion and faith begins its cyclical manifestation of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Luke Timothy Johnson remarks on Luke's writing, "As people tell the story to each other, they also interpret the story."  He continues:

Luke shows us narratively the process by which the first believers actually did learn to understand the significance of the events they had witnessed, and to resolve the cognitive dissonance between their experience and their conviction.  The resurrection shed new light on Jesus' death, on hi words, and on the Scriptures.  The "opening of the eyes" to see the texts truly and the "opening of the eyes" to see Jesus truly are both part of the same complex process of seeking and finding meaning....Luke shows us how the risen Lord taught the Church to read Torah as "prophecy about him." (Luke, Sacra Pagina, 399)
I have leaned on Luke Timothy Johnson a great deal in this passage as I think he does the very best with it.  The preacher has many opportunities for topics on this day.  I encourage you to think deeply about speaking about how we have come to understand and to know the witness of Jesus both through others, and through our texts.  For Episcopalians we read the text in community. We read the texts of scripture on the road to Emmaus, struggling together and inviting Jesus to be in our midst revealing the truth, the way and the life that lies before us as people of the resurrected Christ.

"Old habits die hard, especially when they have had a lifetime to reach their roots deep into the human psyche." 

Commentary, 1 Peter 1:17-23, (Easter3A), Daniel G. Deffenbaugh, Preaching This Week,, 2011.

"The good news of God's announcement of grace could be matched with several aspects of the human condition. To give just one example we can mention our mortality."

Commentary, 1 Peter 1:17-23, Richard Jensen, Preaching This Week,, 2008.

Into Peter's letter we see an emerging concern over what happens when Jesus returns. I will always remember how my NT professor drilled it into our heads that the first followers of Jesus thought that we would return soon and very soon - as the hymn goes.  Peter says be ready.  God is returning. Do good works. Peter says, in Texas speak, "Look you'all Jesus is coming back, he has purchased your freedom with his blood, so get busy doing his work."

Christians receive grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love from God in Christ Jesus and then we are what is your response? Peter's invitation is that our response should be to live a life worthy of the cross.  Live a life which grows life and hope and meaning and love in the world.  

This is going to separate you from the world. You will make different choices than the rest of the world; and, that is okay.  God keeps his promise, the one set from the foundation of the world, to give his love.  Your work is to recognize this gift and to approach the world with the gift of love and peace in mind.

This is very important - approach the world as forgiven people who did not deserve to be forgiven Peter might say.  So meet all those around you with love and forgiveness as well even though they are not deserving. God came low to be with us and we should do the same.

Peter then offers the notion that this notion of forgiveness and love is rooted in baptism.  Baptism is a new birth reorienting our life.  Peter writes:
Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart. You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.

Some Thoughts on Acts 2:14a, 22-32

In this passage we continue with Peter’s great speech from Acts 2. He draws his words to conclusion. He makes it clear to them that they are witnesses to the fulfilling of God’s Holy Spirit work. They are witnesses of the things that have just happened in Jerusalem and they are witnesses by virtue of hearing Peter to the Holy Spirit’s being poured out on all flesh. And, adding a dash of the apocalyptic, Peter brings it to a climactic pitch by saying – the end times are now and salvation is at hand. The great Pentecost altar call we might call it.

What is clear is that Jesus has turned the tables on all religion. God in Christ Jesus has removed any ability for humans to come up with any religious hoops to jump through. No more sacrifices, no more morality games, no more special offerings to priests, no more particular types of religious services, nothing will give you access to God and God’s salvation except the work of God in Christ Jesus who is “both Lord and Messiah” (v. 36). And, everyone can have it.

Christ died for the whole world and all you have to do it believe it, have faith in it, see the world as God’s loving place. God in Christ Jesus has flipped religiosity on its head.

We have to pause here, in the midst of our Good News, to talk about what Peter says about Jesus’ death. Peter makes it clear that what happened is that Jesus’ death was just like all the other prophets of the Most High God, he died at the hands of that unique and powerful cross current of religious and political power.

Now there is a mishearing about all of this that I think is important. There are indeed passages and liturgical rites that make it sound as if God requires his son’s death. First we know that is not true because God is clear in the scripture that child sacrifice is not required. God does this throughout the scripture. Child sacrifice was an ancient practice and the Israelites were tempted many times to return to it. Even kings like David practiced it. God was clear at every turn that child sacrifice while a pattern in ancient cultures was not what God requires. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a story about how God does not require this sacrifice. So, it is a foolish thing to think that the same God now enacts child sacrifice. It is most likely a theological metaphor that entered into our lexicon of poorly chosen ideas during Origen and was further developed in a popular way in the middle ages when it was normal for kings to ransom their children. Nevertheless, do not be drawn into such foolishness.

Fleming Rutledge’s new book on the crucifixion deals well with this “ransom” theory of atonement when she rightly puts it in its place with her deft understanding of Hebrew and Greek by noticing the powerful use of the term as a figure of speech denoting “deliverance”.(290) She mentions what I have noted above.(296) She continues with a second issue, and that is that when we say something is wrong and must be righted, we are forcing God to be controlled by humanity.(297) She concludes a fantastic chapter (in fact redeeming the ransom theory of atonement by a deeper understanding of language) with these words:
“And so we end this chapter on a note of high exaltation. The redemption wrought by God in Christ was indeed a mighty deliverance and pints ahead to the glorious future of the reign of God. The ransom imagery reminds us that this great liberation involved not only a loosing from bondage, but also an ultimate price. The cost of our redemption was the crucifixion of the Son of God. Otherwise we cannot find a place within our understanding of the sheer horror and godlessness of such a death.” (301-302)
What God in Christ Jesus did was faithfulness to the other. God in Christ Jesus offered himself for humanity, which is completely other than God’s self. It was a self-sacrificial act for an other. As the scripture says in John 10:11-12, “The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” And, Paul in his letter to the Romans 5:7 reminds us, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person.”

Let us now after this theological digression return to our text. Peter explains our human responsibility for the horror of Jesus’ death and by so doing reminds every generation that they are presently involved in killing the least, the lost, and the faithful.

The crowd is horrified upon realizing their guilt in the systematic work of death. So they ask what can they do. Peter invites them to have faith that truly God welcomes them into God’s reign and invites them to join in service to others. They are baptized and in baptism are then received outwardly into the family of God - the inward work having already been accomplished by God in Christ Jesus.

Many come to God on that day, rejecting the death ways of the world. Discipleship in its basic form is then described. We of course in this age have made discipleship into complex forms of programs, classes, and tests for gifts and talents because of our need to offer structure to the Gospel. That could be a whole book theme! But here we receive a pretty basic understanding of what discipleship is:
  1. They devote themselves to understanding the Gospel as received – that is grace. Forgiveness of broken lives and broken people. 
  2. They devote themselves to fellowship – that is to gathering in community. 
  3. They devote themselves to eating together. (there will be a lot of people who jump to the Eucharist – but I say to you don’t move to fast. I think and argue there is a more basic understanding that disciples who follow Jesus eat together.) 
  4. Lastly, they devote themselves to praying for one another and we know through the letters they pray for the world. 

There is a lot here in this passage. But it is good meaty stuff of the Gospel. I know everyone will preach the road to Emmaus this week. But wow, what you miss when you dodge the speech of Peter. I raise a toast to you who are preaching on Peter’s speech two weeks in a row. A church and its ministers can spend a life time unpacking the Gospel presented here. And, I would offer, I think they are the culminating chiastic message of both the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts of the Apostles.

This passage stands as the great Lukan Gospel chiastic center.

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