What Things? (Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19; Luke 24:13-35)

Kathryn Lester-Bacon on May 1, 2017

“What Things?”

Psalm 116: 1-4, 12-19; Luke 24:13-35

A sermon preached by Kathryn Lester-Bacon on April 30th 2017

“After the Resurrection, why is Jesus so…weird?” This is what Michael said when we were talking about the scripture a little earlier in the week.  He pointed out: “Jesus never appears in front of a crowd, he only appears to a few people at a time—he walks through walls, he vanishes into thin air, he cooks up a fish breakfast on the beach. If the disciples were really trying to convince us of Jesus’ resurrection, why do they make it seem so odd? Why doesn’t it make more sense?”

Indeed, it’s true: if you’re trying to make the case that the guy you’ve been following wasn’t crazy when he said he was the Son of God, well, then it helps if you don’t sound crazy yourself. It helps if you can construct a solid argument about his resurrection that at least starts with everyone getting on the same page about where Jesus showed up and when.

But here we are, with several stories about Jesus showing up and shocking people. Here we are with weird little details that don’t make sense, but which were important enough to pass along. Here we are in a story that does little to make us comfortable with the mystery of resurrection. Here we are, caught in a strange story about new life and redemption, revelation and hope. Here we are, and here is Christ.

Christ shows up on the road to Emmaus with Cleopas and an unnamed disciple.  There are many theories about who Cleopas and the other unnamed disciple are. One theory that I like posits that it was Cleopas and his wife who are walking—after all, women are often the ones who go unnamed in ancient texts. This theory says that this couple were probably both early followers of Christ. When they meet this stranger on the road and get to the end of the day, they invite Jesus into their own home, to sit at their own table. (Ringe, Westminster Bible Companion: Luke, 287.)

Then Christ is suddenly revealed to them. And then, just as quickly, he goes away. This is a word that we translate as “vanish”, but a more accurate translation paints a stranger visual—Christ “becomes invisible.” Basically, Christ shows up, changes their lives, offers them food they didn’t even realize that they hungered for, and they recognize him. They see him for who he truly is, their jaws fall open, and then, Christ vanishes. He becomes invisible. The disciples are left without proof or corroboration. They only have this stunningly odd story to tell.

And tell it they must.

They run “at that same hour” back to Jerusalem, back to the place that killed Jesus just a few days before, back to the place where the other disciples are hiding out. Cleopas and the other disciple have a story to tell and nothing can stop them from sharing it right now.

They find the eleven and the other disciples, others who have their own story about messengers waiting at an empty tomb. Perhaps they all start gushing. Perhaps they all are breathless. Perhaps they talk through the night. Perhaps they sit in silence. Perhaps they realize that this changes everything. Perhaps they just sit there, confused. 

Here, in this upper room, in a city that is expecting all the disciples to flee in shame and grief, expecting that all these Jesus followers will go home with their tail between their legs, here in this city, hidden in an upper room, the men and women of Jesus start to talk, start to realize that something is happening, something that is full of hope and excitement and joy—and something that is undeniably weird.

Our scripture today is NOT about some isolated spiritual experience. This isn’t about two individuals feeling warm and fuzzy about their personal relationship with God.

Instead, this story is about good news that happens to two people and then how they can not keep such news to themselves. They can not hold it back. This is a story of how they must return to Jerusalem, to their worshiping community. This story is about good news, about a crazy wondrous tale that can NOT stay quiet.

After all, stories must have storytellers. For a story to remain alive, it must be told and it must heard, it must be shared and it must be passed along. Otherwise, it dies. If a story is kept private, kept locked up between only one or two people, then it slowly shrivels up into a secret. It becomes something to protect and defend, rather than something to be offered and received. A story that is shared is a gift, a connecting strand. A shared story becomes a bond, a relationship, a woven web connecting you and me, connecting past, present, and future.

We can often think of the Bible as a rulebook, a collection of lesson plans and instructions manuals—and some parts, like the Deutronomic Code are more instructional. But the people I know who get the most out of life and faith have been the ones who approach scripture as a book of stories. Stories that are true even if they aren’t always factual. Stories that tell us who we are and who God is and who is journeying with us along the way. The bible is a book of stories that must be shared.

The early disciples know this. That’s why Cleopas and his companion were walking and talking, using the stories of scripture to try to make sense of what had happened to Jesus. They know the power of stories because Jesus himself has shown them their power.

With parables and psalms and the poetry like the Beatitudes, Jesus revealed over and over again the potency of his powerful story—that God’s kingdom is at hand. That the people who are on the edges of society are not abandoned but included, woven into an immense tapestry of grace and love and redemption, which spans generations. Jesus had shown them the power of telling tales that are true.

So when Jesus shows up on the road, after this death,  he doesn’t appear with a bang or flash or applause. He doesn’t arrive with trumpets or angels or any other convincing display of power.

Jesus comes with a question and a story.

“What things?” he asks. “What things are you talking about? What stories are you telling here on the road?” The disciples try to answer, telling Jesus the things that they believed about God and redemption and each other. Jesus declares, “Ah, you slow, foolish storytellers! Let me tell you a bigger, longer story” and, beginning with Moses and the prophets, he tells them a huge story of God’s love, stretching through time and space.

And slowly, after several hours and miles of listening, the disciples come to believe that they are not standing there with a secret, shameful and private.

They are standing there with a story, a story that connects them with the prophets and poets and psalmists across the ages, a story that must be shared, must be shared with whomever will listen to this weird and wondrous tale.

I wonder if you’ve ever had an experience of Christ, while walking down the street...or sitting at a table...or talking with a stranger or friend…

I wonder if you have ever had a moment when you realized that all you had believed was being turned upside down and inside out; that logic wasn’t just unnecessary—in this matter, it was useless; that mystery wasn’t dangerous—it was joyful.

I wonder if someone has showed up in an unexpected way and made you feel deeply, undeniably LOVED. I wonder if it was weird.

And I wonder what you did next. Did you keep this experience of love and joy to yourself? Did you lock it up in your own imagination, safe and sound from prying eyes?

Or did you call up a friend? Text your mom? Dash out an email or a letter? Write a journal entry? Gush about it with companions over the dinner table?

When we have a story of love and grace and Christ’s presence breaking through the clouds of disappointment and despair, what do we do with that odd little story? Whom do we tell?

The disciples run back to Jerusalem. They RUN. In that moment, when they have realized that Christ is alive, they MUST be with their storytelling companions. They must be in a room telling weird stories of Christ’s wonderful presence.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we saw the church as the place where we come to share our weird and wondrous stories of Christ with one another, a place to share our odd moments when we can say “I recognized something about God and myself and about my neighbor. Did you? Did you recognize it too? What was it like? What is your story?”

Jesus asks us. “What things? What things have happened to you? What things are you talking about? What things are you struggling with? What stories are you trying to make sense of? What stories have you given up on EVER making sense?  What things can you not keep to yourself but which you must share?”

“What things?” Jesus the Christ asks. And the beautiful thing is—he really wants to know what we have to say. He wants to hear our story.

The author Glennon Doyle Melton is a bestselling author and blogger with thousands showing up for her speaking tour. Over time she has become an unapologetically progressive Christian who claims the value of vulnerability, of telling true and honest stories, about Jesus and about each other.

Her journey to fame began from a very simple facebook post nearly ten years ago. She shared 25 true things about herself and it went viral. She shared about her bulimia and her addiction and she poured herself out there in a way that she swore she’d never do again. But when she opened her computer a few days later, she had hundreds of messages from people sharing their own stories of pain and love and need for grace. She had told a true story about herself and it began a storytelling frenzy that she continues on her speaking tours. Here is another odd story that she tells. It might not be factual. But it is true:

I am sitting in a quiet bedroom with God. We are alone—the two of us. I am perched on the edge of a four-poser bed and my legs are dangling off the side. God is in a rocking chair across the room and she’s knitting. God knits, it turns out. She also rides a Harley, but never while knitting.

I am pissed at God, so I’m glaring at her while she rocks and knits.

She won’t ask me what’s wrong. I’m waiting for her to ask. I’m dying for her to ask. I sigh. I breathe as deeply and loudly and with as much angst as possible.

Nothing from her. Nothing disturbs her peace, nothing breaks her concentration. She is not curious.

So I just start.

I’m going to stay sick, aren’t I? You’re not going to heal me, are you? And I’ll never have another baby, will I? And my marriage. What about my marriage? Is that going to crumble too? You’re going to leave me sick and empty-armed and struggling, aren’t you? Aren’t you? I know you are.

Please fix it. If you don’t, that’s IT for us. I’m not kidding. I’ll quit trying not to be a jerk.. I’ll quit writing. I’ll quit talking to you and caring about other people and smiling so much. I’ll spend all my money on fancy makeup and couches and I’ll spend all my time watching Real Housewives of Orange County. NO. Housewives of NEW JERSEY. Take THAT. I’m serious. Friendship with you is too exhausting. I’m going to have to quit you, based on principle and utter confusion. If you don’t pull through for me this time, it’s atheism for me. ATHEISM. I’m so serious.

God keeps knitting. Then she smiles and holds her stitch for a moment. She looks up at me with her soft crinkly eyes and she says:

Honey. You’re so angry. I understand. I love you so much. Would you like to me stop knitting so we can talk about all this?

I think for a moment and look at the knitting in her lap. I gaze at the part that’s done. It’s breathtaking. All blue and green and hot pink and gold and silver. At first the colors seem to swirl wildly but then, suddenly, I recognize a pattern. The pattern is me. I am beautiful. Swirly, wild, and beautiful.

No, I say. Don’t stop. Keep knitting.

Because she’s knitting my life, of course. I am what her hands are working on. And I want her to concentrate. I still trust her.

God? I say. I’m going to dance. While you knit, I’m just going to dance.

God looks up one last time and says:

That’s all I’ve ever wanted you to do, Sweetheart. You dance and I’ll keep knitting. It’s going to be beautiful, Honey. I promise. (Melton, Carry On, Warrior. 265.)

 

What things? Christ asks. What things are you talking about? What stories are you telling? What stories can you not keep to yourself? What stories do you have to run to share?

Because no matter where you run or what you say, Christ is always always always willing to hear your story. And then Christ will tell us his own story. And then, with grace and love, compassion and conviction, Christ will invite us to become storytellers.  

Thanks be to God.

 

Kathryn Lester-Bacon, associate pastor, preached this sermon at Second Presbyterian Church, Richmond, VA on April 30th 2017. This is a rough manuscript.