Triumphant Living #1 in the Series
I don’t know why seeing someone startled or actually startling someone is so funny but I think it is. It happens all the time to me. How about you?
Have you ever had one of those experiences where you thought you were alone, you’re busy working on something, or in deep thought with your head in the clouds; you go around the corner or step through a door and there’s your wife or your secretary and you jump out of your shoes. They startle you. They didn’t mean to. They were just going about their normal everyday routine but you jumped. You were startled. Cleopas and his unnamed friend from the passage in Luke had one of those startling experiences.
Luke 24:13-36 (NRSV)
 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem,
 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened.
 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,
 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.
 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.
 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”
 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,
 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.
 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning,
 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.
 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.”
 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!
 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.
 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them.
 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.
 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.
 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!”
 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
Cleopas and his companion had a statling experience but they didn’t jump out of their skins. They they were startled when this stranger asked them what they had been talking about. They were startled when he didn’t seem to know anything about what had taken place over the last three days in Jerusalem.
So, they began to tell this stranger all about the crucifixion of Jesus. They told him how their hopes had been crushed because they thought Jesus was the Messiah.
But then they were startled even more because this stranger began telling them everything Scripture taught concerning the Messiah. Time flew by. That two to two and half hour walk to Emmaus seemed to take only minutes. And before they knew it they were at their home.
They invited the stranger to stay for supper and break bread with them. When it was time to give thanks and literally break bread, the stranger did the honors. And the minute Jesus broke the bread, they knew it was Him. And they were startled again because when they looked again, He was gone. Jesus had been revealed in the breaking of the bread.
That happens every time we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We meet Jesus in the bread and in the cup. The simple act of breaking the bread reminds us of the Last Supper and how Jesus gave Himself up to the Cross, for our sake. And in that bread, we meet Jesus.
But just as importantly, we meet Jesus every single day, sometimes, like Cleopas, in startling ways. We meet him in some of the most unlikely people and some of the most unlikely places. But we meet Jesus, if we’re looking. If we’re focused. Most of the time we don’t realize who it was until later and then we’re really startled.
I. IN PRISON:
We never know where Jesus will show up. We never know where Jesus will make Himself known or be made visible in the actions and lives of someone else as they intersect with ours. We never know when we’ll be startled by Jesus.
I saw Jesus in the strangest place. I heard his voice and saw his love but I didn’t know Jesus could have arms covered with tattoos. Or be as big as a bear. Or wear leathers and ride a Harley. Or speak from behind prison bars. But I saw Jesus step into our midst and speak about walking the walk of faith and bearing the cross of Christ to those of us who had gathered with the Brothers in White of the Michael Unit at the closing of a Kairos weekend.
It had to be Jesus, it had to be the Risen Christ, but they called him Bear. It had to be Jesus because he walked, not so much where you and I have walked, but where each of those Brothers in White had walked. He was really one of them.
It had to be Jesus because he spoke words of encouragement and understanding. He spoke words foreign to most of them; words like: hope, love and forgiveness. He also spoke words of truth; words about how hard it would be to live the faith once they left the safety of the Kairos meeting and went back out into the yard (the real world of prison).
It seems strange but I know it had to be Jesus speaking because these men were visibly moved by the words of this mountain sized man. Many of them exhibited one of the worst signs of weakness a prisoner can exhibit, they cried. Yet in their weakness, God made them strong.
I felt the arms of Jesus around me that day as this bear sized brother in Christ, once dressed in white, now washed white as snow through the blood of the Lamb, held me in a hug of brotherly love. At first those arms, convicted of killing 22 people and stabbing 11 others, felt strange and wrong and foreign. But then I realized that it was not my place to judge one whom Christ had forgiven and whom Christ had so visibly changed.
Jesus, Himself, helped Bear guide those Brothers In White who have been paroled to get settled in the “free world” and to keep their faith and their faith walk fresh. I realized that Bear couldn’t be in ministry helping other Brothers In White feel the love of Christ if the God hadn’t called him. And it wasn’t until THEN, that I felt the arms of Christ embrace me through the tattooed arms of Bear.
I also realized that I may never know what Paul meant by “being a prisoner for Christ,” but Bear did. I truly saw Jesus and heard him speak that day. He was incarnate once again, through a bear sized ex-con. And he touched me. It was one of those starling moments that didn’t come until hours later.
II. IN OUR MIDST:
A. I saw Jesus right outside in the parking lot one Sunday in November. Two little blonde headed girls couldn’t wait to show me the things they had stuffed in their Christmas Express shoeboxes. They beamed with joy and excitement over the prospect of a little girl they would probably never meet, getting Christmas presents they lovingly picked out. As they giggled their happiness in finding this perfect birthday gift for Jesus, I saw the face of Christ smile down upon them through the pride and joy of their mother’s smile. I saw Jesus right outside in our parking lot.
B. I saw Jesus one morning in a little boy who ran from children’s sermon, not even taking a sucker. He ran back to his parents. And then he turned around ran back down here to show his Pastor the Lenten Devotional his mom and dad had gotten him. I know it was Jesus, because just like Jesus, because all he wanted to do was share the Good News and his love for God with those he loved.
C. I saw Jesus and the gift of his unconditional love and grace expressed in the most eloquent way one morning when a little boy, who had waited a whole week to collect his five suckers, took those suckers and spontaneously began passing them out to people in the congregation. I know it was Jesus. I know it was Jesus because I saw the look of awe, delight and wonder in the eyes of everyone who watched this simple act of worship.
D. I can’t tell you how many times I saw Jesus and heard not only His voice but His joy, in the excitement of two little boys who have fallen in love with both God and fallen this church through the love of Jesus they have experienced. I heard the voice of Jesus when one of them said Sunday was his favorite day of the week. I saw the very presence of Jesus leaping out and sharing His own joy every time they reminded us that they were going to be baptized on Easter Sunday.
And I saw Jesus that day as they each solemnly said “Yes” to Jesus and received the water of baptism. They knelt before God as little boys but rose to new life as Sons of God, brothers with Christ who had always been their constant companion but now would be only a heartbeat or a breath away. I saw Jesus reflected in the eyes of their parents and family. And just like Easter, it was startling.
E. I see Jesus and hear the voice of Jesus every time one of our young ministers in training takes the pulpit to share the Gospel. I see Jesus in the warm smiles of those who have loved them since they were infants and those who have come to love them because of the movement of Christ.
I see Jesus reflected in the life of a Church that seems to have some secret elixir or some special connection to God; maybe it’s a direct connection to God’s desk because so many have received their call to ministry or had it confirmed and affirmed through the ministry of this church.
For some reason, God has highly exalted this congregation. Because God has chosen this church to be a birthing center for ministers. And a pre-school for the future leaders of the church. I hear the sigh of God’s contentment every time I hear words of encouragement for Carly and Jack, for Wendi and Owen. It’s startling how God is using us to shape the future of Christ’s Church and God’s Kingdom.
III. ALL AROUND:
A. The presence of the risen Christ is all around us. Sometimes we’re on the Road to Emmaus and don’t even know it. Like Cleopas and his companion, we meet the Risen Christ and it gives new meaning to our lives and deepens our faith.
The Son of God constantly makes his presence known in order to encourage us in times of trouble, to boost our faith and to remind us of the truth of the resurrection. Our job is to always be ready to meet the Risen Christ wherever he might appear.
B. Dr. Thomas Troeger recalls the time when he had to be away from his fiancée for over a month to take comprehensive exams in his senior year of college. He was madly in love and having to be away from his fiancée made him very sad and depressed. He was on a bus traveling from Ithaca, New York to New Haven, Connecticut. The bus stopped at the Binghamton Greyhound station, which left a lot to be desired. Troeger sat down on one of those circular pedestal stools with the stuffing coming out. The counter was U-shaped and he found himself sitting directly across from an older woman.
The older woman took one look at him and said, “Boy, honey, you sure look depressed.”
Troeger replied, “I AM depressed,” and started crying.
The woman tried to reach across to pat his cheek. But he pulled back because the woman had dirt under her fingernails. “What’s wrong honey?” she asked. He told her about his fiancée back home and how much he missed her. He showed the woman a picture of her. This older woman said, “O, I never saw such a beautiful woman.”
The woman told him that she’d been married to a traveling salesman who had since passed away. They used to weep every time her husband had to go away. But they were so happy, every time he returned. “Marriage was wonderful,” she told him. “You’re going to have a wonderful marriage. Everything will be just fine.”
She suggested he might feel better if he ate something. So, she ordered the last donut from underneath the scratchy plastic cover. The older woman broke the donut and said, “Here, eat this.”
Just then an announcement came on and the woman said, “That’s my bus. I’ve got to go.”
She got up and left. Dr. Troeger concluded by saying, “Just then my eyes were opened, and I recognized that Christ was there in that bus station.” (4)
Christ makes himself known in broken bread and even in broken donuts. Jesus makes Himself known in almost every aspect of life. There are times when the events of life confuse us and we get off course. It’s then that Jesus reaches out in some unexpected startling way or through some unexpected startling person to encourage and uplift and to remind us of His presence in our midst.
Look around you, you may find the presence of Christ almost anywhere. Jesus is alive. The Risen Christ IS with us. And that makes all the difference in the world.
We may not visibly be able to see the Risen Christ but we CAN see his love reflected in the eyes and smiles and actions of those around us.
We may not be able to feel the physical touch of Christ’s hand but we can see the fingerprints He leaves all around. We can feel his touch every time we offer a helping hand.
We may not be able to physically hear the voice of Jesus but if you listen closely you can hear it’s echo in every child’s laugh, in every hymn sung to His praise, in every word of encouragement given in a time of trial and stress and in heartbeat of the church.
We may never actually see Jesus break bread at our table but every time we break the bread during Holy Communion and even when we share meals with one another, we are given the opportunity to taste God’s Grace and know that the Risen Christ IS with us. As Psalm 34:8 says, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Don’t be startled if you meet Jesus this morning, expect that encounter to happen today and every single day of your life.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Dr. Thomas H. Troeger. Seasons of Worship. February 1990, Cokesbury Seminars.