Sermon April 26   

It All Depends On Your Point of View

Meditation by Jeffrey Gordon, MDiv

Based on Luke 24:13-35

            I don’t know about you, but this Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives order from our Governor has resulted in some inconveniences for many in our state, including myself and my family.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is necessary to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus 19, and I support any order that is made to protect those people, especially those that I care for.   Still, this particular directive has raised havoc with my sense of time.  With the days getting longer, the weather being nice, and no set schedule to follow, both my wife and I have to check our watches to determine what the time is.  One day seems to run into another, so even remembering what day of the week it is becomes a challenge.  If you are having similar problems, let me help you a wee bit, at least for today: in the liturgical calendar, today is the second Sunday after Easter and the scripture from the Gospels is from chapter 24 of the Gospel of Luke, verses 13 through 35.  For many of us, the story contained in these verses is often referred to as the “Walk to Emmaus.”  It revolves around two men returning to their home(s) in Emmaus from Jerusalem and what happened to them on their journey.  But more about that later…

            Raised as a Roman Catholic, the first time I heard this story was from the nuns who taught my catechism classes, and they made sure that I heard it several more times until I was able to read it for myself.  Many of you probably had similar experiences, first hearing it from your parents or in Sunday school class and, after learning how to read, you were able to read it yourself.  Having heard or read this passage many times during our lives, we should be very familiar with its story and what it implies (i.e., what it is supposed to mean), but how many of us have noticed that this story is found in only the Gospel of Luke?  Not only that, but it is the lead into the final story of Luke’s gospel – the story of Jesus’ appearing to his disciples for the last time and his ascension into heaven.  Thus this story must have held special significance to the author of the Gospel of Luke.  Let’s see if we can figure out what it might be.

            One method that we can use to get a hint of what a story in one of the gospels means is by reading a corresponding passage in one or more of the other gospels, especially in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke).  This is what Amy-Jill Levine, a Biblical scholar and Professor of the New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Science, recommends.  In her new book “Entering the Passion of Jesus: A Beginners Guide to Holy Week” she discusses the different versions of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.  She states, and I quote: “No one Gospel can tell the full story, and each should be savored for the story it tells.” End quote.  An example from today’s world might be something like this:  One of the first steps police take when they are investigating a crime scene or an accident, is to find out if anyone saw what happened (i.e., any witnesses) and then take their statements in order to attempt to get a clearer picture of what occurred.  You’d be surprised at how hard it is to get the details of two witness statements to match on more than one fact, let alone detail for detail.  Their angle of vision may have been different.  One was looking at a specific aspect of the incident, say the car that ran into the car in front of it, while another witness was watching the car that got rear-ended.  Or one stated that the driver who ran away had brown hair while the other said the driver was a bleached blonde.  This is only natural.  What we see, what we hear, what we concentrate on, what we remember, depends on what we have experienced during our lives and what our differing wants and needs are. 

             So it is in the story of the “Walk to Emmaus.”  In it, we find two disciples of Jesus traveling to their homes in the town of Emmaus on Easter Sunday.  As they were walking, they are discussing among themselves about all that has happened over the past couple of days.  They are so engrossed in their conversation that they don’t notice that a stranger (Jesus) has overheard part of their discussion and inquires what they are talking about.  They are shocked that this stranger is unaware of what occurred in Jerusalem over the past two days.  They go on to tell him about Jesus, about what their hopes and dreams had been, and what has transpired that very day.  Rather than revealing himself at that time, Jesus takes the opportunity to teach them as he had done in the past.  He points out the numerous passages in Scripture that relate to what was to happen to God’s Chosen one.  As they reach their destination, they extend their hospitality to him, urging him to stay and have a meal with them, still not realizing who he is.  It isn’t until he shares a meal with them, as he had done just a few days before, that they recognize their Lord and Master.  And then he is gone.

            The problem with determining if this was what the author of Luke meant to tell his audiences, both then and now, is that there is no corresponding story in any of the other gospels.  To compound this issue is that, in an effort to make this – and many other passages in the Bible – more understandable, various sects of Christianity have interpreted the words to suit their beliefs or tried to use modern words for ancient ones, often missing the true meanings of the original passage.  Perhaps that is why there are currently 500 versions and translations of the Bible in English today.  This is nothing new – it is also common for the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible.  Ever wonder why there are differing versions of the same story in the Hebrew Scriptures?  While inspired by God, these stories were often redacted – a fancy word for edited – by various groups over time. During the Old Testament times there were four separate such groups: the Yahwehists, the Elohimists, the Priestly, and the Deuteronomists.  Each group had its own point of view of what the words of God meant and they would include them in the Torah whenever they had the chance.  When, however, one version wasn’t more convincing than another, the redactors often left both versions in.  An example of this can be found in the two Creation stories found in Genesis.   

            Moving on to the New Testament, we can see something very similar.  For example, rather than just having one gospel telling of the life of Jesus the Christ, we have four.  Why so?  As you have heard me say before it is because each of the authors was witnessing to a different audience. For example: Mark, the earliest of the gospels, tells a story that is stern and stark, abrupt and unadorned.  He doesn’t use fancy words, but rather the Greek commonly used during his time.  In the Gospel of Mark we hear a rebel speak.  The Gospel of Matthew was finished about ten years later than Mark’s, and he utilizes much of what is found in Mark.  However, the author of Matthew was reaching out to a different audience.  He was a rabbinic writer, a master of rich, allusive stories that drew on the ancient themes of Judaism and interpreted them afresh, adding to what is found in Mark’s version.  In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear a rabbi speak

            The last of the Synoptic gospels, the Gospel of Luke was written about the same time as the book of Matthew, and he too borrowed numerous passages from Mark, but his was written for a different culture than those of Mark and Matthew.  The author of Luke was writing for the gentile powers that existed in the Greco-Roman world of his time, and he built a history around the story of a savior who was different than what the world at that time – and even today – had known.  In addition, his gospel was only Part One of a larger story, one centered on Jesus within Palestine during the first century of the Common Era.  Part Two of Luke’s story is the taking of God’s word out into the world which is found in the book of Acts.  In the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, we hear a chronicler speak

            Finally, there is the Gospel of John.  The author of John wrote his gospel between thirty and forty years after Mark had written his, and nearly sixty years after the death of Jesus.  The world in which he lived and the community in which he lived were completely different than the audience for whom Mark wrote his gospel.  Instead of being straight forward and to the point like Mark, or written from a rabbinic point of view like Matthew, or as part of a larger story for the gentile world as was Luke’s, the author of John was a mystic and a poet.  Around just a few miracles, elaborately told, he builds long, and riddling, conversations between Jesus and his friends, his opponents, and those whom he heals, feeds, and shocks. 

            A prime example can be seen in the stories each of the Gospels tells of Jesus’ resurrection.  David Barr, in his book New Testament Story: An Introduction puts it this way:   

“The differences between the versions are stark: whereas in Mark the women approach the tomb “when the sun has risen” and find the stone already removed, in Matthew they witness an earthquake and an angelic descent (both lacking in the other accounts), and in John’s version Mary arrived “while it was still dark and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.”  The number of women is variously identified as one, two, four or more, though Mary Magdalene is always included.  In one set of traditions they are told to return to Galilee (and in Matthew they do), while Luke (aware of the Galilee tradition) keeps them in Jerusalem where they encounter the risen Jesus.  Only in Mark do they flee and say “nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.” …In Matthew’s version, the women encounter the risen Jesus as they leave the tomb; in John he appears after two male disciples have come and go[ne]; in Luke he does not appear to the women, but to two unnamed male disciples far from the tomb; and in Mark he does not appear at all.” (Barr, 193-194)

            As can be seen above, the story of Jesus’ resurrection is told in several ways, depending on the point of view of the author.  The same can be said of the numerous versions, translations, or paraphrases that can be found in the Bible today.  Unfortunately, many Christians today often say that the version of the Bible they use is the one, true Bible, they miss the fact that the bottom line is the same, regardless of which version of the Bible they choose.  Today’s story of the Walk to Emmaus is but a part of the larger story in which Jesus went to Jerusalem, where he was tried, condemned, crucified, buried, and arose from the dead, to be seen by those who believed in him.  

            The question for those of us who call ourselves Christians in today’s world is “Would we know him if we were to see him today, or would we be like Mary Magdalene in John’s gospel or the two disciples in the gospel of Luke?”  My guess is that many of us will be like Mary Magdalene or the two disciples on their way to Emmaus.  If so, how then should we live as Christians?  Andy and Sally Langford, on page 26 of their new book “Living as United Methodist Christians” state that we should “pick up a Bible, read it, study it with other Christians, and listen to it in worship.  And when we hear God’s word, respond – live as God’s living Word calls us to respond.”

            Now, go forth today, and every day, living as God’s incarnate Word calls you to respond.

Sermon  April 19, 2020    “  Witness to Good News”  by Rev. June Fothergill

Scripture:  John 20: 11-29

    When I served in my first appointment back in the 1980’s it was a time when our conference leadership was asking each church to put together an evangelism plan.  Now I had attended seminary in Berkeley and had taken courses in urban ministries and social justice and liberation theology.  Evangelism was not one of my strong suits.  And my first parish was in  Wasco Oregon, a town of about 350 souls and maybe more cats and a county of about 2000 persons.  When I looked around me I wondered who do I evangelize?   But trying to be a good pastor and team player, I brought it up with my church council.  They looked at me puzzled and with some consternation. “ Evangelism?  We don’t like that word” One of them bravely said.   They could not imagine doing the kind of evangelism they had seen- people going door to door trying to get you to buy their version of faith.   If we did make any evangelism plan- it would not be that!  But over the years I have realized that  I and they had a lot of misunderstandings about evangelism.   Perhaps if we had thought of it as- how do we make our witness of faith? How do we tell our stories of Jesus?   The way would have been more clear. 

    I think that we are called like those first disciples to evangelize or to make our witness of faith.  All of these stories in John of the appearances of the Risen Christ are told to offer us assurance and  empower our witness to God and God’s love for the world.   They show us that  God inspires various kinds of faith experiences and  witness.  I want to highlight three types of witnesses:

1. The witness of Mary- I have seen the Lord.   This is when we see Christ in our midst, when we sense God’s presence without a doubt.  We are called to share these experiences  like Jesus commissioned Mary to share her experience of his resurrection.

     Sometimes these experiences are dramatic revelations like the parishioner shared with me that he saw an angel during worship. This appearance gave assurance to his faith.   Other time they are simply a sense of God’s comfort in the midst of grief and loss.  I think of the story of John Wesley who ahd experienced some failures of faith and life when he tried to be a missionary to the colonies.  One day in the midst of his searching he attended a prayer study group  and heard a commentary on Romans read, Suddenly he felt a “ warmness in his heart’ and was assured of God’s love for him.  This experience fueled his ministry of witness and service to the forgotten ones in England.    When we have these experiences of assurance  God includes a commission to share, to tell the good news, to be a witness.

2. The witness of the disciples-  you are forgiven, now you can  forgive others.  This is when we receive the gift of God’s forgiveness in our lives and we are commissioned to share forgiveness with others. This includes Thomas who was not there yet was still accepted by his fellows and forgiven by Jesus- see my hands and side.   

    When I thought about this experience of God, I realized that it can include every day things: when we invade someone’s privacy or violate a confidence or  lack attention to someone’s need, we can seek and receive  God’s forgiveness.    The disciples experienced that  Jesus wanted to give them peace in the midst of their fear, denials, cowardice.  So they were able to extend to Thomas small forgiveness and inclusion even though he‘d missed their gathering .    This witness of forgiveness can grow in our lives and hearts.  One woman who forgave her son’s  murderers  was asked “ How can you do this?”  her answer was that it was possible and necessary because of the Christ she had in her heart.  Receiving and giving forgiveness in large and smaller ways is a powerful witness to Christ.

3. There’s the witness of those who did not see-   Jesus says to Thomas when he proclaims his faith after seeing  the Risen Jesus,  “ Blessed are those who have not seen and yet come to believe.” ( John 20:29b)   This is all the rest of us

    The story is told in India that St Thomas, the same Thomas as in our story started the Christian church along the west coast of India.  If that is true he went a long ways from his home base to a people who were not able to know Jesus in the flesh. He ministered to the ones Jesus told him about- who would not see him but who would believe. 

    This witness is the one that many of us have still today. Especially if we grew up in the church and did not have a great turn about conversion experience like Mary or the first disciples.  Maybe we have not had great revelations but we still believe.  I know for me, I find faith is simply a deep belief that I cannot quite even understand, it is just there in my life.  So sometimes when I am called upon to witness to my faith, I find it hard. What do I tell?  That all my life I have believed God to be present and have loved Jesus?    That does not make for very exciting testimony and has sometimes even been questioned by others with different experiences more like  Mary and the Disciples.  Yet, over the years, I have learned to trust that such a witness has value too.   In fact Jesus likes us, even calls us blessed. 

   4. Finally I have discovered a fourth witness in the story thanks to Debi Thomas writing in the Christian Century ( April 22, 2020).  She notices the witness of the wounds.  That the Risen Christ still has his wounded hands and side and that is how Thomas knows him.  Jesus wasn’t afraid to express his woundedness: anger at the temple, fear on the cross, grief at Lazarus’s death.  She writes, “ May be Christianity’s best appeal is its courage in the face of what scars, rips, and ravages.  Our wounds don’t tell the whole story. But the stories they do tell are holy. If Jesus didn’t fear the bloody and the broken perhaps we don’t need to fear them so much either.” ( p.37 Christian Century April 22, 2020)   We are invited to realize that our witness can sometimes be our willingness to authentically share our hurts and wounds, our struggles with life and faith and support one another and witness to Christ is our midst. 

   So today as we find ways to live out our faith in strange times, let us value all the different kinds of witnessing.  Let us affirm that each of us has a witness to make and have courage to share our own authentic stories with one another-  and with those around us.  Let us trust that the Spirit of the Risen Christ will give us whatever we need to be witnesses to God and God’s love for the world. 

  OK I have to tell you want happened in that little church in Wasco.  No,  we did not  create a big evangelism plan.  We did not go door to door to witness. Yet, God worked through us to bring in a new generation for that church.  Some of the young women who gathered with me and  our new babies are still there serving that tiny church.  The witness to Christ continues in that place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *